Micro-brewers may have originally tapped into seasonal fruit beers to tempt female patrons, but men are drinking them, too.
The world of craft beers has long covered the gamut from ales to lagers and stouts, appealing to an audience of serious beer drinkers looking for big, bold brews. But just as chefs create their menus around seasonal ingredients, brewmasters across the country have been luring hesitant beer consumers by adding a variety of fruit-infused and seasonal beers to the taps. The net effect of playing with these varietals is to draw in new beer drinkers—especially women.
“There is a group of people, particularly women, who say, ‘I don’t like beer, I like wine,’ says Dan Carey, brewmaster of Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Company, famed for its Raspberry Tart and Belgian Red (cherry) beers. “What I say to them is ‘Try this fruit beer.’ This approach allows us to reach customers alienated by the marketing of large breweries, and makes them willing to experiment.”
Other brewers agree with Carey, and view fruit beers as a potential entry point for beer-averse drinkers who are fearful of heavy, bitter brews. Kevin Reed, director of brewing operations for Rock Bottom Brewery, an 89-unit casual-dining brewpub based in Louisville, CO, says his fruit beers are geared to women. His menu of eight housemade beers always includes two specialty fruit beers, such as Apricot Wheat, Blueberry Ale, Strawberry Blond, or Jazzberry—a raspberry wheat beer.
Another concept known for its collection of seasonal fruit beers is The Heartland Brewery, a five-unit New York City chainlet where brewmaster Kelly Taylor runs four rotating seasonal and fruit beers. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, he offers Raspberry Wheat and Summertime Apricot Ale, an unfiltered wheat beer made with fresh apricots. “People look forward to it and start asking for it in May,” he says.
At the close of summer through Thanksgiving, he breaks out his Smiling Pumpkin Ale, a light, copper-colored beer made with fresh pumpkins infused with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. And every Christmas he pours Old Red Nose, a beer spiked with ginger and cinnamon. This year, he will also unveil an Apple Pie Beer, made with applesauce, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
Taylor reports that his seasonal beers grow in sales 7-10% each year. He has been particularly impressed with female enthusiasm for the apricot ale. “Women prefer the sweeter beers as a general rule and men prefer more bitter flavors,” he says.
But not everyone is in agreement that fruit beers are the way to a woman’s heart. “Women don’t need to have something light and fruity to enjoy beer,” says Ray Daniels, director of marketing for the Craft Brewer’s Association. “I think the biggest problem with women and beer is that they don’t know what’s available these days. In fact, most Americans don’t.”
Other beer industry pros echo Daniels’ opinion. “I have found that if women say they don’t like beer, usually they have only tried mainstream beer,” says Lew Bryson, managing editor of The Malt Advocate. “The idea that women will buy fruity beers, well, I just don’t buy it. It’s not really a woman thing.”
Chris Firey, brewmaster of the Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant, a 400-seat brewpub in Philadelphia known for its signature Schuykill Punch—a raspberry beer made from 600 lb. of real raspberry puree from Oregon—agrees that fruit beers are not just for women. “We have eight beers on tap at one time, and the Punch goes back and forth between being our second and third most popular because it appeals to everybody,” he says. “A lot of people who aren’t generally beer drinkers like it because it is fruity.”
Sam Calagione, president of Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, DE, a place famous for its offbeat fruit beers, also doesn’t buy the argument that these are luring women to beer drinking. “I think there was a time eight or 10 years ago when people thought fruit beers were for women or young people making a transition to beer,” he says. “But now people understand that a fruit beer does not mean a sweet beer. These beers follow a centuries-old Belgian tradition.”
The Dogfish Head brewpub, located in Rehoboth, DE, pairs its open-fire hickory log cooking with such Dogfish fruit beers as Raison D’etre (beet sugar and raisins fermented with Belgian yeast), Aprihop (a citrusy spring-summer brew), the late-fall Fort beer (local raspberries and fresh raspberry puree), and the wintery Au Courant Beer, made with black currants. These selections have helped grow Dogfish Head from a ten-gallon operation in 1995, to the fastest-growing brewery in the country, producing 2,400 cases a day. “Our fruit beers are brewed for the same audience as our other beers,” Calagione adds.
Whether you buy the fruit beer-is-for-girls thesis or not, targeting women is a wise approach. “Brewpubs have realized that they can’t survive on male dollars only, and that to attract females they need to offer something more accessible,” says Richard Pawlak, moderator of the beer forum on eGullet.com. “Fruity beers are perfect for women who are not that into beer—as an entry-point.”
Star of the Show
The Westin Hotel Group is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and management has enlisted its bartenders to commemorate the event with a spirited competition. Mixologists from 60 hotels and resorts from Hawaii to the Riviera submitted over 180 drink recipes in hopes of winning the grand prize—a spot on the Westin cocktail list. After the selection was narrowed down to 37 options, a tasting panel gathered in New York City to judge each on taste, presentation, and description.
The reigning cocktail, created in Marbella, Spain, at the Westin LaQuinta Golf Resort, was deemed the “Westin Star,” and was fittingly served in a champagne flute. It includes peach juice, gin, amaretto, and bitters with a star fruit garnish—appropriately mirroring the “W” in Westin. The drink is priced at $7.50 in most locations.
“We introduced the cocktail worldwide on September 1,” says Westin Hotel and Resorts Sr. VP, Sue Brush. “We’re confident our guests will appreciate the uniqueness of the promotion and want to participate—and that leads to increased sales.” The triumphant cocktails will also be featured in a bar book that highlights the winning bartenders, along with their drinks and hotels.
Drinks to Eat
Lately, bar chefs are taking cues from the kitchen, mixing cocktail “recipes” that use fresh, seasonal ingredients. But Drew Levinson, the beverage manager at Sensei at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, is taking this to the next level—his cocktail list is geared to mirror executive chef Martin Heierling’s eclectic Italian, Asian, and American menu.
Sensei’s drinks ($14 each) include the Caprese (grape tomatoes, basil, and fresh pepper muddled with tomato water and vodka and garnished with basil and a mozzarella ball) and the Pegasus, which marries mint leaves and rock candy syrup muddled with bourbon, sake, and lychee juice. “Chefs spend their lives working with flavors, and for me, it’s about taking their ideas and figuring out from a cocktail perspective how to complement the food and set the tone for the meal,” explains Levinson. On the business side, the drinks have been very successful. “People come in just to sample the cocktails,” Levinson says.