Fruit beers aren't just made in Belgium anymore
International brewers are crafting fruit styles to produce a new crop of fruit beers.
These days, the use of fruit during the beer-brewing process is no longer the sole preserve of the Belgians, known for their tart lambics infused with raspberry and peach. More international brewers have been trying their hand at fruit styles and producing a new crop of fruit beers.
David Cohen, the brewmaster of Tel Aviv’s Dancing Camel brewery, explained that his brews are clearly rooted in their birthplace. “The founding mission of the Dancing Camel was to brew beers that are identifiable as Israeli; that incorporate many of the fruits, herbs and spices that are indigenous to this region of the world,” he told From the Grapevine.
Chief among them is the seasonal 613, a pomegranate ale brewed in the fall. Yet the pomegranate isn’t the only indigenous ingredient thrown into the mix at Dancing Camel. Date honey (formally called silan) is also utilized in its Olde Papa Babylonian Olde Ale. Carobs, juniper berries, shata (a chili pepper from Yemen and Sudan), nana (a Mediterranean type of mint) and even etrog (a type of citrus indigenous to Israel, resembling a large lemon) have also found their way into Dancing Camel’s brews.
David Cohen tending to his tanks at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Dancing Camel Brewery)
As Cohen explained, the fruit and spice elements are incorporated at different times during the brewing process to ensure a balanced outcome. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model,” he said. “For the 613, we use a pomegranate syrup that gets added during a secondary fermentation. For the Trog Wit, we use the zest of the etrog at the tail end of fermentation, right before the fermenters are capped, so as to preserve as much of the aroma as possible. Juniper berries are added ... so as to capture flavor without leaching bitterness. Date honey is added at the end of the boil.
“The key with any beer,” continued Cohen, “but especially with fruit beers, is to preserve that delicate balance between the beer and the fruit.” He believes a good beer shouldn't “wind up tasting like a Dr. Pepper or a Bacardi Breezer.”
At New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin, the fruit beers – including Raspberry Tart and Wisconsin Belgian Red – are held in high esteem among the beer cognoscenti. They frequently turn up on best beer lists and dominate the fruit beer rankings on websites such as BeerAdvocate.com.
Dan Carey, who runs the New Glarus brewery with his wife Deborah, explained how he became interested in the Belgian lambic and sour styles. “I was an apprentice brewer in Germany back in the mid-1980s,” he told From The Grapevine. “My family and I were living near Munich and we had a chance to take a short holiday, so we crossed the border over into Belgium. We were visiting breweries in Flanders, breweries that were making lambic and sour styles, and we thought these were really fun beers.”
When Carey returned to the U.S., he began experimenting with incorporating fruit flavors into his own brews. “I was working at an equipment fabricator for breweries and I built this little pilot brewery – probably a 15-liter one,” said Carey. “I started tinkering around with making fruit beers. After around six years of experimenting, I hit upon a recipe. And it was at this point that my wife said: Let’s go home to Wisconsin and build a brewery, and you can sell this beer, because I think it’s really good.”
After six years of painstaking refinement, the exact recipe for the Wisconsin Belgian Red is an understandably kept secret. What is known, however, is that it is based on a sour brown ale style and that a pound of Door County cherries goes into producing each and every bottle. Carey describes the process of making this beer as a “combination of brewing and winemaking techniques, incorporating a sour aging process.” The brew itself is aged in large oak tanks, which are shipped in from wineries in California and France.
Russian River Brewing Company's sour beer offering: Compunction, Temptation, Sanctification, Consecration, Supplication (left to right). (Photo: madika/Flickr)
California-based Russian River Brewing Company's sour dark ale, Consecration, is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels along with black currants and souring agents, which produces a complex, full-bodied pour.
Across the pond, fruit-flavored beers and spirits are shaking up the traditional British market. Sales of flavored beers in the United Kingdom have increased by 80 percent, making it the fastest-growing beer sector in that country. Breweries like Oxfordshire's Wychwood and Edinburgh's Innis and Gunn have responded to customer demand by introducing beers infused with apples and berries alongside their more conventional, hoppy brews.
"We have found that flavored beers appeal to foodie customers who are also more likely to cook from scratch and buy premium brands or products," Chiara Nesbitt, a specialist beer buyer in the U.K., told The Guardian. "The market is still in its relative infancy but it's being noticed by brewers who are launching more products onto the market each year."
Passion Fruit Beer (Photo: Negev Brewery)
Barrel aging isn’t the only cue brewers are taking from the world of winemaking; they are also borrowing the concept of terroir, or "a sense of place," an integral notion in the winemaking industry. For brewers, it’s still acceptable to source yeast, barley and hops from foreign shores, but when it comes to finding fruits to enhance their brews, an increasing number of craft producers are tied to their home soil.
Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat, a city in southern Israel, has also dabbled in fruit beers recently, producing Negev Passion Fruit, a light and refreshing golden ale. Negev Brewery’s CEO Sagiv Karlboim told From the Grapevine, “Negev Passion Fruit is not a typical fruit beer. Unlike others, it still tastes like beer. It has a strong aroma and hint in the taste of passion fruit.”
At Negev Brewery, brewers also look to regional produce to convey a taste of place in the beer. “We add about 6 percent of real passion fruit, which comes from a [farm] next to the brewery,” said Sagiv.
As more quality fruit beers hit the market, misconceptions surrounding them are diminishing. Serious beer drinkers understand that the inclusion of fruit doesn’t have to mean a saccharine or artificial-tasting product. As Dancing Camel's Cohen said, “The key is balance – does the fruit overwhelm the beer or complement it? Is it sometimes called a 'chick beer'? Yes, but that doesn’t have to mean it’s offensive to beer geeks. And besides, what’s wrong with women liking beer?”
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