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Waiter, there's fruit in my beer

Whether you like ’em sweet or sour, these refreshing brews offer a fruity fix

By Mark Andel

When sizing up fruit beers, you may find the choices daunting. Should you go with a lambic (pronounced LOM-BEEK), the traditional tart Belgian brew with a challenging complexity that matches that of premium champagne, or do you opt for a fun-and-fruity American brew that goes down crisp and clean? Both brews have their own appeal. We've selected six of our favorites--three of each style--for your consideration.

Lambic's complexity makes it somewhat of an acquired taste. Depending on whom you talk to, you'll hear it described as vinegary and musty or refreshing and earthy.

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, $18
Each bottle of this pucker-producing rustic beer at Hopleaf contains more than a half-pound of raspberries and cherries fermented into it. The result is a beer with a lovely deep-amber hue, a cider-like tartness and a finish that's slightly sweet. Brewed by the most legendary producer of lambics in Belgium, the Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus has wine-like complexity and character, with a bubbly head that makes it as celebratory as a champagne kir royale. Like bubbly, the bottle is sealed with a cork and cage. It's priced higher because the 750-milliliter bottle is about twice the size of the other lambics on our list.

Liefman's Kriek, $5
The ap Room takes beer seriously, offering more than 100 brews, including eight Belgian beers on tap. What better time than the height of cherry season to try this popular lambic? It's expressive, flavorful and a touch sour, like biting into a slightly under-ripe cherry right off the tree. With its tartness and rich, sour notes, this is a great cocktail-style "nightcap." Deep red and topped with an inch-tall head of lacy foam, it's served in a quarter-liter goblet.

Lindeman's Framboise, $8
Pull up a giant pillow at the Funky Buddha, one of the first lounges in Chicago to routinely offer lambics, and enjoy this vibrant and refreshing raspberry beer. Light, flavorful, and a little sweeter than most lambics, it makes a good aperitif. The big cotton candy-colored foam head has staying power, and since it's an all-natural brew that can even be called "organic," it constitutes worry-free drinking for the groovy, health-conscious crowd at this eclectic dance club. "Quality over quantity," says owner Mark Klemen. "We've always been interested in pleasing the more discerning palates and tend to steer clear of industrial brews." Available in the bottle or on tap, and served in a traditional goblet.

Fruit beers
Looking for something a little simpler? America's tasty seasonal fruit-flavored offerings eschew the seriousness of lambics and focus on variety and refreshment.

Purple Haze, $4
If it's all about the water, then the Louisiana natural spring that provides the main ingredient for this raspberry brew by Abita must account for its fresh, clean finish. Available at Nola's 32nd Ward Seafood House, this lovely berry-colored wheat beer has subtlety and class. Because it's made from a mash of actual raspberry puree instead of cloyingly sweet syrup, this brew has a delicate flavor that most soda pop syrup beers are missing. The bottle itself is purple, but the "haze" in the name comes from the cloudiness of the yeast. There's no endorsement from Jimi Hendrix, but you may feel like kissing the sky after a few of these.

Bell's Cherry Stout, $5
This great mid-summer seasonal beer from Michigan's Kalamazoo Brewing Company can be found at the Clark Street Ale House. It's a lambic-style black brew, as dark and opaque as the Mississippi River at midnight, but with a true cherry essence and a delightfully creamy head. And the Ale House is a serious setting for beer drinkers, with its dark wood interior and beautiful polished bar.

Pyramid Apricot Ale, $4.50
Sheffield's Wine and Beer Garden offers this effervescent wheat ale with a fresh apricot taste and crisp finish. Although this brew is made with an infusion of apricot juice during fermenting, the result is not overly sweet. It's a balanced, light and super-refreshing drink that has proven so popular at Sheffield's that it edged out Dogfish Head as the bar's regular pale ale offering. The beer garden fills up quickly on temperate summer nights, so arrive early.

Mark Andel is a metromix special contributor.