Pepper & Peaches
If the IPA "trend" continues, we're going to run out of fruits with which to flavor them. In an effort to see just how deep we've gone, I started Googling "[random fruit] IPA." Plum? Many Cherry? Tart and black. OK, starfruit? Several! Mamey? Yes!
But now flavors in combination are the thing, and if Claremont Craft Ales' Pepper & Peaches typifies this trend, am I ever here for it. I picked this beer up from my local specialty shop after the spartan label caught my eye. The packaging did not, however, indicate whether the "pepper" in question was of the black or chili variety. Either way, I was intrigued.
As it turns out, it's neither! The beer is infused with pink peppercorns (the dried fruit of the Schinus molle tree), which are not related to black peppercorns (the fruit of the Piper nigrum vine). Pink peppercorns do have a peppery kick, but much milder, with an aftertaste that's almost sweet.
Appearance and Aroma
Pepper & Peaches pours a pale orange gold with a fair amount of head that takes its time dissipating.
In my experience with fruit beers, the fruit on the label is often subsumed into a medley of similar aromas, or it smells like the brewers just hit the wort with a few pumps of Torani syrup. Neither is the case here. The peach is there—it's distinctly peach-y—but it mainly manifests as a concentrated juicy sweetness that ambles up to cloying and then retreats. What arrives in its place is a battery of florals and herbs: black licorice, orange blossom, juniper.
I’ll be damned if Claremont hasn't hit a dazzling combination here.”
Even if you don't pick up the tell-tale signs that Pepper & Peaches is a West Coast IPA before your first taste, it's unmistakable when you take a sip. The dryness and tightening in the mid-palate, the sandpaper carbonation, the strong, grapefruity bitterness on the finish that carries on between sips—all there. As is often the case with fruit-infused IPAs, the characteristics of the hop varietals tend to win out in the end, and here the strong citrus and resin flavors of Citra, Columbus, and Centennial eventually turn peaches into an afterthought.
Peach IPAs aren't new. Sierra Nevada has done one; Stone has done at least one; Odell Brewing's Tree Shaker has a bit of a cult following. Pink peppercorns—technically a fruit—have also been tried. But I’ll be damned if Claremont hasn't hit a dazzling combination here: a unique and memorable IPA that proves there's still glory to be gained from tossing a few sacks of produce into the vats.