Peaches are in season right now. Blueberries aren’t far behind. Watermelon is damn near the official fruit of the next few months.
The tastes of summer are here, but they aren’t just for our plates or serving bowls. More than ever, they’re for our pint glasses, too. Ballast Point might have started the trend with Grapefruit Sculpin, but now there’s New Belgium’s Citradelic, Green Flash’s Soul Style and Stone’s Enjoy By variant that includes tangerine. Fruit flavor isn’t only coming from the hops that we use, but increasingly fruit itself.
As more breweries skew toward our innate preference for sweetness to sell a variety of beers, it’s becoming clearer that this niche isn’t a flash in the pan trend. Breweries are going all in on new brands that play to our basic interests in food, offering us the pleasure of intoxicating brews mixed with a biological preference toward fruit.
It’s a match made in heaven: craft beer’s most popular style married to flavors we crave.
Overall, fruited beers have been on a steady climb in recent years, accounting for about 2 percent of new releases by the end of last year. As pointed out on Beergraphs, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider the growth:
Even more so, IRI shows that 2 percent of volume accounted for nearly 9 percent of craft dollar sales by the end of 2015:
The success of Ballast Point’s Sculpin variants have set the trend for fruited IPA. Sculpin alone accounted for more than half of the company’s annual sales before Grapefruit, Habanero and Pineapple came along, but even smaller brewers are seeing the impact, too. Maryland’s Evolution Craft Brewing Co. created Pine’Hop’Le IPA last year, which became the brewery’s second best-selling brand behind their Lot 3 IPA, selling more than 7,000 cases in a month.
From April 2015 to April 2016, market research company Nielsen reported tropical flavored IPA sales increased by 250 percent, which probably makes sense with grapefruit, mango, pineapple and other flavors we see plastered on IPA labels these days.
“…people like my mother, an exclusive sauvignon blanc drinker, can now enjoy this new variant on IPA,” noted New Belgium brewer Ross Koenigs.
And it’s not stopping.
In the yearlong period from March 2015 through March 2016, IRI’s tracking of fruit/vegetable/spiced IPA (read: fruit) saw sales of that sub-style go from roughly $1.55 million to $14.65 million. Fruited IPAs were only behind session IPAs in terms of its pickup of dollar share within the IPA category during this time period.
|Dollar Sales % Change||Dollar Share of IPAs||Dollar Share Change|
But there’s even a sub-style for this sub-style of IPA, of sorts, with the “tart IPA” becoming a popular release this summer. So much so, in fact, Jeff Alworth noted it’s The Next Big Thing. It makes sense, as the flavors and drinking experience with these beers isn’t far off from “traditionally” fruited IPAs. Both are looking to satiate our sweet tooth, or at least play off our interest in common flavors:
Let’s go back to the juiciness of ripe fruit. What makes it taste like it does is not just the sweetness and distinctive flavor, but acids. Even in fruit we don’t think of as tart, the fresh, “alive” qualities come from a foundation of acidity that firms up the flavors and sweetness. A few breweries have discovered that adding just a touch of acid to a standard IPA has the effect breweries were going for when they started adding fruit—it makes them seem somehow more fruity.
So what we find is a confluence of popularity. The IPA – which will soon make up about a third of craft sales in IRI markets like grocery stores and was already moving toward more fruity tastes – and the trend of fruit itself, or some variation.
On a recent episode of the Good Beer Hunting podcast, Eric Hobbs of Penrose Brewing talked about the importance of building trust and authenticity with beer drinkers. No wonder the conversation with host Michael Kiser strayed into IPA territory.
“The more people that enter with an IPA – it doesn’t really necessarily muddy the water any more,” Hobbs said. “People continue to drink more and more IPA.”
Speaking of a hypothetical bar that could exist just about any beer-loving town or city in the country, Hobbs noted that if that business has 12 tap handles and they were the sixth IPA among them, that’d be fine.
“Guess what are the top sellers: six IPAs,” he said.
Which, I admit, may not come as a surprise, but is meant to showcase a point. There are a lot of IPAs out there and a fast-growing collection of fruited IPAs, to boot. But lest we think that’s a problem because everyone is experimenting with fruit or fruit flavor, we need only check ourselves or our friends and family, because it’s all getting sold, whether it’s flavored with hops or something extra.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac