NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- There are much better ways to combine fruit and beers this summer than sticking a wedge of half-rotted lime into a bottle of Mexican light lager.
Blending fruit flavors into beer is nothing shy of sacrilege to drinkers who still define beer by the Reinheitsgebot German beer purity law limiting ingredients to water, barley and hops. Well this isn't 1487 anymore, and the Belgians told the Germans where they could stick their purity laws well before that. Though some wheat beer brewers claim to still keep it simple, many brewers have gone the Belgian route and added sugars and other fruity ingredients to their beers to give drinkers some more refreshing options for the warm months.
We hate to break this to the traditionalists, but the fruit-craving, malt-seeking masses are winning. Sales of hard cider in the U.S. jumped 25% last year, to $49.5 million, and inspired MolsonCoors (TAP) to buy out Minnesota hard cider maker Crispin. Meanwhile, Mike's Hard Lemonade maker Mark Anthony saw sales jump 16.2% last year after climbing 23% in 2010. It may not be beer, but when these beverages share cooler and tap space with their beer competitors, it can mean trouble for brewers unwilling to adapt.
The Portland mainstay brewery issues another version of its pinup-labeled Stumptown Tart each year, but this year's batch is a bit more complex than its predecessors. This pink-hued concoction combines strawberries, raspberries and marionberries from Oregon's Willamette River Valley with pilsner and wheat malt for a light and slightly sour Belgian-style. Don't let the fizzy fruitiness fool you, though: At 7.8% alcohol by volume, this is a sipping beer worth keeping away from your summer session pint glass. Wachusett Blueberry
There are brewers who'll argue that their beer is closer to the blueberry source and others who'll use a teaspoon of frozen blueberries to perform parlor tricks in your pint glass, but none of their blueberry ales are as consistently light and refreshing on a hot day as Wachusett's. The blueberry flavor isn't super sweet or overstated and its malty finish makes it easy to have more than one in a sitting. Its relatively low 4.5% ABV won't punish drinkers for reaching for another. Pomegranate Wheat Ale
Moylan's Brewery and Restaurant
Brendan Moylan's been brewing since 1995 and built his reputation in Novato by making enjoyable, flavorful brews that fit in quite well with his California neighbors. The Pomegranate Wheat that Moylan brought to the Oregon Brewers Festival last month strays from that template a bit by taking a mild, lightly hopped wheat beer and brewing it with Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. The result is a tangy 5% ABV dream of a beer that's slightly more flavorful than Moylan's standard boysenberry wheat brew while far more fizzy and light than straight pomegranate juice. It's a fun little experiment that's an excellent fit for a stiflingly hot summer. Raspberry Crush
10 Barrel Brewery
The Belgian fruit beers don't hold much back in flavor or in punch. This offering from 10 Barrel strays from that formula and puts the puckeringly tart raspberry upfront while keeping the beer's boozy bite down to 5.2% ABV. With almost no hop presence to throw off the taste and just the right combination of the wheat and bacteria Belgians love so well, the Raspberry Crush is as close to a pure fruit beer as a brew this mild can get.