Craft beer fans are flocking to local brewers' creations

CANANDAIGUA — Ah, summer.

Strawberries. Barbecue chicken. Spare ribs. Steaks and burgers on the grill. Hot dogs at a ballgame. Baked beans and macaroni and potato salads for sides.

The time is ripe for a fruit beer to wash it all down, because they are as much a part of summer as a backyard barbecue, according to Scott Guest, co-owner and brewer at Peacemaker Brewing Co., which makes a watermelon wheat and a variation of its standard peach ale, the Stolen Fruit Milkshake IPA.

“There’s nothing wrong with drinking a beer with fruit in it,” Guest said. “Everybody’s doing it.”

For years, Rohrback Brewing Co. in Rochester has been producing a popular blueberry beer. Ithaca Brewing Co. has its Apricot Wheat.

And closer to home, Irish Mafia Brewing Co. in Bloomfield just introduced Willy’s Impression, which sports a citrusy aftertaste for the summer, while Young Lion Brewing Co. has done wonders with plums and prunes in its Geriatric Pale Ale.

When it comes to fruit and craft beer, Naked Dove Brewing Co. was at the forefront — by design, co-owner Don Cotter said — by making its Berry Naked black raspberry ale one of its signature brews when it opened in 2010.

Fruit beer is important to the Finger Lakes region, in part because this is wine country. Hops are king when it comes to craft beer, but the ingredient gives a beer its bitter taste, which isn’t a taste for everyone.

Developing a fruit beer was a conscious effort to give wine lovers a fruity option when they visit the brewery’s Hopewell tasting room, Cotter said.

“Fruit beer allows people to be part of the craft beer category without having to totally sacrifice their taste buds,” Cotter said.

The guys at Peacemaker Brewing Co. have been at it since opening about 18 months ago. When their first summer in business came along, they wanted to make something a little more appealing for the warmer weather, Guest said.

“Something you can drink after mowing the lawn, that’s not over-the-top heavy and not too high in alcohol,” Guest said. “Something that is going to be nice and refreshing.”

And, fruity. Fruit beers are berry, berry popular with summer beer drinkers.

Last summer Peacemaker produced a peach ale as well as a watermelon wheat, to rave reviews as both sold out quickly, Guest said.

“As far as why, why not?” Guest said. “Fruit just seems like a natural ingredient to throw into beer. People like things that are different, that might have a little more flavor to it than the traditional lagers and pilsners.”

Named after the owners’ favorite band, Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, the small brewery on Pleasant Street pays homage to the group by naming their beers after the group’s song titles or lyrics.

During a recent Canandaigua Farmers Market, Guest offered samples of “I Can Drink the Watermelon” — for a song, “I Can Drink the Water,” and the “Stolen Fruit Peach Milkshake,” for a line in “Americano!”

Todd Kester said he is not normally a fruit beer drinker, but he’ll have one on occasion; OK, maybe two.

But he tried the peach beer and said it tasted like a peach milkshake at first, just as advertised, but then the beer flavor came through.

“It’s different,” the Canandaigua resident said. “It’s cool. It’s refreshing. I like it.”

Trying it is liking it, in many cases.

Cotter said he spends a lot of time in the tasting room, listening to what customers have to say and in some cases, urging them to try different beers.

Even if it is a fruity one.

He relates the story of a couple of shall we say, seasoned beer drinkers, who looked as tough as nails and who wanted no part of a fruit beer. Cotter said he was able to convince them to give Berry Naked a try. They walked away with a growler.

“Fruit beers are much maligned and much loved at the exact same time,” Cotter said.

Craft beer is all about making and trying new recipes. And around here, many ingredients — fruit or otherwise — are right around the corner.

The beauty of being a small brewery is having the opportunity to use real fruit for flavor rather than candy extracts and other ingredients that give the drinker a Jolly Rancher candy taste, Guest said.

“It’s a natural flavor and it comes across that way, too,” Guest said. “It’s not over-the-top but smoothness.”

One Stolen Fruit batch, which yields about 6 ½ kegs, contains 80 pounds of peaches, Guest said. Ordinarily, a lot of trial and error goes into a creation, but this happened to work out right the first time.

“When you nail it, then it’s like, ‘Oh! I gotta make sure I recreate that or fight the urge to go, ‘But what if I just tweak it a little bit or what if I just add this?’” Guest said.

Naked Dove nailed it with its black blackberry ale, which is available year round. And woe to the tasting room crew that runs out of the Berry Naked.

“People who love Berry Naked love Berry Naked,” Cotter said.

And people who love fruit beer drink it up.

Speaking of raspberries

Those who may have missed out on the Ionia United Methodist Church strawberry social last week have something to look forward to very soon.

The annual raspberry social is scheduled for 4:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, July 19, at the church, 2120 Elton Road.

Hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, salads and raspberry and other fruit desserts are on the menu.