Ben Stange on May 22, 2015 9 Comments Backstory of this Recipe As a homebrewer, you occasionally have a disappointing batch. An ingredient didn’t go well, or there is a flavor in there that you won’t believe will ever go away. Sometimes, these accidents are just ruined batches of beer, but sometimes a brewer’s best friend is patience. A little bit of patience can make a huge difference in the final product of most beers. For instance, I’ll tell you the story of my Tart Cherry Blonde. One summer, I got a phone call from my brother, who was visiting his in-laws. They have a tart cherry tree on their land, and he called to tell me he picked about 10 pounds of cherries for me to brew with and they were currently in the freezer waiting for me to come and get them. Apparently, this tree had never before produced an abundance of fruit, but this year it had gone gangbusters and they needed to find something to do with all of the cherries. So, like a good homebrewer, I picked them up and put them in my ingredient stash while I came up with a plan. I love kriek, but wasn’t ready to take on the idea of using wild yeast, so I settled on brewing a blonde ale and adding the cherries during secondary fermentation. I made up the recipe, picked up my ingredients, and brewed the beer. A couple of weeks later, I dumped the frozen cherries into the bottom of a fermenter, racked the beer on top, and let it go for a couple of months. It was my first time brewing with fruit, so while I waited impatiently, I googled all kinds of information related to brewing with fruit and became alternately concerned I had seriously ruined my beer and convinced that it would still be ok, and it can’t be that bad. I thought I may have introduced some crazy bacteria or yeast into my beer, or that there would be mold that would take over. I thought, “maybe I used too much fruit” followed by “maybe I didn’t use enough.” I eventually decided to tamper with it would be an even worse mistake than whatever else I may have done, and I let it go. When I bottled the beer, I didn’t like it. It was a bit too sour, and the cherry flavor was almost entirely hidden by the sourness of the cherries and mixed unpleasantly with the hops. After a month in the bottle, it was a bit better, but it still had an unpleasant bitterness, and the sour flavor was still too overwhelming. I placed it in the back of my fermenting room and let it sit, not willing to admit defeat and pour out my first failed batch. About six months later, I opened a bottle with my wife, who insisted she wanted to try this cherry beer I made. She was convinced it couldn’t be as bad as I said, and she insisted we dump it or I let her try it. When we poured it into the glasses, it was a very cool pink color and had a lot of carbonation. It looked very tasty. I was convinced it would still be awful, but she was eager to try it, and she went first. She made a bit of a face, as if surprised by it, and said I’d better try it. It was good. The yeast in the bottle had kept working and produced a highly carbonated, very delicious beer with a complex balance between the cherry flavors and the tartness added to it by the same cherries. The bitterness had faded somewhat due to age in the bottle, and there were a few of the sherry notes sometimes produced by oxidation. It was complex, delicious, and decidedly unbeerlike. Over the next four years, my wife and I conserved this delicious nectar and parsed it out, eventually opening the last bottle to celebrate purchasing our first house. The last bottle was the best one. By that time, the cherry flavor had blended perfectly with the beer and the yeast had continued to work, creating a perfectly pink beer that had large, champagne-like bubbles in it. We served it in champagne flutes because we were celebrating, and it was fantastic. 4 Tips for Brewing This Recipe If you want to give this recipe a try, I guarantee you won’t be sorry. First, though, I’ll give you a few hints about this particular recipe. 1. Go Big or Go Home I used 10 pounds of cherries in this 5 gallon batch of beer, and the fruit is very much the showpiece. Commercial breweries don’t get to do this kind of thing very often, and if they do, it costs the drinker an arm and a leg to get a bottle. I believe that if I’m going to brew a fruit beer, it should be very obvious what is in there. 2. Freeze the Fruit First or Buy Frozen This will help keep down the bacteria and wild yeast. Freezing will also break the skins on the fruit, which will help the juice escape and become one with the beer. 3. Pack Some Patience During secondary fermentation, don’t be in a hurry to get the beer off of the fruit. Legend says some lambic producers let the beer go until there is nothing left but the pits and stems. I don’t think you need to go that long, but make sure your fruit has plenty of time to be eaten by your yeast. I left mine in secondary for 2 months. 4. Bottle it for Aging (If Possible) This recipe is pretty high alcohol, and will be even higher depending upon the sugar content of the fruit you add, so it will age very well. Kegging it would be fine, but I recommend planning on setting some back for long term cellaring, too. That’s it. Here’s the recipe. Tart Cherry Blonde Ale (Extract With Grain) Recipe Specs Recipe Type: Extract with Grain Batch Size: 5 gallons Original Gravity: 1.066 (not including fruit) Final Gravity: 1.011 (before fruit is added) IBUs: 25 ABV: 7.3% (not including fruit sugars) Ingredients: 1 lb. Belgian Cara-Pils 6 lbs. Dry Light Malt Extract 1 lbs. Cane Sugar 1.25 oz. Hallertau Hops (Pellets, 4.5% AA) boiled 60 minutes. 1 tsp. Irish Moss 10 lbs. Tart Cherries (frozen) Wyeast Belgian Strong Ale or similar yeast. Steep the Cara-Pils in hot water at 152° for 30 minutes, then remove the grain and stir in extract until completely dissolved. Heat the water to boiling and add hops. Boil for 45 minutes and add the Irish Moss. Boil 15 minutes more, then turn off heat and chill beer to 68° as quickly as possible. Rack to the primary fermenter and pitch the yeast. After primary fermentation has completed (2-3 weeks), dump the 10 pounds of frozen cherries in the bottom of the fermenter and rack the beer on top of the cherries. Ferment in secondary for as long as you can stand it. I recommend a minimum of two months. Then, bottle with corn or cane sugar to 2.5 volumes of CO2. All-Grain Version Substitute 10 lbs of 2-row base malt for the dry extract. Mash at 152° for an hour or until starch conversion is complete, then mash out at 170° and sparge with 180° degree water. Bring to a boil and add hops, then proceed with recipe as listed above.