Many brewers think fruit beer is a style for beginners. While great fruit beers are not particularly difficult to make, they do require that the brewer make a great base beer first. If the base beer is no good, adding fruit will not make it better. It might help mask some off flavor or add some character to a beer with little flavor to begin with, but you’ll never make a truly great fruit beer this way. Great fruit beers are not created by accident; they’re carefully crafted.
Selecting a base beer style
When making fruit beer, first think about what character (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel and appearance) you are trying to achieve. I like to think of favorite foods to help me decide which fruits might go with different beers. Often the food for my inspiration is a dessert of some kind, but any food that incorporates fruit can be a source of ideas. Let’s say I want to make a beer with apricots from the tree in my yard. I might look at apricot pie for inspiration. What are the key flavors of an apricot pie? Apricots certainly, but don’t forget the pie crust. The crust is bready with some sweetness. What beer style is similar to those pie crust flavors? Perhaps American wheat beer might have some of those pie crust flavors? If you want to use a dark beer style as your fruit beer base, think of foods that incorporate coffee or chocolate. Once you have a few fruit beers under your belt, you can branch out and be a little more wild and creative, but if you want success early on, stick with the flavor combinations you know will work.
In selecting a base beer, beer styles with minimal hop aroma and flavor work best. Not that it is impossible to marry hop character and fruit character, but the two can conflict in unusual and unpleasant ways. Once you decide what beer style to use and what fruit to add, you can use any balanced recipe as the base for your fruit beer. However, you’ll probably want to make some adjustments. If you’re trying to create the impression of a sweet dessert, you’ll want to make the beer a little sweeter than a standard, evenly-balanced recipe. Generally, lowering the hop bittering by 10 to 20% will let just the right amount of sweetness come through. In most cases, if the recipe has a lot of late hop additions, you should significantly reduce or remove them from the recipe.
Selecting a fruit
Different fruits have different levels of acidity, tannins, bitterness, and sourness. In most fruit these characteristics would be unpleasant without some fruit sweetness to provide balance. Some years a fruit crop may be more tart or sweet, more flavorful or less, and you will need to keep that in mind as you try to balance the beer. Even though the fruit sugar may balance the fruit itself, you can’t count on the fruit sugar to balance your beer. In a well- attenuated, average or lower strength beer, any added fruit sugars will ferment out, contributing little to the residual sweetness. Think of it this way: the sweet is going to ferment out and the sour or other flavors will be left behind. By contrast, if you add fruit to a beer high in alcohol and/or residual sweetness, the additional fruit sugars may not attenuate much. If you add a really sweet fruit, it can make an already sweet beer cloying. In all cases, if the yeast has reached its limit, don’t expect it to work miracles on the fruit sugars. When making bigger beers, like barleywine, it is best to select a type of fruit that is not overly sweet or to tweak the recipe so that the beer attenuates a bit more than normal. If you use fruit with a substantial sour or bitter character, you may want to reduce the hop bittering to compensate. Pay attention to the amount of sweetness and sourness in your fruit and target your recipe changes to balance it with the right level of malt sweetness.
Fruit forms and amounts
The common fruit forms used in fruit beer are whole fruit (fresh or frozen), fruit puree, and fruit flavoring (extract). The form of the fruit can make quite a difference in the final beer. In general, you want to use real fruit in fruit beers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean whole, fresh fruit. I can appreciate the desire to use fresh fruit, and in a beer style with light flavors, the difference can be noticeable. If you happen to have a tree that produces a lot of great fruit, then this can be a good option. However, I find the results of most fresh fruit additions highly variable, often disappointing and expensive if purchased at the grocery store. A more convenient and often better choice is fruit that has already gone through some processing, like canned fruit puree. It is consistent, easy to use and reasonably priced. The flavor of fruit puree compares favorably with fresh fruit and is far superior to fruit flavoring. Fruit flavoring is very convenient and inexpensive, but the flavor can seem artificial in most beers. In side-by-side tests, everyone I’ve asked has been able to pick out the beer made with fruit flavoring.
The amount of fruit needed is going to vary from beer to beer and fruit to fruit. In a beer with very little specialty malt the fruit character comes through quite well and less fruit is needed. In a beer with a lot of specialty malt or lots of dark malt flavors, it takes more fruit to get the flavor to be evident. For example, if you were making a cherry beer, you’d need far fewer cherries in an American lager than you’d need in a Russian imperial stout. Of course, fruits are different too. Some fruits, such as raspberry, have a very bold flavor and take less fruit to make an impact on the beer. Other fruits, like strawberry, require a lot more before the flavor is noticeable. A good starting point for most fruits is about 0.5 lb (227 g) of fruit puree per gallon (3.8 L) whether you are using a mild fruit in a mild beer or using a bold fruit in a bold beer. If you are adding a milder fruit in a bold beer, using 2 to 4 times the amount of fruit is not unreasonable. If you’re using a bold fruit in a mild beer, you might cut the amount of fruit in half. The idea in most cases is to get a nice balance between the fruit and the beer. Of course, there are exceptions. If you want to make something similar to a New Glarus Raspberry Tart, you’ll want to use a very light beer style and a massive amount of fruit. You don’t want balance in that case, but rather an overwhelming fruit character and very little beer character.
A common concern when working with whole fruit is how to sanitize it. Some folks just toss the fruit, wild yeast and all, into the beer and count on the beer’s alcohol and pH to prevent the organisms from taking over. That might be OK for higher alcohol beers (> 8% ABV), but I still don’t like the risk. If you’re using fruit with a skin and don’t plan on adding the skin to the beer, then washing the fruit and peeling off the skin will suffice. If you want the skin in the beer (for some fruits much of the fruit character is in the skin) wash the fruit and cut off any nooks and crannies that can’t be washed thoroughly. Of course, if you’re using raspberries, or something similar, there is no easy way to wash away wild yeast and bacteria. In that case it is better to quickly pasteurize the fruit by raising its temperature to 161 °F (72 °C) for 15 seconds. The easiest way to do this is to heat some water to approximately 170 °F (77 °C), add the fruit, and hold for approximately 1 minute. You can then cool the fruit back down with cold water. For most fruits, it is best not to add them to the boil. Adding fruit to the boil tends to drive off the more delicate fruit character, gives fruit a cooked flavor, and will often cause a pectin haze in the beer.
Another concern is how to expose the insides of the fruit to the beer and the yeast. If you dropped a whole watermelon into your beer, you wouldn’t get much flavor. You need to cut the fruit open to expose as many of the cells and the contents of the cells as possible (this is one reason puree is easier). You can take a knife, blender or hammer to your fruit to accomplish this, but another method that works well with many fruits is freezing, which can break down the cell walls. For greater effect, freeze the fruit slowly (to encourage larger ice crystals to form and pierce more cell walls). If one freezing cycle isn’t enough, you can thaw and refreeze the fruit to further break down the cell walls.
I prefer to add fruit to beer when the most active part of fermentation is beginning to slow, as vigorous fermentation can drive off precious aromatic compounds. First I add the fruit to a clean fermenter, and then I transfer the beer onto the fruit. The longer the beer sits on the fruit, the greater the fruit flavor in the finished beer. There is a practical limit however. If the fruit you’re using has a very tannic or bitter skin, pith, seeds, or core, leaving the beer on the fruit for too long can add harsh notes to your beer. Try to minimize headspace to reduce oxidation while your beer sits on the fruit.
What about fruit extract?
While flavor extracts may not make the greatest fruit beer, the reality is that it is a very easy and inexpensive method. In some cases a few extracts, such as peach, tend to be much more effective than real fruit. Extracts are also handy if you’ve brewed a fruit beer that seems lacking in fruit character. With judicious application of fruit extract, you can brighten up the fruit character as needed. Keep in mind, though, only some fruit flavors work well. Some extract flavors, like cherry, always seem artificial.
If you’re willing to experiment and put some time into the use of fruit extracts, there are a few techniques that can help give the impression of real fruit. The mistake most brewers make is to just dump in whatever fruit extract is close at hand. They buy a 4 ounce (118 mL) bottle of extract from their homebrew store and dump in the entire thing. Ask yourself one question: Does it make sense that every beer would require exactly the same amount of fruit extract? No, so don’t add the whole bottle. How much extract does it require? It depends on the beer.
The problem with many fruit extracts is that they either taste or smell like fruit, but not both. The trick is to use more than one fruit extract. You want to find an extract that produces the best fruit flavor and another that produces the best fruit aroma. Here is an example. Often the raspberry fruit extract that you find at your local homebrew shop has a nice fruit flavor, but not a great fruit aroma. If you add that extract to a beer, by the time the aroma is acceptable, the flavor is often over the top. Let’s say you pick up another brand of extract, maybe at your local grocery store, and you find that it doesn’t have much flavor, but a great aroma. Using both extracts together, it is possible to get the right balance of flavor and aroma, providing a much more realistic fruit character than using just one extract. Another common problem with extracts is that they often don’t convey the tartness of real fruit. Adding a small touch of acid blend or citric acid can enhance the overall perception that you used real fruit.
Any time you plan to dose a beer with extract or acid, you’ll want to experiment on a small sample first, and then scale it up to the entire batch. Start by setting up your blending/tasting area. It should be free from distractions, strong aromas, and so forth. Make sure you have plenty of sample cups, accurate measuring instruments, water and un-salted crackers to cleanse your palate, and something for taking notes.
Measure a given amount of the base beer (perhaps 100 mL) and then add, in measured doses, fruit extract. The amount you add might be anywhere from 1 drop to 100, depending on how prominent the flavor or aroma is that you’re trying to create. As you work, smell and taste the beer. If something goes wrong, start over. If you mess up, don’t try to fix it by dumping more beer in the cup and losing track of your measurements. Instead, start with a fresh beer sample. When you’ve found the right combination, scale your measurements up to the volume of beer you want to dose. At first, add only 3⁄4 of the calculated amount, mix, then taste the beer. Maybe wait a day or two and see how it tastes when your palate hasn’t been bathed in fruit extract all afternoon. If it needs the rest of the extract you can add it, but keep in mind it is easier to add extract than it is to remove it.
Hops and yeast
The hops, yeast, and fermentation profile for a fruit beer vary widely. Keep a couple of things in mind as you make your selections. Just because a hop may be described as citrusy, that doesn’t mean it is a great partner with citrus fruits. In general, less hop flavor is better. If the beer needs substantial bittering, select a high alpha, clean bittering hop, like Magnum or Horizon. This helps keep hop flavor to a minimum.
Yeast selection is a little trickier. The easy way is to go with “cleaner” strains of yeast, which don’t produce a lot of esters or phenols, such as White Labs WLP001 California Ale, Wyeast 1056 American Ale or Fermentis Safale US-05. The benefit is less yeast character to get in the way of or clash with the fruit character. But if you’re trying to brew a fruit beer based on a classic style that requires phenols or certain esters, then you can’t use a neutral yeast. If that is the case, you can always play with fermentation temperatures, pitching rates, and oxygen levels to develop a fermentation profile that is in harmony with the fruit and the beer.
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.049 (12.1 °P) / 1.051 (12.6 °P) with fruit
FG = 1.013 (3.2 °P)
IBU = 18 SRM = 6 ABV = 5.1%
4.8 lb. (2.2 kg) Great Western American two-row malt (2 °L)
4.8 lb. (2.2 kg) Great Western wheat malt (2 °L)
0.5 lb. (227 g) Great Western crystal malt (15 °L)
3.0 lb. (1.36 kg) Oregon Fruit Products apricot puree
3.75 Willamette pellet hops, (0.75 oz./21 g at 5.0% alpha acid) (60 min.)
White Labs WLP320 (American Hefeweizen), Wyeast 1010 (American Wheat) or Fermentis Safale US-05 yeast.
Step by Step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash of around 1.5 quarts of water to 1 pound of grain (a liquor-to-grist ratio of about 3:1 by weight) and a temperature of 154 °F (68 °C). Hold the mash at 154 °F (68 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge slowly with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons (24.6 L) and the gravity is 1.038 (9.4 °P).
The total wort boil time is 90 minutes. Add the bittering hops with 60 minutes left in the boil. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings with 15 minutes left in the boil. Chill rapidly to 65 °F (18 °C), let the break material settle, rack to the fermenter, pitch the yeast and aerate thoroughly.
Use 10 grams of properly rehydrated dry yeast, 2 liquid yeast packages, or make an appropriate starter. Ferment at 65 °F (18 °C). When initial fermentation slows, add apricot puree to a second fermenter and carefully rack the beer onto the fruit. Fermentation should pick up again as the yeast consumes the fructose in the fruit puree. Once fermentation finishes, carbonate to approximately 2.5 to 3 volumes.
Extract with Grains Option:
Replace the American two-row and wheat malt with 6.6 lb. (3.0 kg) of liquid wheat extract. Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malts. Mix them well and place loosely in a grain bag. Steep the bag in 1⁄2 gallon (~2 liters) of 170 °F (77 °C) water for about 30 minutes. Lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Let the bag drip into the kettle while you add the extract. Do not squeeze the bags. Add enough water to the steeping liquor and malt extract to make a pre-boil kettle volume around 6.5 gallons (24.4 L) and the gravity is 1.038 (9.4 °P). Follow the remaining instructions for the all-grain recipe.
Raspberry Robust Porter
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.064 (15.7 °P) / 1.066 (16.2 °P) with fruit
FG = 1.017 (4.4 °P)
IBU = 30 SRM = 37 ABV = 6.5%
10.4 lb. (4.7 kg) Great Western American two-row malt (2 °L)
1.5 lb. (0.68 kg) Durst Munich malt (8 °L)
14 oz. (397 g) Great Western crystal malt (40 °L)
11.0 oz. (312 g) Great Western chocolate malt (350 °L)
7.0 oz. (198 g) Briess black patent malt (525 °L)
3.0 lb. (1.36 kg) Oregon Fruit Products raspberry puree
1.33 oz. (38 g) Kent Goldings pellet hops, 5% alpha acid (60 min.)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale), Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) or Fermentis Safale US-05 yeast
Step by Step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash of around 1.5 quarts of water to 1 pound of grain (a liquor-to-grist ratio of about 3:1 by weight) and a temperature of 154 °F (68 °C). Hold the mash at 154 °F (68 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge slowly with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons (24.4 L) and the gravity is 1.050 (12.3 °P).
The total wort boil time is 90 minutes. Add the bittering hops with 60 minutes remaining in the boil. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings with 15 minutes left in the boil. Chill the wort rapidly to 67 °F (19 °C), let the break material settle, rack to the fermenter, pitch the yeast and aerate thoroughly.
Use 12 grams of properly rehydrated dry yeast, 2.5 liquid yeast packages, or make an appropriate starter. Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C). When initial fermentation begins to slow, add raspberry puree to a second fermenter and carefully rack the beer onto the fruit. Fermentation should pick up again as the yeast consumes the fructose in the fruit puree. Once fermentation finishes, carbonate to approximately 2 to 2.5 volumes.
Extract with Grains Option:
Replace the American two-row and Munich malt with 3.3 lb (1 kg) of a blended Munich liquid malt extract and 4.5 lb (2 kg) of a pale or light liquid malt extract. Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malts. Mix them well and place loosely in a grain bag. Steep the bag in 1 gallon (~4 liters) of 170 °F (77 °C) water for about 30 minutes. Lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Let the bag drip into the kettle while you add the malt extract. Do not squeeze the bags. Add enough water to the steeping liquor and malt extract to make a pre-boil kettle volume around 6.5 gallons (24.4 L) and the gravity is 1.050 (12.3 °P). Follow the remaining instructions for the all-grain recipe.