Fruit Beer, Crisp Finish, Storing Ingredients & Peppers: Mr. Wizard


I would like to brew a batch of raspberry wheat beer without using concentrated flavoring. The flavor concentrates work well, but i would like to try brewing with real berries.
Mike Cefaratti
National Park, New Jersey

There are obviously two primary methods used to add fruit to beer; to the wort prior to fermentation or to the beer at some point in the fermentation process. In my opinion the best place to add fruit is after the primary fermentation has begun to tail off because the retention of fruit aromas is best if the fruit is not added to the wort. Also, the addition of fruit sugars at the end of fermentation results in an active secondary fermentation that helps dry these beers out.

Many first-time fruit beer brewers are not sure how much fruit to add. Like nearly all brewing topics there are no absolute rules about addition rates, but a good starting point is one pound of fruit per gallon of beer (0.45 kg per 3.8 L). Another question that often arises relates to “sanitizing” the fruit. Since fruit almost always is covered in yeast, brewers are often concerned about contaminating their beers with wild yeast. While this can happen, the thing to keep in mind is beer contains a lot of yeast cells and this yeast population is a formidable hurdle for wild yeast to combat and have much effect on beer flavor. Using quality fruit helps minimize the population of wild yeast because damaged fruit, for example smashed, causes juices to release and this increases the wild population.

Some brewers, including some notable commercial breweries, use a blanching method to reduce microbiological populations on the surface of fruit before adding the fruit to their beer. You can do this at home by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and adding your whole fruit to the pot and holding it for 30-60 seconds after the boil resumes. Immediately transfer the fruit to an ice bath to stop the process. This is made easy if you have a pasta cooker or some sort of cookware that allows you to move the fruit from hot water to ice water without having to dump the pot of water. By using this type of method you can blanch several small lots using the same pot of boiling water. After blanching you can add the fruit to your beer or freeze it in storage bags until your beer is ready for the fruit.

If you are really concerned about wild yeast and do not want to blanch your fruit I suggest taking a lesson from the winemaking playbook and using Campden tablets (potassium metabisulfite) to get control of the wildlife before adding the fruit. If you want to do this, add one tablet per gallon (3.8 L) of juice or crushed fruit and wait 24 hours before adding the fruit to the beer. I have brewed several types of fruit beers with a variety of fruits and have never had any problems when adding the fruit to beer after primary fermentation.

You state in your question that you are not interested in adding fruit concentrates and I understand that concentrates lack the appeal of fresh fruit. There are fruit concentrates that are simply concentrated fruit juice and there are some advantages to these products. One big advantage is that many of these products have been pasteurized to kill yeast and bacteria. Another fruit option to consider is fruit puree that has been aseptically packaged. There is a wide range of fruits processed in this manner and they have all the qualities of fresh fruit and the benefits of pasteurization.

One thing about brewing fruit beer at home or in a small brewery that some brewers find frustrating is the lack of sweetness. I personally dislike sweet beers so this is not a big source of consternation in my brewing life, but there are some who want to brew a sweet fruit beer. In order to do this you need to retain sweetness in the beer and the challenge is that sweetness is synonymous with fermentable sugars.

Some breweries make sweet fruit beers by leaving fermentable sugars in the beer, or simply “back-sweeting” at the end of the process. Then they pasteurize the beer to kill yeast and prevent the beer from drying out in the bottle and potentially resulting in bottle grenades. Another method used by some, especially winemakers and cidermakers, is adding sulfite or sorbate to kill yeast and preserve the desired level of sweetness. And then there are some brewers who rely on cold temperatures to prevent the residual sugars from fermenting. I would only do this at home when using kegs for these sweeter beers. Bottling sweet beers without the use of pasteurization or the addition of sulfite or sorbate is asking for problems.

If you want residual sweetness in your fruit beer, please re-read the above paragraph at least once and consider how you will prevent re-fermentation in the bottle because exploding bottles of homebrew can result in severe bodily harm.



One thing that I have noticed throughout the beers that I enjoy the most is that they have both a lot of flavor and they also finish rather crisp. What is the best way to brew a beer that has a medium to full body but also finishes crisp? I know that the higher temperature you mash at, the more body you will have. The only way I have heard to get more crispness to beer is to mash at lower temperatures. Any ideas?
Jim Williams
Mount Prospect, Illinois

Ah, in search of that wonderful crisp finish. I too prefer beers that do not linger on the palate and have a certain zip to them, and I have spent a fair amount of time in pursuit of this quality. I will attempt to address this sequentially with the various things in the brewing process that affect crispness.

The first thing that comes to mind is malt selection. Very pale malts are a good start if you want a base that lacks the rich toastiness of darker selections, including ingredients like ale malt. Under modified malts are also something to consider since malt modification influences the Maillard reaction during malt kilning.
You may even want to play around with diluting the protein content of wort by using adjuncts like corn, rice, and cane or corn sugar. In my experience, any ingredient that reduces “maltiness” is likely to give the finished beer more zip. At Springfield Brewing Company we brew a very sessionable wheat beer and there is no doubt that the addition of wheat malt and raw wheat has a significant influence on this beer’s crisp finish.

“It’s the water,” declared Olympia Brewing Company. When looking at the most influential beer style of the modern history of brewing, Pilsner, water certainly was, and continues to be, key for this style. The water in Pilsen is very soft and, most importantly, very low in carbonate. Most ground water is not great for brewing this type of beer and this is why most of the world’s breweries have been treating water since the earliest understanding of water chemistry. In my opinion, the easiest method to use for treating brewing water, especially on a small scale, is reverse osmosis (RO) followed by the addition of whatever minerals are desired for the particular brew.

I like using a blend of calcium chloride and calcium sulfate with a calcium level between 50 and 100 mg/L for crisp ales and lagers. If a beer seems a little “flabby” one thing commonly done is to increase calcium sulfate additions and to decrease calcium chloride additions, while maintaining constant calcium levels. Conversely, beers that are a bit too snappy can be softened by increasing calcium chloride additions and tuning back on the calcium sulfate. These tweaks are easiest accomplished when brewing the same recipe over and over again. Reverse osmosis-treated water can inexpensively be purchased from stores selling water by the gallon from self-serve dispensers.

There is no doubt that mashing temperature is a very useful tool when trying to manipulate wort fermentability and finished beer flavor. I assume from your question that you use the infusion mash method. Conducting your mash at 149 °F (65 °C) usually results in higher fermentability than an infusion mash at 158 °F (70 °C). We use step mashing at Springfield Brewing Company and in some of our beers we use a very long (up to two hours), low temperature rest at 144 °F (62 °C) and then we complete conversion at 154 °F (68 °C).
If you use reverse osmosis water with 50-100 mg/L calcium your mash pH will probably be right around 5.4-5.6 for most pale and amber colored worts. If the pH is higher than this you may want to consider adding some food-grade lactic acid to reduce the pH to 5.4. If this does not have the romance you prefer in your craft, you can use the Reinheitsgebot-approved method of biological acidification . . .basically a fancy way of describing the addition of a small portion of sour mash to the mash as a way of adjusting mash pH. You can also add a small portion of acidulated malt, also known as sour malt or sauermalz, to the mash.

The next topic to add to this discussion is bitterness level. Hop bitterness balances malt sweetness and a little tilt in the balance towards bitterness can add snap to many styles. To my palate, this is one important reason why Pilsner beers are crisp. And the story is far from over. . . yeast strain, yeast load in the finished beer, carbonation level and serving temperature also affect crispness. Some beer flavors, like diacetyl and dimethyl sulfide, can “round out the palate” and detract from crispness. And other aromas, most notably hydrogen sulfide, can enhance crispness when present in moderate levels.

I hope I have helped scratch the surface of this deep and interesting topic. If there is any “trick” to brewing better beer it is learning how to influence this thing we call “crispness.” Happy homebrewing, Jim!


I have a number of different types of grain stored in clear plastic containers that I keep on a shelf in my garage where I brew. The containers are not in direct sunlight, but sun does come into the garage through windows. The garage Temperature ranges from about 39-104 °F (4-40 °C) depending on the season. Am I OK storing grains in this kind of environment, or is there something else that you would recommend?
Ray Snyder
Kelowna, British Columbia

This is a good question, Ray. The most important thing to prevent when storing malt is an increase in the moisture content. When malt is kilned, the moisture content is normally reduced to less than 5%. Since most parts of the world are not nearly this dry, it is important to prevent moisture pick-up over time. The best way to accomplish this important goal is by storing your malt in airtight containers. It sounds like you are doing that.

Storage temperature is a subject that is not as absolute. High temperature accelerates the effects of aging
on all ingredients, but quantifying this with malt storage is not something found in the literature. In fact, none
of my brewing textbooks make any mention of malt storage temperature.

The fact of the matter is that breweries and maltsters store maltin malt silos located outdoors. Although high-volume breweries do not store malt for a very long time period due to their high production, many smaller breweries store grain for months in outdoor silos while they slowly consume their inventory. Empirically, one could argue that storage temperature is probably not a major concern in most areas, otherwise storage conditions would probably be different than the use of outdoor silos. Even when malt is stored in bags, the bags are usually stored in closed warehouses that become very warm in the summer.

Historically, pests have been a real problem for grain storage facilities. Pests include birds, rodents and insects. All of these creatures could cause problems in a garage environment, especially if malt is stored in bags that have been opened and closed by rolling the open end. Your plastic storage totes should be a suitable solution to prevent pest problems.

The containers do not prevent light from entering. I have not read, heard or had any first-hand experiences to lead me to believe that light presents problems for malt storage. But then again, most breweries store malt in silos and/or bags and these containers do not allow light to enter. To be on the safe side, you may want to consider placing your containers in a box. But if you are not noticing changes with the aroma and flavor of your malt over time in the beers you brew with stored malt, you have no real issues to associate with malt storage and therefore do not have a problem to solve. In other words, don’t worry!

I would like to brew a chili beer with some very hot peppers I have. I just tried a chili imperial stout and I loved it! I would like to replicate it but I don’t know how to use the peppers. I think that I can use them in the boil or in the dry hop. What is the best method? And how many grams of peppers do I need to use in order to have only a spicy aftertaste?
Nicolò Binda
Varese, Italy


Nicolò, I first must say grazie! I think this is the first question I have answered from an Italian homebrewer and am excited to know that you are reading BYO in Varese. Without knowing what beer you sampled I cannot help you replicate the flavor, but I will let you know my thoughts about your question.

When I am considering adding non-traditional ingredients to beer I think about the other flavor compounds present in my idea. As I type this I am drinking an imperial stout and the flavors that jump out of the Tsarry Night in my glass are raisin, fig, cocoa, toffee and a nice punch of alcohol. If I wanted pepper in this beer I would want to avoid veggie aromas associated with fresh peppers and would be drawn to dried peppers or smoked peppers. Since I have brewed stouts with a blend of smoked and dried peppers with great success, I would offer these methods of preservation for you to consider.

The chipotle pepper, popular in Mexico, is a smoked Jalapeño pepper. There are several types of chipotle peppers and I have brewed some nice beers flavored with a pepper known as the meco chipotle chili. I like the combination of smoke and hot present in these peppers. I also like the raisin-like flavors present in dried peppers. The combination of smoke, heat, and raisin marry well with a style like imperial stout.

You are asking me a question about preference, so here is my opinion: Add your peppers to your hot wort
at the end of the boil like you would with aroma hops. You will extract the heat, the smoke and the dark fruit
flavors from the flesh of the dried pepper. These flavors will not fade during fermentation or aging. When it
comes to determining the dosing rate, I have a little more difficulty in offering rules of thumb. The intensity of your peppers play greatly into your recipe and you really must do some trial blends to determine a good dosing rate. If you end up with a beer that is too extreme you can always blend it down by adding some beer that was not exposed to peppers. A good starting point is three grams of peppers per liter of wort (0.1 oz. of peppers per quart of wort). Good luck with your pepper homebrew!

Issue: May-June 2014