Words & Deeds

Experts: Boiseans are a bunch of fruity beer drinkers

Boise-based Payette Brewing Co. released its Blood Orange Rustler IPA in cans in late May. “It’s doing really well,” Payette founder Mike Francis says.
Boise-based Payette Brewing Co. released its Blood Orange Rustler IPA in cans in late May. “It’s doing really well,” Payette founder Mike Francis says. Payette Brewing Co.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Orange who?

Orange you glad some brewer put fruit in your beer?

That joke makes zero sense. Have you been drinking?

Of course. Still, my punch line arguably is about as logical as adding citrus to an already mouthwatering IPA, which every brewery in the universe suddenly seems to be doing. Been to the grocery store lately? It’s become increasingly difficult to figure out whether you’re in the beer department or the produce section.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA. New Belgium Brewing Citradelic tangerine IPA. Payette Brewing Blood Orange Rustler IPA.

Adding citrus to IPA is more than a trend. It’s a juicy tidal wave. But nobody should be surprised by this — especially in Boise.

“Boise is a fruit beer town,” explains Matt Gelsthorpe, beer buyer for the Boise Co-op.

Remember the Boise BeerFest that drew 20,000 people in its early years at Ann Morrison Park? (It evolved into the Barley Bros. Traveling Beer Show and petered out in Meridian.)

Every year, the first kegs to kick were fruity: Laughing Dog Huckleberry Cream Ale in 2009 and 2010, 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat in 2011, and 10 Barrel Swill (a radler) in 2013. The lone exception was Landshark Lager in 2012. “Fruit beers were the first ones and the ones that we went through the most,” remembers Rick Boyd, who ran those festivals.

Still, it’s sort of mind-blowing that Stiegl Radler, an Austrian-brewed mixture of Stiegl-Goldbrau beer and fruit soda, is the best-selling beer at the Boise Co-op during summer.

“Best seller year-round,” Gelsthorpe says, correcting me.

Year-round? What?

“Exactly — what? It’s ridiculous,” he says with a chuckle.

Stiegl Radler outperforms the next biggest seller at the Co-op — typically Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA — three to one, Gelsthorpe says.

“Like, it’s insanity,” he continues. “I let it happen. I make sure that at any given time, I have minimum four cases of Stiegl Radler on hand.

“It’s so sweet,” he adds. “It’s sooo sweet.”

Black IPAs and white IPAs, to me, trended very similarly. This citrus IPA thing seems to have a lot more sticking power to it.

Matt Gelsthorpe, Boise Co-op

This summer, another beer is making a run at the Co-op’s No. 2 spot, though: 10 Barrel Cucumber Crush. “Cucumber Crush is literally crushing it,” Gelsthorpe says. “It’s exactly what it says it is. It has that artificial cucumber to it, which you instantly pick up, and then it has that acid, that little bit of sour. It’s that gateway sour beer.”

(Hey, isn’t a cucumber a vegetable, though? Or wait, what’s the rule? A cuke is a veggie, a tomato is a fruit?)

The point is, drinking a boring ol’ beer crafted without extra fruitiness officially makes you behind the times, Gramps.

“Every year, I think I’ll sell less radler, and I don’t,” Gelsthorpe says. “And now we’re just selling more citrus IPAs. Honestly, I view these two things on a spectrum — the radler being the lighter side of it, the citrus IPAs being kind of the heavier side of it.”

At about 4 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), Stiegl Radler is an easy drinker, for sure. But higher alcohol content hasn’t hindered the popularity of citrus-fortified IPAs. In a recent article about the citrus IPA craze, The Washington Post reported that sales of “tropical flavored” IPAs increased by 250 percent in 2015 over the prior year.

A year ago, Payette Brewing Co. of Boise decided to put Blood Orange Rustler IPA (6.2 percent ABV) in cans. Since those six-packs hit the market this spring, it has become a top five beer for the brewery, founder Mike Francis says. Blood Orange Rustler officially is a year-round beer now.

Francis says adding orange makes it “a little less scary to the non-IPA drinker” who might be afraid of the hop bitterness in regular Rustler: “ ‘Oh, Blood Orange Rustler. That has a little fruit in it.’ ” For those beer drinkers, the citrus creates “maybe a little mental game,” Francis says.

Adding fruit to an IPA also is a way of complementing citrus-like qualities found naturally in hop varieties that have become popular in recent years. Deschutes Fresh Squeezed — that strong seller at the Co-op — is marketed around its citrus and grapefruit personalities but contains no actual citrus. So why not supercharge things and add real grapefruit to IPAs?

Despite taking approaches that seem similar, IPAs laced with citrus actually vary significantly in taste. To my palate, Blood Orange Rustler is fairly balanced — more so than, say, Mango Dagger Falls IPA from Boise’s Sockeye Brewing, which is sweeter. On the other hand, mangos are sweeter than blood oranges, right? And “balance” is a subjective term. “Dagger can be pretty bitter and, like, drying on the palate, and the mango balances out pretty nice,” observes Brian Forde, owner of Taphouse Pub & Eatery in Boise. “It’s real good.”

Want something over the top? Try a Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA.

“You drink the Sam Adams one,” Forde says with a laugh. “You’re like, ‘Oh god, I don’t want juice! I want beer!’ ”

Customers don’t necessarily seek out citrus IPAs at Taphouse, he says, but given the choice, they pick the fruit.

“That grapefruit Sculpin, when it’s on, it flies,” he says. “That one’s good because it’s just a really good beer. It’s not necessarily good because it’s a grapefruit IPA. It’s a great IPA, period.”

Shawn Kelso, award-winning brewmaster at the 10 Barrel Brewing Co. pub in Boise, says he has nothing against the trend, but he hasn’t brewed any IPAs with citrus. He’s not exactly a stranger to fruit, either.

“I have a lemon lager fermenting right now,” he says.

Kelso already created Joe IPA, a superb beer that mates hops’ naturally occurring citrus and pine qualities. Pop open a bottle and the fragrance is gorgeous.

In a situation like Joe, it seems almost cruel to desecrate the brew with fruit. At least to a purist.

That said, there’s a time and a place for everything. While visiting Sun Valley this spring, Kelso enjoyed a Stiegl Radler tallboy on a restaurant patio. Pouring the malt beverage into a glass and enjoying the sunshine, life was good.

“We drank the last two cans, my wife and I,” Kelso says, “and it was great.”

10 Barrel brewers battle

A new 12-pack variety box from 10 Barrel Brewing has arrived: the “Battle of the Beers” brewers box.

Head brewers in Bend, Ore., Portland and Boise have cooked up three beers in a competition: Dat Sesh Doh, a session IPA; Cerveza Negra, a dark lager; and Category 57, a double IPA. Vote for your favorite at 10barrel .com/battleofthebeers.

Shawn Kelso brewed Category 57, so naturally, Boiseans might be partial to that one. It’s twice the ABV (10.3 percent) of its competitors, so watch out. And guess what sort of flavors you’ll get from it?

Kelso laughs. “It’s really tropical,” he says. “Like mango, papaya-type stuff. With a little bit of apple-y pear. Definitely some citrus notes in there. It’s kind of unique.”

“I thought it was cool that we did it in a 12-ounce bottle,” Kelso adds.

No doubt. Way too many high-ABV beers only come in 22-ounce bombers.

45 Sockeye beers at Bittercreek

There are tap takeovers. Then there are tap annihilations.

If you’re a fan of Sockeye Brewing, you need to visit Bittercreek Alehouse, 246 N. 8th St., on Sunday, July 24. To celebrate the businesses’ 20th anniversaries, Bittercreek will pour 45 Sockeye flavors. This is no fish tale — 45 freaking Sockeye brews.

Billed as “the largest collection of Sockeye brews ever,” the event runs from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds