fruit beer and fruit sour ale

Per usual, several thousand pounds of sweet Bing cherries kicked things off just prior to Independence Day. Next were the apricots, around six tons in all, mostly of the aptly-named Perfection varietal. A few weeks later came the first peaches of the season. The batch was small, a mere 2,400 pounds of famed Red Havens from Palisade, but more are on the way, along with plenty of sour cherries, nectarines, and ultimately plums, which will roll in by late August.

It’s just another summer for Colorado-based Casey Brewing and Blending, one of several American breweries combining complex wild ales with fresh local produce for the ultimate farm to bottle experience.

Sure, there are wine grapes and apples in the fall, some pears in the winter, and citrus in the spring, but late June to early September is without a doubt the fruit season for breweries.

“As soon as you walk in you can smell the fruits,” says Troy Casey, whose six brand new 10-barrel stainless steel fruit fermenters have proven to be a wise investment—they’re currently filled to capacity. “It’s all you can do to not eat everything.”

When Casey launched his namesake brewery in 2014, he set out to make 100 percent oak barrel fermented beers using 100 percent local ingredients—water, hops, grains, yeast, the whole shebang. But it was the brewery’s use of fresh, carefully-sourced Colorado fruit that made Casey one of the hottest names in craft brewing.

It didn’t take long for devotees to flock to the mothership to obtain coveted bottles of Fruit Stand, the brewery’s flagship saison re-fermented on different types of whole hollowed out fruit; Casey Family Preserves, a super-fruited version of Fruit Stand; and The Cut, which swaps in Oak Theory (a Belgian-style sour, funkier than a Clyde Stubblefield solo) as the base beer. The nearly three-hour scenic ride from Denver is well worth the trip.

A thousand miles west of Casey in Oxnard is Casa Agria, a Southern California cult favorite renowned for its ever-changing lineup of fruited sours. Their close proximity to the exceptionally fertile Central Valley provides easy access to some of the nation’s greatest produce, including a 500-pound batch of organic heirloom peaches that currently call the brewery’s fermenter home. According to head brewer and co-founder Eric Drew, this is when the magic takes hold. “Something happens during the re-fermentation,” says Drew of the weeks-long courtship between beer—in this case, an oak foeder-aged golden sour ale—and fruit. “It creates what we call ‘funk characteristics’,” which he compares to “walking into a junior high locker room…but in a good way.”

“We’re at the will of the wild ingredients,” says Emily Watson, who, along with her husband Evan Watson, is the owner and co-founder of Plan Bee Farm Brewery located in the heart of New York’s Hudson Valley. They’re also the brewery’s only two employees.

Plan Bee’s expertly crafted offerings take anywhere from three months to three years to brew and often incorporate the wide array of fruits, botanicals, and, not surprisingly, honey available on the Watsons’ 25-acre farm. “If we don’t grow [it] on site ourselves we source it from less than a 30-mile radius from our farm,” says Watson, who earlier that morning received a shipment of blueberries grown just down the road. In fact, like Casey’s brews, Plan Bee beers exclusively use ingredients sourced in-state.

“Keeping all the money in the local economy…is really important,” says Watson. “When we grow, they all grow.”

The sentiment is shared by Casey. “Our purchase[s] from these local farmers is making a significant impact on their lives,” he says.  “It’s just the way I want to run our business.”

Casey anticipates the first batch of this summer’s fruited ales will be available by early fall—bottle conditioning, which allows the beer to naturally carbonate, adds several weeks to the brewing process.

If you can’t wait that long, you can taste the fruits of last summer’s labor: Casa Agria still has some bottles of Stone Fruit in Harmony – a crossroads of peaches, plums, and nectarines—while Plan Bee is selling bottles of Pitz, which features whole peaches, pits and all.

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Header image courtesy of Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.

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