Banana bread, pumpkin pie, and chocolate-peanut butter all sound like wonderful sweet treats to many of us. Although these sugary flavors might not make us think of beer, believe it or not these brews do exist. While chocolate stouts have been a pretty common sight at bars and beer stores, beers brewed with ‘odd’ combinations of spices, syrups and seasonings have been appearing everywhere it seems.
Brewed with real bananas, Well’s Banana Bread Beer caught my eye the first time I spotted it at a bar in downtown Ithaca a few years ago. I was very intrigued, but not sure if I was ready to invest in a whole bottle of the stuff. The bartender assured me I would notice the banana flavor, but not so much so that I would spit it out. So I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised that not only did I enjoy it, I actually finished the whole thing without getting sick. Would I order it again? Probably not – I’m just not really into fruity drinks whether it be an orange juice, piña colada or sweet beer. However, there is a demand for sweet drinks, from the hard lemonades and iced teas to the neon blue alcoholic slushies in foil pouches. Some brewers specifically market fruity sweet beer beverages to the female population, in hopes that they will consume their product over a cocktail. From the relatively new apple ale (not cider) to that infamous strawberry-margarita-beer concoction, these big brewers are trying to widen their net.
Craft brewers, on the other hand, experiment with all different types of ingredients for the sake of creativity, audacity, and shock value. Take for instance, Dogfish Head, who a few years ago brewed a unique corn and strawberry beer named Chicha. What made headlines was the ages old Peruvian tradition of chewing the corn and using up the salivated grain in the brewing process. Spit and strawberry beer. How about maple and bacon with your malt, yeast, and hops and water? That’s right, maple bacon ale. Last year Rogue Brewery came out with a “Voodoo Doughnut” series (this year’s flavor is Chocolate, Peanut Butter & Banana). This interesting looking pretty pink bottle caught my attention as well as froze me in fear when I got my hands on one, so much so that I still haven’t mustered up the courage to open the bottle and try it!
Another popular flavor that we’re seeing this season is the good old pumpkin ale. Just about every craft brewery has a take on it, from the heavily pie-spiced to beers brewed with the squash itself. I recently tasted Saranac’s version and immediately remembered precisely why I didn’t like it – it tasted sweet like pumpkin pie. I suppose if I wanted that flavor I would just go to the bakery and get an actual pie. I honestly haven’t had a pumpkin beer yet that I’ve enjoyed, and I suppose that’s just my personal preference. If I’m at a beer fest, I will vow to try different variations in the hopes of tolerating more than one sip; I’ll keep my expectations low to be on the safe side. I’d much rather have an Oktoberfest/Märzenbier during this time of year anyway.
I love fruit and most definitely have a sweet tooth, there’s no denying that. There are certain instances where I do enjoy the fruit & beer combination – the occasional orange slice in my hefeweizen; the freshly squeezed lime juice in my michelada; the fruity-but-not-too-sweet flavors of wheat beers (apricot, raspberry, and cherry wheats come to mind); and fruit lambics. I’m also a big fan of chocolate stouts and vanilla porters – Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Breckenridge Brewery’s Vanilla Porter are my favorites. Would I rather have a maple glazed donut or a donut beer? Why not both? I’ll just make sure that my beer doesn’t taste like a donut and that my donut doesn’t taste like a beer. Whatever your tastes may be in sweet treats and brew – together or separate – savor the flavors and enjoy! Cheers!
Originally printed in Table Hopping, September 2013