India pale ales made with fruit are certainly nothing new. But in recent years, these beers have surged in popularity, and a rapidly rising number of breweries are now making one form of fruit IPA or another.
As odd as it may seem to some, fruit flavors actually marry really well with hop flavors, especially citrusy hop flavors derived from many Northwest varietals — from the grapefruity classics like Cascade, Centennial and Chinook, to newer varieties with fruit-forward aspects like Citra, Lemondrop, Simcoe, Amarillo, El Dorado and Mosaic.
Hop farmers, hop breeders, hop brokers and brewers are always looking for new and interesting hop varietals with new flavor characteristics, and citrusy hops seem to be the hottest thing right now. In fact, the top four acreage gainers in 2015 – Simcoe, Centennial, Citra and Mosaic – are all known for their citrusy qualities. Demand for the Citra hop alone has led to a rapid increase in acreage in just the last year, from about 1,600 acres in 2014 to more than 2,300 acres in 2015.
Beyond those popular hops, there are many others that produce a wide variety of fruit flavors and aromas, from tropical fruits (e.g., pineapple, passion, mango, etc.) to citrus fruits (e.g., grapefruit, orange, tangerine, lemon, lime, etc.), and even stone fruits (e.g., peach, apricot, plum, etc.), grapes, berries, and more. When a brewer adds whole fruit, fruit juices, peels and/or zest into a beer, especially IPA, it only adds to these hop notes, and it can take the beer to a whole new level.
Introducing fruit into beer can be challenging, though, as there are many methods of doing it (e.g., in the mash, at the end of the boil, after flameout, during fermentation, or at packaging), and they don’t always work out. Sometimes a fruit addition can create an unwanted starkness, pithiness, bitterness or astringency. And if a brewer isn’t careful, the beer can even become infected by yeast or bacteria living on the fruit skin.
But when a fruit addition is done well, it’s a magical thing.
MODERN FRUIT IPAs
These are not your syrupy or sticky-sweet fruit beers of the past. In modern IPAs, fruit contributions often freshen, brighten and add depth, especially when they are paired well with the hops. Fruit notes can range from being faint and in the background, such as the apricot in Dogfish Head Brewery’s Aprihop IPA, to being bold and up front, such as the grapefruit in Ghostfish Brewing’s Grapefruit IPA.
A few years back, Ballast Point added grapefruit juice to its wildly popular Sculpin IPA, and by early 2015, Grapefruit Sculpin was available in bottles and cans across the United States. Its success undoubtedly led to the recently released Mango Even Keel, a 3.8% ABV session IPA, as well as the yet-to-be-released Pineapple Sculpin. Of course, now that Ballast Point is owned by Constellation, I’m sure the corporate brains are taking notice of this “hot trend,” so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more fruit-infused Ballast Point beers in the future.
Many other breweries across the country have also produced fruit IPAs in recent times.
Last summer, Black Raven Brewing released Beaktweater Citrus IPA, which was made with black lemon, orange peel and lemon peel. Stone Brewing recently released a collaboration IPA brewed with peaches called Sorry Not Sorry IPA. Green Flash Brewing’s 5th annual limited release beer, called Treasure Chest, is a Mosaic-hopped IPA brewed with grapefruit juice, prickly pear juice and hibiscus flowers. New Belgium Brewing’s Citradelic is a pleasantly juicy IPA made with tangerines and Citra hops. Hop Valley Brewing’s Citrus Mistress IPA is a snappy and delicious IPA brewed with grapefruit peel. And Ninkasi Brewing just released Hop Cooler Citrus IPA, which is a tasty and well balanced IPA with some really nice tropical fruit aspects.
Interestingly, also on the rise are fruity IPAs that are not made with any fruit.
Leading the charge is a new wave of fruity IPAs from New England breweries such as The Alchemist, Night Shift, and Tree House, just to name a few. Instead of using real fruit, these IPAs offer incredible, hop-derived fruit flavors from heavy doses of late-addition hops (plus dry hopping). Tree House Brewing’s Julius, for example, bursts with notes of tangerine, peach, mango and grapefruit, and the beer’s mild, non-distracting bitterness allows you to really taste all these nuanced fruit flavors.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sierra Nevada just released its favorite Beer Camp beer from last year, called Tropical IPA. The brewery describes it as having bright fruit-forward flavors of mango, papaya and bitter orange from the Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado hops. The beer’s hop aromas are surely nice, but the beer’s aggressive bitterness takes the stage, and it leaves behind bold, lingering notes of rind.
While they’re both tasty, the differences between Julius IPA and Tropical IPA are night and day, and they truly exemplify the wide diversity of fruit-forward IPAs being brewed today.
In other words, the flavor possibilities are endless, and I look forward to trying as many of them as possible.