Brewing beer with fruit

First and foremost, give it some thought

Take a breath and think about it before you start brewing with fruit. Fruit contributes to our final product’s whole range of sensory experiences; from flavour to smell to mouthfeel and alcoholic strength. As a result, rather than merely adding fruit to a beer, it’s best to develop your base recipe with fruit in mind.

Consider the fruit’s flavour and how it will interact with the rest of your ingredients.

Evaluate if you really need fruit to reach your flavour goals. After all, hops, malt, and yeast can produce a wide spectrum of flavours on their own. To give a few examples, you might get banana from a weissbier yeast, citrus from New World hops, or strawberry esters from some English yeasts. Use what you need but always keep the overall flavour in mind.

Consider the acidity of the fruit.

The majority of fruits contain acid. In tiny doses, this will brighten your beer, but it can also become overwhelming. If you’re worried about the acidity, see if there’s a way to avoid it by using lemon/lime zest instead of the juice/pulp. For a lime gose, for example, you can use a straight ale yeast and allow the citric acid in the lime juice do the tarting. Alternatively use the zest and pitch a yeast-plus-Lacto strain. Don’t just think about acid; fruits also have tannins, proteins, and other characteristics.

Think about the sweetness.

Fruit will provide some fermentable sugar. Although the amount of alcohol added is minimal, the more essential concern is; how will your fruit taste once the sugar has been removed? The sweetness of fruit and fruit flavours is virtually always present in our regular interactions with them. If the sugary burst of pineapple is your favourite part, you might be disappointed when it ferments. If you want to preserve both sweetness and fruit flavour, you can use lactose or a fruitier yeast strain because esters can add to the sweetness.

What form do you want your fruit to take? 

The greatest method to get fruit character when brewing a beer is to use entire fruit but processing your own fruit adds both time and money to the process.  Aseptic fruit purees are another option and a common one among commercial brewers these days. If you’d rather avoid the hassle a septic puree is tasty and easy to use. It can, however, be quite expensive.

Other practical options include frozen fruit and drinks, however quality and ingredients vary greatly. Preservatives or other substances like potassium sorbate, which can impart unpleasant odours or hinder yeast function, should be avoided.

A word about Extracts

Brewing with fruit, particularly fresh, entire fruit, is sometimes more difficult than brewers realise until they try it. Many people will use an extract as a shortcut but it will unlikely be the best beer they’ve ever made. Even when using a high-quality extract, the beer will often have a slight artificial taste.

Fresh Fruit Processing

If you’re starting with whole fruit, you’ll have to put in some effort. First, give your fruit a thorough wash with plenty of water, removing any stems, leaves, or other plant material. You could also remove the skins, though this would depend on the fruit. If you’re using pitted or stone fruits you should remove them as well. While they can add depth to the flavour, they also contain cyanide compounds.

Toss the fruit into a food processor once it’s been cleaned and prepped. This will increase surface area and, as a result, more flavour and scent will be released. If you’re pressing the puree for the juice alone and not the flesh, add some pectic enzyme to the pulp at this stage to boost the juice output. This depends on whether you think it’s worth the wait; relaxing for a few hours could boost your yield by a few points.

Finally, use heat or cold to check that your fruit is safe to eat—either heat-pasteurize it or freeze and thaw it a few times. Depending on when you’re planning to add your fruit, that last stop might not be essential.

Putting the Fruit in

It’s less about how to do it and more about when to do it. Working from the start of the brewing process, adding fruit to the mash is virtually never useful or necessary. Adding it early in the boil is also dangerous because the flavour effects of cooking fruit are difficult to predict. If you do add fruit to the boil do it it near the end of the boil.

After primary fermentation, you can add the fruit either in the same fermentor or in a secondary vessel. The primary fermentor would be the best option to avoid the possibility of contamination or oxidation. It also negates the need to clean another fermentor. If you add the fruit to the fermentor a dose of pectic enzyme will help enhance yield and eliminate pectin haze.

It’s all about what you want to get out of it when it comes to timing your fruit addition: If the fruit is a supporting flavour, add it early. If it’s the main attraction, add it later to retain the aromatics.

A Fruitful World

Almost any beer style can use fruit; it’s just a matter of applying balance. A big, complex beer like a stout needs a big, complex fruit to pair with it. By contrast, a helles is a good choice for fruit with a gentler flavour profile; especially one with less acid content.

Which fruits are the best for brewing?

Some brewers focus on melons and more acidic fruits like lime and grapefruit. This is due to their capacity to clearly convey their flavours in a variety of beer types.

Blending in additional fruit purees, or a small quantity of concentrate can give a more complex fruit character. A more jammy raspberry flavour can be obtained by combining a little boysenberry into a raspberry sour, for example. Certain fruits are harder to use. Blueberries are one such a fruit. Strawberry is another that is notorious for fading. Aseptic purees are difficult to come by, and they don’t tend to impart much strawberry flavour to beer. It’s one of the reasons why there aren’t many strawberry beers.

It’s one of the reasons why there aren’t many strawberry beers. I won’t go into detail about it; just know that you are not alone in your fight if you accept the challenge. One approach to give them a boost is to blend them with other fruit.
Brewing with fruit used to be the brunt of many jokes among beer aficionados. It has come a long though as brewers have learnt new tricks and broadened their horizons.
Just be prepared to pick up some new skills along the way and change your expectations accordingly.

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