Opening my fridge to grab a beer, I noticed that all I had was heavy, thick, high-alcohol brews that don’t seem appropriately refreshing for humid summer weather. I needed something lighter. A good lager would do, but I’ve been seeking out beers with more flavor.
I found two novel candidates, both in cans: Hell or High Watermelon and Ruby Redbird.
Hell or High Watermelon from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco is a beer brewed with fresh watermelon. It’s dry, and not particularly sweet, but it manages to taste a little like a watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher candy fell into a can of light and refreshing wheat beer.
That’s not to say it’s off-putting — it’s surprisingly drinkable — but it is odd at first. The quality of the fruit flavor (and aroma) is closest to what you get in flavored sparkling mineral water: unsweetened but strong, even vaguely artificial tasting (whether it is or not). At 4.9% abv, it’s a good summer session beer, one you don’t have to sip slowly to enjoy.
The brewery’s website says fresh watermelon is added in the second fermentation. On the can, it says that it’s watermelon concentrate, and that there’s “added watermelon juice” too. Either way, it’s good to know that the fruit is real. Hell or High Watermelon is a seasonal beer available from April through September.
Ruby Redbird from Shiner Beers in Texas is a lager brewed with ginger and Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit. Cracking open the Ruby Redbird, both the ginger and the grapefruit are immediately apparent. There’s a distinct aroma of lager, too. It’s much darker than the watermelon beer, but the flavor quality is similarly light. Of the two additions, it’s the ginger that stands out more. It’s the sort of ginger you get when you make a ginger simple syrup with fresh ginger root: deep, almost earthy, and more like ginger beer than ginger ale. There isn’t a lot of bite, however. It’s 4.01% abv.
The Shiner website says Ruby Redbird is brewed with Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit and ginger. The can says that it’s brewed with the grapefruit juice with ginger and “natural flavor added.”
Since I first tried these two beers side by side, I’ve gone back to the Hell or High Watermelon again and again. My initial opinion on both beers had been that neither was great, but both were worth a second try. A month and two six packs of watermelon beer later, it’s clear I’ve developed a taste for one and not the other. Part of it, I think is simple availability: it’s easier to find Hell or High Watermelon where I shop (to over-analyze this a little, it’s interesting how much just seeing a product in stores over and over—and on every visit—plays a role in purchasing decisions). It helps that I love 21st Amendment’s other beers (Back in Black is a great dark IPA and the 9.7% abv oak-aged Hop Crisis imperial IPA is buttery delicious). But none of that would matter if the flavor weren’t good. Hell or High Watermelon is a great hot weather refresher.