The last fruit beer I sampled was a blueberry brew offered up by a struggling Midwestern brewery trying to get back on its feet.
The year was 1995. Craft beer was yet to emerge as the fastest growing industry sector, fruit beers were the rage in Europe, but not in America -- and frankly, this was a downright pathetic attempt.
The brewery went on to fail. The century-old brewery building was demolished for a parking lot.
You can imagine my apprehension when presented with a tasting from Samuel Smith Brewery that contained not only fruit beers -- but ORGANIC fruit beers.
Deja vu can often leave a bad taste in your mouth.
OK, the fruit beers won me over. In fact, I'm currently stocking Samuel Smith in the home fridge for my classier friends (you know who you are).
Samuel Smith's Old Brewery at Tadcaster, about 200 miles due north of London, was founded in 1758 and is Yorkshire's oldest brewery. Samuel Smith is one of the few remaining independent breweries in England, and is the last to utilize the classic Yorkshire Square system of fermentation solely in stone squares.
The brewery's entire product line proudly boasts "organic" on the label -- and each is certified by England's Vegan Society. The landscape tells part of the story: Tadcaster is surrounded by a crazy quilt of farmland, fresh water and very little in the way of population.
Here's what I liked:
Samuel Smith's Organic Fruit Beers -- Raspberry, Strawberry and Cherry -- are brewed and fermented at Melbourn Bros. Brewery in Stamford; then blended, conditioned and packaged at Samuel Smith's Old Brewery in Tadcaster. Melbourn Bros, in operation since 1825, certainly lays down a nice foundation of beer and the natural fruit juices that are blended in deliver the winning ingredients.
Each of these beers, even the notoriously finicky strawberry, deliver great fruit flavors without being cloying or overbearing. My favorite was the cherry flavor, which paired nicely with salty bagel chips and soft, creamy cheeses. Regardless of the favor, each beer was incredibly refreshing and light -- even when I consumed the entire 18.7 ounce bottle.
Samuel Smith Organic Cider reintroduced me to a gently brewed hard cider -- and a beverage that was once a staple of the American road house. Ciders remain popular and offer home brewers an easy entry into the craft.
This one is fresh and bright with the smell of apples and drinks with remarkable balance: not too tart, not too sweet -- and not overly alcohol-laced. It drinks nicely and finishes with crisp acidity and delicate dryness. It goes great with creamy cheeses -- and I loved mine with grilled chicken.
These, and the Organic Ale, are great "gateway" beers for non-beer drinkers. They drink smoothly without hoppy bite and present a wonderful balance of complexity.
Savannah Craft Brew Fest Tickets on Sale
Nearly 40 breweries are expected to participate in this second annual celebration of American Craft brewing being held in Savannah. Tickets are on sale now on the website, www.savannahcraftbrewfest.com, or the Civic Center Box Office. We'll have all the details in a couple of weeks, but here are the highlights:
Craft Beer and Food Pairing Dinner
Food stations featuring Lowcountry Boil, barbecued ribs, and pulled pork with all the trimmings and fresh fried chicken from Barnes Restaurant. Up to five brewers sampling a dozen or more beers and music by Junkyard Angel.
$50 pp in advance; $75 at the door
Friday, Sept. 4, 6 p.m., Charles Morris Center
Craft Brew Grand Tasting
Sample from more than 120 American craft beers in this lively outdoor festival. Live music all day, food available.
$35/advance, $40/day of, $33/group of 20 or more advanced, $5/designated driver advanced, $10/designated driver day of, $30 military discount, $30 Chamber Member
Saturday, Sept. 5, 1-7 p.m., The Esplanade, Savannah International Trade & Convention Center