Walk into any craft brewery in the country these days, and there’s a good chance part of the tap list will look like the menu at a smoothie bar. From pineapple to passionfruit, more and more sweet and tangy fruits are finding their way into our beers.
In fact, the app based craft beer retailer Tavour has seen an explosion in fruited styles in the last 12 months — nearly 20% of all products they offered in 2021 were heavily fruited. That represents a massive increase from the previous year, when just over 10% of their total offerings contained significant amounts of fruit.
And when the company started back in 2016, these beers were practically unheard of — thick and fruity Milkshake IPAs and Smoothie Sours weren’t even on the national radar yet.
While heavily fruited styles have become more popular of late, the practice of adding fruit to beer does have historical precedent. Brews like Framboise and Kriek have long been staples of the Belgian scene, and flavoring beer with various fruits dates back to at least ancient Egypt.
But, as Tavour has seen recently, a juicy, puree-blasted arms race among brewers is storming through American craft! It’s not just about who can pack the most fruit into a beer. These days, a brewery has to bring some seriously unusual flavor to stand out from the crowd.
North Dakota’s Drekker Brewing is among the most successful purveyors of new-school fruited beers, and it’s transformed their hometown of Fargo into an unlikely craft beer destination. Of the 650+ breweries available through the Tavour App, they’re among the most popular. Their Braaaaaaaains Smoothie Sour series and Chonk Pastry Sour series garner consistently high ratings among users.
Drinkers find plenty of unusual offerings among the cavalcade of fruits the brewery has experimented with, including elderberry, dragon fruit, and prickly pear — a fruit harvested from a cactus that some describe as a cross between raspberry and watermelon.
According to Drekker’s co-founder Mark Bjornstad, the more unusual the fruit, the more people want to try it.
“The weirder the better,” he explains. “We always work to select the highest quality ingredients and that takes extra effort but it’s so worth it.” Especially for flavors that people haven’t had before.
Robert Rivers of Imagine Nation Brewing in Montana agrees. When the brewery released their Chaos Theory Soursop Milkshake IPA in November, it was met with excitement, but also confusion.
“No one within about 30 degrees of latitude knows what a soursop is. That’s half the fun. Introducing people to exotic fruits that go well with hop-forward beers is something we love to do!”
For the record, the soursop is also known as a paw paw or custard apple, and many tasters describe it as a cross between a pineapple and a strawberry.
Some breweries have deeper reasons for seeking atypical fruit flavors, like New Jersey’s Montclair Brewery. Co-founder Leo Sawadogo grew up in Burkina Faso, Africa, where he watched his mother brew beer for his local community, as is common in the region. He often incorporates fruits and flavors from his childhood in offerings like Baobier, the brewery’s Golden Ale flavored with the fruit of the African baobab tree.
Other breweries are lucky enough to have rarely seen fruits growing right in their own backyards, like Alaska’s Anchorage Brewing Company. They’ve flavored multiple releases with haskap berries, a wild-harvested fruit that only grows in the far northern reaches of the northern hemisphere. Some say it tastes like a hybrid of blueberry, strawberry, and blackberry, meaning the crew at Anchorage gets unparalleled depth of flavor with just one addition.
New York’s Evil Twin is also famous for experimenting with bizarre ingredients, and that certainly holds true when it comes to fruit. They recently released a Milkshake IPA made with yuzu and buddha’s hand — a pair of exotic citrus fruits that most people in the U.S. have never even heard of, let alone tried.
But, as Imagine Nation’s Robert Rivers is quick to point out, even the most unexpected fruit additions are only as good as the beer they go into: “We try to combine ingredients, however unusual, in a way where [they] play well together and produce a superior product. In other words, we don’t use unusual ingredients just for the sake of using them or to be gimmicky, but because there is a purpose for using them.”
What will the future of fruited beer hold? That’s anyone’s guess, but if trends hold it looks like things will get weirder for the foreseeable future. For those in search of a taste, there might be a nearby brewery adding prickly pears to their brew kettle right now. If not, a service like Tavour can bring some of the best fruit-forward breweries in the country right to your door.