Each winter marks the ripening of one of the most magical fruits on earth: the blood orange. It’s a citrus fruit that's at once tart and sweet; deep and clean -- it’s a unique flavor, to be sure. And, as with many delicious fruits, brewers have taken this ingredient and incorporated it into a slew of seasonal beers.
"Blood orange adds the bright orange flavor without too much sweetness, and just enough tartness," says Laura Pilato, head brewer of Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, Colorado. "It blends nicely with the wheat, banana, and spicy clove character that our hefeweizen provides. I feel it adds just the right amount of citrus to round out the beer into a bright, refreshing summer (or winter-wishing-it-was-summer) beer."
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Pilato started adding blood orange to the Blood Orange Griffin hef in the summer of 2016 in an effort bump up the flavor of the brew. It works well because hefeweizen has nuances of banana, says Aaron Heaton, Grimm Brother's co-founder. The result, he says, makes for the perfect citrus-banana breakfast beer.
Of course, blood orange isn't just for brunch. The fruit also works well to enhance the other natural flavors found in beer, depending on the hops and yeast used. For example, saisons and IPAs do well with citrus additions. At Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colorado, head brewer Sam Scruby adds around 550 pounds of concentrated blood orange juice into each tank of his seasonal saison.
"Blood oranges were originally chosen for their acidic flavor profile, which accentuated the dry fermentation of the saison yeast we use," Scruby says. "It was also a great opportunity to incorporate a fruit that would impart a fun color into the beer."
Scruby created the Blood Orange Saison in 2013 with his friends Drew and Leah Watson, who own the beer-obsessed pizza shop Hops & Pie in nearby Denver. It was released to the public in 2015, and has been a hit ever since. You can taste the bright, warming notes of the citrus as it intertwines with the round Mandarina Bavaria hops.
While Upslope produces a lovely saison, the most common beer to get a dose of blood orange turns out to be IPA. Since most IPAs automatically have a citrus-forward profile thanks to the usual addition of citrusy Cascade and/or Amarillo hops, blood orange works brilliantly without much work.
"Using blood orange was a natural extension of the citrus profile supplied by hops," says Chris Wright, head brewer and founder of Pikes Peak Brewing Co. in Monument, Colorado. But, he says, it wasn't an automatic choice. "While the fruit characters from hops in an IPA has a long heritage, using fruit in the IPA style is a relatively new trend."
One of the first breweries to start making a blood orange beer was Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery. They released the Bloodline blood orange ale in 2013. Other breweries, like the aforementioned Pikes Peak, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery, and California’s 21st Amendment Brewery, recently released their blood orange beers within the last two years.
It’s no surprise that blood orange beers have grown in popularity. You can often taste the fruit flavor in these beers -- one that remains distinctly different from tangerine or orange. Oddly, some of the brews have a pleasing grapefruit undertone -- a note common when blending citrus and hops. So the next time you crave a beer with a citrus kick -- whether it’s at brunch or late in the evening -- it’s worth considering a brew containing this miraculous fruit.
5 Blood Orange Beers You Must Try
Upslope Brewing Co. Blood Orange Saison
Pink peppercorn might spice this saison up, but it's the addition of blood orange that really gives it depth. It's a juicy brew with mellow spices and a pleasing sweetness. First released in August 2015, the seasonal saison has been a favorite of the Boulder brewery’s fans.
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Pikes Peak Brewing Co. 38 Faces
This blood orange IPA is one of the newest on the market, having been released just last month. It’s the first in a seasonal IPA series named 38 Faces, named after the 38 carved faces that adorn the arched windows of the Colorado Springs’ historic El Paso County courthouse. The citrus in this brew subtly shines through the bitter hops, and you get a bonus punch of grapefruit at the end, almost as if it were the key ingredient.
Grimm Brothers Brewhouse Blood Orange Griffin
Unlike the other blood orange beers featured here, this is a hefeweizen. The natural banana notes in the beer play well with the citrus, for an almost tropical concoction. Each batch of this beer gets 15 gallons of blood orange purée per 930 gallons of beer. That's...a lot, and you can taste the fruit with each cloudy, filling sip.
21st Amendment Brewery Blood Orange Brew Free! Or Die IPA
Stick your nose in the glass, and expect a wallop of energizing blood orange. Take a sip, and the citrus comes out in the end, balancing the bitter IPA with a lovely, deep fruit flavor. It’s one of the best blood orange beers out there.
MadTree Brewing Co. Blood Orange PsycHOPathy
Your first taste of this Cincinnati-made IPA might not shout "blood orange." But after a sip or two, the beer tastes a bit like you've just chased it with a shot of orange juice. It's big, bold, and bitter -- in the best way possible.