Citrus is dominating. The experts explain why.
The idea of adding fruit to beer—whether in the mash, during secondary fermentation, or right down the neck of the bottle after cracking a cold one—is nothing new. The Germans and Belgians have been making fruit-infused beer for centuries, Sam Adams has produced its Cherry Wheat since the late 1980s, and even the most milquetoast beer drinkers like a little lime in their Corona.
But more recently, particularly during the American IPA explosion the craft industry has experienced over the last decade, citrus has begun to separate itself from the bunch.
Bananas, cherries and even the beloved pumpkins have taken a back seat to grapefruit, lemon and tangerine.
Citrus is especially noticeable in craft cans and bottles, and that’s because, according to most professionals, certain American hops—most notably Amarillo, Cascade, Citra and Willamette—have a more citrus-like flavor and aroma than some of their piney cousins.
We caught up with those professionals to talk about their favorite citrus-centric beers in anticipation of the sweltering summer months ahead.
Grapefruit at Grain
Jim O’Donoghue, co-owner at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark, has long been a fan of fruit-infused beers. He believes part of the reason for the steady success of craft beer is the approachable nature and flavors of fruit beers.
“I’m a fan of anything that allows people to try different beers and get out of their comfort zone a little,” says O’Donoghue. “The IPA makers are really going all in on fruit, especially citrus, and I think people are more willing to try something new when there’s some familiarity there. They might not understand the difference between one hop varietal and another, but mention orange and lemon, and they take notice.”
One of O’Donoghue’s favorite citrus-flavored IPAs is the Evil Genius Turtle Power, which goes heavy on the grapefruit, but is balanced with some sweetness and tart flavors. The dry finish is refreshing, he says, and the citrus helps keep drinkers somewhat hydrated during the warm months.
“I feel like lemon can be a little tart and orange can be a little sweet, but grapefruit is just right,” says O’Donoghue. Later this summer, Grain will feature the Turtle Power on tap, as well as Otter Creek’s Citra Mantra, and the Green Flash Passion Fruit Kicker, with notes of passion fruit, grapefruit and clementine.
O’Donoghue is looking forward to having an influx of citrus beers on tap and in cans and bottles to complement summer menu items like Grain’s tempura lobster, crab and watermelon arugula salad, and the citrus avocado salad, which O’Donoghue says “couldn’t make more sense to pair with a citrus beer.”
Citrus on Tap at Chelsea
Matt Foran, a manager at Chelsea Tavern on Market Street in Wilmington, loves the citrusy IPAs because they’re basically the opposite of the popular piney, sometimes bitter IPAs on the market. While hopheads might debate that bitter is better, Foran believes citrus pairs more naturally with food.
“In general, citrus-noted hops accentuate the flavors in food, if paired correctly,” he says.
“It’s definitely a market that has been growing, and I think it’s because fruit-forward beers tend to be more appealing as palates change. It’s a more enjoyable flavor profile than the ultra-bitter beer.”
Foran cites New Belgium’s Citradelic as a prime example of an IPA with citrus appeal, with its blend of hoppy bite and tangerine sweetness. He is also a big fan of the Belgian witbiers (white ales), with notes of orange and coriander, including Harpoon’s UFO White and Otter Creek’s Fresh Slice. And although it’s not a citrus fruit, Foran also loves the wheat beers, blonde ales and IPAs infused with watermelon.
“21st Amendment really started the movement with their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, but now watermelon is everywhere,” he says. His current favorites include the New Belgium Heavy Melon, a blonde ale with watermelon and lime, and the 16 Mile Seed-Free & Joy, both of which he plans on having at Chelsea this summer.
“That 16 Mile beer is great; they add 200 pounds of fresh watermelon to the boil. You get the full flavor of the rinds and the fruit. It’s a delicious beer,” says Foran. Orange-ish beers like the Uinta Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA, another one of his favorites, will also be on tap.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Gose
Get Greg Safian started on fruit beers—from citrus IPAs to Belgian sours—and he can spend an evening or afternoon discussing them at Trolley Tap House in Wilmington. In fact, the craft beer specialist can talk your ear off about nearly any style. As for the “fruity beers,” he’s appreciative—if they’re done right.
“We’ve come a long way since Seadog Blueberry wheat ale and Leinenkugel shandys,” Safian says. “Those are decent beers, but the options we have now are much better. There are certainly styles that warrant it, and some breweries stretch it. Sometimes it doesn’t work.”
One that Safian says works is the TropiCannon from Heavy Seas in Baltimore. A very fruit-forward IPA at 7.2 percent, it features notes of grapefruit, orange and lemon peel. “It tastes like candied orange and grapefruit right up front,” he says. “They really went for it on this one and didn’t tiptoe around the citrus.”
He is also a big fan of a style of beer called the “gose” (pronounced, go-suh), which originated in 16th century Germany and has seen a recent renaissance. Safian says the style traditionally has a lemony tartness and slightly sour aftertaste, and sometimes contains a bit of salt.
“The Kirsch Gose, from Victory, is a solid one,” he says. “It has a kind of sour cherry punch to it, and I think the style is going to be one of the more popular beers this summer. The gose’s popularity has turned into quite the movement. It’s a versatile beer, in terms of food pairing, and is quite refreshing.”
The Brewers Weigh In
Brian Finn, senior head brewer for Iron Hill, could see the fruited IPA trend coming a mile away, calling it “an explosion of fruited and spiced IPAs, with grapefruit being the biggest fruit flavor to be used.” He even brewed a grapefruit Hefeweizen, or wheat beer, last summer.
“Our Summer Crush was amazingly well received last year,” says Finn. “There are a ton out there, though, with Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin being one of the best sellers, I imagine. With all the flavors in the citrusy American hops, it was only a matter of time.”
Finn says Iron Hill is planning to take another stab at the citrus market this summer, with the release of their Grapefruit Riverfront IPA in late June. The 6.7 percent ABV ale will feature fresh grapefruit juice in the recipe, and is essentially a fruity take on Iron Hill’s Riverfront IPA, a house beer available at all locations.
Down at Stewart’s Brewing Company in Bear, Head Brewer Ric Hoffman is generally not a huge fan of the fruited beers, and hence doesn’t brew many of them. He knows they’re “all the rage these days,” and does annually brew one cult favorite, Monkey Love.
“It’s basically our very popular Stumblin’ Monk (a Belgian strong ale) that’s re-fermented with raspberries,” says Hoffman. “It’s bright red, with over a pound-and-a-half of fruit per barrel, and an ABV of 9.2 percent. We’ve probably been making it for a decade and people really like it.”
While the 9.2 ABV falls on the higher side and might prohibit long stints of summertime drinking, most fruited IPAs fall in the 4 to 7 percent range. The combination of a lower alcohol content and hydration and vitamin properties of the citrus make for some perfect warm weather imbibing.