Wild-fruit Beers

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Jeff Melo of Boot­leg Bi­ol­ogy of­fers tips on find­ing and us­ing the right fruit to act as your fer­men­ta­tion agent.

Find­ing and pick­ing fruits with enough nat­u­ral yeast on them and adding them to your beer is a great way to not only in­fuse fla­vor but also add a lo­cal bent to your next recipe. We spoke with Jeff Melo of Boot­leg Bi­ol­ogy in Nashville for his tips on find­ing and us­ing the right fruit to act as your fer­men­ta­tion agent.

RIPE FRUIT HAS QUITE A com­mu­nity of yeast and bac­te­ria on the skin, and there­fore, it’s ideal for fer­ment­ing your next fruit beer, be it a stan­dard recipe, a lam­bic style, or some­thing you’ve been sav­ing for that bar­rel in your home­brew­ing kit, says Jeff Melo of Nashville’s Boot­leg Bi­ol­ogy, a yeast lab. Lam­bic is a nat­u­ral thought, but for folks try­ing to use fresh fruit for the first time or for those who want to see what fla­vors and nu­ance the pro­duce pro­duces, Melo sug­gests grav­i­tat­ing to­ward a Pil­sner or a wheat­malt base be­cause it “gets out of the way and lets the fruit be re­ally ex­pres­sive.” When you look at lam­bic pro­duc­ers, they want a cer­tain beer pro­file that will show off, not cover up, the fruit. The same is true with many of the com­mer­cial ex­am­ples of fruited beers on the mar­ket to­day. When think­ing about the fruits to use, try to match color with color, as best as pos­si­ble. Cher­ries work well with darker-malt base beers. Peach and apri­cot com­ple­ment a lighter malt bill. What you see com­mer­cially will work for home­brew­ing. Look for fruits with del­i­cate skins—blue­berry, rasp­berry, and black­ber­ries— and mac­er­ate them be­fore adding them to the beer. Squish­ing and get­ting the skins bro­ken are key so that the yeast on the out­side can get in con­tact with the sug­ars on the in­side. Find­ing the right fruits to use is as sim­ple as go­ing to the yard or by the road­side, but it’s im­por­tant to know the source and to make sure there aren’t resid­ual pes­ti­cides on the skin. Be­cause of that, it’s usu­ally best to avoid fruit from farmer’s mar­kets un­less you can as­cer­tain from the farmer that no pes­ti­cides were used.

Do­ing a safe fer­men­ta­tion and putting the beer in an anaer­o­bic en­vi­ron­ment in a car­boy with an air­lock to make sure CO2 is pro­duced can help elim­i­nate bad bugs, says Melo.

Be­cause we’re pick­ing fruits, there’s an as­sump­tion—at least by many first-time brew­ers—that the end re­sult will be a wild beer. Not so, says Melo.

“Home­brew­ers are sur­prised when they get a clean-tast­ing beer with wild fruits,” he says. “Sac­cha­romyces cere­visiae is the num­ber-one wild yeast in our lo­cal yeast project cul­tures. It’s on flow­ers and what­not, and it’s adept at work­ing with sim­ple sug­ars so it takes over quickly, re­sult­ing in a clean-tast­ing, 100 per­cent wild fer­men­ta­tion.”

“Ev­ery­one who came up in the beer world heard the sto­ries of lam­bic fer­men­ta­tion and the story be­hind how those are made. More and more, as sci­en­tific ev­i­dence be­comes avail­able, it’s be­com­ing clear that Bret­tanomyces is rare in na­ture, so it’s some­thing that these his­toric brew­eries have cul­ti­vated and cu­rated. So, it’s why you find Brett in lam­bic brew­eries, as op­posed to the first time you might try [brew­ing] a fruity beer.”

“The yeast, for me, is the star of the show. When you’ve made a dozen dif­fer­ent beers or beer styles with a prod­uct that is agri­cul­ture-fo­cused, wild yeast can be ex­pres­sive, and you have beau­ti­ful lay­ers, thanks to the mi­crobes.” —John Holl

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