Don’t fear the fruit

For a guy, especially a beer guy, drinking a fruit beer is like riding a Vespa–sure it’s fun, but don’t let your friends catch you doing it.

Even veteran beer geeks glance over their shoulder before ordering fruit beer in public, and if called on it, will claim they ordered it for their female companion.

The culture of beer drinking has changed over the years, yet beer’s image remains resolutely masculine. Beer is a man’s drink, and don’t be trying to change it by putting fruit in it! Miller Lite ads detailing the unspoken rules of male behaviour had “Don’t Fruit the Beer” as Manlaw #10.

For many years I too considered fruit beer an abomination. In the 1980s, I was drinking the beer of craft brewers like Toronto’s Upper Canada Brewing. They differentiated themselves from big brewers by following the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which only allows the use of water, barley, hops, and yeast. Anything else–corn, rice, or corn syrup, but also fruit or spices–is an adjunct, and against the law!

Trust the Belgians to brew entirely differently. No purity law for Belgium, where adding fruit to beer has a long tradition. More radically, Belgian lambic beer uses natural, wild yeasts, floating in through the brewery’s windows, to work the magic of fermentation.

A dry, sour beer, lambic is blended with fruit to make complex fruit beer. Cherries make a kriek, raspberries a framboise. Edmonton beer drinkers can try a lambic classic at Sherbrooke Liquor Store which has imported a stock of Belgian lambic Cantillon beers, including what Stephen Beaumont calls “the finest lambic and one of the greatest beers I have ever tasted”–Cantillon St. Lamvinus.

I saw the light with fruit beer in Edmonton when I tried Alley Kat’s apricot beer, Aprikat, one sunny summer day. I’m not a big fruit fan and who the hell eats apricots anyway? But I was quickly converted, quietly joining the secret fraternity of male fruit beer drinkers.

Now I know that fruit beer can be an absolute delight, an amiable, easy-drinking companion on a hot summer patio or back deck. Craft brewers are making some delectable brews with fruit, and summer is the perfect time to try a few. These aren’t sugary alco-pops but beers finely balanced between the taste of the fruit and the beer.

To paraphrase Alberta musician Corb Lund when he sings, “Never judge a man by his clothes”–never judge a man by his beer (except maybe if he’s drinking Bud Light Lime). Take heart, fruit beer drinkers. There are more and more of us out there.

Hold your head high and ask your bartender, in a firm, unwavering voice, “I’ll have a pint of fruit beer, thank you. Yes, it’s for me.” But get him to serve it in a dirty glass.

Many fruit beers are based on wheat beers, the soft taste pairing well with the sweet fruit. Most of the beers below are widely distributed; all can be found at better beer stores in Edmonton.

McAuslan — Apricot Wheat Ale

If the excellent Montreal brewer is making a fruit beer, you can trust it will be good–and it is. Perfect for Montreal’s sun-dappled terraces, it also goes well on Albertan decks. Very nicely balanced between apricot essence and the wheat of the beer.

Wild Rose — Wraspberry Raspberry Ale

Calgary’s Wild Rose uses real raspberries in this delicious, fruity beer. The raspberries are muted, not overbearing, making one pint quickly lead to another. Usually on tap at the Glenora Original Joe’s. Enjoy it outside on their sunny patio.

Alley Kat — Brewberry Blueberry Ale

Edmonton’s Alley Kat knows exactly what to do with fruit. Their Aprikat was Alberta’s first fruit beer, Razzykat a seasonal standout, and their new Raspberry Mead a unique innovation. Brewberry Blueberry is a very friendly beer, soft on the tongue and modestly blueberryish.

Unibroue — Éphémère Apple Beer

Brewing from the Belgian tradition, fruit beer comes naturally to Quebec’s Unibroue. √âph√©m√®re Apple is a white beer blended with apple must. A strong bouquet of Granny Smith apple is followed by a sweet and tart taste, quite reminiscent of a semi-dry cider. A distinct brew.

Fruli — Strawberry Beer

A fun beer from Belgium, a blend of wheat beer and pure strawberry juice. A bit of a cult beer, as people around the world have strong opinions on both sides. Fruli is all about the strawberries–pouring red-pink into the glass, tasting strongly of strawberry with just a hint of beer.

Tin Whistle — Peach Cream Ale

Pentiction’s Tin Whistle Brewing didn’t have to look far, in the Okanagan with peach orchards abounding, for inspiration for their peach beer. A pleasant peachy aroma leads to a soft peach-apricot, not-too-sweet taste, balanced with a golden ale.

Peter Bailey is a librarian in the Edmonton area. He blogs at