Nick Carr on May 11, 2015 0 Comments History of Fruit Beer Unlike most other styles, fruit beer really has no continuous lineage in the brewing histories. But, new evidence may link the earliest evidence of brewing with fruit beer. A study published in 2004 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents 9,000 year old (7000 BC) evidence that Neolithic Chinese villagers created a beverage which contained honey, rice, and hawthorn fruit and/or grapes. Another early reference of note comes from Egypt where they used both dates and pomegranates in their beer. This, along with a smattering of other references throughout brewing history, indicates that the use of fruit was not altogether uncommon, with many cultures dabbling, but it seems it never became a common enough practice to warrant anything but a passing mention in history. Early modern professional brewers scuffed at the very idea of putting fruit in their beer. The Germans let the Reinheitsgebot tell them what should and should not be included in their beer, relegating brewing to more science and less art. The English too, would spurn fruit; though both the English and the Germans have documented cases of fruit brewing in their past. It would be left to the Belgians, those rebels of the brewing world, to start the tradition of modern fruit beer. The Belgians started this “new” lineage less than hundred years ago in 1930 with the brewing of the first cherry Lambics and Krieks. They would go on to add framboise (raspberry) Lambics in the 1950’s and peche (peach) in the 1980s. Other recent renditions include the use of bananas, grapes, and pineapple. These sour creations are probably the inspiration for much of the American fruit brewing culture and its most popular example, the fruit wheat beer. Lambics are basically a wheat beer, though it’s worth mentioning that the complicated brewing process of a Lambic creates a depth of character much removed from the American wheat ideation. American microbrews also played a pivotal role in expanding the style into new territory. They’ve helped make cherry stouts common place, chili beer trendy, and pumpkin beer a yearly seasonal. But, even in its newfound and expanded popularity fruit beer is often thought of as “real beers” ugly stepchild by both brewers and customers across the world. This, I think, is due to the practice of cloaking the off flavors in a bad batch of beer with additions of fruit. Thus, many view fruit brews as problem or failed beers. Who knows, maybe some fruit beers still come about this way, but the vast majority of brewers brewing some form of this style conceive them as such from the get-go. I’m not disputing that even some of these taste like they must be hiding something behind the terrible screen of fizzy, artificial, and overly aggressive fruit flavorings. But I’ve had the good ones too. Those good ones have made me revise my own position when it comes to this modern beer style. Style Characteristics Quick Characteristics Color Range: Dependent on Base Style Original Gravity: Dependent on Base Style Final Gravity: Dependent on Base Style IBU Range: Dependent on Base Style ABV Range: Dependent on Base Style Aroma: Fruit Should Be Noticeable, But Not Aggressive or Overwhelming; Other Aromas Will Range Based on the Beer Style Used Flavor: Fruit Should Be Noticeable, But Guided by the Underlying Beer Style; Fruit Will Likely Add Residual Sweetness, But Should Never Taste Like Fruit Juice Appearance: Should Showcase the Base Beer Style; May Take on a Slight Shade of Fruit Color; Mouthfeel: Will Vary Depending on Base Style Used; Fruit Contributes a Thinner Body Food Pairings: Dependent on Base Style Appearance: A fruit beer’s appearance should showcase the base beer style. In beers of a lighter color, such as lagers, the liquid may take on a shade of color, similar to, but often lighter than the color of the actual fruit. The head may also take on tinges of the fruit color. The beer can be hazy, whether this quality is perceived as ok or undesirable, depends on both the fruit used and the underlying beer style. Aromas: Some fruit is desirable in the aromatics. The strength and quality of this character will be much dependent on the fruit used. Some fruits like raspberries, cherries, and plums, have a more aggressive aroma then say peaches or blueberries. The quality that should be sought, above all else, is one of support to the base style. It shouldn’t be artificial, overly powerful, aggressive, or oxidative in nature. Other aromatics of a given style, be it hop character, maltiness, or yeast by-products, may be less noticeable when fruit is present. Often these components may even be intentionally decreased to further the fruity character. Malt and hop aroma can still makeup a big part of the aromatics. Hops may come through as a balance to the fruit or play second fiddle to it, depending on the base style. Same with malt; a darker style would carry more of a malt character. Yeast by-products in ales, such as diacetyl, can be desirable as appropriate. In lagers these by-products would be less desirable, and some might be downright inappropriate. Fruit tartness, at a low level, is appropriate when it matches a naturally tart character associated with the fruit used. Overall the fruit should add a layer of complexity to the beer without overwhelming the qualities of the base style. Mouthfeel: Components of the mouthfeel will vary greatly and depend on the base style. The one difference fruit will contribute is a thinner body due to the added fermentables. Flavor: Flavor, much like the aroma, should have noticeable character imparted by the fruit. This can range from delicate to aggressive and again, should be guided by the underlying beer style. The sugar in fruit is usually fully fermented out, creating a drier finish and lighter flavors; so, there will be little added sweetness in these beers, though some residual sweetness is acceptable. It should not be expected that a beer with fruit on board is going to taste like its base style, but a pleasing balance needs to be struck between components of the original style and the fruit. The beer shouldn’t have the slightest impression of a fruit juice type drink, in artificiality or strength. Hops (both bitterness and flavor), alcohol, by-products of fermentation, and malt should remain within the guidelines of the base style and balance with the fruit character. In some cases some of these qualities might be reduced on purpose to enhance the fruit qualities, but balance must be ever present in the brewer’s mind. Low intensity tartness is ok as long as it coincides with naturally occurring tartness in the fruit being used. Examples of the Style Raspberry Stout from Hardywood Park Craft Brewing (Richmond, VA) Great American Beer Festival Winner in American-Style Fruit Beer, Gold, 2014 – Availability: Winter Apricot Blonde from Dry Dock Brewing Company (Aurora, CO) Great American Beer Festival Winner in American-Style Fruit Beer, Bronze, 2014; World Beer Cup Winner in Fruit Beer, Silver, 2014; Availability: Year Round Apricot Ale from Pyramid Brewing Company (Seattle, WA)Great American Beer Festival Winner in Fruit Wheat Beer, Gold, 2014; Availability: Year Round Peachy Peach from Pagosa Brewery and Grill (Pagosa Springs, CO)Great American Beer Festival Winner in Fruit Wheat Beer, Silver, 2014; Availability: Seasonal Apricot Hefeweizen from Wasatch Brewery (Park City, UT) Great American Beer Festival Winner in Fruit Wheat Beer, Bronze, 2014; Availability: Year Round Cherry Kriek from Strange Brewing Company (Denver, CO) World Beer Cup Winner in Fruit Beer, Gold, 2014; Availability: In Denver Area Chchchch-Cherry Bomb from Melvin Brewing (Jackson, WY) World Beer Cup Winner in Fruit Beer, Bronze, 2014; Availability On Tap at Thai Me Up Meantime Raspberry Wheat from Meantime Brewing Company (London, UK) World Beer Cup Winner in Fruit Wheat Beer, Silver, 2014; Availability: Available to order online in UK (not sure of U.S. availability) 5 Lizard Latin Style Witbier from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria (Bedford Park, IL) World Beer Cup Winner in Fruit Wheat Beer, Bronze, 2014; Availability: Year Round How to Brew Your Own Fruit Beer When it comes to brewing with fruit there really are no hard and fast rules. It is more a journey in experimentation than anything else. That being said, there are a few things to consider so that each and every experiment will have the greatest chance of successfully becoming a worthy beer. The Base Beer Style: Your base beer is vitally important. It will affect both the type of fruit and quantity of fruit. Start with a quality recipe for your chosen style and, in my opinion, a recipe you’ve used before. In most cases you will want to use a recipe with minimal hop aroma and flavor. Often hops and fruit can clash or create unpleasant flavors and aromas. Common beer styles for fruit brewing include; wheat, porters, stouts, high-gravity beers, and Lambics. These are only the most common and experimentation with other styles is wholly recommended. Let common sense be your guide when matching fruit type to beer style. Fruits with delicate flavors (apricots, peaches, blueberries, etc.) lend themselves to lighter beer styles. We all can probably guess that an apricot stout would be hard to pull off because of the heavy malts and delicate fruit flavor; and a pumpkin lager just doesn’t sound appealing at all. But, an apricot blonde or pumpkin brown ale… well, now we have something worth exploring. Balance, balance, balance! This is key, just as it is with any brew. It is a different balance though. With a non-fruit beer the balance is found between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. In fruit beer a balance must be struck between sweetness and an acidic quality; with bitterness, and possibly tannins giving some roundness. Acid brings out the fruit qualities and can be added in the form of citric, malic, or even lactic all the way up to bottling time. Available Ingredient Kits: Berry Beer Extract Ingredient KitBerry Beer All-Grain Ingredient Kit If using straight acid do some test samples using a defined amount of beer and different quantities of acid. This will help you get the profile you want before scaling up to your full brew volume. Another way to get acid into your brew is by adding a quantity of acidic fruit (sour cherries, any citrus fruit, cranberries, or even the sour “early season version” of your main fruit) along with the main batch of fruit. Hops: Use low alpha bittering hops and consider cutting the hops down to a single bittering addition. (Cascade, East Kent Golding, Willamette are just a few that could work.) Yeast: Pick a clean fermenting, high attenuating yeast. Using yeast with a complex profile is possible, but the yeast flavors and fruit flavors may not work well together. (Safale US-05 and Wyeast 1056 American Ale could both work.) The Fruit As a homebrewer much more of the fruit world is open to you then to commercial brewers. Breweries have to consider large scale brewing costs and other concerns that do not affect the hobbyist. Granted fruit can be expensive, especially if looking to use something exotic, but it’s only a five gallon batch and, in most cases, doable. If using whole fruit, shop at peak season and take the time to test ripeness. Search your local farmers market for good deals and remember overly ripe, bruised fruit work great as long as there is no mold present. Freeze the fruit before you use it. This helps break open cell walls and makes flavor and aroma compounds more available. You can also use canned, dried, and fruit syrups; though, you shouldn’t use anything that isn’t 100% fruit. I’ve mostly used fresh fruits, but there are some disadvantages to it. Fruit is seasonal so you are tied to what is available at any given time. There is some extra processing involved; washing, pitting, cutting, etc. Then there is the infection factor. All fresh fruit carries with it wild yeast and bacteria, which would absolutely love to be plopped down in a sugar rich environment. Fruit purees, concentrates, and syrups bring with them the convenience of some processing already completed. They are packaged sterile and can be used much as you’d use liquid malt extract. You can even find ingredient kits with the fruit included. Extracts give you the convenience of wide selection and the ability to add the flavoring at bottling, but I usually stay away from them because they often add an artificial fruit flavor to the beer. If you do use them, test to find the right dosage, then scale up to the full beer volume. When Do You Add the Fruit? Though fruit can be added multiple places in the brewing process, the two most common are at the end of the boil and during fermentation. Personally, I add my fruit to a secondary fermenter. This gives complete control over how long the fruit and beer are in contact and the opportunity to taste the beer before you add the fruit. Also the primary fermentation has already put alcohol into the beer, so adding fruit to the secondary decreases the likelihood of contamination from any bacteria or wild yeast on the raw fruit. Caution must be taken when combining fruit and fermenters. If you are using a glass carboy ensure you have more than enough headspace. The possibility of fruit plugging the airlock and turning your carboy into a bomb is very real. It’s safer, not to mention easier, to use a plastic bucket when fruit brewing. You can add the fruit to hot wort for fifteen to thirty minutes, imparting flavors, while at the same time, basically pasteurizing the fruit. Some brewers will say that doing this creates more a cooked fruit flavor in the finished beer and not a fresh fruit flavor. Also, heating fruit, especially around boiling, releases a carbohydrate called pectin which can cause a haze in beer. But you can get around this by using the enzyme pectinase as a clarifier during aging. Amounts of Fruit The amount of fruit you use depends on all the other variables listed above plus, your desired perception of fruit flavor in the finished beer. You can make this choice as complicated or as simple as you want. There are brewers that will say you need to factor the fruit sugars into you original gravity. I personally have never done this, mostly because I never care, to such an exacting standard, what the finished ABV will be. If being this precise is a concern for you, do a search online and you will find formulas to help you calculate and combine these gravities. But in my opinion, unless you are throwing a ton of fruit into your brew this will not be worth factoring. So, back to the simple. In general a good place to start is 1 to 2 pounds of fruit per gallon of beer. The lower end of this scale would be for stronger flavored fruit while the upper end would be for milder flavored fruit or a darker beer. Added Brewing Tips: Leave your beer, on the fruit, in the secondary, a minimum of two or three weeks, but if possible, a couple months is better. Siphon the beer off the fruit and allow it to clear. This could take another mouth. Make sure all signs of fermentation have stopped before bottling. Use slightly less priming sugar than normal to avoid the chance of over priming. Fruit beers need some time to reach their prime. Age your beer. The profile will mature over time and a well-made fruit beer can hold up for years. Start with a great base recipe then experiment. Chances are it won’t come out exactly right the first time, though if good brewing practices are followed it should still be enjoyable. Keep meticulous records and adjust accordingly on the next batch. Soon you’ll have a fruit beer truly worthy of the name! Cheers and Happy Brewing!