There are few types of beer as broad-reaching, open-ended, and misunderstood as fruit beer. Most people hear the mention of fruit and imagine a fruity drink that tastes nothing like beer. While the haters may think what they want, fruit beer is actually one of the most popular and diverse beer categories in the world.
The chances are that you’ve had a beer made with fruit at some point and didn’t even realize it until after you downed it. Given a fair chance, fruit beer can stick with the best of the pack in terms of flavor, color, clarity, and quality.
What Exactly is a Fruit Beer?
Part of the reason beer made with fruit gets such a bad rap from beer lovers is that it’s a very open-ended category. Technically speaking, any beer that uses fruit as a primary or secondary flavoring is considered a fruit beer. This covers a surprisingly broad range of beer and opens up the possibility of developing many more varieties.
Beers made with fruit can be sweet, tart, sour, fruity, aromatic, hoppy, and everything in between. Just because it has fruit as one of its ingredients doesn’t always mean that it will be the focal point of the beer. Fruit beer can look, taste, smell, and feel any way you want it to. Alternative varieties such as IPAs, stouts, lagers, and wheat beer can also fall into the category of this beer, depending on their ingredients.
For example, many IPAs incorporate grapefruit or other citrus flavors into their brew. While these beers aren’t typically considered fruit beer, they technically are. In general, however, the most popular fruit beers are the ones that go all in and embrace their fruitiness in both name and taste.
History of Fruit Beer
Unlike most other types and styles of beer, fruit beer doesn’t have a clear-cut history. The odds are that somebody got curious about what would happen if they mixed strawberries or oranges into their beer somewhere along the way, and the fruit beer was born. This has made this kind of beer the subject of question and controversy and led to extensive research into its origins.
One study listed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences cited evidence that fruit beer was the invention of ancient villagers in the early BC years. The evidence listed says that the beer these Neolithic Chinese villagers concocted consisted of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit, and grapes.
Another source says that the first known fruit beer came to us from the ancient Egyptians, who incorporated dates and pomegranates into their brews. More recent history suggests that the Germans and Belgians were the first to develop fruit beer. These beers were created in the early 1900s and were known as Krieks or Lambics and were made with cherries.
While it’s very conceivable that beer made with fruit has been around longer than 100 years, the exact origins remain unknown. Regardless of where it came from, it has remained on the back of the beer shelf as one of the lesser-known and somewhat niche varieties. A big part of the reason for that, however, is because people simply don’t understand what qualifies as a fruit beer.
Fruit Beer in America
While fruit has been an undocumented ingredient in European beer for hundreds of years, the United States was mainly unreceptive to the idea. It wasn’t until the 1980s that fruit beer started to be accepted in the states and made its way to the forefront of the brewing industry thanks to the rise of craft beer in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.
For the first while, fruit or fruit extracts were added to beer as a discreet and often unnoticeable ingredient. Having fruit as the focal point was simply unheard of by American standards. Whether brewers were making IPAs, sours, shandies, wheat beer, or anything in between, fruit was often a background ingredient.
However, fruit has started to become the main event in many brews in recent years. Some even feel like fruit is becoming the fourth pillar in the beer world, taking its place along with the three classic ingredients of malt, hops, and yeast.
Narrowing Down Fruit Beer
Unfortunately, going into detail about all the different beers that use fruit as an ingredient would be too tall of a task. Instead, we’ll focus the remainder of this article on beer that uses fruit as its main ingredient. As the main ingredient, fruit should be the focal point of the beer and determine its flavor, aroma, appearance, and character.
Characteristics of a Fruit Beer
The characteristics of fruit beer are extremely broad and open to interpretation. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, which is like the Bible of beer, fruit beer should take on the characteristics and appearance of whatever the declared base beer and fruit are.
When done to perfection, this kind of beer should result in a perfect harmony of fruit and beer, but still, be clearly recognizable as a beer. The fruit character should be evident but never overpowering and balanced with the beer. The fruit should also not be so forward and obtrusive as to suggest an artificial product in place of natural fruit.
Flavor and Aroma
The flavor and aroma of your beer should reflect the type of fruit included in the brew. If you have a raspberry or strawberry ale, you should be able to taste and smell the fruit, but it shouldn’t be overpowering or in-your-face. The same goes for lemon or grapefruit shandies or mango wheat beer. You should be able to smell and taste the liquid and know what fruit is involved, but it should be overwhelming.
Additionally, fruit should only add to the flavor and aroma of beer but not to the sweetness. The sugar that fruit contains will be fermented during the brewing process. Fruit is meant to contribute a lighter or drier flavor to fruit beer rather than an almost artificial sweetness.
A big problem that inexperienced brewers run into is trying to make the fruit stick out too much. This can result in a pungent, strong odor and flavor unbecoming of a good beer.
Mouthfeel refers to how a beer feels while drinking it in terms of lightness, carbonation, and dryness versus sweetness. The mouthfeel of fruit beer should reflect what the base style is and what the central ingredients are. Sours and ales will feel different than a wheat beer or hefeweizen. Carbonation and body lightness should reflect the base style.
One thing worthy of note is that fruit contains fermentables that will make beer feel thinner. As a result, a fruit beer will likely feel slightly lighter than what’s typical of the base style.
Clarity and Color
Once again, the clarity and color of a fruit beer will depend on the base style of the beer and what fruit is used.
The alcohol content of fruit beer varies wildly. You have non-alcoholic beer or beer on the low end with an ABV of only two or 3%. However, on the high end, some fruit beer has an ABV as high as 10 to 12%.
What are the Ingredients in a Fruit Beer?
Like all types of beer, fruit beers’ main four ingredients are malt, hops, and yeast, as well as carbonated water.
Fruit beer contains hops but usually the less bitter varieties. Opting for hops with a low alpha content is best, such as Cascade or East Kent Golding.
Like all beer, fruit beers contain malted barley, wheat, or grain.
A clean fermenting and highly attenuating yeast are best for fruit beers.
You can add and feature whatever types of fruit that you desire. Cherries, berries, apricots, peaches, mangoes, melons, and anything else you can think of is fair game.
Food Pairings With a Fruit Beer
You can eat or drink almost anything with a good fruit beer. Chicken, red meat, other white meats, snacks, and anything else you can think of go good with these beers.
What are the Top Fruit Beers on the Market?
- The Hardywood Park Craft Brewing Company makes a Raspberry Stout that’s to die for
- If apricot is more your speed, the Dry Dock Brewing Company makes an Apricot Blonde, the Pyramid Brewing Company makes an Apricot Ale, and the Wasatch Brewery makes the Apricot Hefeweizen
- Grapefruit Sculpin by the Ballast Point Brewing Company is another winner
- The Strange Brewing Company makes one of the best cherry beers on the market, the Cherry Kriek
Can I Brew My Own Fruit Beer at Home?
Fruit beer is one of the easier beers to brew at home in terms of ingredients and brewing process. The art of getting the perfect balance between fruit and beer, however, is much harder. Balance is the key, and the only way that you’ll learn how to achieve it is through practice and experimentation. You’re sure to enjoy the process, though!
Hopefully, I was able to convince you how viable and delicious fruit beer can be when it’s done correctly. The perfect beer made in this style should be reflective of the fruit and base style being emulated and should never be overpowering one way or another. Just like balance and harmony are the key to having a happy life, they’re also the key to a delicious beer.
To learn more about other kinds of beer, read our beer style profile blog posts.