Wine & spirits: Flavoured beer
Whenever I get tired of ordinary bubbly, I pop the cork on a bottle of pink champagne. Its striking colour (accentuated by rowdy bubbles), exotic floral bouquet and remarkable fruity taste bring out my wild side. It's the same thing with beer. Mainstream suds tend to clash with my disposition most of the time, and every once in a while, even the bitter, hoppy or malty taste of a premium brew will turn me off. That's when I reach for a flavoured beer.
Trend spotters who claim flavoured beers are the newest thing know little about the history of drinking. Brewers only recognized the preservative power of hops about a thousand years ago; bark, berries, fruits, herbs, honey, roots, seeds, spices and other botanicals have added flavour to our favourite beverage since its creation more than 8,000 years ago.
Whether they're produced by macerating heaps of fruit in the fermenting brew for several months or by just adding freshly squeezed juice or concentrate, fruit beers deliver a tart taste that's refreshing on hot summer days. They're also versatile; pastas, marinades, soups and stews all benefit from a judicious splash.
The greatest variety of traditional fruit beers is crafted in Belgium. Peach, banana and blackcurrant are common, but cherry (kriek) and raspberry (framboise, or frambozen) are the two standards. Classics include Belle Vue Kriek ($3) and Mort Subite Framboise ($4), which come in 375 mL bottles with wired-down champagne corks. They're available in liquor stores across Canada.
Another big seller is Hoegaarden (6 x 330 mL, $13), also from Belgium. Its pale-straw gold colour comes from a wheat base, and its mild flavour results from the addition of coriander, spice and Curaçao orange peels during the brewing process.
Brewed in Montreal, McAuslan Apricot Wheat Ale (6 x 341 mL, $11) is one of my recent favourites (I made a sorbet with it), while Toronto's Amsterdam Framboise ($11, 750 mL) often finds its way into my beer fridge.
Here are a few other flavoured beers worth trying. Check your local liquor or brewers retail store. In some cases, beers may only be available in restaurants. Prices will vary from province to province.
Niagara Apple Ale Niagara Brewing Co. (Ontario) 6 x 341 mL, $10
Cassis Mort Subite (Belgium) 250 mL, $4 (available in Ontario only)
Floris Ninkeberry Gardenbeer Huyghe Brewery (Belgium) 330 mL, $3
Fruit Beer Belhaven Brewery (Scotland) 500 mL, $3 (available in summer only)
La Maudite Unibroue (Quebec) 750 mL, $5
Raspberry Wheat Phillips Brewing Co. (British Columbia) 500 mL, $4 (available in British Columbia only)
Red Maple Premium Lager Northern Breweries (Ontario) 12 x 341 mL, $19