Fruit-infused beers often seem like a complicated topic among self-proclaimed beer aficionados. Some purists will insist that fruit has no place in a well-conceived brew … and I suppose that they’re entitled to their wrong opinions. But those of us who appreciate the melding of fruit flavors with a sour ale, an IPA, or even a lager know that these beers offer brightness, complexity, impressive taste balance, and, in many cases, an extra level of refreshment.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that some fruits work better in the context of a beer than others. Being an ardent fruit beer enthusiast, I’ve tried countless brews with any number of different fruit guest stars, and my years of research have led to this definitive ranking of the best fruit beers, along with the specific cans and bottles that nail these flavor blends especially well.
Cherry beer tends to fall victim to a very unfortunate set of circumstances: Some cherry beers are precisely formulated and boast both top-notch fruit flavor and a solid backbone of hops and grains … but others fail so spectacularly on both fronts that they bring down the curve for all of their peers. The natural tartness of cherries can boost the earthy notes of a beer, but it’s also easy for the cherry flavor to overwhelm the brew’s more subtle notes. But when a cherry-enhanced Belgian sour ale (also known as a “Kriek”) or wheat ale accomplishes the tricky task of keeping all of its tastes in a perfect equilibrium, then that’s a beer worth adding to your shopping list. Cases in point:
- Transatlantique Kriek by New Belgium Brewing Co.
- Tumalo Kriek by Deschutes Brewery
- Cherry Wheat Ale by Samuel Adams
One danger of layering fruit flavors into beer is the “potpourri factor,” — when the fruit essence takes on a perfume-y quality and completely decimates the other flavor levels of the beer. Raspberry beers often find themselves particularly prone to this problem; for that reason, some of the most successful raspberry beermakers either lean fully into the fruity attributes and create a brew with more similarities to a fruit cider than to a traditional ale (Belgian fruit lambic is the best example of this style), or they gently incorporate raspberries into a refreshing wheat ale, playing off of both the wheat’s inherent sweetness and these beers’ typically light body. But, of course, sour ales and lagers can also benefit from some raspberry action. When it comes to raspberry beers, we recommend:
- Purple Haze by Abita Brewing Co.
- Raspberry Crush by 10 Barrel Brewing Co.
- Alaskan Raspberry Wheat by Alaskan Brewing Co.
Strawberry beers can fall into many of the same pitfalls as raspberry beers, which is why it’s so unsurprising to see many of the better versions of this style coming from independent brewers who cultivate close relationships with local strawberry farmers. At its best, a strawberry ale produces a crisp and craveworthy flavor experience that’s ideal for summer: Both refreshing and nostalgic. Try these versions:
- Strawberry Blonde by Arbor Brewing Co.
- Strawberry Sour by Upland Brewing Co.
- Strawberry Dreamsicle IPA by Terrapin Brewing Co.
There’s possibly no better adjective to describe the flavor of pineapple than “assertive.” This tropical fruit exhibits plenty of stage presence, which explains why it falls into a “love it” or “hate it” category for many people. For clever brewers, pineapple provides an opportunity to play around with acidity and flavor contrasts while still creating a harmonious warm-weather libation. These 3 pineapple beers take their vacation vibes to the max, to excellent effect:
- Pineapple Hefeweizen by UFO
- Pineapple Mana Wheat by Maui Brewing Co.
- Pineapple Beach Blonde Ale by Funky Buddha Brewery
Often relegated to a subprime position as the peach’s smaller, tangier, and less juicy cousin, the apricot has a signature tartness that can collaborate beautifully with the mild sweetness of a wheat ale, resulting in a summer sipper that’s perfect right out of the fridge or cooler. A few special examples:
- Pacific Apricot Wheat by Blue Moon Brewing Co.
- Apricot Ale by Pyramid Brewing Co.
- Apricot Wheat by Ithaca Beer Co.
Okay, okay, I can sense your eye rolls from all the way over here. But hear me out: Pumpkin-infused beer, when it’s done right, couldn’t be farther from a Starbucks-inspired monstrosity. Rather, the pumpkin’s earthiness balances out the autumn spices, and the ale’s hoppy buoyancy adds another dimension to round out the full flavor profile. I’m not ashamed to declare myself a pumpkin beer devotee, and these 3 are especially worth tasting with an open mind:
- Pumking Imperial Ale by Southern Tier Brewing Co.
- Leaf Pile Ale by Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
- Roadsmary’s Baby Rum Barrel-Aged Pumpkin Ale by Two Roads Brewing Co.
If you’ve ever received a Belgian-style ale with a slice of orange served on the rim of the glass, then you’re familiar with the symbiotic relationship between oranges and wheat beers. In short, they’re made for each other. Citrus fruits have a remarkable knack for highlighting the most intriguing and satisfying flavors in a beer, and because they’re less acidic than lemons or limes, oranges deliver that citrus brightness in a slightly gentler manner. Check out these 3 beer recs featuring oranges (and their equally flavorful relatives, blood oranges):
- Belgian White by Shock Top
- Blood Orange Wheat Radler by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
- Orange Blossom Vanilla Mandarin Wheat by Papago Brewing
To tell you the truth, I felt very skeptical when a friend first handed me a can of watermelon beer and insisted that I give it a try. It’s just a gimmick, right? Watermelon won’t have much of an effect on a beer’s flavor … sounds like a waste of time. But then I tasted it, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. At the risk of hyperbole, I’m gonna say that watermelon beers are the absolute essence of summer. Crisp, clean, and crushable — on a 90-degree July day, what’s better than that? Stock up on these 3 watermelon brews this summer:
- Hell or High Watermelon by 21st Amendment Brewery
- Watermelon Session Ale by Montauk Brewing Co.
- Watermelon Wheat by Galveston Bay Beer Co.
“Lime beer” has a very close association with “Bud Light Lime” in the American drinking canon … and I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing. Wrong. With. That. Bud Light Lime might not be a serious beer or a prestige beer, but it’s a fun beer. And when I’m sitting outside on a sunny day and reaching for a cold can, Bud Light Lime hits the spot. But I also have good news for the elite beer mavens out there who feel curious about lime-infused beer: Plenty of craft breweries are now getting wise to the appealing tang of a beer brewed with lime juice, which accounts for the awesome lime beers now available on the market, like these 3:
- SeaQuench Ale by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
- Busta Lime IPA by Redhook Brewing
- Lime Pilsner by Uinta Brewing
Finally, we come to the best of the fruit-beer best: Grapefruit beer. This flavor earns the top spot because it brings so many beautiful characteristics to the table. It’s got acidity, a floral profile, a hint of bitterness, some structure behind the fruitiness, and it works wonderfully with a wide range of beer styles. It’s perfect, and it’s the winner. Still not convinced? Pick up any of these 3 grapefruit beers and leave those hesitations behind:
- Ruby Redbird by Shiner
- Grapefruit Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point Brewing Co.
- Mas Agave Grapefruit by Founders Brewing Co.
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