You will not get a lot of gray area on fruit beers. Like ’em or hate ’em – no one is ever indifferent about them. Fruit beers get the labels of gimmicky and, to an extent, the haters have a point. Think of the litany of beers that add lime flavor to mimic the flavor of a Corona with an actual lime on it, a gimmick beer in its own rite.
Fruit beers are like the cable news networks of beers. Just because they have distribution and big budgets behind them doesn’t necessarily make them good. The question becomes how the fruit is used.
Consider the shandy, a blend of fruit and beer and a frequent misfire for most brewers. Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, which has all the lemony flavor of furniture polish, is an example of beer gone wrong. On the other side of the scale are two very good examples: Narragansett’s Del’s Shandy and Boulevard’s Lemon-Ginger Radler.
Sours are one space where fruit and beer marry beautifully. Belgium gave us the sour beer and bottles from its century-old native son Cantillon remain highly sought after on the American market. Domestic brewers Crooked Stave, Jolly Pumpkin and Almanac have perfected the American sour beer are among the most widely distributed across the country.
Tart through and through, it finishes with a lively, slightly dank flavor.”
The flavored sours of Almanac’s Farm-To-Barrel series blend fruits (and sometimes herbs and hops), infects them with brettanomyces or ferments with wild yeasts (sometimes it does both), and ages the brew in oak barrels. For 2017, the San Francisco brewer paired with Baltimore/Brooklyn joint Stillwater Artisnal Ales for Blueberry Jack, a variation on the Farm-To-Barrel series.
The base was an aged brett blonde ale with a ton of blackberries and blueberries. It was aged further, developing a woody bouquet like a pinot noir. Before finishing, it received a dry hopping with a blend of Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado, Simcoe, Galaxy, Nugget, and Sterling hops.
The resulting unfiltered ale pours a rusty red color with a faint lacing around the edges. Wonderfully complex in both aroma and flavor, it boasts scents of berries and reminds me of the acidic homemade wine that my Italian neighbors used to make when I was a kid. The acidity carries through to the palate, where the sour berry creates a dry opening sip. Tart through and through, it finishes with a lively, slightly dank flavor. Where some fruit sours have a slight sweetness, the Blueberry Jack is decidedly sour and tart. Light in body and weight with a fairly thin feel.
Sure, sours are an acquired taste and, no, they are not for everyone. But, maybe ordering a sour fruit beer like the Blueberry Jack will keep your friends from giving you crap about drinking fruit beers.