If you thought the best thing about beer is that it is cold, prepare for enlightenment. The handcrafted artisanal revolution has impacted beer as much as any other venerable foodstuff, and fruit beers are massed at the front lines.
Traditionally a rarified Belgian style called Lambic, fruit beers today have gone populist. Pale ales, stouts, lagers—pick a style, and there’s a fruit beer made in it. And where true Lambics were brewed by steeping whole fruit, often for years, these days that fruit is added as a purée, extract, or syrup. But regardless of style or form, one criterion is gospel: the fruit and beer must be in harmonious balance, one never overpowering the other.
A multitude of American craft brewers follow that gospel, most notably Louisiana’s Abida with its raspberry Purple Haze, and Vermont’s Magic Hat with its apricot #9. And Westchester has its own acolytes. Captain Lawrence Brewing Co (99 Castleton St, Pleasantville 914-741-2337) makes two award-winning sour-fruit beers, one from Muscat grapes, the other from Zinfandel and Merlot. And siblings Keith and Morgan Berardi of Peekskill Brewery (55 Hudson Ave, Peekskill 914-734-2337) are debuting their strawberry-based brew, The Strawberry Hefeweizen, and may repeat last summer’s Belgian-style Yeah, Peaches.
“There are a hundred ways to make a fruit beer,” says Morgan Berardi. “Lambics may be the inspiration, but today there are no rules.” The fact that fruit beers have been adapted to suit Americans’ preference for sweetness hasn’t been a drawback, she feels, noting their lush aroma and flavor. “They’re delicious,” she exclaims, “and so accessible. They exceed people’s expectations of what a beer would be.”
At the brand-new Birdsall House (970 Main St, Peekskill 914-930-1880), which highlights New York State craft brewers, owner John Sharp concurs. “Fruit beers are a gateway,” he says. “When people are not familiar with beer, they’re a great introduction because they’re mild, don’t have much alcohol, and are light-bodied.” Sort of like rosé wine, he notes, although, he adds, “beers have many more flavor options than wine because there are many more ingredients.”
That opinion may be up for discussion, but fruit beer’s rising popularity is not. DeCicco and Fairway markets carry a large selection, and craft-focused pubs like Berardi’s, Sharp’s, Sleepy Hollow’s Bridegview Tavern (226 Beekman Ave, 914-332-0078), and White Plains’s Lazy Boy Saloon (154 Mamaroneck Ave, 914-490-5669), serve several varieties on tap and many more in bottles. Sometimes they’re even on the plate: Lazy Boy Saloon sauces duck and lamb, and dresses salads, with Lindemans Framboise, a renowned raspberry Belgian Lambic. If you crave more of it after dinner, just order some for dessert. “It’s a great way to end a meal,” declares Lazy Boy owner J.R. Cavallaro, who pours an orchard’s worth of fruit beers. “It’s like taking in a basket of fruit.”
That’s almost enough for me to start rethinking rosé.