Once upon a time, as a judge at Homebrew competitions, judging the fruit beer category was one of those assignments you braced yourself for, as more often than not, the combinations weren't anything you'd ever want to drink a pint of and many homebrewers lacked the skills needed to keep the beers sanitary, resulting in a truly arduous flight of beers to judge. In the professional realm, it wasn’t much better, as fruit beers had the reputation of being something a brewery would put together “for the ladies” to make the "manly" beverage somehow more appealing to them. Rather insulting, if you ask me! These days though, you can barely turn around without bumping into some variation on a classic style infused by fruit when you’re out buying beer.
It's not like putting fruit and beer together was unknown. In Germany, Berliner Weisse’s tart lactic sourness has always been balanced by a range of fruit syrups, while the Radler takes the edge off Pils’s bitter bite via a splash of sparkling lemonade. So it's not exactly innovative to pair fruit with beer, but getting the mix just right can be a challenge.Fruit beers can be cloyingly sweet and one dimensional.Anyone who’s had a New Glarus Belgian Red or Raspberry Tart knows they have mastered the art of the sweet fruit beer, one that balances rich fruit flavors with a complex Belgian-style malt complexity to avoid being syrupy.
That's what makes Grapefruit Sculpin such an interesting combination.Sculpin, the base beer, is a straightforward San Diego style India Pale Ale, deriving its bitterness from five separate hop additions with a sturdy malt backbone providing the balance, so it already has a potent citrusy tropical punch and substantial bitterness. Adding the grapefruit element is tricky, since the fruit (and its juice) can have an intensity that borders on the astringent, which is never a good thing in beer.Grapefruit Sculpin manages to mesh the bright fruity nose of the grapefruit with the bittering of the hops, while the malt marries all of it together into a very satisfying and refreshing beer. It’s like a beery glass of tart, sweet, refreshing grapefruit juice.
I can’t help but feel my recent infatuation with this beer was karmic in a way, since the current episode of Beer Geeks features Michael working with my friend Kevin at North By Northwest to brew a fruit beer! I’ll be looking forward to trying their prickly pear beer on my next visit to Austin.In the meantime, I'll crack open another can of Grapefruit Sculpin, and another, and another…
Bev Blackwood II is the Southwest Brewing News Contributing Editor for Texas and has been covering Texas beers for 17 years An award winning home brewer, Bev has also brewed professionally at St. Arnold Brewing Company and was part of the team that brought home Saint Arnold’s first Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2007. A long time member of Houston’s premiere homebrew club, the Foam Rangers, Bev teaches their Beer Judge Certification Program course and has also taught at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.