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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