DRAFT PICKS: Enjoying some specialty beers

Settle down classmates!

In this week’s column, I review a couple of fruity beers. One is gluten-free, the other is not.

We may have addressed fruity beers in the past, but I think there needs to be a few additional comments as we head into a busy summer of backyard sitting and deck socializing.

In the beer-judging world there is a category specifically set aside for fruit and vegetable brewed beers. It is labeled, surprising enough, fruit/vegetable beer!

In the most simple terms, this is beer that has been brewed often almost to the end of the process, and then infused with an addition of fruit or vegetable flavor.

Many, many breweries simply add some flavoring — such as a syrup — at the end of the fermentation process. Others spend a little more time and love on the operation and actually steep huge amounts of fruit in the brew so that the beverage takes on the character of the fruit that has been introduced to the mix.

The fruit and vegetables added are called an “adjunct” ingredient. The term is used a lot in brewing. It basically means just about anything added other than the normal base brewing ingredients.

For example, the corn or rice used to “stretch” a brewer’s recipe are adjunct ingredients.

Fruit has been added to beer since time immemorial. So too honey and other ingredients that softened what often could be a pretty harsh drink under primitive conditions.

Today, many brewers are leaning toward at least one or two fruity beers on their menus. These appeal to a larger number of potential customers, while at the same time allowing the brewer to at least knock on the Belgian-style lambic’s door.

Lambics are fruit infused beers, but should never be confused with most American fruit beers.

Lambics are often tart, and are sometimes referred to a “sour beer” although that term can be a bit misleading. I’d suggest that tart is not necessarily sour, but I suppose it’s all a matter of personal taste.

There are a lot of pretty decent fruit beers on the market, and even those who generally steer away from the more sweet brewed beverages can find them refreshing under the right circumstances (like just about anytime!).

Some best-sellers, according to Beer Advocate, include:

Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat — Boston Beer Company;

Raspberry Tart — New Glarus Brewing Company;

Purple Haze — Abita Brewing Co.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy — Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company;

Founders Cerise — Founders Brewing Company;

Fruit beers definitely have their place on the menu — especially when catering to the wants and needs of the largest number of visitors to your home this summer.

And now, a word or two on gluten-free beer. In the most simple of terms, gluten-free beer is beer made from ingredients that don’t have or contain gluten. Folks living with some form of celiac disease can have serious reactions to the parts and portions of grains most generally used in the brewing of beer.

Gluten-free beer is free of the specific chemical ingredients that cause reactions in gluten-sensitive people.

We will look into this more in-depth in a future column, but in the meantime here are a few of the growing number of gluten-free beers as listed by the good folks at Beer Advocate. A surprising number of these brews are available in this area, and there are many more than offered in this representative listing.

Dragon’s Gold (Gluten Free) — Bard’s Tale Beer Company — Buffalo, N.Y.;

St. Peter’s G-Free (Gluten Free Beer) — St. Peter’s Brewery Co. — Suffolk, United Kingdom;

Elmer’s Gluten Free Beer — Five Seasons Westside — Atlanta;

Fox Tail Gluten Free Ale — Joseph James Brewing Inc. — Henderson, Nev.;

Gluten Free Golden Ale — Deschutes Brewery — Bend, Ore.;

Gluten Free IPA — Deschutes Brewery — Bend, Ore.;

Lazy Mutt Gluten Free — Minhas Craft Brewery — Monroe, Wis.;

Nickel Brook Gluten Free — Better Bitters Brewing Co. —

Burlington, Ontario.;


Elder Betty

Magic Hat Brewing Company

South Burlington, Vt.

This beer was given to me by a friend who very much appreciated the fruitiness of the offering.

Truth be known, I’m not much of a fruity beer lover. Never have been.

Nevertheless, we’ll take a look at this Magic Hat brew and as with all beers give this one, too, all due diligence.

Elder Betty was good, tasty, smooth and exceptionally refreshing when chilled. It was good.

This is a mild ale in the style of the weiss ales.

Betty poured a pleasant, somewhat hazy golden color and produced a surprisingly modest head of foam despite being a little fizzier than I usually like.

The first deep sniff of Elder Betty reveals what should have been expected in the first place — there is a lot of fruitiness to this beer. The berry smell is very much the dominant aroma, and easily overcomes anything else that may be tucked away in the background. You certainly will have a hard time picking up on any hoppy smell.

The taste is obviously fruity as well. There really is no need to spend too much time searching out the subtleties of Elder Betty. As they say — it is what it is.

Not that the fruitiness is off-putting.

Look, if you A: lean toward fruity beers, or B: need something to satisfy the palate of your picky sister-in-law out on the deck during a summer visit, this may well be the one.

There is virtually zero bitterness. The IBU must be so far down the scale it doesn’t register!

Elder Betty is not unlike a good quality fruit punch — with real fruit. Not Kool Aid. More serious than that.

But still ...

Oh. And did I say this was fruity and packed full of berry taste and smell!?

Elder Betty is a bit heavily carbonated. The whole package is one most folks will enjoy. Light. Fruity. Refreshing.

A fine summer drink — if you need to supply something no one will complain about.

3R Raspberry Ale

New Planet Beer Company

Boulder, Colo.

I sampled this beer at the request of my daughter, who is one of the growing number of gluten-free eaters and drinkers.

It is gluten free and there are an increasing number of such offerings hitting the market these days. That’s good. It makes brewers remain innovative and think outside the traditional “box.”

This beer is categorized as a fruit or vegetable beer — as will be many gluten-free beers I would suspect. Considering it is a raspberry beer, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the ... pinkness ... of it. Still, it is ... pink!

There isn’t a lot of head, and what there is settles pretty quickly leaving a slight sheet of foam topping. The beer is quite clean, crisp and clear in appearance.

There is a rather yeasty smell to 3R and, surprising enough, the raspberry smell is not heavy or overly demanding on your senses. There is a bit of tartness offered up in the scenting. Not too much, but enough to make you wonder if this isn’t more a lambic-style brew than anything else. At first wash, the berriness expresses itself and there can be no mistaking the raspberry dominance.

This is a heavily flavored brew — almost syrupy. I’d guess, it is not too unlike many of the flavored wine-coolers on the market. There is a tartness to the flavor. Not quite sour, but certainly tart. It is light in many of the flavors most drinkers would identify with beer, but then it is, after all, gluten-free and you have to take it for what it expressly is. There is a touch of a corn taste in the background — which certainly would be present in an adjunct beer of this style. Look, I’m sure gluten free explorers will be having more and more varieties of beer stylings to taste and enjoy in the future. There is nothing wrong with 3R.

It will make a great addition to a gluten-free beer fridge.

As has already been noted, I’m not much of a fruity beer drinker. Having said that, I think this can compete with any other fruit beer — gluten-free or not — out on the market.

It really isn’t bad. In all honesty, it’s kinda tasty! And 3R offers an important avenue for gluten-free folks to join the exploration in a perfectly respectable fashion.