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Adding Fruit Flavors

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Fruit-flavored beers are extremely popular, and fun to make. One advantage the home brewer has over large breweries is the use of local ingredients and less concern over cost per unit. There are three options for adding fruit flavors to your beer, and they vary in cost, effort, and flavor.

The easiest approach is to use flavor extracts. These small bottles (typically 4 to 8 ounces) can be purchased from most homebrew stores or online. Four ounces is enough to provide adequate flavor for a 5 gallon batch. The extract should be added late in the fermentation, one to two weeks prior to bottling. This will allow time for the flavors to blend together, without losing aroma. The more complex flavors a beer has, the longer it should be bottle conditioned for maximum enjoyment. The drawbacks to extracts are fairly simple. First, flavor options are limited: you’re much more likely to find a “cherry” flavor extract than a “black cherry” or “Bing cherry” extract. Dovetailing this issue is the problem that flavor extracts may have an overpowering, even artificial flavor. Banana flavor extract may taste more like banana-flavored candy than actual bananas.

The next option is to add fresh fruit to the fermenting beer. To achieve best results, a wide-mouthed carboy or covered bucket should be used for the primary fermenter. The fruit should be rinsed clean and gently crushed. (not pulped; apply just enough pressure to break the skin) Once the wort has finished boiling, remove it from the heat source, add the crushed fruit, and cover it. Let the fruit sit in the hot wort for about 5 minutes. In cooking terms, this is somewhere between “blanching” and “poaching” the fruit. Strain out the fruit, chill the wort, add the wort to the fermenter, and return the fruit to the wort once the yeast has been added. After one week, rack the beer off to a normal carboy, and thoroughly clean your fermenter. Using fresh fruit is highly dependant on supply, and this approach will give the fruit flavor, but none of the fruit’s sweetness, which will be rapidly consumed by the yeast. The result is a nice natural flavor with a nice aroma; don’t underestimate the strength of the flavor. This approach works in stouts and porters as well as it does in wheat beers and pale ales.

Your last option is to boil your wort an additional hour, reducing the volume by one gallon. Ferment as usual, but a week prior to bottling, you’ll be adding your fruit. Take 1 gallon of water, add your crushed fruit to the water, and simmer it at 160 degrees for half an hour. It is essential that the temperature not go above this level; more heat (or more time) will release pectins and other jelling agents, and instead of beer, you’ll get jam. After thirty minutes, chill the water & fruit to below 70 degrees, and add it to your beer. By adding it later, you’ll retain more of the aroma, and some of the fruit sweetness. The trade-off is that this approach is much more work.

  1. 2 Responses to “Adding Fruit Flavors”

  2. I’ve never had issues just freezing fruit then racking the beer over it. Yeah, I may get an infection one day, but so far, so good.

    By Brian on Jun 23, 2009

  3. For my Cherry Wheat, I add the cherries to the beer in secondary, and let it sit for a week before kegging. I think you get a better flavor that way.

    By Tom on Jun 29, 2009

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