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Would you drink a purple beer?

Prickly Pear Wit - New Mexico State Fair

Prickly Pear Wit - New Meixo State FairThis is what can happen when you judge in beer competitions, particularly homebrewed beer. The beer pictured here is a Prickly Pear Wit. Although Pierre Celis, the Belgian who resurrected the dead Belgian White or Wit style, later moved to Texas, founded the Celis Brewery and took to wearing a bolo tie was an inventive guy no proof exists he thought of brewing a beer with the fruit of prickly pear cactus.

We have a lot of prickly pear in New Mexico, so folks make wine with the reddish fruit, use it in mead and I’ve previously had a prickly pear pale ale.

But never a wit. Until Saturday morning. We were judging fruit beers in the New Mexico State Fair Pro-Am competition, amateur division. Just finished back-to-back cherry Berliner Weisse beers. The note with this entry said the beer contained no artificial coloring. Wow.

Alas, this might not have been the best brewing idea ever. When prickly pear meets wit the wit flavors get run over.

But the execution was better than in the afternoon, when I sat on a panel that judged a Prickly Pear Lambic. This was from a commercial brewery (judged blind so I have no idea what one, but bless their heart for trying.) Prickly Pear meets vinegar (acetobacter), nobody wins.

Don’t you wish you were a beer judge?

17 Responses to Would you drink a purple beer?

  1. Boak August 23, 2009 at 2:00 am #

    We made a lurid pink-purple blackberry beer once, so yes, I would drink one! And I’ve also drunk a green beer.

    I had no idea prickly pears came out purple. I’ve never got beyond the prickles.

  2. Pivní Filosof August 23, 2009 at 3:26 am #

    I would definetively drink it.

    This is the kind of beer that makes you ask the question. What is better, a brewer that plays safe, making the same two or three things that everyone else does, that, though not brilliant, is reliable, or someone who thinks a bit outside the box and tries somethng different, even though is not quite there?

  3. todd August 23, 2009 at 6:26 am #

    I’d drink it in a blink! Right now in NM, the Claret Cup Hedgehog cactus fruits are perfect and taste like strawberry/kiwi. They are bigger than quarters in size. They taste way better than prickly pear fruits. The best tasting cacti fruits are the garambullo (sp) from the Myrtillocactus that are similiar to blueberries, just wayyyyyyy better.

    Why don’t we humans purposely cultivate these tasty cactus on purpose??

    Is cultivating cacti so out of the box that nobody cares?,,,,,,,,or,,,,,,,,,,, Does it just take one purple beer?

    New flavors, new colors, new thinking, new plants.

    I love it! Great story Stan,,thanks!

  4. Stan Hieronymus August 23, 2009 at 7:13 am #

    A couple more things. Somebody else in the room suggested the head was “neon.”

    And that it lingered so long reassured us we weren’t about to drink grape soda.

    It was a reminder how important appearance is in a beer – in this case achieved honestly.

  5. SteveH August 24, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    Wow indeed. That is one purple brew.

    To whether I’d drink it or not, in a competition or sampling setting, sure — I’d give it a try. Walking into a favorite bar and seeing it being poured, probably not. Then again, I’ve never been a big fan of fruit beers, uh — assuming cactus is a fruit?

    Just what does prickly pear taste like?

  6. Soggy Coaster August 24, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    I tried a seasonal Sante Fe Brewing Prickly Pear Hefeweizen earlier this summer on tap. It was good. It was not at all purple.

  7. Jeff Alworth August 24, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    Prickly Pear meets vinegar (acetobacter), nobody wins.

    Well, you can’t blame the prickly pear for that. When anything meets acetobacter, acetobacter wins. It’s the thug in a dark alley with an ugly knife.

    But I’m with Steve–what’s prickly pear taste like? Despite the failures you observed, I regard this as very good news. We have reached the point where brewers–pro and not–are tapping into local ingredients to make what might one day become indigenous beers.

    My mother lives in Arizona, and when I visit, I am always depressed to find standard English-style ales there. Many are good, some great, but still, you go to an exotic place, you’d love to find some of the local character in your pint.

    Maybe prickly pear isn’t the way to go. Maybe one day it will be varieties of chili beer we pasty-faces in Oregon can only dream about. Whatever it is, when I finally do make it to NM, I hope it’s interesting and fun. I’d drink every prickly pear beer in the state–even with acetobacter–just to try something novel and local.

    Thanks for sharing–

  8. todd August 24, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    I’m picking the last of the NM hops tomorrow. The prickley pear tunas are ripe and need picked too. Tons of tunas!!

    More purple beer?

    Stan,,photo op day is tomorrow!!

    Come harvest!

  9. Stan Hieronymus August 24, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    Wish I could, Todd. “Brewing With Wheat” is my master right now.

  10. Phil August 25, 2009 at 2:56 am #

    Looks awesome! But what does prickly pear taste of?

    And was the beer actually nice?

    P

  11. Stan Hieronymus August 25, 2009 at 4:40 am #

    In a previous comment Todd mentions prickly pear “tunas.” Those would be the green pads you see year round. The fruit are on top will be purple-ish red.

    People eat both, but meads and beers I have had were made with the fruit.

    The flavor of the fruit varies, depending on variety – kiwi, strawberries, figs. Some are sweet, some acidic.

    BTW, there are reports that taking prickly pear fruit extract before drinking alcohol significantly reduces symptoms of a hangover.

  12. todd August 25, 2009 at 7:20 am #

    I’m pretty sure that “tuna” is the name of prickley pear fruits and “pitaya” is the name of other tasty cactus fruits while “garambullo” is the name of the little purple berries from Myrtillocactus geometrizans (Blue Flame cactus).

    Prickley pear pads are sold in stores for boiling, sold pickled, and are loaded with good things for diabetics. Only tender young pads are tasty. There are many specie of prickly pear,,,the Opuntias and Cylindropuntias are the Genus’. India Fig prickley pear (thornless) is the cactus that Luther Burbank tried to make so popular. “Miel de tuna” is a thickened syrup made from prickley pear tunas and “queso” is the crystalized syrup that tastes like maple syrup candies,,sorta.

    Mucopolysaccharides are common in all cacti parts. These are “slime” sugars that can negatively affect a beverage if in too high a quantity.
    Mucopolysaccharides are the binding agent in termite mounds and ancient adobe bricks.

    Betacyanin is the pigment in prickley pear and it is concentrated by a cactus mite called the Cochineal mite. Cochineal is a fantastic natural fabric dye and is still used for staining biological tissues for examination. Cochineal is very pricey too. Guess what color this stuff is?

    I have always heard of Saguaro fruit wine,,,,never had it,,,,,and always wondered how would one deal with the slime factor of cactus fruit. I guess I’ll have to try that next year.

    Cacti are awesome!
    “Jobs for plants, plants for jobs”

  13. todd August 25, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    I forgot to mention,,prickley pear pads are called nopales or nopalitos.

  14. Steve (a.k.a. Brewfus) August 31, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    I recall reading an article about a prickly pear mead, but never a beer. I would absolutely drink a purple beer. – great post.

    –Brewfus

  15. todd September 5, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    After trying to make a purple beer with prickly pear tunas that came out reddish, I’d like to know how that beer got purple.

  16. Josh April 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    To answer folks question about the purple prickly pears and their taste – I used them to make a sauce for thanksgiving last year – they taste like a cross between watermelon and bubblegum. It’s not a super strong, super sweet flavor. I’m considering using it for a stout or a lambic. In working with them, wear thick gloves and use tongs, and sandpaper off the little stickies. After peeling them, don’t freak out about the purple stain on your fingers, it washes right out.

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