The Session #6: Fruit Beer

The SessionThis month’s Session topic comes to us courtesy of Greg Clow over at Beer, Beats & Bites:

With all of this fruit on the brain (or more accurately, in my belly), it gave me the idea for a theme for Session #6. Therefore, I hereby declare that on Friday, August 3rd, 2007, beer bloggers the world over will be writing about Fruit Beer.

Aside from the stipulation that it be a beer brewed/augmented with fruit (or fruit juice or extract), there are no other rules or guidelines. Anything is fair game, from a tart and funky Kriek or Framboise, to a sugar-laden "lambic", to a Blueberry Wheat or Raspberry Ale from your local brewpub.

I’ll just get this right out: I love fruit beer. Well, I love fruit beer when it’s done well, but I suppose that goes without saying. Not everyone does, though; it seems to be one of those beer types that has a polarizing effect. People either love it or hate it, there’s not much in between.

Sadly, my current beer pantry is devoid of the fruit, nor are any of the local breweries producing a fruit beer right now, so instead of any specific beer, I thought I’d wax rhapsodic about fruit beers in general. Oh, and there are some pointers to some of my past fruit beer reviews, too.

(Actually, I just realized that that’s not entirely true… I have a bottle of Cuvee de Tomme at home, but I’ve been saving that, and already had most of this post written when I realized it.)

Pyramid BrewingThe very first fruit beer I had (back in the mid-90s, this was, when I was first being introduced to microbrews) was Pyramid Apricot Ale (back before it was their Apricot Weizen, this was). It was on tap, not the bottled version, and this was at Ichabod’s North in Spokane (how’s that for memory?), and it was utterly fantastic. Crisp and yeasty from the wheat base, the fruit exploded into a perfectly balanced, drinkable ambrosia that opened a world of possibilities before me.

(Or at least, that’s how it seemed at the time; since then, my experience with Pyramid’s flagship fruit has been that of a tasty, passable beer, but not the world-changing experience I seem to remember. I have no doubt that the beer was better on tap than the bottled version, but still, memory is a fleeting thing. Thankfully, I remember it as a good experience!)

Another memorable beer—I think my second-ever, also at Ichabod’s in Spokane—was Bert Grant’s Apple Honey Ale. Also amazing, to my memory, lighter than the Apricot Ale, and probably more of a cidery character to it. It further cemented in my mind that you could do amazing things with fruit and beer.

BananasI’ve actually brewed a couple of fruit beers myself, an apricot ale and an apple ale. They were wheat based, used fresh fruit, but unfortunately weren’t great. Drinkable. My friend Justin brewed two fruit beers that I remember for being much better—and more unusual: a mango wheat ale, and a banana wheat. Both were, in my opinion, good—and the banana was very good, very subtle.

I’ve been toying with the idea of brewing a rhubarb wheat sometime, as I can get (seasonal) fresh rhubarb from my mom’s garden. The thing about rhubarb is that it’s so sour; perhaps a lambic-ish type of beer would be appropriate with it.

Lindemans FramboiseOf course, no talk of fruit beers can occur without mentioning the King of Fruit Beers: Lindemans lambics. These are the beers that don’t look or taste like beer; the ones that people who ordinarily hate beer will drink and like. My wife, for instance. She hates beer, but loves the Framboise. No other fruit beer stacks up, in this regard.

(Yes, I know that certain folks look down upon Lindemans as not being "pure" in the context of Belgian wild ales, or being too "popular" and losing their way or somesuch. I’m not one of them. I think Lindemans has done a wonderful job of bringing lambics to the general public consciousness, and they make a pretty fine beer, to boot.)

Incidentally, my least-favorite of the Lindemans line is their apple (Pomme). It’s not bad, not at all, but for all the excitement I remember at hearing the news that they were coming out with a new flavor, it was a bit disappointing to finally get a bottle and realize it tastes just like sour apple Jolly Rancher.

Oh well, they can’t all be knocked out of the park.

Finally, for those looking for reviews and opinions on specific beers, here are some of my past reviews:

And for those interested in what my favorite fruit beer might be? Well, I’ll just borrow a page from Lew Bryson and say that it’s the one that I have in front of me at any given time…

3 Responses to The Session #6: Fruit Beer

  1. Ben says:

    Very nice but I’ll push the "Lindemans fruit ‘lambics’ are crap" idea. They’re not really lambics in any real sense, right? Compare any one of their fruit versions with their Cuvee Renee (a real lambic). That said, plenty of very nice fruit lambics/geuezes out there (I’ve enjoyed many a Cantillon Kriek of late).

    I’d also throw a plug for DFH’s outstanding Festina Peche; nicely tart but definitely a peach presence.

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m with Ben. Lindemans are a decent beer in a vacuum, but compared to any other true fruit lambic, they’re sweet and without complexity. Boon and Cantillon are the thing. But hey, what happened to Boon–I don’t seem to see it anywhere anymore.

  3. Jeff says:

    Oh, and then there’s the devilishly beguiling Oudbeitje ….