Key lime pie and banana split beer? Fruited sours are making a splash.
Every time he steps into a new brewery taproom, Eli Diaz has a singular focus: Scan the menu — be it a colorful chalkboard or laminated sheet — for the mention of a fruited sour. Diaz, who works in manufacturing operations production in Dallas, had his first taste of this quirky beer subsector at Grist Brewing just outside Denver, at the suggestion of a friend.
“I am always up for something different and enjoy tart and sour fruits — limes and lemons are always in our house,” he says. “I had their Sucker Punch sour and was hooked — I’ve tried all kinds of fruited sours since then.” And Diaz is not alone.
Fruited sours were the No. 4 most-consumed style on the beer app Untappd last year, with more than 3 million “check-ins.” Initially a niche product that seemed to challenge the very definition of beer, fruited sours are now firmly established in craft beer’s growing oeuvre.
While some fruited sours are variations on classic German sour styles such as gose and Berliner weisse, the majority are brewed using the relatively modern kettle-souring process, whereby brewers add controlled amounts of souring Lactobacillus bacteria to their wort (the unfermented beer), a simpler and more efficient alternative to traditional methods of souring — such as mixed culture fermentation, where wild natural yeasts are mixed with brewer’s yeast. Fresh fruit or flavoring is then added, sometimes with additional adjuncts like lactose or vanilla, to create flavors like Key lime pie and strawberry daiquiri.
Carrot cake and peaches-and-cream sours aren’t what most people think of as “beer” — and this is part of why fruited sours are so popular. Although they go through the same brewing process as conventional beer, they offer drinkers flavors, colors and textures they’ve never experienced in beer, which enables brewers to attract new consumers to a category of alcohol they might have written off. Many brewers are hoping that fruited sours will draw in those who might not enjoy the traditional beer tastes of hops and malt.
At Harlem Hops craft beer bar in New York, server and beer influencer Sonia B., who spoke on the condition that only her last initial be used, is passionate about the experience of bringing this new style of beer into drinkers’ lives. Posting and blogging as
“We all recognize the flavor combinations and tartness of these beer products from all the years of pounding candies as kids. The nostalgia element combined with the adult element of alcohol makes these products very appealing.”
For brewers, the fruited sour market offers creative possibilities. At Drekker Brewing in Fargo, N.D., the style is a natural fit with its experimental ethos. “We’re driven to create and brew any style that brings people together and makes them feel excitement, amazement and weirdness,” said Drekker co-founder and president Mark Bjornstad, whose beers include flavors of banana split and raspberry coconut crumble.
The largest brewery by production volume in New Orleans, Urban South, opened its award-winning research-and-development focused Houston outpost, USHTX, in February 2020. Fruited sours make up 60-70 percent of the output, and in two and a half years, the brewery has created more than 250 unique fruited sours. Reaching new markets is one of the key aims. “We consider it a win anytime we can convert a non-beer drinker,” says general manager Anna Jensen.
“With something like an IPA, you might not know exactly how Amarillo hops are supposed to taste — it requires a reference point,” USHTX head brewer Tyler Krutzfeldt said. “But almost everyone knows what to expect when they crack open a beer called Pineapple Guava Overload.”
Fruited sours inarguably fall into the higher end of the craft beer market. On nationwide beer distribution site Tavour, single cans of fruited sours average between $8 and $12 before tax and shipping, a far cry from $2-per-can grocery-store craft lagers. Buying local does reduce costs — a 4-pack of Aslin’s best-selling Volcano Sauce will set you back $16 plus tax from its Alexandria taproom — but higher cost does not represent a greater profit margin. As Adam Davis, COO of Berlin, Md.’s Burley Oak Brewing Company said, “Fruited sours, like heavily hopped IPAs, are a very much more expensive beer to produce due to the fruit additions, so the margins are much less than any other more standard offering.” Nevertheless, the heady mix of novelty, nostalgia and visual attractiveness fruited sours offer continues to overcome this barrier.
“The endless possibilities of what a beer can be are what has driven fruited kettle sours to be so popular,” Davis said.
Rhodes likens the distinction between drinking traditional mixed-fermentation sours and fruited sours to “going from listening to classical music to pop.” Sonia B. echoes this sentiment, describing fruited sours as “fun and easygoing ... a more everyday, every-person drink.”
With hundreds of U.S. breweries now producing the style in volume, it’s only a matter of time before most drinkers encounter their first fruited sour. Yes, these really are beers, and yes, they are here to stay. Drekker’s Bjornstad quotes Arthur O’Shaughnessy and Willy Wonka; “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” Beer, he believes, “is whatever we can dream it to be.”