Using Fresh Fruit in Beer

Using Fresh Fruit and Fruit Puree

This week I want to talk a little bit about how to use and balance fruit in your favorite beers.  Homebrewing fruit beers is super challenging, but using fruit in your beer is crazy fun, and always makes your beer stand out as outside the box.

Balancing Beer and Fruit
Balancing Fruit Flavors in Beer
As many of you may know, using fruit in beer is currently an obsession of mine (one among many!).  The challenge of having certain fruit characters come out in the beer the way they do in my head is the fun part, and gives me the chance to do some trial and error!  

What I've found over the years is that using real fruit in any form will dry out your beer more than you think, generally not come across as much as you hope, and, of course, every single fruit is different in every single style of beer.  So the question is:  How in the $%@& am I supposed to make a balanced, fruit forward fruit beer with so many variables?!  

Although it's not easy, there are some rules of thumb that generally hold true.  First and foremost, the fruits themselves.  Some fruit is just more....poignant than other fruit.  Why?  I'm sure there's a ton of science that remarks on different compounds and compositions, but I haven't done all the research, so I'll leave that part alone.  Through LOTS and LOTS of trial and error over the years with a ton of different brewers (not just what I've done and seen, but also commercial breweries, different home brewers, and many others), below are some common fruit examples that have a generally accepted  “pounds of fruit per gallon of beer” ratio.  Check it out:

These are just some examples of commonly accepted amounts, but these amounts will always differ depending on what you're brewing and what fruit you want to use.  The important part is to look at WHAT you're brewing, and how much fruit character you really want, then use these parameters to decide how much to add.  Because every beer is going to be a little different, let's make a process that can be used on most beers.
Blueberry Stout and Blueberry Helles
We'll use our Beer Recipe Kit Midnight Wave Imperial Stout with added Blueberries as our first example.  You have a lot of alcohol, presumably a high residual sugar (say 1.017-ish finishing gravity for this example), and a ton of competing flavors, and all of this to balance with Blueberries.  After noting all of this, you'll have to decide HOW MUCH Blueberry flavor you really want.  Let's say you want distinct blueberry character in the nose and a light but distinct blueberry flavor.  To achieve this, we're going to start at 1 lb per gallon.  Once all the sugar ferments out, this is going to leave you with light flavor that is going to blend well with residual sugar and give it a blueberry nose that is distinct but not overpowering.

The key at this point is to not be afraid to taste.  Before you rack to keg or bottles, pull a sample.  Imagine what it will be with carbonation, and adjust from there.  You very well might have to put some more in, and that's why we always start on the lighter side.  It's easy to add some more, but not as easy to take some out!  Follow good procedure, and back purge with CO2 if you have it, and you won't have to worry too much about oxidation.

What if you're making a Blueberry Helles?  A light and crisp lager with a distinct malt backbone but a generally dry finish.  For this, it might be wise to start with a lighter addition, say half a pound per gallon.  The blueberry is going to be a little more forward, and dry it out even more, so a little less to start is the way to go.

Agave or Honey Pouring into a fermenter
To Back-Sweeten or Not To Back-Sweeten

Back-Sweetening anything can be a complicated endeavor, especially if you are bottling.  One way to do it is to add a non-fermentable sugar, like Lactose or Maltodextrin, to add to the sweetness and bring the fruit flavor out a bit.  It may not seem as authentic, but it's definitely the easier route!

If you want to back-sweeten in the keg, life is WAY easier.  Simply add your puree, right to the keg, a little at a time, until the flavor is just a smidgeon more than what you want.  Purge, carbonate, keep cold and enjoy.  You may get a little fermentation in the keg, but nothing like full fermentation.  If you are really worried, you can add some Potassium Sorbate to the keg to ensure no more fermentation happens.  This method works for home brewed beer, wine, mead, and cider.  It's easy and straightforward, and probably the best way to go.

That being said, we don't all have kegging systems.  This is where it gets complicated.  You will have to add your fruit puree to the bottling bucket, go just a little heavy, and stop fermentation once everything is carbonated like you want it.  There is, unfortunately, no real tried and true way to do this.  My process goes like this (and can take a really long time):  

  • Step 1 – Add fruit puree to the bottling bucket to taste, then add just a little more.
  • Step 2 – Bottle and cap and allow a full 24 hours to carbonate if your beer is already at room temp, or a     full 48 hours if it's crash chilled (fridge temps).
  • Step 3 – Put them ALL in the fridge after the 24 or 48 hours!
  • Step 4 – Once the beer is cold, pop one and try it.  This part is very important.  CO2 dissolves into     solution with temperature, so you want to make sure it's cold before you test.
  • Step 5 – If the beer is carbonated, or very close, keep them in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure.  If     it's not, start over at Step 2, rinse and repeat until the carbonation level is where you want it.
  • Optional Step 6 – Bottle pasteurization.  This is extra work, but once done, you can store your beer at     any temperature without fear of bottle related shrapnel bombs.  Get out your brew pot, add     enough water to cover the bottom of the bottles about two inches up, and bring it to 150° F.  Set     in as many bottles as you can and leave them for 15 – 20 minutes, enough time to heat the beer     inside enough to kill off any yeast.  Pull them out and allow them to cool.  Don't do an ice bath, as the bottles could break.  

This method may not be the most scientific, but is very effective, and controls as many variables as possible, which is the whole idea!


Hops and Fruit

Hops have an amazing group of flavor compounds called terpenes.  These terpene profiles determine what kind of flavors and aromas that you will get from each hop.  This means that when you brew a fruited IPA, you have more things to balance.  When done properly, these beers can be amazing!  

I've found that with most fruit beers, but especially Fruited IPA's, you want to leave the finishing gravity (pre-fruit) on the higher end.  Use our beer recipe kit Sparks Is Fruity as an example.  As I said, fruit dries out beer way more than you would think, so the idea here is to balance that from the get go.  Try a less attenuative yeast, like English Ale (White Labs WLP002 or Wyeast 1968) or even the Conan strain (Gigayeast GY054 Vermont Ale or Wyeast London Ale 1318) to leave a higher finishing gravity, then add your fruit three or five days into fermentation.  Leaving a higher finishing gravity will help the fruit flavors come forward, while giving the perception of a dry IPA on your tongue.  

Now, we balance hops.  Choose hops that will complement your fruit flavor, like Galaxy Hops with Grapefruit Puree, and add in a 'contrast hop'.  This contrast hop, say Simcoe or Cascade in this case, will add a depth of contrasting pine character that won't necessarily be forward in the beer, but will add to the way that you taste the other fruit characters and make them more evident.  

I usually try to use these contrasting hop flavors at a lower rate so that they don't take over, say 1 oz of Simcoe for every 2 or 3 of Galaxy.  Just enough to make the brighter hops shine.  A great example of this method is our beer ingredient kit, Trifecta IPA.  This beer kit has Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo.  Citra and Amarillo play very well together, but really pop when the Simcoe adds some opposition.  These three hops can be found in many incredible commercial IPA's, and that's why they work so well together.

Trial and Error
The best part of fruit beers is all of the trial and error!  It gives you an excuse to brew with fun ingredients, and try to make them balance out.  Worst case, you will still have a pretty good homebrew to share with your friends, and more experience brewing outside of the box!
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