The Mainstreaming of Grapefruit Beer

Grapefruit from a 1953 US government publication.

Back in 2013 the idea of putting actual grapefruit into beer seemed quite hilarious — a stunt, a play on the grapefruit character of certain hop varieties.

But somehow, probably because it filled a gap in the market between alcopop and Serious Beer, it stuck and became a craft beer staple. (Definition 2.) Now it’s even made its way out of that walled community so that in 2017 it seems easier to get a grapefruit beer than a pint of mild.

BrewDog Elvis Juice, a grapefruit boosted IPA first launched in 2016, is in almost every supermarket in the land — even the funny little ones that otherwise only sell bog roll and sandwiches — at less than £2 a bottle. We weren’t sure if we liked it at first — “Eugh! It’s like someone’s put a splash of Robinson’s squash in it.” — but somehow it keeps ending up in the fridge, and keeps getting drunk. It’s got a palate cleansing quality, or perhaps palate defibrillating would be more accurate, and there’s just something fun about it. That the base IPA is good in its own right doesn’t hurt.

Adnams/M&S grapefruit IPA
SOURCE: M&S website

Out in West Cornwall we didn’t have easy access to Marks & Spencer so missed out on some of the fun of their revitalised beer range. Here in Bristol it’s much easier to grab the odd can or bottle while we’re out and about which is how we came to try the Grapefruit session IPA brewed for them by Adnams and available at £2 for 330ml, or less as part of multibuy offers. Would we have identified it as an Adnams beer if we’d tasted it blind? Probably not, but it does have some of their signature funk. It’s not thrilling or brainbending, just a decent pale ale with a twist. We’d probably rather drink Ghost Ship but perhaps, as with Elvis Juice, we just need to get to know it a little better.

Theakston Pink Grapefruit Ale
SOURCE: Theakston website.

And, finally, the one that really surprised us: the latest Wetherspoon’s ale festival includes a pink grapefruit ale from, of all breweries, Theakston. It is perhaps the most exciting Theakston beer we’ve ever had, a classic northern pale-n-hoppy whose tropical fruitiness is like the bold lining on a classically tailored jacket, glimpsed in passing rather than right upfront. But, after the fact, we discovered something funny: unless we’re missing a detail in the small print, despite the word grapefruit in the name and pictures of them on the pumpclip, this effect is achieved entirely with… hops. A relatively new, obscure variety called Sussex, according to the Theakston website.

Does all this take us nearer to Craftmaggedon, when the last of the cask Best Bitters shall be cast into the pit and we will face the sea of darkness and all therein that may be explored? Or is just another variable for brewers to play with? It’s the latter, obviously. The beers above stand out in the context of Wetherspoon pubs or supermarket shelves but still represent only the very tiniest proportion of products on the market.

10 thoughts on “The Mainstreaming of Grapefruit Beer”

  1. We’ve had this stuff for quite a few years shipped over from Germany. The whole Radler phase passed me by but I assumed the beers you mention were just an extension of that, a means to dilute the cost of production while increasing retail price.

    1. It wasn’t so much a cost thing – it was more a question of the sheer availability of grapefruity hops. It takes three years for a hop to ramp up to full production from when it’s planted, so you can’t just turn new varieties on and off. So when customers demanded lots of Simcoe etc that hop growers couldn’t provide, adding grapefruit pith was a logical response by the brewers.

      As mentioned below, you’re starting to see the same happening with the Mosaic/Galaxy craze prompting tropical fruit beers – passionfruit, mango etc.

  2. A play off of the hops is interesting but adding grapefruit to a beer curiosity. I heard the rumor from Ballast Point state that they were selling as much of the grapefruit Sculpin IPA as they were the original Sculpin. They had no idea it would be so popular. But he went on to say that they have to produce new beers regularly to maintain shelf space.

  3. Not sure, but I think that St Peter’s may have been one of the earliest to produce a Grapefruit Ale. I remember drinking that we’ll over 15 years back

  4. Next up, passionfruit ales. Thanks to the pervasive use of Galaxy, all the rage down under already!

      1. Update(!): local Spoons has now marked it down to £1.79 (from £2.19), presumably because it isn’t selling. Shame if so. I had another pint this evening and was glad I did – it’s a terrific beer. It really does taste of pink grapefruit, and in quite a complex aromatic kind of way (i.e. not just a “craft = tastes of grapefruit”) way.

  5. Someone above compared the trend to radlers :definitely not from my experience. (they may have helped put ideas in brewers heads and be very distant relatives), generally the grapefruit beers I’ve had are decent ipas brewed around the 6.5%mark.. From memory roosters roots rock reggae came just before elvis juice, as probably did many others (roosters sits on the boarder lands between the craft beer scene and the more traditional real ale crowd, their outlaw brand allows for some experimentation) brewdog were definitely taking something to market they already knew had potential for the four packs in the supermarket mass market. Oh thinking of fruit beers Morrisons have had a cherry saison in their October beer festival, not a great example but another sign of ideas that were outer reaches of beer geekery going mainstream.

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