Many beer snobs may frown down upon fruit beers as having too much mass appeal and not adhering to the strict German Beer Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot) which forbids calling anything that has been made with something other than hops, yeast, water or barley. To these people, I would mention Belgians. Their style of brewing goes back centuries more than the Germans. The Belgians were quick to adopt new methods and, hands down, make some of the greatest beers in the world, some of which also happen to be fruit infused beers. I am, of course, speaking of the fruit lambic brewing traditions that certain Belgians have so fastidiously upheld throughout the centuries. Lambics have also enjoyed a massive revival of interest, specifically because their fruit infusions and sour character give them a certain romantic mass appeal.
So all of this talk begs the question of my inner homebrewer. How do I go about creating a fruit infused beer? After a lot of experience making test batches of fruit infused beers I will share with you what I have learned when trying to craft that “slam dunk” fruit beer.
WHEN: You have various options of when to add fruit to your beer. The timing will help determine how much flavor comes through in the finished beer. I divide the ‘when’ into two categories – before fermentation and after fermentation. If you choose to add your fruit before fermentation, you can bet that most of the sugars will be consumed by the yeast during fermentation. Since sweetness from sugar makes up much of the flavor, this will result in a more subtly flavored brew. If adding after fermentation (during secondary), you can bet that there will definitely be a more pronounced fruit character that will mostly be determined by the amounts of fruits used and how long they steep. I’ve found that around 2 lbs of fruit (or anything for that matter)/5 gallons of beer imparts a very strong flavor into the beer, enough to derive a significant portion of the overall character of the beer from the fruit. This is not a hard and fast rule, but rather a useful guideline.
HOW: Do I use fresh fruit or purees? Do I throw it in wholesale or use a hop/steeping bag? That will depend on what you decide. Fresh fruit has decidedly better flavors than the purees, but more often than not can be unsanitary by brewery standards. Whereas most purees come sterilized/sanitized and can be thrown right into the fermenter. As for whether to use hop bags or not, I prefer to throw it in wholesale. You can use hop bags, but realize that if the fruit has been smashed/pureed it will just sink to the bottom of the fermenter anyway (at which point you rack over the sediment, just like floculated yeast). I prefer to make fresh fruit purees that I set in boiling water and add the mixture wholesale into the fermenter. I can get the best of both worlds by doing this, though it is admittedly a time consuming process to make one’s own fruit puree.
WHERE: Obviously, you’re going to need to put your fruit somewhere where its going to come in contact with your beer in order for the infusion to work. There are, however, considerations of a physical matter that need to be dealt with, such as, ensuring that the fruit is thoroughly mixed into the beer to ensure full extraction of flavors. It is this thought that leads me to want to put my whole fruit/puree right near the end of the boil (within 5 mins) or right before crash cool, where the action of CO2 bubbling out of solution will help mix the fruit thoroughly while ensuring that very little of the sugars are digested by the yeast.
That’s all I’ve got, but remember the next time you think about how awesome a fruit beer would be, do it. They are very rewarding when done correctly and are certainly among the oldest types of beer still produced today.