On a brisk afternoon in March, Tim Pewitt was preparing for the burn of summer. That morning, Pewitt, founder and brewer of Wet Ticket Brewing in Rahway, had unloaded three pallets bulging with watermelons.
That was the easy part. Next came splitting and juicing the more than 100 bulbous cannonballs, then pumping the juice into a vat of fermenting wheat beer.
“It’s a lot of work,” admits Pewitt—but worth it, because Wet Ticket has sold out its cans of seasonal Tastes Like Summer watermelon wheat beer since their debut in May 2017.
The story of the beer dates to Pewitt’s home brewing days.
“It was late summer,” he recounts, “and as usual we had had a party, and there was an extra watermelon downstairs in the refrigerator.”There was also a small batch of American wheat beer brewing that he had yet to bottle. “I looked at both and said, ‘Why not?’” He brought the concoction to a Rutgers tailgate. All 5 gallons disappeared. That’s when “we knew it was something good,” he says.
Watermelon and beer might seem a surprising combination, but the classic summer refreshers work as well together as they do side by side.
“I love my IPAs like anybody else,” says Pewitt, “but the watermelon just has such a nice, clean, refreshing flavor.”
The first watermelon-flavored beverage I tried that didn’t taste like a Jolly Rancher candy was a Hell or High Watermelon from California’s 21st Amendment Brewery. Now, every year when temperatures rise, I hanker for a watermelon beer.
Since 21st Amendment helped introduce the concept, adding the fruit to its wheat beer, it has been embraced by craft breweries all over. Some add watermelon to pale ale, others, to more intense sours or to IPAs. Some use fresh watermelon juice; others, purées. No matter the method, the beers are beloved by beer geeks and new fans alike.
Garden State brewers are watermelon mavens, too. In recent years, Cape May Brewing, River Horse Brewing and New Jersey Beer Co. have all experimented with the fruit.
In addition to Wet Ticket’s watermelon wheat, you can count on an annual release of the popular sour Watermelon Splash from Egg Harbor Township’s Hidden Sands Brewing Company.
The thing about watermelon beers is that they can be made only when watermelons are in season. So don’t wait.
“If you’re still seeing watermelons at Costco,” says Pewitt, “then we’re probably still making it.”
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