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

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Fruit in Beer -

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.”

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