The theme for this month’s Session, as chose by Greg Clow of
Beer, Beats & Bites, is fruit beer, which brings with it an excellent opportunity to dispel a few myths.
Among a certain segment of beer drinking society, usually macro-label loyalists or macho “my IPA is hoppier than your IPA’ types, there exists a belief that fruit beers are new-style ‘gimmick’ beers designed to compete on the cooler and alcopop markets. Or worse, they see fruit-flavored brews as wimpy or somehow less than a real beer. In fact, nothing could be further from the case.
The use of fruit (and herbs and nuts and spices) to augment the taste of beer is a process that dates back likely as far as does brewing itself. In those days, of course, before fermentation was understood and beers usually turned out sour and sometimes downright unpalatable, the addition of sweet fruit juice made the whole potation drinkable. Later, once the whole brewing process was better understood, fruits added important fermentable sugars as well as taste and, sometimes, color. Eventually hops became the dominant flavoring in beer, but for several millennia at least, fruit and spice rules the brew kettle.
(Some time ago, when Scottish & Newcastle sought to recreate the beer that King Tut would once have supped, the archeobotanists they consulted helped develop a wheat beer flavored with an Egyptian berry called Naback, juniper berries and coriander. The resulting 6% alcohol ale sold for £100 per 355 ml bottle, exclusively at Harrod’s and in support of further Egyptian archeological studies.)
So, the pedigree of fruit beer now established, let’s turn our attention to a modern example few would risk maligning with diminutives. I refer to the Bell’s Brewery’s 7% alcohol Cherry Stout.
One of this Michigan brewery’s many interpretations of stout – their outstanding, 10.5% alcohol Expedition Stout is another ebony delight – the Cherry Stout pours deep black with not a glimmer of cherry red in its hue. On the nose, sour cherry sits equal to and alongside rich coffee and black licorice notes, with dark chocolate in a supporting role, along with faint, nose-prickling spicy notes.
The body of this ale is plenty robust, with sour cherry showing immediately at the front of the tongue and rich, chocolaty malt with bitter chocolate notes joining it quickly. In the middle, the chocolate turns dominant, softer and much creamier, but never to the exclusion of the cherry’s tanginess or the soft anise and allspice notes that back it up. In the finish, the tart cherry returns with a vengeance, making its lingering mark on the palate along with shades of warming alcohol.
Although not really the dessert beer its name implies, I have served this with dark chocolate cake to great success, and wouldn’t hesitate either to serve it on its own as a digestif or pair it with a rich chocolate mousse. (In fact, I could easily see using it in the mousse!) Any way you enjoy it, though, there’s no calling this fruit beer gimmicky or wimpy.