This spring has seen an uptick in the release of fruit beers from a number of breweries near and far. Some are new releases, others are returning favorites in a new format: for an example of the latter, Silver Moon Brewing Company’s seasonal Salty Bog Cranberry Gose returns for spring — in a can.
Historically, professional brewers often regarded the idea of adding fruit to beer with disdain. The Germans with their Reinheitsgebot beer purity law spurned all ingredients except for malt, hops, water and yeast; the English focused on hops and darker malts for their bitters and porters.
Not so the Belgians, however; Belgium has a long history of rustic brewing, with brewers adding any and all ingredients to their beers that happened to be on hand. These included alternative grains, herbs and spices, and of course, fruit. Cherries and raspberries in particular married well with the sour lambics, leading Belgians to release the first commercial fruit beers as early as the 1930s.
In more recent years, American brewers began experimenting with fruit in the early days of the craft beer movement.
These early American fruit beers enjoyed varying success as techniques and tastes were refined, and over the past decade brewers have grown more adept at marrying fruit with a variety of styles.
Some notable fruit beers I’ve enjoyed lately in this vein include Pelican Brewing Co.’s Berried At Sea, a dark stout with blackberries and currants added, and Draper Brewing Company’s The Marshal, a sour ale with Cabernet Franc wine grapes.
An increasingly popular fruited style is, perhaps surprisingly, India Pale Ale. Traditionally a bitter, heavily hopped version of a strong pale ale, over the past decade or so American brewers have experimented with new hop varieties that impart bright, juicy fruit aromas and flavors into their IPAs.
In moving away from hop bitterness and toward the citrus and tropical fruit characters these hops bring, it was only a matter of time before enterprising breweries amped up this character with actual fruit.
San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing introduced the Grapefruit variant of its Sculpin IPA in 2014, which met with resounding success and catalyze the industry into producing other versions.
Tropical fruits are a recurrent theme among fruited IPAs, largely because they mesh well with the tropical fruit notes that many of the newer hop varieties exhibit. Citrus, pineapple, papaya, mango, and more all feature prominently in this new wave of beers.
Accordingly, Cascade Lakes Brewing Company announced the year-round release of Pineapple Kush IPA earlier this month, on draft and in 12-ounce cans. According to president Chris Justema, the beer is brewed with three pounds of pineapple per barrel (31 gallons) of beer, not too much to overwhelm the style but enough for a “hint of the tropics,” according to the press release.
I found the ale to express a juicy and sweet pineapple character that reminded me of whole ripe pineapple. The hops themselves, a blend of Centennial, Idaho 7, and Mosaic (all known for pungent tropical fruit and citrus character), give off dank tropical aromas and a bit of forest floor, which complements the fruit.
It’s a sweet beer, with a blend of malts and sugary fruit, with an herbal hop bitterness to balance it out. The pineapple flavor itself is a bit muted but it does come across as a sweet juicy note without any tang; it melds well with the hop flavors.
At 37 IBUs there is just enough hop character to register as an IPA but it’s tempered and balanced.
Going in a different direction than IPA, Worthy Brewing Company recently released its seasonal Farm Out Saison with a tropical twist — passion fruit. Riffing on Belgian traditions, head brewer Dustin Kellner said in the press release, “The Saison yeast strain is one that can pair very well with fruit, so the idea was to find a unique fruit option that could provide a little sweetness and acidity, but still pair well with the clove and spice characteristics of the yeast.”
To my nose and palate, the passion fruit character was fairly minimal. The ale exhibits the classic rustic saison characteristics of spice, with white pepper, hints of clove, light herbal grassiness, and a suggestion of bubblegum.
There was a light touch of fruit in the flavor, with a kiss of tart character at the back of the throat.
By itself, passion fruit is described as having something of a tropical sweet tart (like the candy) flavor, which is similar to the fruity tartness I detected in the beer. Brightly floral with spicy yeast character, Farm Out Passion Fruit is a nice example of the saison style, but I had a hard time finding the passion fruit contribution; others might find it more readily.
These beers are available and worth trying if you are fruit-curious. And keep an eye out for other fruit beers around the region — you will likely find at least one available at most of the brewpubs this season.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!