Style: Fruited Flanders red ale
Availability: On shelves now
With Fruitage, a new Flanders red ale brewed with 9% fruit juice and served up in a slim, 8.5-ounce can, Rodenbach is taking on summer. And the legendary Belgian brewery, probably best known for their Grand Cru, chose a beer that’s not without controversy. Of all the styles, fruited beer is among the most divisive. The reasons are wide ranging: from being “artificial tasting” to overly sweet to, in the words of one confident commenter, too girly. Other’s, like Reinheitsgebot purists, simply don’t think fruit belong near beer. Many of these sentiments can be summed up by Budweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl ad, in which they remind viewers that their beer is “not a fruit cup,” as an older man flicks a lemon wedge off his beer with gusto.
But to be fair, many of the criticisms carry weight. Fruited IPAs, in particular, are the biggest culprits of sacrificing style and nuance in order to appeal to the new drinker. (Look no further than Ballast Point’s ever expanding line of fruited IPAs.) Norman Miller says it well here: “I’m not against fruit beers, but I wish breweries would just concentrate on brewing a good variety of beers instead of jumping on a bandwagon.”
To get a truly great fruited beer, one has to look no closer than Wisconsin Belgian Red from New Glarus, or farther than Cantillon’s Lou Pepe. But unless you live near the breweries, good luck finding them. For the average drinker — unless they want to shell out for a specialty bottle — store shelves are stocked with overdone and spectacularly un-refreshing versions of what a fruited beer can be.
Their new beer Fruitage is a blend of 25 percent matured beer aged for 2 years in oak Foeders and 75 percent young Rodenbach ale, with cherry and elderberry fruit added before canning. At 4.2 percent ABV and $6.99 for a 4-pack, it’s Rodenbachs most accessible billing, and it checks all the right boxes for summer. It’s got mouth puckering sourness without the fatigue, flavor without the weight. Unlike most fruited beers, it’s got nuance. This stems from the fact that the soury sweetness of fruit is balanced by the backbone of 2-year-old oak, allowing the beer to finish with a woody complexity, rather than a Smarties sugar rush.
And unlike other fruited beers (sours and goses fall into this trap as well) it’s easy to have more than one. For long days of drinking, I usually throw a few pilsners or session IPAs into the cooler. This summer, Fruitage will be right alongside them. And perhaps most importantly, Fruitage can be viewed as a stepping stone. Because if you like this Belgian, you’ve got a whole country of beer to explore.