Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

November 19, 2007

Beer Diary:

Fruit Beer Manifesto

When it comes to craft fruit beers, using juice additives instead of actual fruit is a total sellout.
by Jill Jaracz

Jill Jaracz is not a fruit, but she loves a good fruit beer. And wheats and wits. Catch her other writing at The Diva Platform, Prevention Magazine's Buzz Blogs, and Gapers Block.
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As a fruit beer lover, I often have a difficult time finding fruit beers to enjoy. Authentic fruit beer is a difficult style?fruit contains some freaky sugars that can mess up the brewing process, while workarounds can give rise to higher chances of bacterial contamination, which may be why a lot of craft brewers shy away from this style. And, let?s face it, sweet beers aren?t everyone?s cup of tea.

So I keep my eye out for any Midwestern fruit beers, offering up a prayer to the beer gods every time I go to a liquor store or brew pub, hoping that this time I?ll find a new fruit beer I can try for all the beer dorks like me, who like that fruity goodness (and also convince themselves that with the added fruit, beer is even more healthy than usual).

Lately though, I?ve noticed a few more fruit beers creeping onto the shelf. Raspberry wheat is becoming a summertime staple for a few breweries. Pumpkin is also a trendy flavor for fall. It seemed quite popular this year, with a number of brewers getting this specialty on the shelf. Of course, I?m quite happy about the increased offerings, but I have noticed a disturbing trend with fruit beers: Instead of using real fruit, some breweries are making do by substituting fruit juice. To me that?s like taking the craft out of the craft beer.

I?ve noticed this with Leinenkugel?s Berry Weiss and Summer Shandy. Berry Weiss may have won a silver meal at the 2007 Great American Beer Fest, but if you drink a good amount of Berry Weiss, the flavor shifts from a nice berry sweetness to something that?s a little overly sweet. The beer suddenly tastes a little off, and that?s when you notice it has fruit juice in it. Same goes for the lemon in the Summer Shandy. It?s lemony, lemony, and all of a sudden it tastes like house cleaner.

The Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines for fruit beer state, ?The fruit character should be pleasant and supportive, not artificial and inappropriately overpowering (considering the character of the fruit) nor should it have defects such as oxidation.?

The guidelines go further to add, ?The balance of fruit with the underlying beer is vital, and the fruit character should not be so artificial and/or inappropriately overpowering as to suggest a fruit juice drink,? and, ?The sugar found in fruit is usually fully fermented and contributes to lighter flavors and a drier finish than might be expected for the declared base style. However, residual sweetness is not necessarily a negative characteristic unless it has a raw, unfermented quality.?

When a brewery uses fruit juice instead of pure fruit, it toes the line of artificial taste that goes against style. How could fruit juice be such a detriment to a beer? Well, if the fruit juice used is not 100 percent fruit juice, it?s got extra water and sweeteners in it, and we?re not talking plain-old sugar here. We?re talking high fructose corn syrup, which makes everything it?s added to a heck of a lot sweeter than it probably should be. And, yes, this sweetness can come through even after fermentation. Beer shouldn?t taste so ungodly sweet that you?d think a toddler should be drinking it instead of you.

Compare a couple of fruit beers. Take a Leinie?s Berry Weiss and compare it with, say Founders Rübaeus. Pretty soon into each, you?ll really notice the freshness and fuller fruit subtleties in the Rübaeus compared to the HEY, THIS IS A BERRY-FLAVORED BEER! (with a bit of a funky aftertaste) smack in the face that Berry Weiss becomes. You can compare it to eating gourmet hamburgers after a diet of fast food. Soon your palate doesn?t want the fast food anymore. You want the real thing, the real goodness that only comes with pure ingredients.

When I was recently at my local liquor store and saw that Sand Creek had come out with a cranberry ale, I was excited to try something new?until I saw that it was made with cranberry juice. I knew if I brought home a six-pack, I?d probably just be disappointed with the flavor. Then I?d probably spend months trying to pawn off five bottles of cranberry beer onto unsuspecting friends, and you really shouldn?t do that to friends. I just can?t do that to myself anymore. I?m a fruit purist from now on, declaring war on all beers who use lousy fruit juice as an excuse in their so-called fruit beers.

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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