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Using fruit with your home brewing

making fruit beer


Brewing with fruit all about exploring what works for you


What are your personal tastes? 

How adventurous are you?  

Are raspberries your favorite fruit in the world? Then try making a raspberry stout! 

Got some more eclectic fruit preferences? How about an elderberry ale? 

That's the beauty of brewing with fruit - there are some many arrangements, styles, and combinations that there's a fruit brew for everyone. 

The fruits most commonly used in fruit beers are raspberries, cherries, apples, and citrus fruits. 

The point is you can use any fruit you like, it's your beer. Some fruits of course work better with certain beers but the world's your oyster in that regard - brewing is your hobby, after all, you can do whatever you like. 

So the first question would be fruit brewers often ask is:

Should I use fresh fruit with my home brew?


You might have heard the expression "fresh is best" when it comes to using cryo hops but when making a fruit beer, you need to consider that fresh fruit can have some issues

Taking the fruit right from the orchard or vine without some form of treatment makes some brewers nervous  - as they are trying to avoid wild yeasts. This has meant several practices have been developed to treat fresh fruit.

So the options which we will now examine are:
  • boiling
  • freezing
  • pasteurization
  • and being brave

Should I boil the fruit in the wort?


There are two schools of thought about adding fruit to the boil.

Many brewers will do it to ensure that any bacteria present are destroyed because nothing is as disheartening to discover your beer is infected and ruined!

And in that sense, it will work but there are certainly a few drawbacks.

Boiling fruit releases the pectin in the fruit and that will likely cloud your beer, giving it a cloudy haze that many brewers wish to avoid. It can also well as attribute to off-flavors despite the intention of boiling to release flavour.

Soft fruits like cherries, grapes, and strawberries contain smaller amounts of pectin than other citrus fruits like pears, apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and oranges so you can way that up in your decision to boil or not.

If you insist you need to add fruit during the boil what you can do is steep your fruit in the hot wort, or add it directly to the fermenter at the right time. If you are going to steep your fruit, place whole, fresh fruit in a nylon or muslin bag and place it in.

So if you have decided not to boil your fruit what can you do?

Should I freeze the fruit before using it?


If the thought of boiling your fruit is too much you can totally freeze the fruit. It's a really common and trusted practice in the beer brewing community.

 The night before you think it's time to add it to the batch (post-primary fermentation), begin to slowly thaw it out in the fridge. It will then be ready when you need it. 

Freezing the fruit is not a complete guarantee against no contamination, but it will reduce the potential risk of infection occurring.

Oddly, freezing can also help with getting the fruit's flavors out of the fruit and into the beer. This is because the water inside the cells of the fruit crystallizes and expands. This process bursts the cell walls and in a sense, it mashes the fruit from the inside out. You can compare this to the freeze thaw action of ice on rock!

How to pasteurize fruit for brewing


In most civilized countries, the law requires that milk is pasteurized prior to sale to prevent bacteria such as salmonella, e. coli, and listeria from harming the general population. That suggests that fruit could benefit from pasteurization before it is added to the beer.

Basically, you use a low heat to kill the bugs. Puree your fruit so that it nice and smooth (so it can be cooked through). You pasteurized it by heating on the stove in a pot at 80 Centigrade for 30 minutes at a constant temperature. 

That should take care of the bugs - it's now time to add the fruit to your beer.  

If you make the fruit too hot, you will have the same effect as boiling and pectins will be released.

Being fearless and chucking the fruit it the fermenter


There's certainly nothing wrong add your fruit in sans boil or freezing. If you are adding it post primary fermentation, the alcohol present can protect against infection.

I guess you could always give the fruit a quick soak in some Star San or similar for a short while.


Pureéing fruit for brewing in a blender


If you are going to pureé your fruit - use a good blender. One that has of course been sanitized with something like sodium percarbonate! 

This reminds me to share that I once read of a guy who when blending would add a cup of vodka to the fruit to try and kill any bacteria! 

I reason this could kind of work and the vodka wouldn't add any unintended flavour to the beer. 

You should, of course, wash the fruit thoroughly and then remove any stems, leaves and pits or seeds before blending.

Can I use dehydrated fruit with beer?


You sure can add dehydrated fruit to beer.  It's less mess but if you going to pulp it up, you might need to blend it with some water.

When do I add fruit to your beer?


We've talked about it about but let's get into some detail.

So if you haven't boiled the fruit in the wort when do you add it?

Kind of like dry hopping, many brewers report that you tend to get the best results if you add the fruit about one week prior bottling rather than adding it directly to the wort on brew day (either before or after the boil). 

The reason for this is that the processes of the primary fermentation can strip out the flavors of the fruit.

So to that end, a good time to add the fruit is after primary fermentation is complete - so take your hydrometer and do your readings - when you have two or three identical readings you have your final gravity and can you add the fruit.

Adding during secondary fermentation has the added benefit that you are adding the fruit to a known solution of alcohol - which will help kill and work against any bacteria that may be sneaking in on the fruit.

black doris plums

Some punters remove the skins from the fruit


If you are making a nice plum lager out of some ripe Black Doris, you might want to think about peeling the skins due reduce of a wild yeast like brettanomyces which is usually found on the skins of fruit.

It's interesting to note that Brettanomyces were first discovered by scientist N. Hjelte Claussen in 1904 at the Carlsberg Brewery - he was investigating the 'Brett' as a cause of spoilage in English ales.

It's worth noting that while Brett is considered a contaminant in beer, it is a vital component of the wine making process for many winemakers. 

That was a slight detour - the key point is that if you want to reduce the chance of naturally occurring yeasts getting into your beer, strip the fruit of its skin if you can - might be hard if you're making a cherry beer!

How much fruit should be added to the beer?


A rule of thumb is to consider how sweet your fruit is. If you have a very sweet fruit, such as cherries, you might want to add less to your beer than you would say a peach.

The truth is that amount of fruit to add varies according to the desired intensity of flavour and aroma, but for a medium intensity, you should add ½ pound of fruit per gallon of beer for strongly flavored fruits like raspberries and up to 2 pounds (1 Kg approx) per gallon for fruits like peaches or melon which you could consider have a milder, less tart flavor. 

If I can't get fresh fruit, what else can I use?


Given fruit is quite a seasonal item, there are other fruit based options available. You can add concentrates, purées or juices to your beer - they've been well processed by the time they get to you via the supermarket so you can skill the boil or freezing parts of the processes and add them just prior to secondary fermentation.

If you simply want a flavour, you can use artificial ones or extracts, just remember they do not contribute to the body or 'mouth feel' like real fruit will.

How long should I bottle condition fruit beer for?


Bottled beer usually takes around three weeks to get to the prime drinking period, regardless of whether it has fruit in it or not. 

In our case, at least a month of bottle conditioning will give plenty of time for the yeast and other floaties to fall to the bottom of the beer as sediment (remember, you can always cold crash before bottling).  This will also give the fruit plenty of time to become one with the base beer flavours.

You can also remove fruit extras by using finings such as Irish Moss.

Go forth an experiment, young padawan!


The wonderful thing about beer makers is they love to experiment - there's something special about brewers who are willing to try new things and to mix up their norms - using fruit is a great way to do that as there are many combinations of fruit and beer types that offer even the most casual brewer a chance to produce a fun tasting beer. 

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