Fruit (not Fruity) Fla­vors

Fruit beers can be hard to make be­cause of the ar­ray of “fruit” fla­vors that are added along with that ob­vi­ous “fruity” fla­vor. Josh Weik­ert of­fers sug­ges­tions for build­ing recipes to ac­count for these other fruit fla­vors.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Fruit in Beer -

WE ALL KNOW WHAT fruit tastes like. I mean, if you add rasp­ber­ries to a wheat beer to make a rasp­berry wheat, then you’re adding the fla­vor of rasp­ber­ries. Sim­ple, right?

Un­for­tu­nately, no. This kind of think­ing (“Hey, let’s add grape­fruit to this and make it a fruit beer!”) used to be preva­lent in both com­mer­cial brew­ing and home­brew­ing.

Well, I have some good news and some bad news: The good news is that it’s not com­mon any­more, which has re­sulted in bet­ter fruit beers, but the bad news is that brew­ers are com­pelled to reckon with the real­ity that fruit beers can be dev­il­ishly hard to make be­cause of the com­plex ar­ray of “fruit” fla­vors that are added along with that ob­vi­ous “fruity” fla­vor.

I hate to end on a “bad news” note, though, so here’s some more good news: as long as we’re aware of what we’re adding and build­ing recipes to ac­count for these other fruit fla­vors, there’s no rea­son we can’t be a part of what has been a very, very ex­cit­ing re­cent surge of out­stand­ing fruit beer!

Un­sur­pris­ingly, since we’re talk­ing about recipe for­mu­la­tion, our goal is bal­ance. You can add al­most any­thing to beer and make a great beer out of it (though that Kim­chi Cal Com­mon I had two years ago might be a non-starter), and as we work through the fla­vors of fruit, we’ll also ad­dress meth­ods to get the fruity fla­vors we want while ac­count­ing and ad­just­ing for what comes along with it.

Bit­ter Fruit

It may sur­prise some to think of their fruit as “bit­ter.” One rea­son is that a ma­jor at­trac­tion of a lot of fruits is their over­all fla­vor, which usu­ally in­cludes a healthy dose of “sweet” along with the other fla­vors. As brew­ers, though, we get rid of that sweet­ness (by con­vert­ing it into al­co­hol—more on that later), and as a re­sult, we are left with some­thing that adds a fruity char­ac­ter but can also im­part bit­ter­ness along with it.

Bit­ter­ness has mul­ti­ple root causes, bi­o­log­i­cally and molec­u­larly speak­ing, and sev­eral va­ri­eties of fruit add de­tectable bit­ter­ness to your beer. Citrus fruits—most no­tably grape­fruit—are prime of­fend­ers here, thanks to the pres­ence of a com­pound called naringin. Al­though most-of­ten associated with grape­fruit, it’s com­mon in most citrus fruits, and its name de­rives from the same San­skrit word from which the orange gets its name.

We also find bit­ter­ness in ap­ples and pears, thanks to or­ganic com­pounds that add both bit­ter­ness and as­trin­gency. While we’re on the topic of as­trin­gency, let me point out that it isn’t only bit­ter­ness that we need to ac­count for: it’s the im­pres­sion of bit­ter­ness. Many fruits (thanks to a va­ri­ety of tan­nins in their skins or in the fruit it­self) in­crease the de­gree of dry­ing, puck­er­ing, tight­en­ing as­trin­gency that the end users of your beer will de­tect. What they’re feel­ing is as­trin­gency, and while they’re in­cor­rectly de­scrib­ing it (in most cases) as bit­ter­ness, the dis­tinc­tion is im­ma­te­rial from our per­spec­tive. As­trin­gency will en­hance the im­pres­sion of bit­ter­ness, and as a re­sult, we need to ac­count for it even if we’re not ac­tu­ally adding a tra­di­tion­ally “bit­ter” fruit.

Recipe ad­just­ment here is fairly sim­ple: re­duce IBU lev­els from hops. Just how much de­pends on what you’re brew­ing and what else might be present in the beer to help bal­ance it. One rea­son wheat beers are com­mon tar­gets for fruit­ing is that they tend to be light in fla­vor and al­low fruity fla­vors to shine through. But another rea­son is that they tend to be bready and lightly bit­tered, which leaves room in the recipe and on the palate to ab­sorb some fruit bit­ter­ness.

If we’re fruit­ing an IPA, on the other hand, we need to con­sciously re­duce the IBU level to ac­count for added fruit bit­ter­ness and/ or as­trin­gency. In­stead of 90 IBUS in your Grape­fruit Dou­ble IPA, con­sider halv­ing the to­tal and let­ting the fruit take up an ap­pro­pri­ate amount of bit­ter­ing slack!

The ad­di­tion of un­fer­mentable sug­ars (ei­ther through an in­crease in crys­tal malts or di­rect ad­di­tion of lac­tose, for ex­am­ple) can also bal­ance added bit­ter­ness and “re­place” some of the lost pre-fer­men­ta­tion sweet­ness in the fruit.

And if clar­ity isn’t high on your list of pri­or­i­ties, you might also con­sider a flaked grain ad­di­tion to smooth out the mouth­feel.

Sweet (and Hot) Fruit

In ad­di­tion to adding bit­ter­ness, fruit can also add sweet­ness (or, again, sim­ply the im­pres­sion of it). While it’s true that most of the sug­ars we add from fruit are sim­ply fer­mented off, that does not mean that we’re not also adding sweet­ness to the beer. After all, those sug­ars aren’t de­stroyed; they’re con­verted into a va­ri­ety of things, one of which is al­co­hol, which is sweet as well as warm.

Be­fore we even reach that point, though, we need to ac­count for the cre­ative and an­noy­ing ge­nius of the hu­man brain. Our per­cep­tions of the world are not pro­cessed “cleanly”; they’re in­ter­preted by our brains, which are also con­stantly look­ing for pat­terns to en­able us to pre­dict the fu­ture and make de­ci­sions in ways that al­low us to sur­vive long enough to re­pro­duce. You have to love the power of evo­lu­tion.

One side ef­fect of this is that when we are pre­sented with a fruit fla­vor or aroma—even if that mul­ti­fac­eted fla­vor has been bro­ken apart by our fer­men­ta­tion skills—we might per­ceive an el­e­ment of sweet­ness even if it no longer ex­ists. The re­sult, for us, is that fruit fla­vors (whether from es­ters or, as it is here, from ac­tual fruit) might trick drinkers into think­ing a beer is sweeter than it is. This is es­pe­cially true in beers that fea­ture fruits that im­part rel­a­tively lit­tle bit­ter­ness, as­trin­gency, or acid­ity: think apri­cots, man­goes, straw­ber­ries, and the like. In these cases, the im­pres­sion of sweet­ness might

It isn’t only bit­ter­ness that we need to ac­count for: it’s the im­pres­sion of bit­ter­ness. Many fruits (thanks to a va­ri­ety of tan­nins) in­crease the de­gree of dry­ing, tight­en­ing as­trin­gency that drinkers will de­tect. What they’re feel­ing is as­trin­gency, and while they’re in­cor­rectly de­scrib­ing it (in most cases) as bit­ter­ness, the dis­tinc­tion is im­ma­te­rial.

needs to be bal­anced—ei­ther by bit­ter­ness or acid­ity—even though they add no ac­tual un­fer­mentable sug­ars to your beer.

Now, back to the sweet side ef­fect of all that fer­men­ta­tion. Al­co­hol tastes sweet, as any­one who’s ever had a syrupy, vis­cous wee heavy or bar­ley­wine can at­test. When we add fruit, we’re also adding fer­mentable sugar. Ex­actly how much can be de­ter­mined by weight, since we know the rel­a­tive sugar con­tent of most fruits, and many prod­ucts (fruit purees made specif­i­cally for brew­ers or wine­mak­ers) will ac­tu­ally list the added grav­ity points on the prod­uct it­self! Fac­tor this into your grav­ity cal­cu­la­tions when de­sign­ing your recipes. Fail­ing to do so can make a beer that is overly sweet, through the sim­ple ad­di­tion to ethanol.

It can also, of course, make a beer that is painfully hot. There are few sins in brew­ing that are less for­giv­able than a beer that is overly hot and al­co­holic. Sure, there are the oc­ca­sional ex­cep­tions, and there’s no doubt that some beer drinkers want to feel a bit of heat in some styles, but even there we’re talk­ing about warm rather than hot. At a cer­tain al­co­hol level, even a care­ful brewer who is con­sci­en­tious about tem­per­a­ture con­trol and yeast pitch­ing rate and health will reach an ABV that forces his/her yeast to work in a toxic en­vi­ron­ment, and once that hap­pens those well-man­nered yeast cells will start throw­ing off fusel al­co­hols. I know this from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: What was prob­a­bly a well-in­ten­tioned cherry-cho­co­late porter turned into some­thing like bad dessert Sch­napps be­cause the brewer who handed it to me didn’t ac­count for the im­pres­sive sugar con­tent of the cherry pie fill­ing he added to the beer’s recipe. That thing must have clocked in at 14 per­cent ABV.

Recipe ad­just­ment here is fairly sim­ple. Sugar is sugar. Make sure you’re ac­count­ing for all of it! All fruits con­tain at least some sug­ars, and others con­tain quite a lot (ei­ther in their pure form or as a pro­cessed prod­uct, as Mr. Cherry Pie Fil­ing found out), and it’s go­ing to be near 100 per­cent fer­mentable.

As for that im­pres­sion of sweet­ness caused by the fruit fla­vor it­self, sim­ply take care to eval­u­ate your recipe in the con­text of its fi­nal im­pres­sion on the palate. A few additional IBUS may be nec­es­sary, and while you may need to wait and see and ad­just fu­ture recipes based on the organolep­tic analysis of your­self and those who drink/ eval­u­ate your beer, we can some­times get ahead of the curve even in the first at­tempt if we’re craft­ing a beer that is prone to sweet-

ness as a fault: maybe in­crease the bit­ter­ing ad­di­tion on that Mango Sai­son!

In­ci­den­tal Sour Beer

We should also keep in mind that by adding fruit to our beer, we’re also of­ten adding acid. Most fruits are more acidic than most beers, which means that the acid­ity is likely go­ing to be no­tice­able, and it isn’t go­ing away. In terms of brew­ing fruits, there are ob­vi­ously grape­fruits and or­anges, which add a sig­nif­i­cant dose of cit­ric acid. But let’s not for­get about gems such as cran­ber­ries and pomegranates, which are ac­tu­ally more acidic than those citrus fruits. (Also, fun fact about pome­gran­ate: it adds a spe­cific tan­nin that, post-fer­men­ta­tion, causes near-in­stan­ta­neous headaches. Found that one out the hard way.) This is both a bless­ing and a curse.

On the one hand, it means that you can use fruit to add suf­fi­cient acid to cre­ate mock-soured beers with­out the chal­lenges or risks we as­so­ciate with bac­te­rial ap­proaches. It is more than pos­si­ble to reach lev­els of ac­tual and/or per­ceived sour­ness by adding fruit to cre­ate beer that is on par with tra­di­tion­ally soured beers. Or maybe you just want the tart­ness and puck­er­ing that sour cher­ries can pro­vide, es­pe­cially as a way to coun­ter­bal­ance a very sweet recipe.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t es­pe­cially want an es­pe­cially acidic beer, and/or your recipe isn’t bal­anc­ing it suf­fi­ciently. In that case, you have two op­tions. First, you can select fruits that have a higher ph level to be­gin with. There’s no short­age of data to guide you if you’re us­ing fresh/frozen fruit, but I would def­i­nitely cau­tion you to take a look at any in­gre­di­ents that might be added to canned or pro­cessed fruit: it isn’t un­com­mon to have acids added to them, which is usu­ally moot be­cause of the high sugar con­tent, but (of course) we’re go­ing to be do­ing away with the sug­ars!

A sec­ond op­tion is to amend your recipe to in­crease its per­ceived sweet­ness and de­crease its as­trin­gency to re­duce the im­pres­sion of puck­er­ing or tart mouth­feel or fla­vor.

Con­clu­sion Is­sues

We can wrap up by dis­cussing two sig­nif­i­cant “fin­ish­ing” is­sues when brew­ing with fruit. One is­sue is ap­pear­ance: fruit can make a beer cloudy. The other is­sue is con­di­tion­ing: fruit can make a beer ex­plode.

Lots of brew­ing fruits (par­tic­u­larly those noted ear­lier that are rel­a­tively high in bit­ter­ness) con­tain high lev­els of pectin, a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring com­pound in fruit that is found in cell walls. Pectin, when bro­ken free of its shack­les, adds haze to beer, so when we’re adding fruit we’re also invit­ing an ap­pear­ance prob­lem. Ob­vi­ously, if you’re brew­ing a beer where haze isn’t an is­sue (Hefeweizen, New Eng­land–style IPA), you can skip this con­cern com­pletely.

For those who want a crys­tal-clear beer, though, you’ll need to treat your fruit beers to brighten them up. One me­chan­i­cal so­lu­tion is to sim­ply fil­ter your beer when fin­ished, but that will have fla­vor im­pacts that you’ll then need to ac­count for as well! You can also use tra­di­tional brew­ing fin­ings to clear up that fruit beer—gelatin, in par­tic­u­lar, is ef­fec­tive. You can, though, get ahead of the prob­lem by adding pec­tic en­zyme at the same time you add your fruit—this will pre­vent the for­ma­tion of pectin haze to be­gin with! And, of course, you can al­ways rely on the great clar­i­fier: time.

This, though, brings us to another fruit-re­lated is­sue: over time, you may be cre­at­ing (thanks to your fruit ad­di­tion) the dreaded bot­tle bomb or gusher. Not all of the sug­ars in fruit are sim­ple, but they are pretty much all fer­mentable. Those com­plex sug­ars, though, will take a lot longer to con­vert. If you bot­tle your fruit beer and it isn’t con­sumed in a rel­a­tively short time frame (2–3 months), then there’s a chance that the fur­ther con­sump­tion of those com­plex sug­ars will steadily in­crease the pres­sure in the bot­tle.

In its most tame form, this leads to over­car­bon­a­tion, which is still un­pleas­ant, frankly, but man­age­able. At slightly higher lev­els, this over­car­bon­a­tion can re­sult in a “gusher,” with beer pour­ing un­con­trol­lably out of the freshly opened bot­tle as you scram­ble to­ward the sink. If too much sugar is left behind, though, we can get some­thing more dan­ger­ous: a bot­tle bomb. If the pres­sure in­side the bot­tle in­creases to a level that the glass can no longer sus­tain, the bot­tle will rup­ture, of­ten vi­o­lently.

This is no laugh­ing mat­ter. Give your beer plenty of time to fin­ish up when us­ing fruit, and you might even con­sider a metabisul­fite ad­di­tion to shut down any fur­ther fer­men­ta­tion and then force-car­bon­at­ing be­fore bot­tling. Or just put it all in a keg and leave it there!

A Holis­tic View

Adding fruit to your beer is a fan­tas­tic way to ex­pand your fla­vor op­tions and test your cre­ativ­ity. Just keep in mind that we’re adding more than just fruity fla­vors to that beer: we’re adding fruit. So long as you’re mak­ing ap­pro­pri­ate ad­just­ments to your recipe and think­ing in terms of the “whole fin­ished beer,” there’s no rea­son you can’t do so suc­cess­fully!

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