Published in the May 2016 issue of The Bollard
Years ago, if you ordered a brew made with fruit, or even allowed a slice to garnish the rim of your glass, you risked being the subject of ridicule for being “girly.” There was a stigma that bordered on sexism (and homophobia) attributed to fruit beers. They were considered the alternative for people who didn’t like the taste of “real beer.”
Fast forward to 2016. I’m standing in a beer store, staring at a wall of six-packs chilling in the cooler. As I watch other beer-savvy customers make their selections, I notice a trend. You can see it right on the labels: fruit.
Most of the fruit beers popular in Maine these days are brewed in other states. Ballast Point, a brewery in San Diego that recently began distributing here, brought a portfolio of India Pale Ales flavored with pineapple, grapefruit, and even Habenero peppers. Samuel Adams, in Boston, makes a Grapefruit IPA (given the manly name Rebel), as does Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing Co., which dubbed theirs Electric Peel. Harpoon, another famous Boston brewery, has a new mango-flavored pale ale called Camp Wannamango.
What’s behind the revival, or redemption, of fruit beers? It can be partly attributed to the popularity of more fruit-forward hops. Many of the hops used to make some of the juiciest IPAs (like the East Coast–style IPAs developing in our region) produce aromas and flavors similar to those of tropical fruits, so the addition of the same is complementary.
The obsession with hops that accompanied the IPA craze has made it possible for guys to order a pineapple-flavored beer at a crowded bar without a hint of embarrassment. And brewers of the best varieties now eschew fake flavorings in favor of fresh fruits or purées that give their beers a bright character. The improvement in taste has been dramatic.
So why aren’t more Maine breweries riding this gushing wave? Well, we aren’t exactly in the tropics, and Maine brewers love to keep it local when sourcing their ingredients, so grapefruit and pineapple are out. But Maine does have a bounty of berries, especially blackberries, raspberries and, of course, the blue ones.
The first blueberry beer in Maine was brewed in 1993 by Atlantic Brewing Company. According to legend, it was inspired by the time a farmer showed up at their Bar Harbor brew pub desperate to unload a truck full of his crop. Atlantic’s Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale, which is a little less sweet than many of its imitators, has since become a Maine staple.
More recently, local brewers have been using berries to boldly go beyond sweetness, into tart and sour territories. Liquid Riot’s Rasby Trouble is a twist on a traditionally sour Belgian style, called Oud Bruin (or Old Brown). The raspberries add a welcome tartness to what can be a slightly acidic-tasting brown ale.
The funk masters at Allagash Brewing Company also use fruit in creative ways. Their Farm to Face ale is made with heaps of fresh peaches (three pounds per gallon) from an orchard in New Hampshire. Little Sal, a clever play on the title of the classic children’s book Blueberries for Sal, was a sour red beer made with blueberries grown in Windham. Beers in Allagash’s wild-fermented Coolship series have been flavored with cherries and raspberries.
The influx of fruited beers from away may swamp the local market this summer, but Maine brewers have the berries, the brains and the bravery necessary to battle back with homegrown varieties that are just as good and even more interesting. The smart money is still on the locals.