This is Foaming at the Mouth, Joshua M. Bernstein’s hopped-up adventures in the ever-expanding universe of beer. And yes, he would like another round, please.
You don’t have to pack a striped tote bag, slather your face with SPF 90, haul a cooler heavy with ice, or even think about flip flops in order to bring the beach home. And we don’t mean the layer of sand that ends up in the crevices of every tile and floorboard after the fact. Enter tropical beer.
Last year we saw the rise of the citrus beer, with grapefruit IPAs, orange-infused pale ales, and enough shandies to fill a million beach coolers. While those trends show no signs of slowing, brewers are now creating beers that taste like a Caribbean vacation.
That’s accomplished via a couple different techniques. First, many of the recently released hops have flavors and aromas ripped from a fruit bowl, including Citra (papaya, mango), Mosaic (berries), El Dorado (watermelon, pears), Galaxy (peach, melons), Hull Melon (honeydew), and Sorachi Ace (lemons). Dial up a recipe with these hops, used later in the brewing to emphasize flavor and aroma, not bitterness, and you can create a juicy beer that’ll rival a piña colada for all your tropical-drinking pleasure.
It’s a profile increasingly commonplace in the beer aisle, where you’ll also now find hard root beer, orange soda, and ginger ale. Sierra Nevada recently released Beer Camp Tropical IPA, a vibrant mélange of mangos, papayas, and oranges that’s killer without being cloying. Georgia’s Creature Comforts has a knockout hit with Tropicalía, a silken IPA that’s like passionfruit gone deliriously, deliciously boozy. And Northeast breweries from Hill Farmstead to Bissell Brothers, Other Half, and Otter Creek have perfected the soft, smooth, intensely fruity IPA without a hint of bitterness.
One small step for moon juice. One giant step for beerkind. Photo: Courtesy of SanTan Brewing Company.
When Anthony Canecchia founded Chandler, Arizona’s SanTan Brewing in 2007, an early move was making beers with Southern Hemisphere hops such as New Zealand’s white wine–like Nelson Sauvin varietal. He was so enthralled by the flowers that he direct-shipped them to Arizona, paying more per pound for shipping than the hops cost. “I was paying like $5.80 a pound for Nelson Sauvin,” he says. “And I paid $6.50 a pound to ship it from New Zealand.” (In 2015, according to the nonprofit Hop Growers of America, hops averaged a record-setting $4.38 a pound in America; specialty varieties such as Nelson Sauvin can cost much more.)
Nelson Sauvin and Australia’s Galaxy are found in his HopShock IPA, while the Southern Hemisphere duo steer the MoonJuice “Galactic IPA” that’s smoothed with wheat. “You see the look on people’s faces the first time they drink it, and they think they’re drinking a fruit [juice],” Canecchia says.
No SPF required. Photo: Courtesy of SanTan Brewing Company.
Beyond finding fruity flavors in hops, Canecchia uses actual fruit in the fantastic Mr. Pineapple, a wheat ale filled with Costa Rican pineapple juice. The beer is run through a centrifuge and filter so pulp exits, but flavor and aroma remain. “We’re brewing so much Mr. Pineapple we have to buy 20-foot shipping containers” filled with pouches of pineapple juice, Canecchia says. The SanTan brewmaster sees Mr. Pineapple’s success as indicative of a larger palate shift. “People’s flavor profiles are moving toward food-oriented flavors,” Canecchia says, noting that all his beers are designed to pair well with food. Tacos al pastor would perfectly align with Mr. Pineapple.
Building on Grapefruit Sculpin’s success, San Diego’s Ballast Point released the Pineapple Sculpin variant, along with infusing its Even Keel session IPA with mango and adding watermelon to the Dorado double IPA. The produce accentuates each IPA’s inherent fruitiness, giving the beers a 3-D vibrant punch. Pineapples star in Flying Dog’s small-batch Tropical Stout, surprisingly lively and ambrosial, the roastiness turned way down. The stout also contains coconuts, which have increasingly been brewers’ Hawaiian muse.
You want this. Possibly with ice cream. Photo: Courtesy of Oskar Blues Brewery.
Last fall, Colorado’s Oskar Blues re-released Death by Coconut, its standout Irish porter cold-infused with dried coconut. (The coconut is steeped in the beer, tea-like, in large sacks.) “That’s the best way to get the aroma and creamy sweetness of the coconut into the beer,” says Tim Matthews, Oskar Blues’ head of brewing operations. Death by Coconut’s other essential ingredient is Cholaca, a liquid chocolate made with cacao and coconut sugar. “The Cholaca didn’t just gel with the porter and coconut, but it accentuated both aspects very well,” says Matthews, who also notes that the brewery’s new IPA is filled with fruity, tropical Southern Hemisphere hops.
In Lewiston, Maine, where the winters are no joke, Baxter Brewing wanted to make a seasonal suited for the actual season. “In the beer business, spring seasonals come out in January,” says director of brewing operations Ben Low. “In Maine and New York, January is not really spring.”
No word yet on if they’re developing an aisle seat beer. Photo: Courtesy of Baxter Brewing Co.
Starting with the idea of a winter vacation and island getaway, Baxter settled on Window Seat, a creamy robust porter flavored with almonds and coconuts. It tastes like a high-flying tropical fantasy, chocolate turning up the Almond Joy–like decadence but minus the molar-aching sweetness. Now in its second year the beer has been a big hit, winning silver at last fall’s prestigious Great American Beer Festival, as well as stoking rabid consumer demand. “I just heard that somebody bought eight cases so they could have enough to last throughout the year,” Low says.
Eight cases? That might be a bit extreme. But I could definitely stand several six-packs of something, anything, tropical, toasting to the the promise of warmer days to come—and the ideal beers to drink when they arrive.
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