Visiting breweries around the state over the last few months, we’ve noticed a small, but significant shift in beer lineups. Though roughly 40% of the craft beer market is lorded over by the IPA (and tap lists still reflect that dominance), brewers have committed to not only making sessionable, fruited, slightly sour beers, but also making great versions of them.
You may come across beers in the fruited sour, Berliner weisse, sour IPA or even fruited wheat ale categories that fit the bill for this trend. Sours themselves had a moment a couple years ago, but the current iteration favored by local craft brewers seems to value a balance of sweet and sour, a light body, a little funk, herbal notes and drinkability. We’re here for it.
Because the craft brewing community builds on the successes of others within it, you can get a mild fruit sour almost anywhere in the state. Here are some of our favorites, and some we’re anticipating. From north to south:
Mezcal Barrel-Aged Margarita Search Saison: Magnify Brewing, Fairfield
The industrial complex in which Magnify Brewing resides is a scene. No other place in Jersey can you find a brewery, an outdoor RC racing track, the “Balloon Boss” and a Ferrari parked in a handicap space. Just as the environs here are colorful, the beer inside Magnify spans the spectra of color, flavor and style.
The Mezcal Barrel-Aged Margarita Search Saison is an easy-drinking 7.5% ABV saison. The oak-aged saison is conditioned on lime and lulo fruit, or naranjilla, a Central American crop that tastes like citrus and pineapple. It all comes together for a bright sip that only hints at the mezcal; I like a wallop of the smoky spirit, but the way Magnify puts this together is well-refined and approachable for a much broader audience.
Tropical Dreams Vol. 1: Invertase Brewing Company, Phillipsburg
The folks at Invertase use a scientific approach to brewing—indeed, they’re all scientists and hand-built their Phillipsburg brew system. You can get caught up in the brewery’s impressive lineup of IPAs, but the Tropical Dreams Vol. 1 should be enjoyed on your visit.
A 6.5% fruited sour ale, Tropical Dreams is conditioned on loads of pineapple, oranges and mangoes, which you will notice on the nose, and which will saturate your tongue. It’s smooth and tart, with just a hint of sweetness. A rounded, lush mouthfeel comes from a tasteful addition of lactose.
Malva: Esker Hart Artisan Ales, Hampton
Esker Hart is an upstart brewery that makes wildly good beers. In fact, the Malva might be the best thing I’ve tasted all year. This Berliner weisse is brewed with hibiscus, lavender and vanilla beans, and while other beers only hint at those floral and herbal notes, Malva revels in them. The hibiscus and lavender are so refreshing, and the balance of these flavors with a little bit of sour is perfection. (I had it on tap at Taphouse Grille in Hackettstown, FYI.)
Summer Jawn: Conclave Brewing, Flemington
Conclave, if you haven’t visited, is a revelation. The brewery consistently churns out excellent beer in a variety of styles; while others are figuring out how to expand their taplist to cater to an ever-curious communal palate, Conclave’s brews are typically exceptional, regardless of style.
The Summer Jawn is a 5.6% ABV fruited sour that’s light on the sour and carries, on each sip, a refreshing hint of raspberry. It’s ideal for sipping on the porch if your lager gets boring, but you don’t want something too sweet.
Waimea Punch: Kane Brewing Company, Ocean Township
For something with a little hop crunchiness, go get Kane’s Waimea Punch. Kane simply doesn’t make a bad beer, so if you’ve only ever had Head High, here’s one to experience what the brewers there can do.
This 6.7% passion fruit IPA is hopped with Waimea and Amarillo hops and conditioned on passionfruit. It’s also dry-hopped with Waimea, Citra and HBC 586 hops for an extra crunchiness. A touch of lactose balances the tart passion fruit and the vibrant hops. It’s a masterful blend of resinous and tropical flavors.
Colorful Elements: Chimney Rustic Ales, Hammonton
Chimney Rustic Ales, and Hammonton in general, is a destination for beer. If you want something outside of the IPA realm, Chimney’s the place to sample sours, farmhouse ales, lagers, brown ales and much more.
Their pomegranate Berliner weisse, Colorful Elements, is a stunning beer. Floral and herbal notes are abundant in the aroma, and the crisp mouthfeel defies the lush, slightly sweet pomegranate flavor on the palate.
Bay Daze: Cape May Brewing, Cape May
Launching June 17, Cape May’s Bay Daze is a sessionable sour with a cherry-lime flavor that’s truly balanced; that is, it’s not too sweet and it won’t overwhelm the palate. At 4.7% ABV, you can drink a ton of them. Cape May’s building a reputation for fruit-forward sessionable beers—the Key Lime Corrosion is a wildly addictive light sour IPA that is overloaded with lime flavor.