Here in NY, it’s now the height of the summer. My kids are at their camps with school a distant memory and Independence Day, one of the biggest annual American holidays takes place this coming Monday. Folks will be enjoying fireworks, barbecues and plenty of cold beer to commemorate their independence from my home country, England!
To get in the spirit, I decided to do a post for this holiday weekend focusing on the best craft beers to drink at your Independence Day party
To appeal to all tastes (even beginners to the amazing world of craft brewing) I thought it might be fun to have a look at a style of beer that I personally associate with the summer, here on the North Eastern seaboard. The sometimes maligned but often delicious fruit flavored beers, which are approachable, easy to drink, yet full of subtle flavor
For some inside knowledge on the latest craft brewing trends in beer with a fruity theme, I met up earlier this week with Westchester County’s local beer guru, Brendon O’Brien of DeCicco & Sons Market in Armonk NY
Brendon tells me fruit beers are a relatively recent development in US craft brewing. The tradition here in the US derives from the Belgian Lambic with its high acidity versus a fruitiness to compliment e.g. Lindemans famous Framboise. Initially, a handful of US brewers started using wheat beers and infusing them with fruit, such as Harpoon’s ‘Raz’ and Abita’s ‘Purple Haze’ which are raspberry based. This type of beer became particularly popular in New England. The wheat provides a clean light base, with fruit aromas and flavors, a lemony taste from the wheat, hops and general citrus tones prevailing
However, as with the recent crazes for wacky IPAs, punchy Porters, superb Saisons and sizzling Sours, competition has pressed US craft brewers to become even more forward thinking and creative in their use of fruit in styles beyond the original wheat beer base. They have become more adventurous, increasingly using unusual fruits in different styles of beer like Saisons. Brendon says that the big thing now and going forward is the fruited IPA. Most brewers are working with this style on both East and West Coasts
One of the first with a major presence on the shelf which focused on IPA fruit beer was Ballast Point Brewery in California with their: Pineapple Sculpin and Grapefruit Sculpin as fruit versions of their regulars. These proved a hit and others followed in their wake. It seems this focus on fruit it is all about capturing a different audience and anecdotal evidence suggests women certainly find the fruity styles very appealing
However, making a good fruit beer is tricky. Not all brewers succeed. Too often they get the balance wrong and one ends up with a fruit juice masquerading as beer. But, when they get the balance right, you have the nectar of the gods in your glass!
With Brendon’s help, we have identified 5 amazing brews that we hope you’ll like as much as we did and will take the time to try at your July 4 celebrations
Lost Nation Brewery – ‘The Wind'(4.8 %ABV)
Out of Morrisville, Vermont comes this absolute gem. It is a beautifully crafted brew with flavors expertly interwoven. The base is Gose, an old German style. A tart wheat beer that’s historically brewed with a salty water concentration and coriander seed. This fruity version has a distinctly American take, using grapefruit and dried citra hops. In appearance it is lemon frothy and very cloudy. The gentle citrus aroma and grapefruit infused taste contrast well with the lightly tart base
Clean balanced and refreshing, this beer goes perfectly with Raw Oysters or Sushi and is also great served with a delicate fish, like Lemon Sole
Brendon says few beers have a better balance of delicate flavors and gives it a top 5 status out of the 3000+ beers that DeCiccos carry in store. It is his ‘number one go to fruit beer’. Having tried it myself, I must admit its a strong contender for best of the 5, albeit I think the other 4 may have something to say!
Almanac Beer Co – ‘Tropical Platypus’ (6% ABV)
From San Jose, California comes this fabulous witches brew of Kiwi, Mango, Lime and Passion fruit using dried hops and aged in wine barrels
This beer contains a finely balanced blend of fruit based on a sour blonde, which Alamanac themselves describe as tasting like a sour fruit punch. Unlike the heavy-handed efforts of some, Almanac have succeeded here in creating a beer of grace and finesse to quench your summer thirst. All those tropical fruits work together in perfect harmony. Of the 5, this one is closest to the fruited Belgian Lambics in style
Despite the variety of fruit this is certainly ‘Beer First – Fruit Second’. It is light, easy drinking, with a faint hint of fruit, not in your face crazy. With Tropical Platypus, the fruit promotes the beer
Brendon reckons it goes perfectly with pork tenderloin
Avery Brewing Co. – ‘Liliko’i Kepolo’ (5.4% ABV)
Out of Boulder, Colorado comes this barnstormer by Avery, containing a ton of my favorite tropical fruit, the rather expensive but multi faceted Passion Fruit
Liliko’i’s base is a cloudy white wheat beer, which picks up much of its character from the passion fruit in it. The passion fruit provides this beer with a big ripe round tropical flavor and a great tartness, meaning the fruit is working double time. Indeed, one might call it the double duty beer
What separates this drink from other fruit beers, is not just the excellent tart tropical taste of the product but the extraordinary artwork on the cans it is sold in
When I first saw Liliko’s blue cans with their floral and Polynesian styled motif, I thought it was actually from Hawaii. It certainly shouts at you drink me because I’m ‘the Tropics in a Can’. However, from Brendon’s perspective, this is actually the ‘party beer’ . The cans it comes in, go hand in glove with the barbecue season and July 4. It’s the one people are going to grab from the cooler and it will appeal to everyone
With all those Passion Fruits in the mix, it maybe a pricey drink but both Brendon and I agree it’s worth every penny and I rate it as my current favorite summer brew
I think it’s absolutely perfect combined with Ceviche, or any fresh white fish
Trinity Brew – ‘Menacing Kumquat’ (6.5% ABV)
This ‘intriguing beer’ hails from Colorado Springs
In style it is a rustic saison based earthy beer, very dry on the palate with ‘Grains of Paradise’ in the mix (a Belgian spice that adds to the citrus quality common in wheat beer)
The main fruit ingredient is the highly exotic and flavorful Kumquat. It truly is a unique selection which Brendon reckons has come about because the brewers are having to think out of the box due to hot competition is so in this fruity field
Kumquat is a very pronounced fruit with oils in its rind, a citrus bitterness from the pith and an overall citrus quality which makes for a great partnership with a rustic saison. Menacing Kumquat slakes one’s thirst, with a citrus quality and fuller flavor profile
However, as a fruit, Kumquat is seriously difficult to work with. Brendon says that a couple of years ago he was personally involved in trying to create a beer using Kumquats. He spent several unhappy hours hand washing, halving, squeezing the juice and then zesting literally 1000s of this tiny fruit! So more power to Trinity’s elbow for succeeding with their Menacing Kumquat
We reckon it’s a perfect accompaniment for that Sockeye Salmon on your grill. The earthiness of the saison base and the citrus notes of the Kumquat just work for a fatty oily fish like salmon
Pipeworks Brewing Co. & Tired Hands Brewing Co. – ‘Marilime Law’ (8% ABV)
Another trend in the US craft brewing industry is what are called ‘collaboration beers’ Two breweries get together at festivals find mutual interests (forming friendships) and start to brew together. This rare brew from Pipeworks out of Chicago, Illinois and Tired Hands from Ardmore, PA is the result of such a meeting of minds and oh boy, does it hit the spot!
Marilime Law is a double IPA brewed with Lime Juice and it really is ‘big bold and beautiful’
The base is a full and decadent IPA brewed with citrus heavy hops with lemon and orange peel flavors. Lime juice is used to enhance the citrus and add tartness to the beer giving it more dimension to what is already a big style
The notes on the barrel suggest this is the beer to keep the scurvy at bay (British sailors used to eat limes on their journeys across the Atlantic to the then Colonies of New England to combat scurvy). It occurred to me that drinking this on Independence Day is a subtle joke. This is not just a beer for Americans celebrating July 4 but the perfect ‘beer for Limeys’ like me!
Being an IPA this beer is the marriage made in heaven for spicy Tacos, Thai or Indian food