Fruit beers are often polarizing—people either love them or hate them. Thankfully, there has been so much experimentation, from different base-beer styles to real-fruit additives and varying aging techniques. Today’s selections offer something for most palates, running the gamut from nuanced to in-your-face fruitiness, and just about everything in between.
As an overall style, fruit beers are loosely defined. It can be argued, however, that many of the best examples are those crafted from a sour beer base, offering balance and vibrancy to what could be an otherwise overly sweet or cloying fruit flavor.
Some of the best fruit beers come from Belgium, where traditional lambics are king. Spontaneously fermented and blended with fresh fruits during secondary fermentation, these are some seriously fruit-driven beers that exhibit the best of the ingredient alongside tart wild-yeast flavors. They are also quite low in alcohol, which means you can enjoy more without serious side effects.
Although wild ferments are famously rooted in Belgian brewing tradition, American brewers have created a style of their own: American wild ales. “Wild” yeasts or bacteria, such as Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, Pediococcus and Lacto-bacillus, are introduced into ferments, leaving a distinct imprint on the beer. Often, these are sour notes as well as barnyard, Band-Aid, animal or earthy characteristics.
Many brewers also add fruit—or as we see from some of the selections reviewed this month, traditional wine grapes—to these ales. These additions augment the acidic, vinous characteristics that these brews often exhibit.
Also rooted in European tradition, gose—a German-style soured wheat ale brewed with salt and spices—has caught the attention of American brewers as a refreshing, fun and playful style of beer open to interpretation, as well as various fruit additions. Some of these hot offerings are also included below.
Lindemans Oude Kriek Cuvée René Grand Cru (Fruit Lambic; Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium); $13/750 ml, 96 points. This selection is new to the U.S. market, but according to the brewery’s Web site, it is the beer they are most proud to create. This is masterfully crafted and perfectly balanced. Whole cherries are added to the base lambic inside oak foudres, then fermented for six months before bottling, resulting in a complex, layered, dried- and spiced-cherry character. Cherry juice, pie filling, baking spice, rose petal, barnyard and light oak dance on the nose and mouth. It’s unpasteurized, not sweetened like many of the brewery’s other fruit lambics, and referments in the bottle, giving this a dry, pleasantly funky character that lingers long on the finish. Merchant du Vin. Cellar Selection.
Odell Brewing Co. Piña Agria Sour Pineapple (American Wild Ale; Odell Brewing Co., CO); $17/750 ml, 92 points. This is the kind of beer that makes you wonder why more people haven’t used pineapple in their sours before. Sure, Odell isn’t the first, but this is a delicious, harmonious brew that marries the intensely wild and funky character of an American wild ale with the sweet yet tart flavor of ripe pineapple, and to wonderful effect. Pineapple is front and center on the nose and palate, as expectred, but pleasant, supporting notes of underripe mango, melon and citrus round the experience out. Medium carbonation and assertive acidity makes for a lively and refreshing palate, finishing tart and juicy, with hints of barnyard, hay and white pepper.
Avery Brewing Spontanea Barrel-Aged Wild Ale (American Wild Ale; Avery BrewingCo., CO); $NA/12 oz, 91 points. Number 24 in the brewery’s barrel-aged series, this wild ale is brewed with Cabernet Sauvignon must from Boulder’s Bookcliff Winery. The beer underwent 100% spontaneous fermentation after the grapes sat in a tank with the malted barley for seven days, and then was transferred to neutral oak barrels and aged for one year. The resulting beer is surprisingly clean and wine-like, with a palpable tannic structure and earthy character. Typical Cabernet Sauvignon elements show on the nose and palate, with assertive tones of blackberry, plum, licorice and toasted spice all mingling harmoniously. Peppery oak, dry tannins and a leathery accent all unfold on the evolving finish. A complex and unique bottle worth savoring. 123 cases produced.
Victory Kirsch Gose (Gose; Victory Brewing Co., PA); $9/12 oz 4 pack, 91 points. A lively, bright and extremely effervescent brew, forget about a bowl of cherries and reach for this fruity stunner instead. It pours a clear light-red color, with a glimmer of a head that dissipates quickly. The aromas and flavors are fresh and fruit-forward, with just-ripe red cherry leading the way while hints of citrus and barnyard dance in the background. The carbonation is high and the palate brisk, with racing acidity and a hint of salinity holding on the finish.
Avery Brewing Einzigartig Barrel-Aged Wild Ale (American Wild Ale; Avery Brewing Co., CO); $NA/12 oz, 90 points. Number 25 in the brewery’s barrel-aged series, this wild ale is brewed with Riesling must from Boulder’s Bookcliff Winery, then aged a year in neutral Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. The result is a highly successful, well-balanced beer-wine hybrid, offering a vinous bouquet of tropical fruit, golden raisin, lemon and funky wild yeast. The mouthfeel is tart and acidic, with a subtle warmth and roundness to the ripe tropical-fruit flavors, although not as much as the alcohol would suggest. Hints of sweet spice and oak kiss the lingering finish. 159 cases produced.
Odell Brewing Co. Brombeere Blackberry Gose (Gose; Odell Brewing Co., CO); $12/12 oz 4 pack, 90 points. This refreshing and mouthwatering selection pours a hazy red color, with upfront aromas of muddled blackberry, fleur du sel, soft grain and underripe peach. Those notes continue through to the juicy palate, with a brisk mouthfeel, medium-high carbonation and superb salinity that lingers long on the berry-cereal flavored finish.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company Highway 128 Session Series Blood Orange Gose (Gose; Anderson Valley Brewing Company, CA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 89 points. A tart, juicy and immensely refreshing selection, this offers subtle scents of orange, lemon and sea spray. The palate offers more intensity than the nose, with sour, somewhat scathingly acidic tones of sour citrus and wild yeast, ending bitter, dry and salty. The carbonation is high and the mouthfeel light and prickly. Being canned, this is a perfect choice for beach days or other warm-weather outings, and would pair well with barbecued chicken or cedar-plank salmon.