For those who have spent many a merry afternoon in the Belgian Beer Gardens/Cafe, the idea of fruit beers will be a familiar one. After all, one of the more well-known beers there is the Belle-Vue Kriek, a cherry-based beer. This style of beer comes from a Lambic base, with black cherries used to referment the beer. Because of the refermentation there is little residual sugar left at the end of the brewing process, with a tarter, dryer taste profile accompaning the cherry backbone.
Belle-Vue Kriek has been bottled since the brewery was founded in 1913 by Philemon Vandenstock, with their Kriek a famous exports and one of the most well-known and highly-regarded fruit beers. It is however, just one of a variety of traditional fruit beers produced in Belgium. Lindemans – a brewery operating since 1809 in Vlezenbeek (near Brussels) – produce not only your ‘run-of-the-mill’ Krieks, but also a Pecheresse (Peach Lambic), a Framboise (Raspberry Lambic), a Cassis (a Blackcurrant Lambic) and an Apple Lambic.
Brewers outside of Belgium have wisely decided to leave the Lambic process well alone. After all, when a country has been brewing such beers since 1559, they probably have a strong case in noting themselves as ‘experts’. In a bid to brew fruit beers nonetheless, one of the more successful ventures has been the use of wheat beer as a base.
St Ambroise brewery (operating out of Montreal) upped the ante for everyone with their Apricot Wheat Ale (which on paper does seem like a rather ‘niche’ product), but over in the US, 21st Amendment Brewery (named after the 21st Amendment of the US Constitution which repealed Prohibition – in my mind one of the more original and better named breweries around), churned out their Hell Or High Watermelon Wheat Beer. This particular combination I can only imagine as the perfect summer beer.
Back home, Australian brewers have turned to mixing fruits with lighter pale ales, resulting in Jamieson Brewery’s very own Raspberry Ale, and Matso’s spectacular Mango Beer. Redoak of course buck the trend, and bring back some German goodness with their own Blackberry Hefeweizen.
Now, those of you reading through those quirky combinations might well ask one of three questions.
1) “Why would you ruin a perfectly good wheat beer by adding apriocot to it? Seriously, those French-Canadians have gone too far this time!”
2) “If I’ve been chopping down entire forests/fighting off crocodiles bare-handed/satisfying a bevy of busty wenches, why would I quench my voracious thirst with fruit beer?”
or (slightly more seriously)
3 )”This whole beer experimentation is all well and good, but is the final product actually drinkable?”
Belle-Vue Kriek, the first fruit beer I ever had, is genuinely brilliant. It’s beer-y whilst being fruity, and there isn’t any overpowering sweetness. On occasion, fruit beers can stray down that sugary path, which makes the taste more akin to a soft drink than a beer. It’s the brews that maintain their beer origins whilst using the fruit as an added flavour that are the most drinkable.
So be brave. Swap that bog-standard ale for a watermelon wheat beer. Or be adventurous and try a Peach Lambic. Who knows, you may actually enjoy it!