There was a time when, if asked to mix fruit and beer, I would've given you the same perplexed grimace with which I initially approached coleslaw on top of my pulled pork sandwiches — a culinary gesture, by the way, that is nothing short of amazing.
Fruit, however, is one of the oldest additives to beer, used to enhance the flavor and complexity of the brew. It is either added before the fermentation process, resulting in a slightly more subtle character of the beer, or steeped in the beer after fermentation, infusing flavor throughout the beverage. When aromatic hops party in a vat with some sweet, juicy fruit — magic happens. But it took some convincing to persuade me.
It started with putting a lemon wedge in a glass of Hoegaarden in college when I felt like getting a little fancy for the classy crowd. Insert joke about my ignorance of the corporate ownership (Anheuser-Busch, the same folks who were responsible for filling our beer pong cups with Bud Light) of the traditional Belgian wheat beer here. Still, my eyes suddenly were opened to the extraordinary witchcraft that happens when you take one part beer, add one part fruit, and imbibe.
Kick off the summer season by trying a few fruit-fused brews and taste a bit of sunshine in your glass.
Hell or High Watermelon Wheat
What I'm drinking: 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat (4.9% ABV | 17 IBU)
Where I found it: Holy Hound Taproom, 57 W. Market St., York
How much I paid: $5/pint
When to enjoy: This was the summer brew that I approached with the most trepidation — I mean, there's a watermelon. In my beer. That's just crazy talk.
But it was crazy-genius talk, apparently. This American wheat beer undergoes a secondary fermentation using fresh watermelon — it's a crisp, refreshing, drinkable, wearing flip flops all day, unpretentious summer beer. The brewery encourages you to drink it straight from the can — if that doesn't scream lazy summer days, I don't know what does. Enjoy a few while you prepare for your favorite baseball team to break your heart (cough — Pirates — cough) yet again.
What I'm drinking: Liquid Hero Schweet Ale (5.2% ABV | 20 IBU)
Where I found it: Beer & Soda Mart, 10 Dairyland Square, Red Lion
How much I paid: $40.99/24-can case
When to enjoy: Few fruits say summer as well as strawberries, and this brew pays homage to these delicious red berries without going all daiquiri on your mouth. Full-disclosure in an embarrassingly honest admission, however, is that I purchased these on a whim after seeing them while picking up a case of Deschutes Brewery's Twilight Summer Ale — Liquid Hero's quirky little cans among the towering craft giants surrounding it called out to me like a kitten that needed rescuing.
My girliness aside, this strawberry wheat ale was a sweet surprise. The aroma was exploding with berries, and the flavor was crisp with a distinct strawberry flavor. Unfortunately, I found this one a bit too sweet for drinking more than one or two cans. Another taste-tester declared it "too girly," though not as girly as say, sipping on a Zima. Sip this berry-bursting brew while floating for an afternoon in the pool, proudly defying gender conventions and asserting your manhood. Or, you know, embrace the stereotype.
What I'm drinking: Dogfish Head ApriHop (7.0% ABV | 50 IBU)
Where I found it: Beer Mongers, 3000 S. Queen St., Dallastown
How much I paid: $5/bottle (Beer Mongers also runs specials on this seasonal offering: $4 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., or $11/4-pack)
When to enjoy: Apricots play a supporting role in this American IPA that's dry hopped with Amarillo hops after fermentation. This seasonal beer is released each March, making it more of a springtime offering, but I've just found spring to be a less-sticky extension of summer.
Of the seasonal favorites I tried, the ApriHop was my favorite. The fruit was present, but not overpowering, and the citrus played well with the rich taste of the hops. A bit spicy — think exotic oranges — the bitterness of the hops ensures this isn't an overly-sweet syrup of a concoction. It's refreshing and easy to drink, making it a late-afternoon thirst quencher.
The brewery compares it to pinot noir, which is likely why I found it to be utterly delightful — a blood sample at any given time taken from my body will reveal a composition of 94 percent coffee, 3 percent hot sauce, 2.6 percent pinot noir, and 0.4 percent cells and other important stuff. Enjoy it while barbecuing outside on the weekend with a well-stocked grill of fire-kissed meats.
— Amy Peiffer is the entertainment editor for The York Dispatch. Her craft beer column, She's Crafty, appears twice a month in the Food for Thought blog.