I sometimes let my five-year-old daughter take a smell of my beers. I generally do this with beers that have a strong aroma. I like to see her thinking about the different things that she can pick up just from taking a whiff.
Recently, she took a sniff of RAR’s Naniticoke Nectar, a hazy IPA with bold citrus and nectar flavors. When she took a deep inhale her response was “I smell an imaginary smell.”
That sums up so much of what makes many beers great. We inhale deeply and savor IPAs with citrus and tropical notes, or piney dankness. We drink grassy farmhouse ales which harken to the earthiness of the barn and the smell of horse blankets. Russian imperial stouts can have vanilla, coffee, and toffee aromas.
These nuanced flavors are often achieved by carefully extracting them from raw ingredients that individually and before manipulation by the brewer do not appear. What we sense are molecular compounds that in their make-up smell and taste like other familiar foods and flavors (i.g. Beer brewed with Citra hops have flavors akin to grapefruit along with lemon and orange zest.) These analogous compounds are described when we talk about craft beer.
They are “imaginary smells.” We are sensing aromas and flavors of things that don’t actually exist within the beer. They often were not used in the brewing process and instead we use widely understood examples to describe what we sense. What a cool concept. It really does make the brewer’s work seem like alchemy.
This leads me to a terrible opinion:
I am already tired of these fruit infused IPAs.
I did not always feel this way. Just over year ago I was praising the return of Aprihop by Dogfish Head as one of my favorite beers and one of the few worthy of purchasing an entire case. I loved Aprihop and now… well… Dogfish replaced it with an even fruitier beer. It’s not bad. It’s not great either.
Full disclosure… I have a difficult relationship with most fruit beers. They are, in general, just not to my taste. Fruity beer leaves me conflicted at best and very unsatisfied at worst.
Mostly, fruit in an IPA is one of those “less is more” ideas. The less it is leveraged via the use of actual fruit the more likely I am to enjoy it. If there are fruit flavors to be had in a beer I believe the best way to achieve them via the proper use of grains, hops, yeast and other traditional ingredients. Bombing out a beer with fruits (or so help me an EXTRACT) is always fraught with danger. To do so with an IPA is even more suspect.
We are on the cusp of fruit IPAs taking over this summer. We are going to get orange and blood orange, grapefruit, apricot, peach, watermelon, pineapple, pineapple, and pineapple IPAs out the ears this summer. They will be everywhere. Everyone is making them. It is going to be overwhelming.
I am already tired of it.
This is trend is hitting harder and faster than pumpkin beers during the third week of July.
When Grapefruit Sculpin first hit taps and later cans… I jumped in line to give it a try and I liked it. McGrath’s in downtown HBG got it on Nitro? I had to get down there. It was a great beer. Still is. It is just no longer novel and was simply existing as the crest of a giant wave.
The niche became a trend and soon, if not already, it is a fad run amuck.
I was interested and intrigued by the concept of a fruit infused IPAs when it was novel but now that they are downright ubiquitous they are uninteresting. Some taste like nothing but fruit juice mixed with a slightly hopped beer. Most seem to me more fruit than IPA. I think they are generally, overly sweet, lack subtly and are above all derivative.
The citrus, fruit or “tropical” and IPAs which use massive quantities of fruit to achieve their distinct flavor are going to burn hot and fast. I suspect it will pass through the industry in short order. Then on to the next trend.
I regret nothing.
Is this a sign of an “organic homogenization” of craft brewing? I hope not but with the industry in an interesting state of flux, competition getting hot, and buyouts at every turn this might be part of the fall out. Everyone chasing trends and a bit less diversity in offerings.
The Craft Beer Industry has been chasing trends for a long time but these days they seem to come faster and faster. Additionally, there is little to differentiate each beer when these trends take hold.
I admit that initially the trend was intriguing, I quickly turned against that feeling. These beers are just not all that interesting. Doubly true for the pineapple and watermelon IPAs; they make no sense to me.
The only thing worse than pineapple beers is watermelon beers. The only thing worse than watermelon beers is pumpkin beers.
The only thing worse than that is pumpkin beers in July. Look at this. Southern Tier advertises that Pumking is availble in JULY.
Extra special thanks to lil’ Ms. Bearcat for being my muse on this one.