Since fall is around the corner, and many fruits are in season this time of year, I thought I would shed some light on brewing and using fruit in beers.

Let me start with the variety of fruit forms brewers use.

Fresh. Fresh fruit arrives in raw form from a supplier. Then it’s ground up. The juice and the pulp are added to the tank and aged with the beer.

Puree. This is the juiced version of the fruit. A little thicker than basic juice, it’s an all-natural liquid form added during the brewing process.

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Dried fruit. Adding dried fruit to the beer — especially post-fermentation — is a great flavor addition option.

Juice. This is basically adding fresh fruit juice, such as orange juice, to a keg and blending to taste.

Adding the fruit

Brewing with fruit is fun and challenging. There are a several ways to add the fruit to the beer. What forms are used and when they’re added all depends on the recipe. Let’s go over a few examples.

First, adding fruit to the mash or the boil. This means adding fruit along with the grain at the very beginning of the brew. (The mash stage is when we mix the water with the grain, and heat it up to begin extracting sugar to be fermented into beer.) Adding fruit at this time is fairly rare, and the results are subtle. One advantage, though, is there is no chance of contaminating the beer from bacteria on the fruit itself because of the boil. Also, some fruits have such strong flavors (like grapefruit) that adding them so early in the process makes for a nice balance in the finished beer.

Adding fruit at the end of the boil is another option. This allows 15 or fewer minutes of contact time. Certain additions such as zest of fruit (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit) really pop when added at the end of the boil. I have also had really good luck adding honey at this point.

Fruit additions in finishing. Once beer has fermented, it is usually moved to another tank called a brite tank. This tank is for beer that is about ready to be served. Typically, brewers carbonate the beer in the brite tanks and then move on to packaging. Adding fruit at the finish is a preferred method.

Cherries, for example

As it is harvest time soon, let’s use cherries as an example fruit and see how it works. At our brewery, I use the same cherry supplier from Door County in Wisconsin. I’m lucky to say I have worked with these great folks for more than 20 years sourcing some of the best cherries.

Immediately after harvest, they ship them in a cold truck to Duluth. We use a large industrial immersion blender to macerate the fruit. We add the fruit juice and the pulp in large muslin bags to the tank. Racking the beer (this means moving the beer into the tank) on top of fruit yields the most flavor transfer. Eight hundred pounds of cherries underneath a nice brown ale makes for quite a flavor explosion, for example.

The fruit is left in contact with the beer for 10-14 days. We taste the beer every day (yes, big job perk) until we determine that the ageing is complete. Then the beer is pulled off the fruit and put into another tank. We let it rest and clarify for a bit, then carbonate it and serve it up. Sometimes an amount goes into barrels to age or is blended into other beers to make something fun.

One last method

Keg infusions. This last method of adding fruit is pretty awesome. When a beer is finished and ready to serve, small amounts are racked into kegs that house fruits (and other fun flavor ingredients like peppers, coffee, etc.). This is really fun because it takes a small amount of fruit to make great flavors, and we can highlight a multitude of flavors and beer-style combinations. Also, because of the small batch size, we can change it up often.

The hope is that the fruit flavors do not overwhelm the beer flavors, although to be fair, that can be good. I once wrote about beer for people who don’t like beer. A good fruit beer can charm just about anyone, and there are so many great options out there. I’d love to hear about your favorites or stories about fruit beers.

Happy harvest and enjoy.

Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.