The craft beer community has many similarities with the culinary community. The focus has shifted on flavors and finding ways to accentuate using new ingredients. One of the most popular ingredients in craft beer is the blood orange, but what is it?
We are familiar with the standard orange. The orange rind matches the orange inside which matched the orange colored drink it produced. Hell, its called an orange, how many fruits are named after their color?
So what is with this blood orange and how is it different than the orange we are familiar with? The blood orange has a rich history and has long been a popular fruit in Italy and Spain, where the fruit is native. However, the fruit is thought to come from somewhere in China, but is now primarily grown in Italy as well as Texas and California.
What truly differentiates the blood orange from the standard orange is the inside. The exterior of the oranges look very similar but once a blood orange is cut into the naming of it becomes clear. The interior is a deep rich blood-red color. This is due to the presence of anthocyanins, a family of antioxidant pigments common to many flowers and fruit, but uncommon in citrus fruits.
The flavor of a blood orange is very different than a standard orange. With a standard orange the flavors are sweet. A blood orange still has the backing notes of citrus with the addition of an almost raspberry like taste that introduces a touch of bitterness/tartness to go with the sweet flavors.
The blood orange has long been enjoyed in a variety of drinks and foods. Italian soda is loved for its fresh fruit flavors and blood oranges have been a staple within them for years. The flavors within the blood orange lend themselves perfectly to being added into beer.
One of the first and most notable beers that hit the market featuring the blood orange came from Elysian. The brewery released their Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale in 2013. The blood orange was the centerpiece of the beer with a light body and hefty dosing of hops which seemed to be the perfect pairing for a fruit that has a natural bitterness.
The beer that truly took the blood orange to another level was Anderson Valley’s Highway 128 Session Series: Blood Orange Gose. The Gose style has a natural sour quality to it with hints of salt that are perfect counterpoints to the blood orange. This beer became a huge seller and is still sought after as one of its most popular beers. The refreshing qualities of this beer are almost unmatched and this is definitely a beer for all craft beer newbies and die hards to try immediately!
In 2015, Terrapin created one of the most successful and bloody collaborations to date. The brewery teamed up with “The Walking Dead” to produce its The Walking Dead- Blood Orange IPA. The hop selections were made to accompany the blood orange flavors and create a balanced beer with a big hit of citrus flavors while putting the blood orange front and center. This beer became a favorite for many IPA lovers and “The Walking Dead” fans.
These are just a few examples of some of the beers to feature the blood orange. Fruit can be a tricky thing to put into beer as the flavors can vary wildly from crop to crop. This is just one of the issues brewers have to face when brewing beers on a large scale. When a fruit is chosen, like the blood orange, the rich flavors shine through.
If you are a fan of fruit beers then these beers are a no brainer to try. But, if you are like me and tend to shy away from many fruit beers due to their overwhelming sweetness giving way to heartburn, try these beers! The fruit flavors are most definitely present but not overwhelming.
Whether you like your oranges plain and simple or big and bloody the use of blood oranges is not stopping anytime soon and you will see them entering into all kinds of other drinks and foods very soon.
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.