Homebrewing with Fruit: Tips from the Pros

From fruit flavor to fruit concentrate, fruit puree to whole fruit, using fruit in beer opens your homebrewing world to a litany of new possibilities.

Brewer: Mark Anievas, BJ’s Pizza and Brewery in Boulder, CO

My first preference when brewing fruit beers is to use a puree. Frozen purees are easiest to keep fresh. However, when I made the Magnolia’s Peach, for which we won a gold medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival (GABF), I didn’t have the option. I couldn’t get the peach or apricot in a pureed form. The second best option was to order a concentrate.

The problem with the concentrate, however, was that it came via UPS ground. I noticed right away that it said on the package to keep the product refrigerated. It ended up that the extract had either soured a little or began to ferment. I would describe the situation as one where the fruit had turned, but not to the point where it was offensive. I decided to brew with the concentrate anyway. It ended up being a good decision. Some of our customers really went nuts over the beer so we went ahead and entered it in the GABF.

The turning of the concentrate is a perfect example of bad luck turned good. Homebrewers may achieve the same thing by letting their fruit concentrate sit for two or three days at room temperature. As a result of the concentrate situation, Magnolia’s Peach became a soured fruit beer. The base was a hefeweizen that I had split into two batches. One batch was fermented as a hefeweizen. The other (for the peach beer) was fermented with regular ale yeast.

In preparing the grist bill for a 10-barrel (310 gallon/1,200 L) batch, I used 300 lbs. (136 kg) of wheat malt, 200 lbs. (91 kg) of barley, and 50 lbs. (23 kg) of Munich malt to give it a little color. The ale yeast for the fruit beer was the standard Wyeast 1056. White Labs WLP001 could also be used.

The hopping schedule was light. I wanted the fruit to really shine through, so to have the hops dominate in any way would have been counterproductive. I targeted 20 IBUs and suggest cutting beyond that amount.

I added 6 gallons (23 L) of peach concentrate and 6 gallons (23 L) of apricot concentrate to the secondary fermenter. I think it is important to use an apricot-peach mix in a “peach” beer because, by itself, peach really isn’t a strong enough flavor. Apricot adds a lot to the fruit flavor and drinkers will recognize the apricot as peach.

Brewers who choose to use whole fruit might want to consider adding pectic enzyme to the beer. Basically, pectic enzyme destroys the protective colloidal properties of pectins, which would otherwise result in cloudiness. Fruit like peaches and apricots are examples of fruits that are particularly high in pectins. A rate of about three drops per gallon should do the trick. Add the concentrate to the secondary. The beer from the primary fermenter is then transferred on top of the concentrate. This allows for good mixing of the beer and concentrate while the suspended yeast ensures a good secondary fermentation. After secondary fermentation is complete, it is important to transfer off the pulp. Make sure to leave as much pulp as possible behind in the secondary. Otherwise your finished beer will be like a pulp milkshake. My preference is to cap the beer as secondary fermentation nears its end. This allows for natural carbonation, which makes for a clean and effervescent brew.

A final word on fruit beer — some brewers want to make something like a cherry porter, where the fruit flavor combines with the sharp flavor of the malt. I went the other way, where I basically let the malt and hops get out of the way of the fruit. I suggest homebrewers try both methods and find what they like best — after all, the fun is always in the brewing!

Brewer: Greg Noonan, Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, VT

The fruit beer we make at Vermont Pub and Brewery is not a fruit-accented beer. We use whole fruit and lots of it — amounting to more than one pound of raspberries per gallon (0.11 kg/L) of beer. This means that the raspberries have a major flavor impact on the beer. The beer is far sweeter than regular beer and requires significant balance.

We use macerated fruit and prefer the frozen puree. Homebrewers can use a food processor to puree fresh fruit or can look into using frozen, pureed fruit like us.

As mentioned, because we brew such a strongly flavored fruit beer, we strive to get a good balance in the finished brew. The first thing we do to help this is raise the acidity. Homebrewers can raise acidity with lactic acid. Standard lactic acid comes in a concentration of 85-88%. If you have this, you will only need to add a couple drops in a five-gallon (19-L) batch. If you have a 10% solution, you will need no more than one fluid ounce (30 mL) at most. The second thing we do is age the beer on oak chips. Brewers who make fruit beers (as opposed to fruit-accented beers) can benefit from certain winemaking techniques that make sense in perfecting the brew. The oak chips impart flavor and tannins on the beer, which balance the fruit sweetness. In particular, the tannins offer dryness. Because of the tannins, less hop bitterness is needed to offset the malt and fruit sweetness. We add very few hops in our fruit beers and even then, only to the kettle. We don’t use any flavor or aroma hops.

Fermentation temperatures can be determined at the brewer’s discretion. We choose a middle-of-the-road path that conveys some esters to the beer, but not substantially. Generically, I would suggest that homebrewers ferment ales starting in the high 60s Fahrenheit (~20 °C) and then let the temperature rise into the low 70s (~23 °C). Lower temperatures will cause an ale yeast to impart less fermentation flavors to the finished beer.

We add the fruit directly to the primary fermenter and have never had a problem with contamination. I know this is a concern among homebrewers but it has not occurred in our experience. A frozen puree makes it a safer bet as it is less likely to become contaminated in storage and transport.

Issue: July-August 2004