Debunking the Fruit Beer Myth – Raspberry Beer is Such a Beautiful Thing
I’m particularly excited about this article. For one, I get to talk about my favorite fruit and how it relates to beer, but mainly I’m excited because I got the pleasure to work with a new friend, who provided all the photography that you see throughout this article. Jasen, tu es magnifique! If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought about “fruit” beers, I would have likely said that they were nothing more than a ploy to get people who don’t like beer to buy beer. I would have also likely said that they were too sweet, and just plain bad. On one level I guess I was right, but I was mostly just ignorant of a lot of things, and didn’t understand the relationship between beer and what ingredients we use to flavor it.
To understand why I was right, but also why I was most certainly misguided, I need to talk a bit about the big beer business. When a macro brewery launches a fruit beer – or any beer for that matter – the only intention here is an effort to bring more consumers to their brand. This is obviously not surprising, as this is how big business works, and we are all very familiar with how marketing and advertising functions for giant corporations. However, the point here is that the intention seems to completely lack any desire to create something of quality, and is rather just another gimmick. Take for example Bud Light Lime-a-rita – enough said. Historically, fruit-infused beer has been completely marketed to women, which is quite interesting when you think about it. Men don’t enjoy fruit? Am I also supposed to feel feminine while eating an apple? All this is a turn-off, so I was, and still am, quite skeptical about beer hybrids coming out from the macro breweries. The difference now is that I don’t let their misguided efforts affect my viewpoint, polluting my mind with notions of fruit + beer = bad. Just because the macro breweries take beer and pump it full of sugar and fruit “essence,” making something disgusting, doesn’t mean that the craft beer counterparts aren’t doing spectacular and innovative things with fruit.
It’s also important to understand that fruit and beer share a huge history, so this combination is nothing new. The Germans have been making Berliner Weisse with fruit syrups since the 1600’s, and the Belgians have been brewing fruit-infused barrel-aged sour Lambics for god knows how long. And without getting into too much beer history, it’s also important to realize that using hops – the ingredient we use today to spice beer – is a relatively modern practice, and for thousands of years (that’s right, thousands), beer was flavored with everything under the sun, including A LOT of fruit.
Growing up, my family had a pretty small back yard, but along the side of the house was a really long garden that we used to grow veggies. When I was quite young, my parents decided to plant some raspberries. The first year there weren’t too many, and the second had a bit more, but before we knew it, they pretty much took over and the entire space became filled with raspberries. Being there in June was like being a kid in a candy store – a very prickly and spider-infested store – but a candy store nonetheless. Thus began my love affair with raspberries. As you all know, they have a tart, fresh and sweet flavor combination that really doesn’t compare to any other fruit, and eating them right off the plant is like heaven. For the most part I don’t like anything that is raspberry “flavored,” because I find more than any other fruit, the chemically produced “essence” of raspberry is very noticeable and particularly intense. That being said, I’m very excited to try the following three raspberry infused beers in order to see how the fruit compliments the other flavors.
Mort Subite Framboise: Mort Subite is one of the very few Lambic beer producers that export to Quebec. We are seeing more Belgian-inspired sours hit the shelves in Quebec lately, but they are still pretty few and far between. Put simply, Lambics are beers that have been barrel-aged and fermented with wild yeast strains, which produces a sour, acidic character, along with some other quite interesting and different funky flavors. Depending on the style of Lambic, they are often blends of older and newer beers, and some (like this one) are made with fruit.
The beer pours out a nice pinkish-red hue, with a little foamy head. The carbonation looks quite nice, with some initial lacing around the sides of the glass. The aroma begins with some earthy, almost funky yeast qualities, followed by – you guessed it – raspberries. There is a lot of sour tartness happening here, and far less sweetness than I expected, but certainly more than your average beer. There is also a bit of the malt coming through, complimenting the raspberry tartness nicely.
Onto the tasting. This one is quite sweet, but the sugars balance well against the tart sourness that is very apparent. I’m getting a lot of candied raspberries – almost reminiscent of “Swedish berries,” which is quite fitting given the photos – good choice Jasen! I can really taste the barrel aging flavors, which impart an almost rubbery character and vanilla oak flavors. There is some beautiful carbonation going on here, hugging the sides if the glass as I drink it. This is sweeter than I tend to enjoy, and the aftertaste could be more bitter in my opinion, however that being said, I’m still really enjoying this one – the oak flavors really bring everything together nicely.
Dieu du Ciel! – Solstice d’été: A lot of people reading this article are familiar with Dieu du Ciel! For those who are not, to put it simply, they make exceptional beer, and every month or so they release a beer that is only available once a year – on top of their regular line up. They were also just voted the 13th best brewery in the world by ratebeer.com for 2013, which is one of the top beer sites out there (see the full list here). Well-deserved if you ask me. The Dieu du Ciel! beer that we are going to look at today is a raspberry Berliner Weisse. Berliner Weisse is a style of beer that is brewed using Lactobacillus bacteria, which is responsible for the beer’s extremely sour flavor profile. In Germany, it was/is customary to pour fruit syrup into the beer for extra flavor, and to cut the sourness a bit. For a lot of people Solstice D’ete is a special beer, and when it comes out every year they scour the city trying to make sure that they get a case or two. Dieu du Ciel! just released a second batch this week, so if you want to try it, now’s the time!
The beer pours out a gorgeous pinkish-red color, resembling a Rosé, or some kind of berry fruit juice. The carbonation is nice, leaving a pretty pink ring of foam around the glass. The first thing I’m hit with is a heavy tart aroma, literally like mashing some fresh raspberries in your hand and sticking your nose in it. It just oozes sour. Smelling this makes me salivate, and the back of my tongue aches a bit in anticipation of the sourness. There is a certain subtle sweetness buried in there, but this one is all raspberries – but real raspberries, it doesn’t smell synthetic.
After the first sip, the sourness covers my tongue, releasing that fruity tart goodness all over. So refreshing. It is quite acidic and slightly resembles a dry wine or Rosé. I grew up with raspberries, you can tell this is all natural. The beer is perfection for me; my tolerance for sour is not as high as some other sour beer lovers, and this one brings me to the edge, holding me there, and finally giving me just a fraction of sweetness to bring it back around. It finished with residual fruity tart flavors, mixed with an almost perfumed berry essence, as my mouth and ears tingle from the sour bomb that just went off.
Brasserie Dunham – Saison Framboise: I was very excited to see Dunham release this one. Being a big fan of the Saison style, and also being a big fan of raspberries, this seemed like it would be a great combo to me. Dunham has quickly become one of my favorite breweries, and have produced many variations of the mighty Saison, so I can only presume this will be something special. Saisons in general have a certain tart character, and depending on the specific sub-style, some can be more sour than others – I’m not sure where this one will fall. They also a very particular yeast presence, which can project a funky, and even zesty flavor profile. Let’s see what it’s like.
This one pours out a beautiful ruby red color with orange highlights. It has a big frothy head that sticks around though out the whole drinking process. The first impression I’m getting from the aroma is a massive tart raspberry explosion. There is also a slight fruity sweetness mixed in with the all the sour, with some yeast poking through as well. There is a nice earthy character here too, this one really smells like fresh raspberries.
Onto the tasting. There are lost of fruity berries first to start, with loads of fresh raspberries, and some subtle malt sweetness. Next I pick up some earthiness from the Saison yeast and a very slight funk taste. This is very quickly cut down by a sour and tart finish that lingers until the next sip. The sour character is what truly defines this beer, something that I was not necessarily expecting. Saisons are often tart, but this one is definitely higher than average on the sour scale. This is not a bad thing, rather it works perfectly with that quintessential raspberry taste. The carbonation is beautiful and frothy, livening up each sip as the bubbles cleanse my tongue, waiting for the next taste. The head sticks around, and finally reduces down to a frothy layer on top of the pretty ruby red liquid. As my palate adjusts to the sourness, I’m able to pick out the yeast presence that much more, it really works beautifully with the fruity character.
So in conclusion, raspberries are awesome, and so were these beers.
Article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Jasen Pierre-Claude Gaouette