Brewing Fruit Beers at Home Part 1 of 2

by Brad Smith on April 2, 2010 · 9 comments

Brewing fruit beer is not for everyone, but a properly balanced fruit beer can be light and refreshing on a hot summer day. This is part one of our two part series on brewing fruit beer. Beers that include fruit vary widely in taste, style and strength. Whatever the style, a properly balanced fruit beer should not betray the underlying beer – fruit beer is beer with a touch of fruit flavor and not a wine cooler!

History

According to Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing book, fruit beer is a relatively modern invention of the 20th century. He notes that ancient Egyptians referred to the use of dates and pomegranates, but only a few passing references can be found for fruit in intervening years until the 1930’s. Many of the most famous Belgian fruit beers like Kriek started at that time, with Framboise to follow 20 years later.

Fruit beers, like many styles, have enjoyed a resurgence with the microbrewery explosion the last 20 years in the United States. Wheat based fruit beers, in particular, have become popular enough to even be adopted by major US breweries.

Many of these beers contain no actual fruit. Instead they brew a light wheat beer and add artificial fruit flavorings to provide a touch of fruit. Home brewers can do the same thing by purchasing fruit flavoring from a homebrew supply shop and adding an appropriate amount to their beers. Some commercial brews also use fruit extract. This works well for fruits like raspberry and apricots that maintain their flavor after fermentation.

Fruit to Use in Beer

Some fruits fair much better in beer than others. Fruits like uncooked blueberry and peach tend to lost much of their flavor when used in beer. Others like apricot and raspberry hold up well, while cherries fare well but often require extensive aging.

Here are a few popular fruits to consider for fruit beer:

  • Cherries – Traditionally used in many Belgian beers. Ripe, sour cherries are best as they blend well with the malt flavors. Generally a lot of cherry is needed, as much as 2-4 lbs per gallon of beer, which is why many cherry based Belgian beers are expensive. Also, cherry beers sometimes need extensive aging.
  • Peaches – Peach is one fruit that fades when used in beer. Apricot is a good substitute that creates a flavor similar to peach in the finished beer. Peach flavoring is also a possibility if you are determined to have peach.
  • Blueberry – Another fruit that does not hold up well in beer. Some brewers claim that cooked blueberry holds up better than uncooked.
  • Raspberry – Raspberry is one of the best fruits to use with beer. The flavor and aroma hold up well to fermentation, and come through well in the finished beer. The flavor is strong even at a rate of 0.5-1 lb per gallon, making raspberry a favorite of commercial beer brewers.
  • Blackberry – Blackberry, like raspberry, is another great fruit to use in beer. However, they do not come through as intensely as raspberry, requiring a larger usage rate of 1-3+ pounds per gallon. The color also carries over well to the finished beer.
  • Strawberries – Strawberry is generally a poor choice. The flavor, aroma and color fade quickly. If you are going to use strawberry you need fully ripe berries, must use a lot of them (2-5 lb per gallon) and you must drink the beer as young as possible as the flavor and aroma will be gone before you know it.
  • Apricots – Much better than peaches, but produce a peach like flavor in the finished beer. If you want peach flavor, use apricots at a rate of 1.5-4 pounds per gallon. Apricot extract also produces good results.
  • Apples – Produce only a mild flavoring. Generally apples are best used with meads and hard cider as they tend to be acidic in flavor.
  • Other Fruits – A variety of other fruits are less commonly used in beers and meads to include pears, dates, bananas, plums, mangos, pomegranate, etc… Most of these fruits produce only a mild flavor and aroma, though they add considerable fermentable sugars. I’ve had some success with passionfruit and mangos, which both have strong aroma and flavor.

Hopefully you now have some idea of which fruits are better to use in your fruit beer. I find that apricots and raspberries produce some of the finest results. In part two of this article next week we will cover the finer points of designing a fruit beer recipe and the physical process of brewing and aging your fruit beer. Thanks for joining us on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog and don’t hesitate to subscribe or tweet this article if you enjoyed it.

 

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan April 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I am doing a Belgian cherry ale at the moment with two kilos of cherries in a 25L batch of wheat. I expected 2 kilos to be overpowering but it is surprisingly mild.

Angus Graham November 15, 2011 at 11:14 am

Fruit beers modern? Tish! We have documentation for fruit beer in Lancashire as far back as 1666!

Charles February 4, 2012 at 6:08 am

I have fond memories of eating Moule et Frites washed down with Kriek and Hoegaarden in Brussells, as soon as local cherries are available I’ll be making a 5 gallon batch of Lambic.; I’ll take your advice Ryan and use 5kg or so.

Xavier June 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

@Ryan / @Charles – When do you guys put the cherries during the brew process? Second fermentation or already in the boil ? Also, if not in the boil (implying putting them somehwere during the fermentation process), do you cook them or put them raw? Thanks! -X.

Matt Diaz December 17, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Just curious, really how much fermentable sugars are in fruits (for example, blackberries). BeerSmith recipe tool just has Blackberry Extract as a flavoring agent and on the calculator I am low on the OG for the range of beer I am going for. Any rule of thumb type of advice out there?

Seth May 28, 2013 at 4:54 am

I’ve a whitecurrant bush in my garden that produces loads of sour, seedy, translucent berries that I usually have no idea what to do with. I decided that this year they’d be brew bound. Williams Brothers make a nice beer with gooseberries called Grozet and I was hoping that I might be able to produce something similar. Any advice/recipes gatefully recieved.

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