Jan 9, 2019Craft breweries, orchardists partner to create beverages
King Orchards has grown Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries at the edge of Grand Traverse Bay on the shore of Lake Michigan for more than 30 years. They sell cherry juice to local grocery stores and fresh baked goods from their farm markets. In recent years, their cherries have started appearing in more than just tarts and pies.
“We started organically, as in the brewing industry found us,” said Juliette King, project manager at King Orchards.
Around five or six years ago she said brewers began approaching the orchard wanting cherries in larger quantities than their regular retail packages. After a few years of those breweries coming back again and again to King, the orchard realized they could market to breweries specifically.
“We’re passionate and we love to talk about the fruit in the orchards,” King said. “People who appreciate quality and who are purchasing on taste – that’s why we have the customers we do.”
Now, they supply over 400 breweries across the country including Michigan breweries like Atwater Brewery in Detroit. Their Lip-Lock Cherry Stout uses the sharp flavor of Montmorency cherries to complement the dark, rich flavor of the beer.
“A full and dark outing, Atwater’s Cherry Stout features the malt complexity common to American-style stout with the tartness, not sweetness of Michigan cherries,” the brewery wrote in its description. “The blend of fully fermented fruit and toasted, nutty malt characters bring forth an elusive cherry wood aroma to the finish.”
Atwater isn’t alone in using fruit flavors. Many craft breweries around the country are incorporating fruits as well as vegetables to an extent, in their beers. Craft breweries are defined by the Brewers Association as breweries that are small, independent and traditional (see sidebar).
The U.S. has seen an explosion of this class of brewery in the last 25 years or so, going from just under 800 in 1995 to over 6,000 in 2016. Those craft operations have been catering to the increasingly adventurous tastes of consumers, creating hoppy India pale ales with fruity finishes and light summer beers featuring the refreshing taste of cucumber.
One such brewery is on the edge of Grand Teton National Park. Roadhouse Brewing caters to a wide clientele, including the adventure-seeking locals of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Teton Valley, Idaho.
They have a lineup of full-bodied IPAs, mellow blonde ales and plenty of beers that feature notes provided by fruit. One beer that has gained a good amount of popularity after it was featured in their taproom is their Honey Drip honey basil Kolsch.
“It was one of our fastest-selling beers. People just ate it up,” said brewer Mike Agricola.
Agricola had been home brewing the recipe for years before it was rolled out in the brewery’s tap room.
The refreshing summer beer is made with basil grown in Jackson Hole by urban farming operation Vertical Harvest. The honey is raw wildflower honey from Riverton, Wyoming. While at his previous job at Grand Teton Brewing Co. in Victor, Idaho, Roadhouse head brewer Max Shafer developed a very popular grapefruit gose, which was also a summer libation.
He said the desire for new flavors followed him over the state line to his job at Roadhouse.
“Every person who comes in asks where our sours are and what fruit we are putting in,” he said.
While not from King Orchards, Roadhouse uses Michigan cherries in some of its artisanal barrel-aged ales. In addition, it gets honey and salt from local sources.
“Breweries are getting these really great relationships with local farms,” Shafer said.
Schafer said the brewery sources a lot of its fruit from the Oregon Fruit Co. The form they order fruit depends on how it will be used. In some of their barrel-aged brews whole fruit can be used. However, Shafer said they add aseptic purée to some brews, due to the presence of microbes on the skin of the fruit could cause off flavors.
Fruit beers are still very popular across the country, but will they remain so in the future?
Beer publications made predictions on that front when grapefruit gose and blood orange IPAs began showing up around the country. In an article on its website outlining 2016 beer trends, Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine thought the wave would crest within a couple of years.
“We give this trend another 18-24 months before it implodes under the weight of 10,000 extra retail SKUs. While there is, and always will be, a place for fruit in certain beer styles, the concept of pushing nonstop novelty to sell craft beer will ultimately produce consumer fatigue,” the magazine predicted.
If that forecast is correct, the final throws of the fruit beer explosion should be taking place right now. However, breweries across the country continue to pump barrels and barrels of beer featuring fruit.
Shafer said he thinks fruit beer will be around in some form for a while.
One reason is that aside from fruit-forward beers, fruit gives brewers an additional tool in getting the exact flavor they are shooting for.
In the meantime, brewers are still experimenting with the flavor combinations that fruit can offer. Roadhouse is working on special editions of its Avarice and Greed Belgian blonde ale aged in spirit barrels. That includes a beer-rita version, with lime and salt aged in tequila barrels and another with peach aged in whisky barrels.
That includes the beer using Michigan cherries, a 12 percent alcohol Belgian dark ale. The fruit used in that brew was whole fruit, not puree. For Shafer’s part, he said he uses whole fruit when it makes sense for the kind of beer he’s making.
– Scott Stuntz, FGN Correspondent
Top photo: Fruity ingredients are added to the processing techniques used at Roadhouse Brewing. Photos: Scott Stuntz