Colorado’s most recent crop of fruit beers might go down easy, but there’s every reason to take them as seriously as any hoppy pint.
Hoppy, sour, rich and creamy—when you live in NoCo, you get that there are beers for serious beer nerds…and then there’s the rest of us. We adopt words like “sessionable” to sub for “something that goes down easy on a hot day,” but there’s no shame in a drinkable summer pint, and one of the categories that tops that list is fruit beer.
Defining our terms first, fruit beer is a simple concept: beer brewed with added fruit. The English and Germans spurned this approach, but the Belgians ran with it about 100 years ago, brewing lambics (a funky wheat brew) with sour cherries and eventually adding peach, raspberry or grapes.
Purists may scoff that fruit flavors are there to mask beers that are just “meh,” but not all fruit beers are fizzy cop outs that taste like artificial flavors. Adding fruit to beers adds layers of complexity that can make for a deeply satisfying sip.
Ideally, the fruit is noticeable, but not cloying. There’s a hint of sweetness, but nothing sugary or juicy about it, and the beers often take on the soft hue of whatever fruit’s been added. The overall body is typically light, which is just right on a 90-plus degree day.
It’s a trend Colorado brewers are all over. At last year’s World Beer Cup Awards, Denver’s Little Machine brewery took a silver with its Razz Against the Machine, while Loveland Ale Works nabbed a bronze for its American sour ale with guava.
Plenty of big brewery names have come up with solid fruit offerings, too. Odell’s Friek is an homage to classic fruit beers, blending kriek (lambic plus cherries) with framboise style for a fruity, dry brew full of berry notes.
Trendsetter New Belgium Brewing has had success with its Citradelic tangerine IPA and Exotic Lime, but recently launched its Tartastic fruit line that’s more in the Belgian tradition and an antidote to artificially fruity-sweet fruit beers. The kettle-soured beers are actually a pairing of two beers—one traditionally fermented, one lactobacillus fermented, that balances smooth and sour as a base for fruit flavors such as raspberry lime and lemon ginger.
Other great summer picks? Great Divide’s strawberry rhubarb pulls a sweet aroma from the strawberry, but packs rhubarb’s sour punch to keep it real. Lone Tree Brewing Company’s peach pale ale, with a hit of ripened peach, ranks as one of its flagship brews. Epic Brewing Company’s Brainless Raspberries lets the berries riff off the fruity Belgian yeast flavors.
For something less traditional, CooperSmith’s in Fort Collins dips its toe into the market with a seasonal What-A-Melon ale, a wheat infused with 6.5 percent watermelon juice, while Breckenridge Brewery’s Mango Mosaic leverages tropical-tasting hops with a hefty dose of mango.
These beers have something to savor all on their own, but are especially fun to pair. A no brainer? Match them with chocolate, cream or fruit-based desserts. The jam-like quality of berry flavors pair beautifully with cheese. And N.B.: serious drinkers will want these poured in a flute to better direct the fruit-forward aroma. But if you just want to kick it on a patio and swig right out of the bottle? We wouldn’t judge.
Fruit beers need a snifter-like glass that allows room for swirling and savoring, and a shape that captures aroma. The Bruges beer glass by Crate & Barrel is a good all-rounder perfect for putting fruit front and center. $6.95, crateandbarrel.com