“A refreshing drink with notes of guava and passionfruit…” It sounds like the tasting notes of a fruity sauvignon blanc. But no – it’s a beer.

A new one. The description refers to a new limited release James Squire Tall Tale Tropicana Spring Ale from Malt Shovel Brewers in NSW. But fruit beer is no recent gimmick. In the early 1900s Belgium brewers were routinely adding fruit to beer to make styles such as Kriek lambic, a traditional Belgian beer made with sour Morello cherries, and Framboise, a variation made with raspberries.

According to Malt Shovel head brewer Haydon Morgan, the modern fascination for fruit beer has been recently boosted by the modern emergence of the craft beer movement. “The Americans led the way brewing cherry stouts and pumpkin seasonals,” he says. “It’s really picked up over the last 15 years.”

So has the local market and demand for them. An explosion in the number of Australian craft breweries has seen a vast improvement in the variation of beers available, and consumers are developing a taste for different styles. “People are more open to trying new things,” says Morgan. “Whether it’s a Grapefruit IPA or the Spring Ale.”

No flavour is strange

Popular fruits finding their way into beer include passionfruit, peach, and pumpkin. Grapefruit IPAs are becoming more common too, says Morgan: “They’re a higher alcohol at 6 or 7 per cent. The tartness and acidity shows, but they’ve also been quite heavily hopped to align with the grapefruit flavour.”

Then there’s cherry, which goes well with stout and porter as well as the traditional lambic. “The tartness of the cherry complements a porter,” says Morgan, “which is quite rich in the malt profile.”

Morgan says when making a fruit beer, a subtle approach that carefully matches the fruit with the base beer works best. “You don’t want the character of the fruit to be so overpowering it tastes like a fruit juice,” he says.

Tweak and experiment

The brewers at Malt Shovel are always experimenting with new styles of beer. Once a week a mini-kit of 60 to 120 litres is brewed, tasted and assessed by the team. “Does the balance between the malt character, the hop character and the fruit work?” asks Morgan. “Is it too acidic? Does it need more sweetness to balance it out?”

Those tweaks also include the quantity of fruit and at what point it’s added during the brewing process.

For example, adding fruit in the brewhouse creates a sour beer. When fruit is added early in the fermentation process, it gives the yeast longer to ferment the fruit’s sugar, resulting in more of a balanced flavour. Adding fruit later in fermentation, when the yeast has done most of its work, gives the beer a fruity aroma and sweetness from the unfermented sugars.

The key – for both brewers and consumers – is to experiment. “It’s a process of trial and error,” says Morgan.

Five to try

James Squire Tall Tale Tropicana Spring Ale
A blush-pink beer featuring fruity hops complementing the tropical flavours of guava and passionfruit. The limited release is “a very refreshing springtime beer delicious on the nose,” says Morgan.

Matso’s Mango Beer
Broome brewery Matso’s was established in 1997 and is a veteran of Australia’s craft beer industry. The fruity aromas of its signature Mango Beer, a variation of the medium-bodied Belgian Blonde, is balanced by the beer’s sweet dryness.

Grifter Brewing Co Serpent's Kiss Watermelon Pilsner
Created as a one-off for Sydney Craft Beer Week, Grifter’s Serpent's Kiss Watermelon Pilsner was so popular with punters the brewery brought it back. A light brew that lets the watermelon shine.

Wayward Brewing Co. Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner Weisse
Wayward’s Sourpuss, as the name suggests, is a tart wheat beer. The raspberry component adds berry aromas, a touch of sweetness and gives the beer its spectacular crimson hue.

Sailors Grave Brewing Grapefruit & Marigold Saison
A saison is a refreshing pale ale traditionally brewed in farmhouses in French-speaking Belgium for summer farm workers. Sailors Grave has added grapefruit and marigold from the family farm to give its version a zesty twist.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire.