I know that sometimes it seems like beer blogs exist to be critical of beer and brewers. Today is good news, though: brewers seem to have really figured out how to make fruit beer.
I'm dead serious. This isn't a setup for some kind of satirical take on fruit beer. Craft (and even some craft-y) breweries are cranking out top-notch beers that also happen to be fruit-centered or fruit-accented (and no, I'm not counting that orange wedge on the side of the glass - that's still a travesty). Sometime in the last couple of years I've started to notice a dramatic improvement in the quality of fruit beers, and it's really wonderful to see.
The Dividends of Variety
One reason this came up at all is because I set myself the challenge of drinking a new beer for every beer of 2017. No repeats - I get one serving (12-22 oz.) of each beer that I have, but that's it for the year for that beer (which has done all kinds of weird things to my homebrewing plans - lots of high-ABV and dark beers that will hold up until 1/1/2018!).
The first update on how this is going will be posted in two weeks, the short version being "not that hard so far," but one side-effect of it is that I'm going out of my way to order seasonal or "not usually my first choice" beers so that I can preserve (for example) that Sinebrychoff Porter for a special occasion somewhere further down the calendar.
Thus, my recent exposure to more fruit beers than usual. One dividend of enforced variety.
Long Way's Journey Into Right
I have no problem admitting that I had a low opinion of fruit beers to begin with. Not so much the Krieks and Peches of the world: though they're fruit beers, I tend to think of them as sours or Belgians first, fruit beers second or third. But the generic "peach wheat" beers, "cherry stouts," and recently the seemingly-ubiquitous "citrus fruit pale ale/IPA."
These were beers that, for years, seemed either determined to de-beer the beers they were used for ("Don't like beer? Try a FRUIT beer!"), or were so poorly balanced that it was like drinking beer that had been over-spiked with citric acid or sour cherry extract and/or a ton of unfermentable sugar. They were beers made by brewers that seemed to want to change beer into FRUIT beer.
Dancing, Not Fighting
But then - as I say, I came to this recently, but maybe it's been coming for a while now - there seemed to be a change in the approach. The fruits being used were now much more complementary than substitutive. It wasn't "apricot malt liquor with a hint of grain" or "blood orange juice with 120 IBUs - you know, for intensity" anymore. I started getting non-Belgian non-Sours that were actually using fruit as a balanced part of the flavor profile in the beer.
There were still exceptions, of course. Grapefruit IPAs are always going to be hard if you're not careful. Grapefruit is a bitter, acidic fruit and creating a balanced beer I could drink two pints of from it is a serious challenge (though I did have one recently that would have fit the bill, but for my stupid self-imposed challenge). That's what they are, now, though - exceptions. Of the last half-dozen fruit beers I've had, all have been at least "good," and a couple were in the vicinity of "great."
I now give serious thought to ordering fruit beer. Not because I'm forced into it by a narrowly-constructed draft list, but because I'm actually curious. The ingredients now seem to be dancing, not fighting. The beers are honest-to-goodness beer, not some fruit punch that uses barley or wheat. The fruit is used as an accent or a supporting player, not a domineering, astringent, tart sledgehammer.
It's just nice to see.
The Blueberry Exception
I still say, though, that there's no such thing as a good blueberry beer. Blueberry mead or wine? Excellent. Blueberry beer? Never had one that was able to get firm (natural) blueberry flavor. I'll try again when I head to Maine this summer, but I'm not optimistic.
But hey - hope springs eternal.
Keep it simple.
[Author's Note: For those who are inevitably going to complain that I didn't list any fruit beers for you to try, let me state in advance that I very rarely do that. First, someone automatically takes issue with it - "I've had that beer, and it sucks. This guy's an idiot." Second, someone else automatically assumes I'm shilling for that brewery and getting paid for it - I'm not, but why invite the criticism? And third, doing so also automatically generates a response of, "who the f**k are you to tell ME what to drink?" No one. And I'm not. In any case, the point of the article (since this is the second thing that happens - "what was the point of that? This guy's an idiot.") is that you should be more open to trying whatever fruit beers you see - not that a couple of them are doing well. So, it would be kind of contrary to the spirit of the piece to send you out with a list. There - done.]