The beer case is starting to look more and more like the produce section. Fruity brews are popping up everywhere, and not just your standard citrus-flavored beers; we’re talking about mango jalapeño sours, passionfruit goses and even kiwi lambics. That’s good news for a lot of people—especially cocktail drinkers looking to break into the beer world. If you, like us, have a go-to brand of coconut cream for your Painkillers but not a go-to pale ale, then these produce-packed ales are the ultimate gateway. To learn more, we tapped a serious expert for help.
Max Bakker is the senior educator at Anheuser-Busch's craft beer division, The High End. He is the only Master Cicerone currently located in New York City, and that’s a big deal. In the entire world, there are only 13 Master Cicerones. To become certified, one must complete a complex series of written and oral exams that test your knowledge of beer styles, draft systems and brewing technology—and then there’s the blind-tasting portion of the test. If you score below 85 percent, you fail. So, yeah, Bakker knows his stuff—and that includes fruity beers. Here, he reveals his favorite fruited brews for summer, how these sweet-tart beers are even made, and how to use them in spritzy cocktails.
Supercall: What fruity beers have you been drinking this summer—more importantly, which ones should we be drinking?
MB: As a cicerone, I have been luckily enough to sample a lot of wonderful fruited beers this summer. A few beers that come to mind are the Blue Point Beach Plum Gose, the 10 Barrel Raspberry Crush, Karbach’s Lemon Ginger Radler, Golden Road’s Tart Mango, the New Glarus Belgian Red from Wisconsin, Founders Rubaeus and Green Flash’s Passion Fruit Kicker.
SC: How are fruity beers made?
MB: Fruity beers all start off in the same manner as other beer styles in the brew house, and any beer style can be transformed into a fruited version. Ultimately, it’s for the brewer to decide. Beer styles like blonde ales, American wheat beers, cream ales, Berliner weisses and goses are like blank canvases. These beers allow the full fruit flavors—and sometimes colors—to be easily detected in the beer’s appearance, aroma and flavor. Beer styles like lambics, Flanders reds, oud bruins, IPAs, porters, which tend to be more intense in general, can have fruit added, but it can be hard to even detect the type of fruit added to these styles.
SC: Do brewers use real fruit?
MB: Not all fruit beers use real fruit. Fresh fruit and fruit flavors can be added to the beer in a multitude of ways. Some fruit beers have real fruit added straight from the farm, while others have a pasteurized fruit puree, frozen fruit or a natural fruit extract added. In the case of a radler, it is actually a fruit soda that is combined with a beer base to create a low alcohol, fruit-flavored beer.
SC: What fruits are used in beer-making—traditionally and today?
MB: Most of the traditional fruited beer styles contain soft fruits like cherries, raspberries and strawberries, or stone and pomme fruits like apricot, peach, apple and pear. Citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit are also common traditionally. Now, there’s been an explosion of tropical and hyper-regional fruited beers. These beers have fruit flavors like pineapple, mango, guava, passion fruit, coconut and even acai. Native, regional fruits include things like huckleberries, beach plums, rhubarb, watermelon and persimmons.
SC: Should we be drinking fruity beers with food or on their own?
MB: Fruit-forward beers make a great addition to a meal. When you’re pairing fruit-forward beers with food, you have to be careful. You want to avoid trying to match too many similar flavors together at once. We commonly refer to this as “canceling.” Canceling causes prominent flavors in both the beer and the food to cancel each other out, and they end up getting lost in the pairing rather than enhancing each other.
SC: So what should we eat with them?
MB: Fruit-forward beers are great at cutting through the heft of richer, heavier foods. These beers tend to have more acidity than others and are a lot more aromatic. Essentially, you want the flavors to complement each other so well that they elevate the total experience of a meal. Some examples of complementary flavors, for both sweet and savory pairings, are chocolate and strawberry, pork with apple or pineapple, chicken and orange, salsas with mango, plain cheesecake and cherry, and even peanut butter and grape.
SC: At heart, we’re cocktail people. Is it okay for us to use fruit beers in mixed drinks?
MB: Yes, most definitely. Fruit-forward beers and even ciders or fruited, hard seltzers can be used to make cocktails. You can use a small amount to replace or enhance garnishes like cherries or citrus. You can use the beer’s bitterness and aromatics in lieu of traditional bitters. Or you can use the carbonation and fruit flavors to create a refreshing summer spritz.
SC: A fruity-beer spritz sounds perfect right now. Our last question for you: What makes these fruit-forward beers so damn perfect for summer?
MB: In the same way a picnic wouldn’t be complete without cold watermelon or fruit salad, the combination of sweet, sour and bitter along with a refreshing bite of effervescence make fruit-forward beers a refreshing break from warm summer days.