Tips for Brewing Fruit Beer

It’s summer time, which means it’s a great time to brew and enjoy a fruit beer on the back porch. Get inspired by this story by Brad Smith and use tips from the brewers of Ballast Point and Funky Buddha to craft your own fruity homebrew.

Brewer: Colby Chandler, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in San Diego, CA

Finding a bridge between the base beer and the fruit is usually my first thought in recipe development. Whether it is a honeydew sweetness from a particular malted barley or the tropical fruit flavors in new hop varieties, or the apricot esters you can create from a certain strain of yeast. You really need to decide if you want layers of the fruit flavor coming from all the main ingredients of beer; like a peach ale that uses Caravienne malt, British ale yeast and Galaxy hops (which all have a peach component to them). The other question is will the fruit be showcased as its own layer of flavor, with complementary beer ingredients that do not taste like the fruit being used? Think of Meadowfoam honey (honey with marshmallow flavor) in a cherry, pineapple and coconut ambrosia cream ale.

Another approach is adding fruit to an existing beer that we already make. Our robust cask program allows us to play and add all kinds of un-ferment-able fruit components to beers already being produced. Whether it is grapefruit rind, habaneros, cucumbers or avocados, the 10.8-gallon (41-L) vessel is a perfect way to experiment and find complementary or bridge flavors, from savory to sweet fruits, and add them to an existing beer. The alcohol in the finished beer acts as a low-grade tincture to help dissolve oils from the fruit into the beer over time. Most of the time when adding adjuncts to existing beers we have a goal of enhancing the flavors of the beer and not overwhelming them. On the other hand, when we design fruit beers from scratch we tend to make the fruit as dominate as possible.

I always pick my yeast to complement the fruit that I am using. You can also use higher fermentation temperatures to amplify the fruity esters, which helps build up the perceived flavor from the fruit you will be using. I would also suggest that the more acidic the fruit is the less bitterness you need in the beer. Acidity and bitterness is a battle I don’t want to be a part of when drinking a beer.

I firmly believe it takes three tries, at any recipe, to dial in your final flavor profile. Keeping a consistent wholesale source of raw ingredients will help keep your notes on amounts easier to replicate and will help in future recipe formulations. Nothing will throw off fruit amounts in recipes you are trying to duplicate more than procuring your ingredients from multiple sources. On your first brew the goal is to get into the nosebleed seats at the ballpark with an educated recipe formulation. By the third brew you have tweaked the recipe slightly each time and should be right where you want to be, the seats behind home plate.

A few other tips for homebrewers: I really like the quality and ease of using seedless aseptic purées if you can. Keep heat to a minimum. If using fresh fruit, unpasteurized juice or zest, make a low temperature tea with 180 °F (82 °C) water for 30 minutes before adding to fermenter (‘tea’ and fruit). Pectic enzyme is a great way to get rid of the pectin haze and helps with overall clarity of the final product, but be prepared to lose some volume from the silty sediment that the pectic enzyme creates.

Brewer: Ryan Sentz,  Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, FL

The base beer style is the first thing that I think of when designing a fruit beer recipe as each style is going to react differently with your fruits. I’ve preferred to use fruit in light beers like blondes or wheat ales. We’ve done a lot of fruit Berliners as well. There is definitely not a style that we wouldn’t try. You need to decide what role you want the fruit to play. Then consider how the beer stands alone and then add fruit based on that. For instance, if I brewed a high gravity barleywine with a lot of residual sugars I would stay away from fruit that would add even more sweetness.

We always try to use fresh fruit whenever possible, or frozen if they aren’t in season. We’ve used purées many times and have been happy with the results. We’ve never used fruit extracts, but I wouldn’t say we never would. We just would prefer not to. At the end of the day, I don’t think there is a wrong choice. Try as many fruit types (juice, concentrate, frozen, fresh, dried, etc.) as you have access to and see what you like best. If you can do side-by-sides with different types, do it. But if you are tweaking a recipe, don’t change more than one variable at a time, especially if it’s a new recipe. If you end up changing the hops, mash temperature and fruit amount and end up enjoying the beer more, it’s hard to say what change made the difference.

Designing a recipe is pretty much all trial and error at first. At this point after using so many different ingredients in different ways, I have at least a general idea of what they will do in my beer. Using 5-gallon (19-L) batches as the recipe, I would say we’ve used anywhere from 2–6 pounds (0.9–2.7 kg) of fruit per batch. You can cut that in almost a third if you are using dried fruit.

We’ve been all over the place on when to add fruit. We’ve mashed with it, added it to the boil, during fermentation, as well post-fermentation. All work to varying degrees, but definitely the safest from a microbiological standpoint would be on the hot side.

Issue: July-August 2015