This line, redacted from my notes (because I didn’t have a whole sample) says a lot:
Got a hit of Fuz’s 13 virtues cherry wheat which has a funky nose and thin body. Nope.
That was very much the theme for me at this year’s OBF. Lots of fruit beers, most of which were weaksauce.
Now, I don’t object to fruit beer per se. The problem is that as a style, it’s vaguely defined. You can really make it about anything; there are no defining hops, malts or yeasts for that style as it’s about the ‘base style’. Doesn’t matter what you do, so long as fruit is a component.
Compared to nearly any other style where there are rigid parameters that give people a sense of what they ought to expect from that beer. That doesn’t mean that brewers can’t break those parameters: it’s done all the time! However, when you tell me something is an IPA with Lager yeast, with a hint of Carafa II malt, because I’ve had IPAs and lagers and Carafa II malt, I have a sense of what to expect. So how do I really compare or tell you if that cherry wheat ale works? What kind of cherries are being used? What kind of yeast is standard? How hoppy should be beer beer? etc, etc, etc.
Because there isn’t a North Star to set my compass by, it’s very difficult to make proper evaluation . Fruit beers should be fruit forward but still to style. Well how the heck to I evaluate that? What tells me that something is fruity enough? What characteristics do I really seek out to help discover the merits?
To top it all off, fruit beer is difficult to do and I propose that part of the reason for this is because, again, the style is vague. I had beer after beer that was supposed to be fruit -centric and found it to be lackluster. In some cases, this came as a real surprise to me, because I tend to like breweries like Gigantic or Natian, and I know those people understand what they’re doing. I just didn’t think it went well and I would like to be able to say: This didn’t work for me because versus this just didn’t work, and speak with some authority.
The winners of the OBF for my palate were: Widmer’s thai beer, with touches of lime and ginger. Old Town Brewing’s Portmunder, a nice, drinkable ale that was underrated by the crowd, I think. Finally, Elysian’s Oddfellow pear ale, a beer that I have no doubt benefited from their Apocalypse experiments of 2012. So it’s not that fruit beers are inherently bad, I just wish there was a way for me to get a better grip on what they should be, so I can understand better if they made the grade or not.
Finally, I wish that a few more breweries had made beers for the OBF–I’m looking at you, 21st Amendment or 10 Barrel. At over 85,000 people, this is one of the biggest events of the year! Showing up with a beer I can by at Fred Meyers is not making a case for your brewery.