Unlike most other styles, fruit beer really has no continuous lineage in the brewing histories. But, new evidence may link the earliest evidence of brewing with fruit beer. Astudy published in 2004in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents 9,000 year old (7000 BC) evidence that Neolithic Chinese villagers created a beverage which contained honey, rice, and hawthorn fruit and/or grapes.
Another early reference of note comes from Egypt where they used both dates and pomegranates in their beer. This, along with a smattering of other references throughoutbrewing history, indicates that the use of fruit was not altogether uncommon, with many cultures dabbling, but it seems it never became a common enough practice to warrant anything but a passing mention in history.
Early modern professional brewers scuffed at the very idea of putting fruit in their beer. The Germans let the Reinheitsgebot tell them what should and should not be included in their beer, relegating brewing to more science and less art. The English too, would spurn fruit; though both the English and the Germans have documented cases of fruit brewing in their past. It would be left to the Belgians, those rebels of the brewing world, to start the tradition of modern fruit beer.
The Belgians started this “new” lineage less than hundred years ago in 1930 with the brewing of the first cherry Lambics and Krieks. They would go on to add framboise (raspberry) Lambics in the 1950’s and peche (peach) in the 1980s. Other recent renditions include the use of bananas, grapes, and pineapple. These sour creations are probably the inspiration for much of the American fruit brewing culture and its most popular example, the fruit wheat beer.
Lambics are basically a wheat beer, though it’s worth mentioning that the complicated brewing process of a Lambic creates a depth of character much removed from the American wheat ideation. American microbrews also played a pivotal role in expanding the style into new territory. They’ve helped make cherry stouts common place, chili beer trendy, andpumpkin beera yearly seasonal.
But, even in its newfound and expanded popularity fruit beer is often thought of as “real beers” ugly stepchild by both brewers and customers across the world. This, I think, is due to the practice of cloaking the off flavors in a bad batch of beer with additions of fruit. Thus, many view fruit brews as problem or failed beers.
Who knows, maybe some fruit beers still come about this way, but the vast majority of brewers brewing some form of this style conceive them as such from the get-go. I’m not disputing that even some of these taste like they must be hiding something behind the terrible screen of fizzy, artificial, and overly aggressive fruit flavorings. But I’ve had the good ones too. Those good ones have made me revise my own position when it comes to this modern beer style.