Sue Moen

These subtle and complex brews will challenge any preconceived notions you might have about this misunderstood category.

Markham Heid
May 14, 2018

Some drinkers hear the term “fruit beer” and assume the brew in question will be saccharine, one-note, and palette-fatiguing after a sip or two. And in some cases, those assumptions are accurate. But fruit beers can also be as subtle, layered, and structured as fine wines (which, you’ll recall, are essentially just grape juice).

“Fruit beer is basically beer made with fruit, so it’s a pretty broad category,” says Averie Swanson, head brewer at Austin, Texas-based Jester King Brewery. She says fruit incorporation has long been a part of Belgian beer-making. And as Belgian sours have lately risen in popularity in the U.S., so have fruit beers. (You’ll see that plenty of sours make this list.)

Swanson says there are different ways to go about adding fruit to beer. “You can take a mature beer and then add fruit as a second source of fermentable sugar,” she says. She practices this “re-fermentation” at Jester King, and says the second round of fermentation with fruit can impart added flavor or sweetness to a beer, but also additional texture and acidity.

While Jester King uses only whole fruit, other brewers may choose to add fruit juice (or fruit concentrate, or even artificial fruit flavoring) during various phases of the brewing process—to good or poor effect. “The American school [of brewing] is no holds barred, so there’s a lot of variety,” Swanson says.

If you’ve never tried fruit beers and you don’t know where to start, this list has you covered. Ditto if you’ve dabbled with fruit beers but didn’t like what you tasted. Don’t give up. Each of the brews named here has helped shift the perception of fruit beer among American craft fans, and each is an essential stop on your fruit beer voyage of discovery.

Atrial Rubicite by Jester King Brewery

Courtesy of Selin's Grove Brewing

We spoke to Swanson for this piece because Jester King is producing some of the best fruit beers on the market today. While many of their offerings are knockouts, most are limited-release offerings available only at the brewery or during special events. Atrial Rubicite is Jester King’s most popular and widely available fruit beer. A barrel-aged sour re-fermented with raspberries, it’s a cloudy, funky stunner.

Wisconsin Belgian Red by New Glarus Brewing Co.

Sue Moen

Made with local Door County cherries, this Belgian Red from New Glarus is all cherries on the nose. But take a sip, and the flavors fan out revealing apple, oak, spice, and malt. Good palate-clearing carbonation make this a beer you can sip and enjoy for hours. And you’ll want to.

Avancé by Allagash Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Allagash Brewing Company

A sour ale aged in bourbon barrels and “finished” with fresh-picked strawberries, Avancé is a complex beer that features tart fruit cut by oak and vanilla. If you’ve only ever had White from Maine-based Allagash, it’s time to branch out.

Soft Parade by Short’s Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Short's Brewing Company

Michigan-based Short’s has been making Soft Parade (named after an album by The Doors) for well over a decade, and their experience shows. Made with rye and puréed blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, it’s a mildly spicy, mildly tart, surprisingly mellow beer that takes focus and consideration to appreciate. Great name. Great bottle art. And a great beer.

Grapefruit Sculpin by Ballast Point Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Ballast Point Brewing Co.

A nice change of pace from the numerous cherry- and berry-centric fruit beers, Grapefruit Sculpin takes Ballast Point’s crowd-pleasing IPA and rounds it out—literally and figuratively—with grapefruit and citrus notes. While there’s plenty of tart fruit here, there’s also balancing bitterness. For IPA lovers, this is an easy transition into the world of fruit beers.

Rubaeus by Founders Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Founders Brewing Co.

Michigan-based Founders ranks at or near the top of every craft fan’s list of best breweries, and this raspberry-infused brew does nothing to diminish its reputation. While sweet and tart, the nuanced raspberry flavors in Rubaeus mellow quickly, making way for your next sip. Some bready malt notes keep the beer in harmony.

Seed by Bissell Brothers Brewing Co.

Peter Jensen Bissell

While the tartness here is mellow compared to many other fruit beers, the strawberry and raspberries burst through on your tongue. Released during summer by Maine-based Bissell Brothers, Seed is crisp and fresh, and the moderate amount of carbonation paired with its light body makes this an ideal warm-weather brew.

Oude Tart with Cherries by The Bruery

Kevin Lara/The Bruery

While “tart” is in its name, this beer is actually on the soft side when it comes to fruit beers. But that’s not a knock. The cherry aromas and flavors are abundant, and they play well with oak and leather in this alluring Flemish red ale from Orange County’s The Bruery.

Hell or High Watermelon by 21st Amendment Brewery

Carolyn Fong Photography

As you would expect from its namesake fruit, this summer seasonal isn’t overpowering. The watermelon is present and hangs around pleasantly long after you’ve swallowed. But this wheat beer is more than just a fruit-bomb. If Belgian-style fruit beers don’t do it for you, this gentler brew from Northern California’s 21st Amendment may be more to your liking.

Apricot by Cascade Brewing

Courtesy of Cascade Brewing

The brewers at Oregon’s Cascade take a blend of sour blonde ales aged in oak wine barrels and infuse it with fresh apricots. The taste of this beer is a little more sour than you’d expect, and mouth-drying tannins come through from the oak aging. The apricot and peach flavors here are deep and evolving.

Paw Paw Wheat by Jackie O’s Brewery

Courtesy of Jackie O's

Pawpaw trees are native to Ohio. And if you’ve never tried the tree’s delicious fruit, one sip of this beer will make you want to head to the Buckeye State and track down a pawpaw stand. Sort of like a blend of mango and melon, pawpaw aromas and flavors mix with some earthy wheat notes in this satisfying brew.

Smashed Blueberry by Shipyard Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Shipyard Brewing Company

The brewers at Maine’s Shipyard break away from the world of sours with this blueberry-focused porter-scotch ale hybrid, and their effort is a winner. The blueberries are heavy on the nose and palate, and are accompanied by satisfying roasted caramel and cocoa.  

Apricot Blonde by Dry Dock Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Dry Dock Brewing Co.

Colorado-based Dry Dock Brewing is still sailing under the radar for many beer-drinkers. But that will change soon if they keep producing beers like Apricot Blonde. This crisp, easy drinking blonde ale is an even balance of apricot and toasty malt.

Kirsch Gose by Victory Brewing Co.

Courtesy of Victory Brewing Company

This springtime-release from Pennsylvania-based Victory is a crisp-and-salty kiss of tart cherry. Lighter-bodied than most of the beers on this list, Kirsch Gose is just the kind of beer you want to kick back with on the first warm days of the year.

Liliko’i Kepolo by Avery Brewing

Courtesy of Avery Brewing

Passionfruit is on display in this tropical brew from Colorado-based Avery. On the nose, you’ll get that passionfruit along with citrus and coriander, while sweetness dominates (in a good way) when you take a sip. While light-bodied, Liliko’i Kepolo’s finish is long and evolving.

Phoenix Kriek by Selin’s Grove Brewing

Courtesy of Selin's Grove Brewing

It’s not always on tap, and you’ll have to go to the source to taste it. But if you ever find yourself in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania (or driving nearby on I-80), this cherry sour is a must-try. Bursting with ripe cherry flavors and hints of almond, vanilla and biscuits, it’s a wonderfully slurp-able beer. Selin’s Grove Brewing makes several excellent fruit beers. So even if this one isn’t on tap, the brewery is worth a visit.

Rosetta by Brewery Ommegang

Courtesy of Brewery Ommegang

Tart and spicy, this Belgian-made limited-release brew from New York’s Ommegang perfectly blends cherry sweetness with mellow, pie-crusty malt. The aftertaste is clean and satisfying.

Blue by SweetWater Brewing Co.

Courtesy SweetWater Brewing Co.

Another nice gateway brew for those who haven’t sampled many fruit beers, Blue is a light-bodied wheat beer with a soft carpet of blueberry and grains on the nose and palate. This one won’t knock the socks off hardcore craft-heads, but it’s an undeniably tasty offering from Atlanta-based SweetWater.

Pineapple Mana Wheat by Maui Brewing Co.

Maui Brewing Co., Bryan Berkowitz Photography

Pineapple is sugary, even by fruit standards. And in their Pineapple Mana, the folks at Maui Brewing highlight that sweetness rather than subdue it. While that sweetness may turn off some drinkers, the purity of this beer's pineapple flavors mixed with its toasty wheat notes and mild bitter bite are a nice combination.

Damascene Apricot Sour Ale by Tin Man Brewing Co.

Sara Davidson

A nice mix of tart and sweet—though definitely leaning toward the latter—there’s a good bit of acidity in Damascene that helps brighten the flavors. That acidity also makes this an excellent pairing for bar food. If you haven’t had anything from Indiana’s Tin Man, this is a good place to start.