The use of fruit in fermentation is as old as the first alcoholic beverage. Why? I don’t know but it’s a fine idea for making almost any drink delicious! Beer is no exception. Today we’re looking at fruit beers.
Fruit beer is in essence beer with fruit. That was easy… and obvious. Fruit can be added at any point in the brewing process before consumption. Toss it in the boil, fermentor, bottle, or glass, fruit is a great way to enhance beer.
By no means am I the first to say it, beer should be beer. And that goes for fruit beer too. The best fruit beers still taste like the base style that they are…based on.
Ok, enough mucking about and more on specifics. Great beer is about melding flavors. I recently made a batch of cider and tossed a couple cans of Malta in the mix. Malta is a malt beverage commonly found in Puerto Rico and probably other areas in the Carribean, Central and South America. It is essentially unfermented wort.
Anyways. It seemed like a fine idea. Make a cider with a hint of beer. But the result was terrible…not surprisingly. Takeaway, fruit beer should start with beer as the base. The beer should be infused with fruit flavor…not the other way around.
Fruit beers should meld. Or rather the flavor of the fruit should pair with the base beer. Think of complimentary flavors that don’t overwhelm each other. Raspberry’s and Hefeweizen, coconut and Porter or Stout. You get the idea.
Like most brewing topics, how you add a specific fruit depends a lot on which fruit you’re adding. Let’s take a look at some general rules for fruiting beers.
Freshness and Farmer’s Markets
Fresh is best. Fruit freshness is of the utmost importance for good fruit expression in your beer. Ideally, you’re picking it yourself or sourcing from a farmers market.
Here’s a tip I heard from Drew Beecham on a podcast. If you’re buying fruit from a farmers market, show up at the end of the day. Many sellers will be willing to take less money for their leftovers.
Remember you’re looking for flavor. You’d don’t need perfect looking peaches…just perfect tasting peaches. A “bad” spot or too is fine. Pay less, get more.
Frozen fruit is second best. I actually recommend freezing most fruit before use anyways. The thing about using frozen fruit is that it’s very convenient. You can always find it and it usually has decent flavor. And it’s frozen.
Why do I like freezing? Here’s the not so technical “technical” reason. Freezing ruptures cells and stuff and let’s all the flavor goodness out of the fruit and into your beer. You’ll be happier with the flavor results per pound of fruit if you freeze it first.
For Best Fruit Flavor
In general, for the best flavor, use the following steps:
- Source the freshest fruit possible
- If you must, rinse or peel. Sanitizing is optional. If you’re concerned about introducing wild bugs (lactobacillus or yeast, etc.), rinse with Star San.
- Toss the fruit in a zip-lock baggy and freeze it
- Thaw completely
- Pour juice from baggy into fermentor
- Add fruit chunks to a mesh bag and toss into fermentor
I like to use a secondary fermentor and rack the beer onto the fruit. This way I can be lazy and give it a good long soak before packaging. You can simply toss the fruit into your primary if you wish. But wait until primary fermentation is over or at least mostly over. You don’t want to lose fruit aroma from fermentation activity.
How Much Should I Add?
There is no perfect answer here because all fruit varies in flavor intensity, even within the same type. But…in general, adding a pound of fruit per gallon is a good bet.
Trial and error will lead you to the perfect amount for you. To start, use anywhere from ½-1 pound of fruit per gallon of beer. From there, you can dial it forward or backwards.
If you’re adding fruit to an American wheat beer, you won’t need as much fruit to get the flavor you’re looking for. This goes for any beer styles that are on the light or more delicate side of the flavor spectrum.
It’s pretty common sense. Lighter beer requires less fruit while big beers will need more poundage.
What About Infections?
I tend not to worry so much about infecting my beer post-fermentation. But I like to keg and haven’t had any exploding bottle incidents…for a while. That said, here are some ways that will help mitigate the risk of infection if adding fruit post fermentation.
Blanching (not bleaching) is the process of dunking fruit or vegetables in boiling water and cooking them for a very short period of time before transferring them into a cold water bath. The cold water bath effectively halts the cooking process and keeps the fruit fresh-ish.
In theory, you can use this method to destroy a lot of undesired bacteria and yeast. But it requires a lot of forethought and prep. And it’s time consuming. You’d need to have ice-cold-sanitized water on hand.
Too much work for me. But it’s still a viable option for the chemically opposed.
Star San Rinse
A quick rinse with Star San should eliminate most bacteria and yeast. There is still the chance that some “bugs” will be hiding somewhere on the fruit and will make it into your beer. That’s why I said, “most” bacteria and yeast.
I’ve used this method when brewing with mushrooms. It seemed to work out well. I had the “Mushroom Saison” on tap in a keg for a few months at refrigeration temps with no known ill effect.
Hops and Fruit
When considering the addition of fruit into a beer, you need to take into account the hop character that’s already present. In general, because fruit isn’t bitter, adding fruit to a beer that is really bitter is a bad idea. If you get past 60 IBUs or so, the bitterness is going to clash with the fruitiness.
As with other ingredients, try to think in terms of complimentary flavors. Like with like is a good way to go. For example, use Galaxy or Idaho 7 with other tropical fruit or stone fruit.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to get mango flavor into your next IPA, maybe stop trying to use the perfect hop combo and simply add a lot of mango into the batch. Of course, sourcing hops may be easier for some than getting enough fresh mango.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that grows a lot of fruit, take advantage of this and don’t feel pressured into using the trendiest hops. Less hops, more fruit!
When I first got into homebrewing, fruit beers had a bit of second-rate reputation. There’s a sort of unspoken stigma that using fruit in a beer to get a specific fruit flavor is cheating. That’s just ridiculous.
There is another idea that is as ridiculous as the last. That using fruit in place of hops is also “cheating”. As long as you aren’t claiming you got all that passion fruit flavor from Mosaic or El Dorado…it’s not cheating.
Fortunately, thanks to the popularity of fruited sours and the rise of styles like Catharina Sour, fruit beer is getting a better reputation again. Consider making it a goal to brew with fruit at least once a year.