Friday, August 03, 2007

Session #6 - Fruit Beer by Bill

[Note for both of our regular readers: We are proud to put enter the foray of "The Session," which is a day every month -- the first Friday, to be exact -- where bloggers from all around weigh in on a certain topic. To find out more about "The Session," please visit Appellation Beer for the origins. The topic this month is fruit beer. This month's session will be hosted by Beer, Beats & Bites, a terrific Canadian beer blog run by Greg Clow. Please visit BB&B. And to see what a completed "Session" looks like, please see session #5 from July, regarding the best Atmosphere in which to have a beer. For now, grab a pint and enjoy.]

[UPDATE: The Round-up for "The Session" can be found here.]

I was asked by my editor to contribute to The Session on behalf of Beerjanglin'. He told me that this month's theme would be Fruit Beers. Naturally, I headed to the nearest Wilson Farms convenience store to pick up a 30-pack of Busch, swung by the farmer's market for a dozen or so oranges, and began the arduous task of juicing the oranges and mixing them with the Busch in gallons of empty milk containers. Results were mixed, to say the least, but I emerged through the other side with a new appreciation for oranges, and for the resilience of the human gastrointestinal system. Before my opus detailing my experiences could see the light of day, my editor informed me that there were, in fact, beers brewed with the fruit already in them. Naturally, I thought he must be playing a prank on me. He was not.

Not quite understanding the protocol of The Session yet, I simply decided to select three fruit beers and see if I can tap into what makes them either potable, or unimpressive. Fruit beers are somewhat out of my wheelhouse ("My name is Bill S., and I am a hop-head..."), but I must admit a somewhat guilty-pleasure appreciation for fruit beers. Besides, no matter how hard I tried, there was no way to classify a hop as a fruit on a technicality. On a hot August day, sometimes a blueberry- or raspberry-flavored brew is just what the doctor ordered, and not only because of the fact that the American Medical Association recognizes that it fights scurvy.

Rather than try to traverse the gamut of all the Fruit Beers in the galaxy, I decided to stick with three breweries that I know and trust. My selections were Ellicottville (NY) Blueberry Wheat, Blue Point (NY) Blueberry Ale, and Dogfish Head (DE) Midas Touch Golden Elixir. I know I sorta chickened out by doing two Blueberry beers, but we shall see where this is headed.

The criteria I will primarily be using for Fruit Beer purposes will be Consistency (aka Mouthfeel), Flavor and Refreshingness (aka Drinkability). These beers are generally engineered for the summer, except the Midas Touch which I just realized is 9% alcohol by volume. Oops! Well, here we go. Excelsior!:

First up is the Blue Point Blueberry Ale, a seemingly popular blueberry beer around these parts. The first thing that struck me about this one is its thickness. The beer looks very thin and almost watery. It's a clear reddish-orange color (where's the blue???), and though it poured a pretty thick ice cream float head, I didn't expect there to be much body to it. But when I took a sip, there was a surprisingly creamy feel to this one. Yet, the taste of the beer is light enough to appease the lightest of lightweights, as well as satisfy the true beer drinker.

It does taste like a beer, not a fruit drink. It's a golden ale with a top coating of light, but not overwhelming blueberry flavor. In fact, it's a remarkably balanced beer, utilizing the sweetness of the blueberry to offset the dryness of the biscuity malt and the hints of wheat that show up all over this baby.

As far as summer drinking goes, it might be just a tad too much for the Smirnoff-swilling ingenues you might be inviting to your deck party because of its thickness, but it can still be enjoyed for its rich and balanced flavor. And the fellow beergeeks at the party who are sick of Corona and Miller High Life every Saturday afternoon will thank you for this one.

Next up to bat, is the Ellicottville Blueberry Wheat. I was immediately struck by the contrast between this beer and the Blueberry Ale shown above. First of all, the color is a straw-yellow, but not thin-looking; it's got a nice wheaty haze that makes the beer opaque. The smell was similar, with traces of wheat and blueberry, and a curious hint of pepper, of all things.

The differences become more apparent in the taste and feel. Whereas the beer above had a balance between the dry and the sweet, this one is all sweetness. The wheat itself is of a more confectionary variety, which goes along nicely with the blueberry, but doesn't offer much in the way of a counterpoint. It actually becomes a bit tart and sour, moreso as it warms up a bit.

Also, this is certainly not thick; it's more "wet" and watery. Which isn't to say it's a bad beer, but it's more along the lines of a summery, populist selection than the Blue Point ale. This one might be a bit more palatable for those not accustomed to the drier beers or beers with more malt presence. This is also a fine selection, and some might say it's actually than the Blue Point, but it appears that the Blue Point appeals more to the geek, and the Ellicottville is brewed for the cool kids. Also, the Ellicottville is unfiltered, just so you know.

And finally, one I've actually been wanting to try for a long time. Dogfish Head has made some great brews (the 60/90 Minute IPAs are the gold standard) and some interesting misses (Burton Baton). I ignored the sticker shock of the Midas Touch Golden Elixir and went for it. Here goes.

The color of the Midas Touch is, predictably, pure gold (and yes, it was like that before I touched it, in case you were wondering). It looks actually like apple juice. It's got a nice color, but looks like it has very little body.

Now, the smell of this Elixir is a whole 'nother story. It's one of the most complex-smelling beers I have ever experienced. If I were a bloodhound, maybe I could deconstruct all the aromas I'm picking up, but as it is, I am detecting mostly a deep red-wine grape aroma, along with some of the usual characteristics of a regular ale. There is a very sweet, sugary honey accent on top as well, and some other berries which I can't quite identify. It's like a symphony of different smells, a menagerie of different fragrances. A tiny bit of perfumey Belgian saison flavor comes about as well.

The taste is almost anticlimactic. There are all sorts of berries and grapes and round, nickel-sized fruits. All traces of malt and hops, while present, fade in the background of the strong panoply of fruits and berries. As it warms up, the rounded flavors become a bit sharper, with some of that heavy alcoholic kick (9%, remember). Also, the sweetness turns to more of a puckery sour toward the bottom of the glass. It evolved right before my eyes -- although I would also claim that it was intelligently designed.

The feel is not what I would call "summery." It's thick and bubbly, like a belgian farmhouse or saison ale. It's thick and strong, and pungent. It leaves a tart film on the tongue in the aftermath. It's a fascinating brew, really. Complex and one-of-a-kind. This doesn't mean I could have more than one every couple years, but it's worth having that one.

Thanks for wasting a few minutes reading our little blog. If you feel like it, take a gander back over the past few months and see if there is anything you like. Or hate. Feel free to stop back and see us again, or leave a message.

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