The addition of fruit to the brewing process is not new, but a resurgence is afoot

The addition of fruit to the brewing process is not new, but a resurgence is afoot

This month, just-drinks' beer commentator, Stephen Beaumont, uses his regular column to look at the fruit-flavoured beer segment, and spies a red flag.

It has long been accepted wisdom that if a fermented beverage is made from grain, it is a beer, and if it is made from fruit other than apples or pears, it is a wine. What to make, then, of the plethora of fruity beers on the market these days?

Of course, it's not that fruit-flavoured brews are anything particularly new – as far back as Tutankhamun's time, brewers have added various flavourings, including a wide variety of fruits, to their fermentations. But, the pace at which fruit-fueled ales are hitting the market these days far outpaces that of more-recent memory.

Of course, like pretty much everything else in the modern world of beer, there are two very different and distinct sides to this fruit beer story. Side one begins with a beer called Grapefruit Sculpin, which was released by California's Ballast Point Brewing well before the brewery's much-ballyhooed 2015 purchase by Constellation Brands for US$1bn. Although not the first hoppy beer to be literally juiced up, the combination of grapefruity hops and actual grapefruit in an India pale ale struck a chord with fans of the San Diego operation and the beer was a near-immediate hit.

To say that others soon followed is to do a disservice to the 'others', as hundreds of fruited IPAs have followed in Grapefruit Sculpin's wake, including more than a dozen other variations on Sculpin IPA and, more recently, a pair in the Rebel IPA line of the Boston Beer Co. The practice has spread to less obviously hoppy ales, as well, with Sierra Nevada's Sidecar Orange Pale Ale and Duvel Moortgat-owned Boulevard Brewing's Tropical Pale Ale among the growing crowd of fruit pale ales.

At the same time that this hop-and-fruit explosion was taking place, a parallel movement was underway on side two. Spearheaded by Miller Coors' Redd's Apple Ale and Anheuser-Busch InBev's Shock Top and 'Rita lines, fruit also began appearing in an increasing number of mainstream beers.

What is interesting about these twin trends at opposite ends of the beer market are their differing motivations and, perhaps even more so, their shared effect.

While it is difficult to get any brewer to admit it for the record, at least part of the reason breweries have so taken to adding fruit to their IPAs could be related to the growing price and scarcity of popular hops with fruit-forward taste and aroma profiles. As most of the fruits flavouring IPAs around the world boast similar flavours to the hops typically used in these beers, such as American Cascade and Centennial (citrus), Australian Galaxy (passion fruit, citrus) and New Zealand Motueka (tropical fruit), the addition of actual fruit arguably eases the pressure to load the kettle with extra pounds of hops.

Meanwhile, at the bigger-budget end of the beer market, pressures from cider – themselves often flavoured with fruit – and soft drink-influenced brews like Not Your Father's Root Beer have forced the larger breweries to grow ever more creative with their offerings. There is perhaps no better, or easier, way to expand a beer product line than to offer extension after extension flavoured with different fruits.

Yet, where Redd's Wicked Strawberry Kiwi and Stone Enjoy By Tangerine IPA meet is in their accessibility. That is both their strength and their potential weakness as products.

While there's no doubt that the soaring popularity of IPAs has been a major driver behind the craft beer boom, there is also little question that bitter, heavily-hopped ales have limits to how widespread their audience will grow. Humans have a natural reluctance to ingest bitter substances, which is why bitterness is understood as a learned flavour. The majority of the population is always going to shy away from IPAs. Mellow the intensity of that bitterness with fruit juices and flavours, though, and you can widen the appeal of your brand.

Similarly, a large contingent of drinkers look for alcoholic drinks that do not necessarily taste like alcohol, preferring more flavours that ape those of popular sodas and fruit drinks. In this regard, the fruit-charged taste of a Redd's or 'Rita conceivably has a wider potential audience than something that tastes more like conventional beer.

As younger palates tend to favour sugary drinks, however, any movement to sweeten an alcohol brand and wrap it in a hip label opens its owner up to the charge of attempting to appeal to the underage market, and it is here that these products run some risk.

So far, the line between growing the adult market and courting youth has not been approached, much yet crossed, but as the fruits grow fruitier, the beers sweeter and the label graphics funkier, such accusations are almost sure to follow.