"It's about us geeking out with flavor and pushing the boundaries of beer. It's sort of how craft beer in America has always been. We've always been pushing the boundaries."
That's Erik Jensen, brewmaster at San Diego's Green Flash brewery, talking about the next big thing in craft beer. He's not referring to bitter IPAs or nitrogen-carbonated brews; he's talking about fruit beer. That's right: It's time to stop throwing shade at the shandy and say hello to your new, go-to summer beverage.
At its core, craft beer has always been about experimentation. As Gerard Leary, owner of New York craft beer bar One Mile House, puts it, "American breweries are ballsy," and fruit beer's newfound popularity is the latest manifestation of that attitude.
If the words ballsy and fruit beer don't sound like they belong in the same conversation, you haven't tried the country's new crop. These beers aren't sickly sweet or artificial tasting. The ones catching our attention are bitter, tart and complex. They run the gamut from IPAs to sour ales and Bretts—a funky style to put it mildly. They're nothing if not cutting edge.
Fruit beer might be brewed with extracts, fresh fruit or hops with a fruity aroma, and it's the latter two categories that are most exciting. It's not easy to make fruit beer that tastes "very beer-like, and less soft drink-like, like many shandies that are out on the market," Alan Newman, founder of Traveler Beer Co., says. But it's precisely that challenge that fuels brewers.
Newman would know. He's also the founder of Magic Hat and the creator of apricot-flavored Magic Hat #9, an early fruit beer. Newman went at it again with Traveler Beer's recent trio of shandies, which required many trials before satisfying everyone. Sierra Nevada has a similar story with its new Otra Vez, a prickly pear cactus-flavored, gose-style beer that was tested in more than 100 batches.
Yep, it's a ripe moment for the category: Fruitier versions of classically severe brews like IPAs invite a whole new crowd to the party and keep things interesting for already-avid beer fans. What's more, the flavor components of citrus and hops naturally complement each other, Jensen explains. So enhancing the fruity characteristics in hop-forward beers is sort of a no-duh situation.
Plus, these brews conveniently happen to be perfect for summer. Frequently lower in alcohol, they're great for day drinking in the sun. "Anything with tropical flavors lends itself to warmer weather," Leary says.
Robin Gregory of Sierra Nevada describes Otra Vez as "the perfect thirst-quenching beer." When it was released in January, people said, "I can't wait to drink it when it's 100 degrees outside." With the heat index slowly creeping up, we'll take two.
Fruit beers to sip this summer:
Slightly salty and low in alcohol, this beer's prickly pear cactus and grapefruit flavors really sing. Sip it alongside a fennel and burrata salad.
One of our current faves tastes like you're drinking a tangerine peel (because it's brewed with one) in a good way. It's hoppy but refreshing.
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There's no mistaking it's an IPA, but its strong grapefruit flavor is pronounced. Imagine yourself with a bottle of this in one hand, a fish taco in the other.
This light session ale is super tart to the point of leaving your mouth puckering. It almost tastes more like cider than beer.
This crisp, low-alcohol wheat beer leaves you with an unmistakable watermelon aftertaste. It goes down easy and will leave you wanting more.
The fruity flavor and hops pack a punch, and sipping the beer conjures up aromas of grilled pineapple. We want to drink this alongside tacos al pastor.
There's a time and place for an old-school shandy this summer. That's any time during the day and preferably on a boat.
Another shandie we're not afraid to love? This refreshing beer made with grapefruit juice.
Deep peach flavors and aromas embolden this summer session sour, which you'll want to have alongside a simple dinner off the grill.
This beer is brewed with citrus-heavy hops and orange peel making it just what you want to be sipping while you hang by the pool.
For a beer that tastes like summer, this wheat ale fits the bill. Its main flavors come from fermented red and black raspberries, with a hint of fresh lemongrass.
This pale ale is bright and tropical both on the nose and the taste buds. It's brewed with mango and perfect for those who prefer a slightly sweeter beer.
This IPA is fermented with grapefruit for an extra-citrusy kick ideal for beating the summer heat.
Whether your idea of the perfect picnic is cooking in the wilderness or sipping a summery cocktail at a sidewalk café, we’ve got everything you need to spend your Summer in the Wild. Let the outdoor entertaining begin.
This article was originally published on 5/31/16 and was updated by Delia Mooney with additional text and photography on 6/13/17.
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