Adding Fruit: Whole Fruit, Puree, or Concentrate?
Two types of fruit, three mediums for each type of fruit, expert advice along the way from the fruit-product manufacturers and three pro brewers… Libby Murphy shares the good, the bad, and the completely unexpected results of testing different ways of get
I’VE NEVER BEEN AFRAID to experiment with my beer, which has led to drain pours, countless messes, and so much profanity. But it’s also led to learning new techniques, serendipitous findings, and better beer.
Fruit has been a learning process. There was the time I brewed with apricot puree and just dumped the whole can into the boil (not a good idea, unless you love baby food). Then there was the time I added grapefruit rind to the secondary and there was so much wildness going on that the batch needed a tranquilizer dart and some cooling-down time before I could dump it.
Recently, I had better luck using cherry concentrate with a saison. The concentrate went right into the keg and was almost an afterthought, but the flavors were exquisite. Bright, fruity, tart, and so full of cherry. The tartness of the cherries kept an otherwise sweet beer from being too cloying, and the cherries added many layers of flavor to the beer. Bingo.
Ask five professional brewers how they add fruit to their beer, and you’re likely to get five different answers. World-class brewers I’ve talked to vary wildly in their approaches, with some swearing by puree, some dedicated to whole fruit, and others
who prefer adding juice or concentrate. That sparked a question—just how different are these methods on a homebrew scale?
It was time to conduct an experiment of my own. I wanted to explore fruit and its various mediums, best times to add them to the beer, how to prep them, amounts to use, beers they work best with, and how pro brewers get great results.
Based on past experiences, I already knew a few things: ▪ Whole fruit requires a lot more prep work: cleaning, peeling, pitting, stemming. It might be inaccessible if it’s out of season. There might not be enough on hand at the store, or it might be in bad condition. If fruit is frozen, the prep work is usually done for you, and the freezing process has killed most of the bugs and softened the fruit. ▪ Puree is easy because it comes in a can or bag and is ready to go. There’s a certain amount of residue to deal with, but that can be strained. As long as you know the equivalent amount of puree to use, it’s probably not a bad option. ▪ Concentrate is easy to use. There’s littleto-no residue. But with it being so concentrated, going overboard with the flavor can happen a lot quicker than with the fruit and puree. The challenge is in determining how much concentrate equates to a certain amount of whole fruit.
I have used all of the above, and based on my experience, I believed that the concentrate would produce the cleanest, brightest flavors and likely be the best and easiest option for those on the homebrew level.
I spoke to Chris Hodge of Oregon Fruit, who supplies fruit purees to breweries on a pro level (they also provide product to Vintner’s Harvest, who packages purees on a homebrew level); Ken Shepley of Brownwood Farms and Fruitfast, who produces fruit-juice concentrates; Dennis Hock, founder and brewmaster at Draai Laag Brewing in Pittsburgh; and Stephen Roginson and Pat Ahrens from Batch Brewing in Detroit. I got technical information to understand more about how the fruit products are prepared, manufactured, packaged, and the ins and outs of using them for brewing. The brewers gave me tips for using yeast and hops, balancing flavors of the fruits, and how to use malts to support the fruit.
I narrowed down the types of fruits I wanted to use and decided to separate my beer into two batches: blueberries and cherries. I chose these fruits because I could use them in the same base beer recipe (more on that later) with the same types of hops, and they were readily available in the forms I needed.
The beer was an unassuming wheat beer, designed to be complementary to the tart cherry and wild blueberry fruits. Because I wanted the fruit to take center stage, I didn’t use specialty malts or hops that would be overshadowed by or detract from the fruit. I used a Safale yeast to avoid additional esters that might interfere with the fruit flavors. The focus was all on the fruit, and the beer was purposely a little on the “safe” side. Boring? You bet. But I wanted to evaluate the effects of the fruit without the beer getting in the way, and then use that base to be able to tweak the malts, hops, and yeasts later on.
You get the best results when you add puree during primary fermentation between the third and fifth day. The beer attenuates fully, is easier to filter, has less risk of refermentation in the bottle, has better clarity, gets more out of the aroma and flavor from the fruit, and gets half to a full extra point of ABV from the sugars in the fruit.
Working with Puree
Oregon Fruit provided wild blueberry and tart cherry puree, which, on a homebrew scale, is sold under the name Vintner’s Harvest. One of the advantages of a puree is that it has a shelf life of up to 18 months, and a brewer doesn’t have to worry too much about his/her whole fruits going out of season.
Chris Hodge of Oregon Fruits points out one of the biggest advantages of using a puree: There is no cleaning or processing time. With the puree, I opened a bag, measured the amount I needed (Hodge recommended 2 lbs/gal), and poured it into the beer. That was it. The fruit is
aseptic and has no preservatives that could cause off-flavors in the beer. If you handle the puree properly, there’s no reason to worry about microbial infections, but once the package is opened it does need to be refrigerated and used within a few days.
Hodge offered some best practices for adding the fruit to the beer, based on feedback from his customers: ▪ Some brewers do a combination of primary and secondary fermentation, adding 75 percent of the puree during primary fermentation and 25 percent during the secondary. This approach gives a little extra ABV during the primary, a pop of aroma, and a nice, bright color to the fruit. ▪ You get the best results when you add the puree during primary fermentation between the third and fifth day. The beer attenuates fully, is easier to filter, has less risk of refermentation in the bottle, has better clarity, gets more out of the aroma and flavor from the fruit, and gets half to a full extra point of ABV from the sugars in the fruit.
Hodge also adds, “We have a lot of confidence in our single-strength puree because we don’t see flavor components changing dramatically. We have enough tests on varying levels of batch sizes and addition timing that across the board we’re seeing only a very, very slight variation of flavor across the lifespan.”
When it’s time to package the beer with the puree addition, you will need to filter the puree from the beer, so plan ahead for that. After transporting the carboy, give the sediment plenty of time to settle to the bottom of the carboy before you siphon the beer into the bottling bucket or keg—and use plenty of filtration!
Working with Whole Fruit
Whole fruits come with a different set of rules, and I turned to the brewers for their expertise on how to work with whole fruits. ▪ First, think about where the fruit comes from. You can grab fruit from your grocer’s freezer, which is already processed and frozen for you (that’s what I did for this experiment). You’re less tied to growing seasons for the most part and have less grunt work to do. But also consider where the fruit was grown and whether that’s ideal to the flavor you’re trying to achieve, especially if the fruit is grown locally. Dennis Hock of Draai Laag Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has worked with whole fresh fruit extensively in his brewing processes and explains, “Because we’re in a northern climate, typically we’ll have a higher acid content rather than a higher sugar content. So that also plays into what we’re looking for in a beer.” ▪ Also consider that fresh fruit carries natural yeast on its skin, which some brewers like to use in their batches, but on a homebrew level, many of us don’t. Says Hock, “We actually freeze fresh fruit first. When the water freezes, it expands. From a cellular level, it macerates the fruit for you and it kills any microorganisms on the fruit.” ▪ If you prefer not to freeze the fruit, cleaning it extensively washes away the debris and a lot of the microorganisms and reduces the chances of a batch going wild or spoiling the beer. Or you can soak the fruit in vodka, which can quickly and easily kill the microorganisms. ▪ If you don’t freeze the fruit, cut it up or use a potato masher to break up the skins. The more contact the fruit has with the beer, the more flavors it’ll infuse into it.
Working with Concentrate
Fruit-juice concentrates aren’t to be confused with the fruit juices you buy and drink straight off the shelf. In addition, the selection
While there were subtle differences in flavor and aroma, the biggest were in appearance. Tasters were split in their preferences, and statistically speaking, there was no significance to their individual preferences.
of fruit concentrates is a bit more limited than that of purees and the fruit stand.
Ken Shepley of Fruitfast, which produces fruit concentrates, says the fruits are harvested, washed, pitted, and pressed before the juice is pasteurized to kill any pathogens. Then it’s frozen to -30˚F (-34°C) before it’s thawed and filled cold. The concentrates can be refrigerated for up to 15 months and frozen past that date for up to a year. Once the concentrate comes into contact with beer, it begins to ferment within five days, depending on the temperature of the beer.
Purees and whole fruits are easy to measure out and straightforward, but with the concentrate, you need to refer to the manufacturer’s guide on the package. Shepley says, “A quart-size container of our tart cherry concentrate is equal to 25 pounds of fresh fruit, and our wild blueberry concentrate is equal to 24 pounds of fresh fruit.”
When asked what the big advantage of concentrate is, Shepley says, “Convenience is number one. And the flavor profile is much more robust.”
Stephen Roginson and Pat Ahrens of Batch Brewing (Detroit, Michigan) use Fruitfast concentrates in some of their beers (and whole fruits and purees in others, based on a variety of factors), and one of the advantages they’ve found is consistency across their batches when using concentrates: Each batch tastes the same every time they use the concentrate.
Ahrens explains, “[Fruitfast] is able to give us a data sheet with a Brix and a ph. We can actually figure out what our final ph on the beer is going to be and how much alcohol we’re going to get out of the beer when we put it into secondary fermentation.”
Ahrens offers some advice for using the concentrates: ▪ To get an idea of what the finished product will taste like, take some of the beer from the carboy and pour it into a graduated cylinder, then start experimenting with amounts of concentrate until you come to a strength that you like. ▪ Shake the carboy vigorously once the concentrate is added to the beer so that it’s thoroughly integrated and the flavors are consistent throughout the entire batch.
The results were the most surprising part of the experiment. I hosted a tasting intending to pick out the differences among the beers, whether subtle or in-your-face, to settle what the best fruit medium to brew with would be. I expected the flavor of the fruit in the beer to determine the best fruit medium.
While there were subtle differences in flavor and aroma, the biggest differences were in appearance—both in color and the amount of sediment in the bottle. The tasters had a difficult time distinguishing differences in the flavors, although both the cherry and blueberry concentrate beers were slightly more intense than the whole fruit and puree beers. Tasters were split in their preferences, and statistically speaking, there was no significance to their individual preferences.
Without a clear winner based on taste, process concerns become more important. When I’m spending hours brewing beer and bottling, I have to weigh the additional time I want to spend preparing fruit. Part of that fruit preparation includes filtering sediment, which the puree, because of its finer consistency, made more of than the whole fruit. The additional sediment didn’t detract from the flavor of the beer and wasn’t enough to make the beer unattractive, but the next time I use a puree, I’ll work with that process and find ways to achieve a clearer beer.
The winner for me was the concentrate—achieving attractive fruit flavors without hours of chopping, peeling, pitting, and cleaning fruit has a certain allure. Controlling dosage required less trial-and-error, and there was no need to filter out any sediment, which saved time and increased beer yield when compared to the puree and the fruit. The downside to the concentrates is that there aren’t as many flavors on the market, so if a concentrate isn’t available for the flavor(s) I want to use, I would turn to a puree.
The whole fruit wasn’t a huge pain to work with because blueberries and cherries don’t need to be peeled (citrus fruits, apples, etc. aren’t quite as easy). But the size of cherries and blueberries certainly favored using frozen over fresh: The frozen fruit was already washed, pitted, and stemmed, and because it was frozen, pasteurization wasn’t an issue. Another big difference was evident when I racked the beer. The fruit matter—2 lbs/gal of beer—took up noticeably more room in the carboys than the puree and concentrate. So when you’re working with whole fruits, you may need larger carboys.
Whole fruit would work best when it comes to a few scenarios. One is using the rind of a fruit, which isn’t available in puree or concentrate. Rinds have a nice bitterness and unique flavors that can’t be created with fruit pulp. Rinds carry some risk with microorganisms, but if you want to use those as part of your fermentation process, that could be an upside.
Another time to consider using whole fruit is when you’re looking for a specific fruit that you wouldn’t normally find at a grocery store. For example, you might want to brew a special beer to commemorate a special person or place and use fruits from a specifc orchard. Or you might want to use a rare, exotic, or heirloom fruit just because of the flavors only that fruit can add to your beer.
When I shared my results with Roginson and Ahrens, they weren’t surprised that the flavors weren’t that different. I asked about their decision-making process when selecting the fruit medium to use in a recipe, and Roginson explained, “Once you find an alternative with which you can achieve equal or superior results and not have to invest hours into processing fruit and where your brewery staff can focus on what they do best—which is making beer—that’s a part of the decision-making process as well.”
Ahrens adds, “If we get a superior product spending all day peeling limes, then we will do that.” “And that’s why we do that with limes,” Roginson adds. “But if we can get that same result using frozen lime zest, puree, or something like that, then we will go for that. It has to be an equal or better result than using the whole ingredient,” Ahrens says.
Hock says of his decision tree, “It comes down to experimentation and what you’re trying to put in the bottle and what you’re trying to convey to the drinker who’s going to enjoy it—or not enjoy it. If you call a beer Super Cherry Beer and it has only a hint of cherry, that’s not a projection of what you did. What it comes down to is what you want out of it.”