This is the un-edited version of my column for the Burlington Free Press that I wrote on Aug. 1, 2013. It was printed under the title “Fruit beers evolve” on Aug. 13, 2013.
After a brief discussion this afternoon about freshly picked sour cherries, I find myself searching my fridge for a bottle of sour cherry beer. A good bartender friend of mine, Paul, recently gave me a bottle of New Glarus “Wisconsin Belgian Red” – perfect! I crack the bottle and the beautiful deep red liquid cascades down into my tulip glass. Faint pink foam rests gently on the surface and the smell of bright red cherries fills the room. A frothy sip leaves me reveling in cherry ecstasy: It reminds me vaguely of the first time I ever had a Luden’s Wild Cherry cough drop, but in a truly wonderful way. (Those Luden’s should just be sold as candy, anyway.) Perked me right up: sweet and tart cherry, all the way.
Fruit beers occupy a strange place in the craft beer world. Magic Hat #9, Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat & Sea Dog Blueberry are simple, straightforward classics that are “crushable” on hot days. A lot of beer drinkers made the jump from macro to micro by trying out these fruit beers, and they’re still successful today.
But, on the other hand, you have folks who won’t even touch a fruit beer claiming they’re too sweet, or too artificial tasting. Or god forbid someone tells me that fruit beers are “girly” one more freaking time. I’m at my wits end with this pointless, and offensive, statement. For starters, I’d argue that fruit preference has nothing to do with gender. Perhaps an argument could be made that liking “fruity” things plays a part in gender performance, but I think people should cease perpetuating this stereotype, get over it and just enjoy whatever they like. (See my previous column “Remember when beer was fun?” for more on that subject.)
So called ‘fruit beers’ – I prefer the term ‘fruited beers’ – range from the touch of blackberry found in Long Trail’s Blackbeary Wheat to the heavy-handed New Glarus Red that I described above. They also range in sweetness and sourness from cloying to bracing.
I tend to prefer a fruit beer that shows off the selected fruit center stage, capturing both the level of sweetness and acidity in the actual fruit. I’d say my current favorite of what I’ll call ‘every day fruited beers’ is Founders Brewing Co. (Michigan) Rübæus: a crisp, lightly tart raspberry-infused ale of luscious color and pleasing body.
On the more esoteric, albeit more traditional, end of fruited beers are Lambics, spontaneously fermented sour ales from the Brussels region of Belgium, which are often aged on fruit. Not all Lambics are fruited, but a good whack of them are, resulting in a fruity, sweet-and-tart brew. Within the fruited Lambic category, you can find a range of sweetness from bone dry and sour to sticky sweet (sometimes sugar is added, too).
Kriek (cherry) and Framboise (raspberry) are the two most common fruited Lambics you’ll come across. There’s also peach, plum, apple, cassis (black currant) and I even saw banana once – I wouldn’t recommend banana…
The best examples of fruited Lambics available in Vermont are from Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen. They can be expensive and hard to find, but are definitely worth the cash. These both show off the drier side of fruit beers – zippy acidity underpinning bright fruitiness with a pleasant earthy component. Look for Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus (raspberry) and Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek (cherry).
If you’d like to try a more accessible Lambic, reach for the less sour and more – ahem – affordable Boon Framboise or Kriek. These are a little more in the sweet-tart category and are simply a delight to drink on a hot summer day. The acidity keeps your palate from getting bogged down and the sweetness from the fruit refreshes you.
On the sweetest end of the spectrum are the Lindemans fruited Lambics. These have a sort of crayon box color coding scheme to the labels, and range the gamut in terms of fruits. A bit too sweet for my taste, but they often can be a great segue beer for non-beer drinkers. Lindemans also makes the only Faro Lambic commercially available in the U.S. Faro is young sour Lambic beer that is simply sweetened with Belgian candi sugar instead of with fruits. Look for it’s shiny black and silver label at better beer shops.
If you’re not a fan of berries, fret not. There’s a fresh movement afoot using citrus! Hill Farmstead has a whole series of citrus infused blond ales and some IPAs, too. And I’ve read that the 2013 release of Fluxus from Allagash (Maine) will be a Belgian-style Porter brewed with coffee and infused with blood orange pulp and zest! Expect to see it on tap around town soon.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to attend to this glass of frothy, red, cherry-infused beer. Cheers!