The fruit beer growing in popularity on menus today is not your ’90s fruit beer, says Gordon Schuck, cofounder and head brewer at Funkwerks in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I think it’s easy for people to look at taps, see a fruit beer, and say, ‘Oh, I know raspberry,’” he says. “They have an idea of what that beer tastes like, instead of trying to decipher other beer styles.”
According to Nielsen’s Craft Beer Insights Poll conducted in May 2018, weekly craft beer drinkers report that they are 39 percent more interested in drinking fruit beers now than they were a few years ago. Thus, there is a lot of room for innovation in terms of fruits and styles to meet this growing interest. “With more popularity from small and independent craft brewers, we have more style variants, including barrel-aged fruit beers, fruited IPAs, and others,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at Brewers Association. “Beer lovers today are excited to try these.”
Today’s consumer enjoys fruit beers that have a more subtle fruit flavor than they may have in the past as well, making the beers more palatable and pairable. “In the past, fruit was associated with sweet, cloying beer styles, but, with the creativity of brewers today, it has really opened people’s eyes to all its uses, both as a flavor additive and as a fermentable sugar ingredient,” says Paige Reilly, director of operations for New Original Breweries, which runs Los Angeles area’s Bluebird Brasserie, 6TH & La Brea Brewery & Restaurant, The Stalking Horse Brewery and Freehouse, and Broxton Brewery & Public House.
Scott Hunter, chief of strategic development at Urban Artifact Brewing in Cincinnati, believes that one of the big reasons for fruit beer’s recent growth is the fact that craft brewers are utilizing real fruit in beer, instead of flavorings and extracts. “I also think the growth of sour beer has helped spur on fruit beer since the presence of acidity helps showcase the fruit flavor while also balancing the beer,” he says.
Tastes vary depending on any number of factors, but Schuck believes that raspberry is probably the king of fruit beers. “We’ve made boysenberry, blackberry, passionfruit, pineapple, and others, but raspberry is usually the top seller for us,” he says.
Matt Simpson, owner of the consultancy The Beer Sommelier in Atlanta, says some lambic fruits span beer history. They include strawberry, raspberry, peach, apple, and cherry. “Many hops mimic citrus fruits,” says Simpson. “So, you get mango, passionfruit, grapefruit, tangerine, and others represented in the Americanized IPA style, and a lot of people are adding fruit to those.”
If it grows on a tree, chances are, brewers have put it in a beer, or so says Jess Baker, editor in chief of CraftBeer.com. “Blueberries, strawberries, and cherries come to mind as popular fruits that small and independent craft brewers use in their beers,” she says. “Breweries also use local and regional products, like Michigan cherries or New Jersey blueberries.”
In Cincinnati and the surrounding areas, Hunter says that citrus, cherries, and berries are the three most popular fruit beers being served. “I find that more well-known fruit tends to work better for full-service restaurants,” Hunter says. “Customers have a clearer expectation because they know the fruit, and staff feel more comfortable talking about something they know.”
On the more daring side of fruit beers, Nick Williams, head brewer at Forbidden Root restaurant and brewery in Chicago, says that he’s seeing an increase in the use of pawpaw fruit. “Pawpaw is a native fruit to North America, which has a custardy banana mango taste.” Williams has also seen mango, papaya, guava, prickly pear, and the citrus fruits Buddha’s hand and yuzu being used in fruit beer. “People are more adventurous nowadays and willing to try a glass of something new,” he says.
Alcove in Boston carries Almanac Beer Company’s Valley of the Heart’s Delight. “Heart’s Delight is a sour beer that’s aged with apricots and cherries that are local to the Silicon Valley,” says principal bartender Will Piquette. “This is a fruit-forward sour, but not in the way that it presents with ripe fruit notes; it’s high acid, high impact, and very drinkable.”
Ultimately, Simpson of The Beer Sommelier believes that a good fruit beer is about balance. “I like a nice medium-to-low-sweetness base beer with a big fruit essence and a good acidity,” he says. “Examples that come to mind are Founders Brewing Company Cerise, Lindemans Brewery Kriek Cuvée René, and the fruit beers from New Glarus Brewing.”