22 January 2008

Back to School #2 with Fruit Beers

This is the second post in what we hope will become a regular series, in which we're passing on what we learned in our meeting at World Class Beverages to you. We continue our beer schooling with Fruit Beers.

Fruit Beers

According the the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines, fruit beers should above all should be "a harmonius marriage of fruit and beer". Beers in this category should (critically) be balanced with fruit, not overwhelmed. Fruit extracts are commonly used - whole fruit use is rare because whole fruit tends to add different flavor characteristic. These beers are judged "based on the pleasantness and balance of the resulting combination".

What this leads to is high ratings for beer that might not necessarily be considered "good" by a beer geeks' standards. Judges look that the beer meet the qualifications of the category first - perhaps at the expense of the beer's overall taste.

Fruit beer is amongst the oldest beer styles, dating back to at least 3000 BC in Iran. Prior to the middle ages, many beer were brewed with fruit and herbs - a combination known as gruit. Hops later replaced gruit in the brewing process, leading to the beer styles we are more familiar with today.

Another note: Lambics and other Belgian fruit-based specialties are not included in this category - they have their own categories.

Fortunately this section of our lesson included tasting - here are some thoughts:

Pyramid Apricot Weizen:

Jason: apricot smell, clean feel, but why am I getting a cashew flavor?
Jim: Heavy apricot nose; very pleasant, mild, and balanced apricot/beer flavor. Good warm weather beer, but heavy hitters would probably like Dogfish Head Aprihop more.
Mike: Nice nose, dead-on for style. Apricot front, smooth lager back, tight but not tart.

We've been told that Pyramid's beers all have a sort of "house flavor", meaning that they all have a similar agreeable flavor to this example. We were also told that this beer goes very well with Thai Food.

Oaken Barrel Razz-Wheat:
Jason: Raspberry juice smell, very tart, very champagne-ish.
Matt: I could smell this one from a few feet away, as opposed to the others where I had to get my nose in there or at least close to it to smell anything. It was softer on the raspberry flavor, but it was by far the dominating influence. The texture was kind of watery.
Jim: Meh. Balanced raspberry/wheat beer flavor, but too meek for my taste.

Some of our readers may be familiar with Razz-Wheat from its availability at Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians. We all agreed that the Razz-Wheat is a worthy choice when watching baseball under a hot summer sun.

Unibroue Ephemere:
Jim: Vintage beer from Unibroue. Strong apple nose; smells just like apple cider. Flavor is apple-heavy as well, but the beer has a surprisingly mild and dry finish. Could drink lots of this.
Jason: Apple, apple, apple. This variety is 2 and 1/2 years old, but very tasty. One of the better Unibroue's, IMO.
Matt: It smelled like an apple cider, and had a lightly tart flavor. I really enjoyed this one. It was my favorite of the fruit beers we tasted.

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Click here to access all of the beer school series of articles.

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