July 28, 2016 by fhsteinbart
Normally this would be a treatise on the sensorineural identification of aromas and flavors from different fruits and their impacts on beer. So instead I’m just going to talk about putting fruit into beer, and giving some general guidelines that I’ve discovered over the years. Now, let’s get into my wayback machine and go back to when the first craft fruit beers hit the market (even though homebrewers did this first!) back in the mid eighties. In my opinion, the first fruit beers were to hide something that was not expected in a commercial beer. Something didn’t go according to plan, and rather than dump a lot of beer, and do all the subsequent filings with all the associated governmental bodies, one intrepid brewer added fruit to their beer, and saved it from a fate worse than death! Now fast forward to the present, and we now have Fruit Beer Festivals celebrating this pseudo style of beer. Fruit can make or break a beer, and the biggest determining factor is the boldness of the fruit versus the boldness of the beer. They have to be attuned to one another or else either the fruit gets lost in all the malt and hops, or they can overpower a delicate beer quite easily. Case in point is New Glarus Red, which is a mighty fine Cherry Wheat Ale from Wisconsin. All those Montmercy Cherries pretty much overpower the Wheat Beer hiding under all those Cherries, but it works because of the sweet and tart nature of the fruit. If they had used Bing’s for example, the beer may have become a flash in the pan one off beer instead of a staple product from great Midwestern brewery. So when you go to make your own fruit beer, consider this: what are the balance of flavors in the malts and hops used? Are the fruits heavy or light? Will the beer maintain it’s balance or no? There will be a big difference between adding Blueberries for example to a Porter than there would be using Apricots, or Peaches. So you’ll have to experiment to find the right balance in order to make a truly great fruit beer. I make a Chocolate Cherry Hazelnut Porter that requires 10 lbs. of Cherries added to 10 gallons of Porter. Five ounces of Cocoa nibs in the keg in a muslin bag will nicely do for the Chocolate part, while a single ounce of Hazelnut extract to maybe an ounce and a half added per 10 gallons will give a nice Hazelnut background character. Of course you can use real Hazelnuts as well, as Oregon is the Hazelnut Capitol of the world! I’ve used as much as 10 lbs. in a 10 gallon batch and it tasted about the same as the extract, with just a hint of smoke from the roasting of the nuts. Once a customer told me that he had 25 lbs. of Quinces, and wanted to know how to incorporate that into a Pale Ale. I suggested cutting down on the early hop additions, and focus more on the late additions of hops, and roast the Quinces like apples (sans seeds as they are astringently bitter!) until they caramelize, then add them at the very end of the boil. He did that and was very pleased with the results, and made another beer, this time an Amber style and had himself a very nice Thanksgiving beer for the Holidays. One of the very best fruit beers I like to brew is an IPA with Mangoes in it, and lot’s of tropical fruit flavored late hop additions like Citra, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Nelson Sauvin. Another thing I like to add to this beer is yellow Curry, but that’s a spice, and fit for another future blog.