Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beercraft newspaper column #42: Fruit beers

Beer + Fruit = pretty good stuff

The best thing about getting into craft beer is the sheer variety of tastes that opens up to you. But let’s face it, sometimes beer alone just isn’t enough. Sometimes you need some fruit in that beer.

Fruit has been used as a flavor agent in beer for hundreds of years, and, thanks to our Belgian friends and the ingenuity of American brewers, fruit beers are enjoying something of a mini-renaissance.

It sounds strange, but beer didn’t always taste as delicious as it does today. A lack of chemical knowledge made it harder for brewers to control the brewing process; yeast wasn’t even understood until the 1800s. In Belgium, the spontaneously fermented beers came out champagne like in texture and quite sour. To make it more palatable, the Belgians came up with a practical solution: add fruit.

Thus the cherries and raspberries of Flanders’ fields became the hallmark ingredients in Lambic, the classic Belgian fruit beer. These have since been joined by currants, peaches, apples and whatever else the marketers in Antwerp could think up to diversify the product range. The Kriek (cherry) and Framboise (raspberry) are the acknowledged classics, however. Depending on the brewery, they can range from astringent and dry to very sweet and fruity.

You can find plenty of different lambic in various flavors at Beers of the World, but if you’re looking for lambic on draft, it’ll be tough to get anything but Lindemann’s Framboise- a light, tart champagney beer that clubs you over the head with raspberry. It’s very pretty in the glass, a deep red hue with pink foam (you probably shouldn’t sip these before climbing on your Harley). Raspberry essence swirls into your nose ever time you raise the beer to your lips, creating, uh, “the ultimate raspberry experience.”

If you want an edge in impressing your date, order her up a Framboise and watch the delight spread across her face. Unless she’s allergic to raspberries. No one is delighted in the emergency room.

Lambics are by no means the only beer style flavored with fruit. Most others, however, have been lost to the ages. But American craft brewers, have spurred something of a resurgence in fruit beers, and most of the big players on the craft beer scene have one in their product lineup.

For example, there’s Magic Hat #9, from the Magic Hat Brewing Company of Burlington, Vermont. Like all beer from Vermont, the Magic Hat is swathed in hippie ethos and trippy packaging, but the contents of the bottle are enjoyable even without hallucinogens.

#9’s soft golden color offers the first hint of the apricot that suffuses the beer’s aroma and flavor, and the crisp bite of fresh apricots is prevalent in each swallow.

Fortunately, what you’ll get in #9 is mostly the essence of the fruit, and not an overwhelming apricot flavor. Underneath is a light-bodied, decently balanced brew. You’ll taste the sweet malt, and each sip will finish crisp and hoppy, with just a bit of bitterness.

If you’re at the Wings game, or out at their brewery in Ogden, you can have a glass of Rohrbach BlueBeary ale fresh from the tap. A longtime staple of Rohrbach’s line of beers, the BlueBeary is another example of the value of restraint. The essence of blueberry is captured without the beer turning into something you’d pour on your pancakes.

Because we like our interviews easy, we spoke with Bruce Lish, brewer at Rohrbach and co-author of this column. “BlueBeary is a great crossover beer,” Lish says. “A lot of people who don’t really like beer enjoy it.”

Lish also points out the popularity of the “Black and Blue,” a half-and-half of BlueBeary and stout. The two flavors complement each other very well and the parfait-like layering of the dark stout on top of the golden BlueBeary has enormous visual appeal.

There are plenty of other fruit beers out there; you’re certain to find others you enjoy. Fortunately, most look just like regular beer, so the guys can enjoy a pint with their machismo intact.

That’s important, even in Vermont.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

1 comment:

'Don' Cialini said...

Another excellent interview. You really comb the depths to bring in the hard hitting commentary! Paul Harvey who?