Making Balanced Fruit Beers

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So often we’ve tasted beers that have been over powered by the one ingredient that ends up giving it the hollow single identity so advertised on the label. Whether it is a label illustrating a personified ninja blackberry performing a front snap kick to a pint glass, or strawberry that has been re-imagined as an explosive device; we’ve become accustomed to the constant chase to the extremes many brewers take.
For so long I had avoided brewing any beers with fruit. Not due to a long hard stance with Reinheitsgebot, but due to a lack of respect for any of the beers with the belief that they had either covered up a bad beer with a gimmick, or are trying to appeal to a new demographic with cheap artificial flavorings. I know now that there is a third option that is seeing a renewed focus within the home brewing community.
The idea is to allow the fruit to be just what it is, another ingredient in your beer and not inadvertently make a malted fruit wine. Before ingredients are gathered and procedures altered, you must dream about your beer. What beer is really wanted, a sunny blonde with a simple apricot sweetness? A dark chocolate stout with a strong raspberry influence? There is a whole culinary science with endless flavor combinations, so there should never be a fear of the new. However, a few tips can help bring about new beers destined to become a new home favorite. I had personally fallen into my favorite fruit beer through a miscommunication with another brewer I was joining at a local beer festival. I had all of my ingredients together to make my Octoberfest and I wanted to make a cool clean peach blonde. Just something easy to drink and share while I waited for the lagering period of my Octoberfest to be finished. I asked him, “What do you think I should brew first, the peach one or the Octoberfest?” He responded with, “Why not brew both?”
Now what he meant at the time was to brew one, and then the other in succession for a marathon brew day, but my mind was already swirling on a real fruit beer with a malty backbone. A successful beer on its own, only enhanced by a nice fruit influence. The idea of my Peachtoberfest was born, but what was I supposed to do different to not make a Frankenstein’s monster out of this? Should I just add peach extract after the fact right before it’s served? That’s not really my style and not what I wanted from this beer. Should I buy a ton of peaches and soak them, skin them, pit them and boil the fruit under pressure as to not lose the subtle peach aromatics? Let’s be honest here, I’m not that hard working, and I would just find myself sticky and frustrated.

The Recipe


The best option by far, I felt, was to buy the cans of purée available at local brew supply stores in a variety of options. Vintners Harvest brand was what I had already planned on using in my peach blonde and I thought that was what would have worked well for what I wanted. I already had my grain bill for my Octoberfest, but I knew adding purée would throw off my gravities, so I knew re-balancing was required for a starting lower OG.
• 5 lbs American 2-Row
• 1 lbs Munich 10L
• 1 lbs Crystal 20L
• 1 oz Liberty Hops at 60 minutes 4.6% AAV
• 1 oz Amarillo Hops at 15 minutes 8.9% AAV
• Whirlfloc and White Labs Yeast Nutrient added at 10 minutes
I, conventionality, would read this as a bit backwards with an aroma hop early on and a stronger hop at the finish, but I wanted the bitterness to be low with a nice citrus reinforcement people wouldn’t pick up so easily. I, also, wanted to use a muted yeast strain to really let the peach speak for the beer, so I chose Wyeast 2565 Kölsch.
The Peachtoberfest is under way
At this point, the next point of argument was on when to add the fruit purée. Some say adding the fruit purée in the last few minutes of the boil for it to fully pasteurize, minimizing the additional risk of contamination, at the cost of the soft aromatics (which was one of the main reasons for using purée in the first place). Others believe adding the purée to the fermenter during inoculation with the yeast into the wort. While this would have the longest exposure time to the wort, some believe that this may train the yeast to higher levels of fructose, possibly slowing down fermentation and adding undesired by-products of fermentation. I, personally, think this effect is minimal unless you are of the practice of re-using yeast for several batches. Another point at which people tend to add fruit is at high kraussen. Where this wouldn’t affect the yeast as much, I still thought that this would blow off those aromatics we were trying to keep.
Although it is later in the process, it has been seen that adding purée to the secondary is the gentlest and effective way to get the most out of your addition. As long as good sanitary practices are followed, you shouldn’t have any problems as the product is already pasteurized, but I would highly suggest taking the label off of the can and submerging the can, the can opener and any funnel you plan on using in sanitizer before the addition. This may cause a secondary fermentation, but this is completely normal as a small amount of yeast will still be suspended in the green beer. For this reason, it is important to give the beer a little additional time, a week or so more, to your usual secondary schedule.
Hydrometer sample looks good.
One final point, I sampled this beer and a few others I had made through the entire process looking for harsh alcohols, medicinal off flavors, or anything really of note, and one thing always seems to hold true, it never tastes the way I was envisioning. Frustrated and fearful of a bad batch, I continued on to find out that until it is carbonated and cooled to serving temperature, it’s impossible to judge. So often, especially with stone fruits like peaches or apricots, I have thought the beer was terrible and even considered dumping it, and not bringing it up unless directly asked what happened to the beer I was just bragging about a week or so prior. So it seems to be just another case of relax and have a homebrew.

In Conclusion


Have a clear idea of the beer you want to make beforehand. Fruit beers are framed better with a slightly malt forward recipe, so don’t let the hops do the talking for you. Purée will give you the most natural, yet easiest addition. Add purée in at secondary. Don’t judge it before it’s done.
Sources:
Featured Image: Taken by Jayneandd
 

Comments

Looks like a tasty recipe. I've tried a peach pale ale before I really liked. Can you tell me how much of the Vinter's puree you used? I see there's a 3lb can on Amazon, but wonder if that's too much or not enough. I've read to use, on average, a pound of fruit per gallon of brew depending on the fruit. Is the same used true for puree? Other purees are listed in Litres, so how would one determine the right amount in Litres? What was your fermenting temp of the kolsch?
Thanks for the article!
 
I really think that flavor extracts get a bad rap. Just because your using an extract does not necessarily mean you'll get a cheap or inauthentic flavor.
First off I'd like to address quality. A high quality natural organic extract is a good route to go. There are several retailers online that have a good product. As with everything in brewing it depends on the quality of your ingredient and the amount you use. I've found that a high quality extract is a safer, more consistent and more reliable way to get fruit flavor into a brew. That said it's easy to add too much extract, I start on the low end and add as needed.
The other thing I want to mention is flavor extraction. The general idea of adding fruit to a secondary is "put fruit in beer, beer taste like fruit" which many of us have found doesn't always work out. Like you mentioned in your article, you need to make adjustments for extra sugar, added water or absorbtion and of course risk of infection. Natural flavor extracts are made with the sole intention of extracting the true flavor of the fruit, something you don't get by just soaking fruit in beer. Not to say one way is better, but they are different.
A quick note about the taste of fruit, a good portion of that flavor is sugar. Anyone whose made a cider or apfelwine can attest. I like a little extra residual sweetness in my fruit beers and it really rounds out the flavor. Honey malt has become a favorite of mine to use. You want to find a medium between Lacroix flavored water and juice. I like that you mentioned pairing flavors, fruit standing alone in beer can be refreshing and easy to drink, albeit a bit boring. There are really an infinite number of flavor combos you can try.
The last thing to consider is that if you make a boring beer, adding an adjunct isn't going to do much. A standard wheat beer is going to taste like a standard wheat beer with blueberries, regardless of you go with real fruit or extract.
My 2 cents as I feel like extracts are often disregarded solely because people don't like the idea of extracts or had too many beers with poor execution with them.
 
How much fruit puree? Did you have to filter the beer when you bottled/kegged?
Would it be a decent idea to pour the puree into a mesh bag to prevent solids from getting transferred to the bottle/keg?
 
If you use Puree, you will have a lot of sludge at the bottom of your fermentor.
After racking, I let it settle, then rack it again.
Otherwise you have a good chance of having sludge in each of your bottles.
Maybe if you keg this is less of a problem, since you can dump the first few pints.
 
Nice article! I did a strawberry saison a little over a month ago and I literally just killed the keg. I didn't even give it enough time to mature. It turned out really well, and I am brewing another batch today. I second the opinion of carbonating and before deciding if it tastes right. My samples were miles away from what it tasted like in the keg.
 
unless you're looking for the beer equivalent of something very complicated like Dr. Pepper, I think you can accomplish what you want with more soul and authenticity using real fruit rather than extract. Keep the fruit in the fruit beer, and save the extract for...well, whatever....
 
Edit.... but I agree, you do need some residual sweetness to award the perception of most fruits. I would add that also a certain level of acidity/tartness is necessary to properly bring out some fruits....
 
I brewed a mango ale last year, using a lightly hopped honey ale as a base, then 10kg of fresh, very ripe mango flesh in the secondary. I dipped the fruit in some iodophor sanitiser before adding to the fermenter. The beer went VERY sour for a long time - mangoes are very acidic, and it was only really drinkable at room temperature - it became too sour when chilled.
BUT after 4 months aging in secondary (with the fruit) it mellowed out into something fantastic. Mango season is almost here again, so I will be brewing this again very soon.
 
That's just it though. There are two types of extract, Natural and Imitation. Imitation extract is a combination of chemical compounds to imitate the flavor of a thing - not what I am talking about here.
Natural extracts are extracted directly from said thing, so the essential oils, volatile chemicals, extracted directly from the fruit. This is exactly what you are hoping to achieve by putting your fruit directly in the beer, only it's not as effective. that is why with a high quality natural extract you will get a more accurate fruit flavor - because the extraction process is just better.
I would argue if soul and authenticity are your goal, you would want the best flavor extraction possible, yeah?
 
I have not posted it, but it is pretty basic: pilsner, malted wheat, and caravienne. Some low alpha hops. I used Willamette and Styrian Goldings. And then fermented with Wyeast 3711at about 80°. It got unorthodox when I used the smashed frozen strawberries to help cool the wort down after the boil. I was having an issue with my chiller, so I transfered into my fermenting bucket ontop of 4lbs of frozen strawberries and then ice bathed it. It worked out though. The 3711 is a beast, but left it dry and tart with strong strawberry aroma.
 
I make a lot of fruit beer, it's all my wife drinks. After experimenting quite a bit, I found to balance to be tartness of fruit it worked better to add milk sugar (Lactose) at flameout and some Victory or biscuit in the grain bill.
I prefer fresh fruit that has been frozen. Then added to the secondary. I don't sanitize any of the fruit and have never had a infection in over at least 50 batches.
My two preferred fruits are Raspberry and Strawberry. Raspberry gets 18oz for a 5g batch and Strawberry gets 4lbs for a 5g batch. I let it sit on the fruit for 4-5 days.
Preferred recipe.
5lb 2-row pale
4lb White Wheat
1/2lb Crystal 15
1/2lb Flaked Wheat
1/4lb Carapils
8oz Victory
1lb Lactose at flameout
1oz Willamette 60minutes
Add fruit to secondary
 
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