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Fruit in Beer? Gross, or a Godsend?

tropical-ipabottlepint

 

Fruit is making a comeback. No, not in smoothies or green drinks or freshly picked from the tree, but in beer.

Yes, BEER. Are you gagging yet?

Mango. Pineapple. California prickly pear (are you serious?), strawberry juice, pear juice (what?!), grapefruit. Mango. Papaya. Hibiscus. Hibiscus??

Those are some of the flavors I heard described in brews that are hitting the market just in time for the iconic San Francisco beer week, which kicks off this Friday, then features over 700 beer events all over the bay area.

I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. The newest beers feature FRUIT? There must be something wrong here. Fruit in beer is wrong. Just wrong. Or is it?

Even product manager Terrance Sullivan with Sierra Nevada Brewery can’t believe he just described which fruits you can taste in their new Tropical IPA. “I never dreamed you’d put fruit in a beer, or make it intentionally sour,” he told me at a recent media preview of beer week, “But that’s what the kids want these days.” The kids have no taste, I retorted in my mind, because news reporters aren’t supposed to make retorts.

But then I tasted the Tropical IPA. Loved it. It had enough hops to make it bold and crisp, but the citrus added a nice depth of flavor. I was hooked. Just like I’d been hooked the first time I’d tried the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin. A fact that was very hard for me to admit.

You see, I’d become a beer snob. And you just DON’T PUT FRUIT IN BEER. Or do you?

The first time I drank fruit in beer I didn’t know anything about beer at all. I was 21-years-old, a newly minted bargoer who loved to frequent the quirky McMenamins. Ruby was the beer of choice. A light, fruity ale brewed with raspberry purée, it was the perfect beer for the non-beer drinker.
“Hammerhead is nectar of the gods,” my stepmother would say, referring to the popular pale. I thought it was too bitter, too gross.

But soon, I graduated to Widmer Hefeweizen, enjoying the unfiltered, wheaty texture. When that became too bland, and as my beerbuds became more refined, I swore off fruity beers forever and started drinking the true nectar of the gods: IPAs.

I’ve been an IPA lover even since, enjoying the crisp, hoppy beers, some with the sharp bite of pine, or juniper. I learned I love certain hops, namely, simcoe, Citra, and centennial, which are in brews such as the venerable Pliny the Elder, or Ballast Point Sculpin, or Racer 5. I learned at one beer event that these hops are very closely related to marijuana buds. Go figure.

But when I tGrapefruitSculpin_Primary1ried that Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin in 2015, after years of scoffing at beers that had fruits like watermelon, or raspberries, I knew I’d found something special. The one beer where fruit actually worked. The IPA taste was strong, the grapefruit a mild, yet potent afterthought. It made me feel healthy, adventurous, bold. I could drink this with breakfast! Wait, Kristin, that’s going way too far. But it was very, very good.

 

Now, everyone is riding Ballast’s wave, and adding fruit to beer.

Then, you have brewers like Jim Woods of the Woods Beer Company, who are creating beers that aren’t even like beers at all. He described one beer, with hibiscus, bay leaf and mate, as the rosé of beer.

“We really like being inclusive and showing people there are many different ways to make a beer rather than just making it hoppy and bitter,” he told me. He’s known for creative brews, another is a porter brewed with peppers and chocolate.

I wondered if beers like these, which in my mind aren’t really beers at all, would help attract a new clientele. Like the people I know who don’t like the typical taste of an IPA, or pale, or lager, or hefeweizen. Maybe these beers would entice wine or cocktail drinkers to taste something new.

What I did know was this: My beer Snobbitude was being challenged by these fruit-infused beers. Maybe the “kids” knew something I didn’t when they clamored for pineapple and mango IPAs.

A long time ago, one bartender told me, “There’s a beer out there for everyone.”

Now, it seems that’s closer and closer to being true.