Each Wednesday in this column I post my insights about one (or some) of the thousands of beers brewed in the great state of Colorado. Feel free to shoot me an email with your suggestions of Colorado beers you’d like me to feature – Lee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org – or leave your ideas in the comments.
Beer styles are forever being redefined. The catalyst for much of the changing shape of beer styles is ironically often the breweries that best honor traditional brewing techniques and ideology. I think of how one of my favorite breweries, Cantillon, experiments with uncommon ingredients like blueberry, sea-buckthorn, redcurrant, gooseberry, elderflower and rhubarb, while staying true to its roots and proud practices. The three beers I am featuring this week are all the product of breweries that exemplify this same spirit; albeit while seeking to build a legacy, rather than paying homage to one.
The thread that ties together the three beers I am featuring this week is their use of fruit. Specifically, they are all fruit beers that defy common preconceptions of what a “fruit beer” is. None of them is a light wheat beer with fruit added and none is a piercing sour beer. They all stand brilliantly apart from the norm, while showcasing their fruit additions to the fullest.
The three beers are Funkwerks (Fort Collins) Cherry Saison, Crooked Stave (Fort Collins) Wild Wild Brett Orange and Crabtree (Greeley) Peachtree Cherry Wheat aged in zinfandel wine barrels.
Funkwerks Cherry Saison is a strong 9.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) dark saison fermented with a high percentage of Montmorency cherries, a sour varietal most commonly used to make cherry pie filling. The beer exhibits expected base saison characteristics, being both dry and spicy on the palate. The heavy cherry addition combines with the chocolately malt base to deliver a set of aromatics and flavors that are not common for the style. The aroma has a decidedly black olive astringency and a sweet fruit character reminiscent of plum, blackberry and vanilla. In the drink the beer is tart, but certainly not in a way that would lead it to be confused with an acidic sour beer. Tannic notes of cranberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant and grape skin are all prominent. The cherry flavor is most potent on the finish.
Crooked Stave Wild Wild Brett Orange (6.0% ABV) is the second in the brewery’s series of 100% Brettanomyces R&D beers. The series creatively seeks to explore new flavors by closely matching adjunct ingredients to the color spectrum. The first release in the series was Wild Wild Brett Rouge and was previously featured in Colorado Brewed.
Wild Wild Brett Orange is unfiltered and uses Minneola tangelos, bitter orange peel and coriander to impart a unique orange character to the base recipe. The beer has an exotic and unusual nose with aromas of orange sherbet, pineapple, Gouda cheese, wet wool and rose petal. On the palate the beer is tart and fruity with notes of pink grapefruit, gooseberry, tangerine.
Crabtree is a small brewery with grand ambitions and a broad catalog of traditional beer styles, with a twist. Peachtree Cherry Wheat (6.0% ABV) is a hefeweizen brewed with fresh peaches and cherries, before being matured in spent zinfandel wine barrels. The finished beer bursts with a tropical fruit cocktail of aromas and flavors. The nose has notes of apricot, granny smith apple, freshly sliced strawberry and sweet kiwifruit. Flavors of freshly squeezed orange juice, white grape and mango are all present in the drink. The vinous character imparted by the zinfandel barrels is most noticeable upon the finish and lends the beer a touch of dryness.
These three vibrant beers color liberally outside of common style guidelines. They all skew and, in their own way, contribute boldly to a continuing redefinition of what we think of as a fruit beer.
Beer styles do not, and never have, stood still.