At this time of year, you’re likely overwhelmed with the fruit you’ve harvested. Although you can jam it, freeze it or turn it into wine, why not add it to your homebrewed beer? Fruit is a tasty and refreshing addition to a variety of beer styles.
What Fruit Works Best
You can use whichever variety of fruit you'd like depending on either your personal tastes or something new you want to experiment with in your brewing. However, if you just want to get a predictable, drinkable result, there are some fruit species that work better than others. Some popular fruit includes blackberries, apricots, both sweet and sour cherries, currants, peaches, raspberries, plums, and strawberries.
Regardless of the type of fruit you choose, use what you’ve grown yourself or something grown organically at a local farm or orchard. That way you can be sure that pesticides and other chemicals haven’t been applied. Also, you may be able to score fruit that’s an heirloom variety.
Fruit Flavors in Brewing
The two main characteristics that account for how we taste fruit flavors in beer are the fruit's unique sugar content and the amount of acid. While sugar plays an important role chemically in the specifics of alcohol production and fermenting, both factors play a role in overall taste.
While there is a spectrum, with fruits like limes on the extreme end of low sweetness and dates on the high end, a good general rule for many fruits is that they're going to have naturally more sweetness than the beer they'll end up in and naturally less acidity than a typical beer. Throughout the brewing process the added fruit elements will tend to normalize toward the conditions of the beer. This means that despite fruits having a naturally higher sweetness, in the finished beer you'll get the fruit's flavor delivered in a sip that may taste less sweet than in the fruit itself. Depending on how strongly you want the fruit's flavor to come across on it's own without notes of sugar, this may be a good thing. Similarly, a ripe fruit with low relative acidity will ultimately taste more tart when brewed.
Tips For Using Fruit
Adjust the amount of fruit you use based on the base beer you’re brewing. Although certain beer varieties can handle a large amount of fruit, others need a light touch. For example, while you may be able to go heavy handed with a stout, you may prefer using a smaller amount for lighter beers. Ideally, you’ll add approximately half a pound of fruit for every gallon of beer you plan to brew for flavor forward fruit, such as raspberries. For other fruit, you may be able to get away with a heavier touch, such as up to two pounds of fruit for every gallon of beer.
Freeze for convenience and to get more juice. You may not be ready to brew at the time of harvest. Life gets busy and sometimes the stars don’t align. However, flash freezing the fruit to use it later on is not only more convenient, you can also get more juice from the fruit. The process of freezing and thawing helps release more juice than you’d get using them straight from the garden.
Use the fruit whole or puree or juice it. It’s your choice and depends on how much prep work you’d like to put into the process. If you choose to use the fruit whole, consider putting it in a nylon mesh bag to make clean up easier. Also, keep in mind, you may have to mash the fruit with your hands before incorporating it into your brew.
Prepare the fruit for best results. That means remove pits, seeds, stems and any hanger-on leaves. For example, pit stone fruits, such as cherries and plums, before adding them to your brew. The pit may add a bit too much astringency to the beer. It may sound like a lot of work, but it’ll pay off. Mash the fruit with a potato masher or your hands to release all the juice.
Include Them in Your Wort
You can include the fruit during the boiling process or in post-fermentation. If you’re new to using fruit, try it both ways to see which you like better.
Including the fruit in your wort helps kill off any potential bad bacteria that could impact your brew. If you’re not using an established fruit beer recipe, you’ll need to account for the added sugar and acidity of the fruit while you’re brewing. Simply add the juice, puree, or mashed fruit after boiling, but while the wort is still hot. The fruit will take on the fermented quality of the brew. Not that it’ll likely taste different in the brew than it does fresh as this step is comparable to cooking the fruit. If using whole fruit, leave it to steep for a minimum of 30 minutes to get the full flavor.
To preserve the fresh taste and aroma of your fruit of choice, don't add it immediately and instead wait until after the primary fermentation. If you’re using a store-bought pasteurized puree or juice, you won’t have to worry about contamination. It can be an issue with fresh fruits, so there's another advantage of freezing your fruit and thawing it before you use, as it kills most of the nasty bacteria that could harm your brew. Another option is to take a page from winemakers and create a fruit must, essentially a pumice of the skins, seeds, and stems left in crushed fruit. To sterilize it, you’ll add Campden tablets to the must, specifically one tablet for every gallon of must you make. Wait 24 hours and then add it to your fermenter.
If you’re a risk taker, you can forego pasteurizing the fruit entirely. The skin may contain naturally occurring yeasts, which may give you the most delicious beer you’ve ever brewed or absolutely ruin it make it undrinkable.
Regardless of what you choose, place the fruit in a mesh bag and add it to your secondary fermenter. Leave it for a week or two as the length of time will depend on your personal taste. Sample it after a week and when it’s to your liking, bottle it up. Keep in mind if you skip placing the fruit in a mesh bag, you’ll have to strain and filter your brew before you bottle it. Remember to use sanitized equipment to prevent bacteria from spoiling the finished product.