Beer and fruit. I have to admit I found the notion appalling ... until I actually tried my first one. It was at a beer festival in Santa Maria, California, in the mid-'90s, and it was a blueberry-flavored concoction from a brewery in San Luis Obispo, California. I glanced askew at the beer maids offering me a glass. After all, I get more than enough enjoyment out of a glass of beer, be it a lager, pale ale, stout or porter. (I won't even touch hefeweizen, a beer craze I admit I've never gotten into.) The idea of combining that hoppy, malty flavor with fruit just never seemed like it would work. But that glass of SLO Brewing Company Blueberry Ale was absolutely fantastic. The blueberry never overwhelmed the flavor of the beer -- it just hung there, slightly in the background, peeking gently over my shoulder while I sipped and enjoyed.
I've since dabbled in other fruit-based drinks, including lambics and ciders. They have their place, to be sure, but I rarely stay long, preferring instead to head for the safety and security of a nice Guinness or Stone.
I had the opportunity recently to try a bottle of Dogfish Head's Fort, an ale brewed, according to the label, "with over a ton of raspberries." Yikes. I was back in Santa Maria again, looking at the bottle with the most doubtful of looks. Would this be a similar experience?
First, a bit of background. Fort is a special beer. According to Clyde Burney, the beer specialist with Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, it's brewed once a year -- in December. Supplies are extremely limited, so if you find yourself face to face with a bottle at Lee's or Total Wine, know that if you don't snap it up, you probably won't see it again for a while.
One more thing -- at 18 percent alcohol, it is the strongest fruit beer on the planet. No joke. Dogfish Head takes special pride in this fact, and encourages users to let it age a bit, as it properties are closer to that of a spirit than a beer.
I can vouch for that. At 1 pint and 9.6 fluid ounces, this sucker will take some resolution to finish -- or a drinking buddy. In my case, luckily I didn't need resolution, as I had the latter, Adam Bucci. The raspberry aroma is readily apparent when you crack the bottle cap, and the alcohol is apparent immediately.
So, how did it taste? Just know going in that you've never had a beer like this. The raspberry taste overwhelms your taste buds -- it's like drinking Kern's nectar packed with Stoli. And if you're one of those who thinks fruit beers are for wimps, let's just say Fort separates the men from the boys. If you're a casual beer drinker, I wouldn't recommend Fort. This is a beer that demands your full attention.
Would I ever have another one? No. Let's leave it at that. After all, I have to get back to my Guinness and Stone.