BEER CLINIC :: A Fruit Basket of Beer

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on September 30, 2014

Part 1: Fresh from the market

indexSummer has come to an end, and it is time to enjoy the bounty of the land. Farmers’ Markets are in full swing, homegrown tomatoes are everywhere, and local apples are appearing in the supermarket. The season is beginning for Octoberfest and pumpkin beers, but first let’s take the time to enjoy those wonderful seasonal fruit beers.

I have never seen such a proliferation of fruit-based crafts as I have this year. Though a few of the larger breweries have seasonal fruit offerings which they release every year (e.g. Abita’s Strawberry Harvest Ale), this year it seems that even the smaller brewers are doing so, too. They are taking advantage of locally grown produce, adding it to their standard ales or wheats, or even creating new styles. Since these beers have limited production due to the availability of fresh produce, they may only be available for a short time, until the crop is gone and the barrel is empty.

Preconfusion?

Preconfusion?

This was the summer of fresh produce for Breaker Brewing Company, my local brewery in Wilkes Barre, PA. BBC wholeheartedly embraced seasonal produce, brewing many offbeat, fruit and vegetable-flavored beers. Even though I made several trips to the brewery, I wasn’t able to try them all, as some of these small batches were completely gone before I got there! And please do forgive me if I get some of the details wrong, since there were so many on draft at one visit I had to taste 7 at one sitting. Not surprising that things got a bit hazy for me.

Two BBC offerings stood out in originality and flavor.

Minefire Blackberry Jalapeno, at about 5.5% ABV, is a wonderful craft beer. It has a flavor complexity that is really outside of the box. It does not taste like hot peppers, as you might expect; instead, the peppers act like bittering hops. Additionally, there is a background of toasted malt that adds another level of complexity. This beer already has a number of local followers, including myself. When it’s on draft it is my first pick. This is gold-medal quality!

Tomato Sour IPA. The brewers have been experimenting with sour beers, including a sour pear, but this tomato sour really blew me away. It isn’t red, and it sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice, but it’s a nice, mellow sour that pairs very well with food. The only downside is that it has a slight, unusual aftertaste that makes it less than perfect–but not bad for the first vegetable beer I have ever tasted (pumpkins excluded). What next? Carrots are in season, and they contain a lot of fermentable sugar. Why not a carrot cake ale, with walnuts and raisons?

Other fruit beers included:

The Beer Doc and Breaker's Chris Miller

The Beer Doc and Breaker’s Chris Miller

5 Whistle Watermelon Wheat. This is a light, summer beer on BBC’s wheat ale base, and this is the second year it has been released. Because it is finised with the addition of fresh watermelon, the taste depends primarily on the flavor of the watermelon itself. Last year’s was a bit sweeter than this, and the 2014 release has more hop character, but all told it is a good, refreshing, low alcohol (4.2%) summer drink. I wrote about this ale in YourBeerNetwork last summer, “The Best Summer Beer You’ll Never Taste.” The pic to the right shows me tasting the watermelon wheat with Chris Miller, co-owner and brewer.

Laurel Line Lemongrass IPA, at 4.5% ABV, was quite nice, with an herbal flavor that complimented the hops. Last year’s version of this tasted like lemonade, whereas this release is much more grownup.

There were two citrus-based IPAs, the Orange IPA and Daybreak Grapefruit IPA, both at about 6% ABV. I’m not clear how they were made, and I believe both were based on their I Love PA ale. The grapefruit paired well with the IPA taste, probably because grapefruit is, after all, one of the characteristics of American hops. It was a pleasant drink. On the other hand, the orange ale was not inspiring and I wouldn’t order it again.

Finally, the Chocolate Mint Ale, included because it is a fresh herb beer. This one was not to my taste. It was a light colored ale, and the flavors just didn’t work with the malts or the alcohol level (I’m guessing it was at least 6% ABV). On the other hand, when I mixed it 50-50 with their Old King Cole Stout, as suggested by the bartender, it was really very nice. My suggestion? Next time brew it as a chocolate mint porter, with lots of dense malt, and a splash of vanilla. You got it — Girl Scout Cookie porter! Just in time for cookie season.

Addendum:

Since I wrote this review Breakers has produced two ales made with fresh Mosaic hops, as well as a Sour Pear and a Cranberry Ginger Ale, both very nice. Also of note, they have started to offer their ales from a firkin (small keg), steeped over fresh fruit. They set up one firkin each weekend. These are nice if you like fruit tastes in your beer, and they usually sell out before the weekend is over. I’ve had the Lunch Pail Ale over blueberry, Lightheaded IPA over apricots. A nice way to highlight fresh local fruit, and a big hit at the brewery.

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Coming up: Fruits, Sours and Oak

Also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Katharine September 30, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Must try some of these fruit beers. I will see what they are doing in my area with local produce. They sound good!

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