Certain beers, like Corona or Bohemia, might recall relaxing vacations on Mexican beaches. Maybe a Blue Moon reminds you of the friend who first nudged you away from domestics and toward craft brews. Even “Natty Light” is not entirely without its nostalgic appeal. In a swig or two, you might taste your college experience and its meager nights of beer pong, excess, anxiety, and hope.
Now, there’s a beer that will whisk you all the way back to elementary school.
I recently ordered a milk-and-cereal beer at Richmond’s Braman Brewery, and it was like a sip from the fountain of youth. The Fruity Pebbles Milkshake IPA has only been available to Braman-goers since mid-June. (It’s a specialty beer so quantities are limited, but it remains available in the taproom as of this writing.)
There’s a subtle, sugary nose to the brew, and the familiar taste of those confetti-colored “pebbles” is light, but present, on the palate. Its IBU count is 48, which makes it comparable to Brooklyn Brewery's IPA (45) and a little heftier than a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (35). As IPAs go, that’s not very bitter, so the hoppiness one could expect isn’t really present, masked as it is by the sweetness of a bowl of breakfast. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch. At 7.4 percent ABV, you’ll want to eat your Wheaties before ordering one.
Admittedly, my expectations were low. I told the fellow behind the bar as much and he gave me an I-just-work-here look as he snapped the tab off my wristband. A $12 bracelet gets you three pours of Braman’s Running Walker brand beers, as well as a keepsake tumbler with a cute doggo emblazoned upon it. I’d already had the Kolsch, which is refreshing and my go-to at the year-old brewery. I tried the Pilsner, too. I consider both styles the tai chi of beers: they look pretty and flow gracefully but lack the karate chop of a bolder style. I knew chasing them with something that sounded cloyingly sweet would be like a fist of fury to my unguarded taste buds. But Braman’s concoction is more Hong Kong Phooey than Bruce Lee. It’s not overpowering, which makes its sweet tones playful and fun.
Turns out, the notion of brewing a beer from Fruity Pebbles isn’t entirely novel. The beer-net is teeming with recipes for using this specific cereal to brew wheat or pale styles. An Ohio brewery, Homestead, batched an IPA from the neon flakes and dubbed it Yabba Dabba Brew. Braman’s is the first one I’ve had, and if any others are being done this well, cheers to them.
The beer snobs who rate different brews use obvious criteria, like taste and smell. They try to explain "mouthfeel,” another marker for whether a certain choice is worth your time. They never consider nostalgia as a gauge for how much we might enjoy a beer, however. True, this is mostly subjective, but some recollections are universal, like being a cereal-slurping adolescent. There was something delightful about sitting one moment in the brewery with my in-laws (who were marveling over the advances of modern knee replacement) then suddenly being transported to my parents’ 1970s-era den. A sip or two and I was an 8-year-old kid again with Saturday-morning bed head, watching Scooby Doo on the Curtis Mathes, pink-tinted milk dribbling down my chin.