Brewing With Fruit: The Best Ways For Adding Fruit Additions To Your Beer

sour grafefruit craft beer

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There used to be a time when the thought of adding fruit to beer was unheard of. But not any more.

Just about any style of craft beer from wheat beers to porters and stouts can be enhanced with one or more of the many different fruit flavorings.

Certain fruits go better with specific beer styles, but finding the right combination and the best pairing is all part of experimenting when you are brewing your own beer.

Table of Contents

Popular Fruit Additions For Homebrew

Any fruit you see in the produce section at your grocery store could end up being part of your next great home brew. These fruits are best when they are ripe and in season.

For those fruits that are not readily available or not in season, most of the time you can find these in a puree, which are made specifically for brewing beer and wine.

Here is a short list of popular fruit additions you can use on your next brew day:

  • Raspberry
  • Peach
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Cherry
  • Apricot
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Pumpkin
  • And many more

When To Add The Fruit To The Beer

Getting the most aromas and taste from the different fruits will depend on when you when and where you add them. You will find that adding the fruit at different times will change the overall characteristics of the fruit flavoring.

  • The mash
  • The boil
  • Primary fermenter
  • Secondary fermenter
  • The keg

1) The Mash

For all-grain brewing or brewing in a bag, you can just cut the fruit into large chunks or pieces and add it to your grain bill during the mashing process.

The flavors and the sugars of the fruit will mix with your grains and then will be drained as part of the wort. Any bacteria that was possibly on the fruit will be eliminated during the wort boil.

If you want to experiment with adding fruit to the mash, make sure you don’t use fruit purees, concentrates, or juices.

2) The Boil

Adding different spices and adjuncts during the wort boil is a great way to add flavor to the beer, but adding fruit directly to the wort or boil is still not the preferred way.

Pieces of fruit can be put in a grain or muslin bag and steep in the hot wort for at least 30 minutes, similar to a tea bag. The steeping temperature of the wort 160° to 170°F will still kill any bacteria that might be on the fruit

You can add the fruit towards the end of the boil to retain more of the fruit flavor, but at boiling temps (212°F), the fruit will release pectin which can cause the beer to become very hazy and cloudy. There are pectin enzyme additives that can be used to help reduce the haze.

Also keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables will taste much different after they are cooked or boiled, compared to when they where fresh. This could have a big impact on the overall taste of the beer, and might not be what you are looking for.

The only time you would add fruit during the boil would be if you were making a pumpkin (yes pumpkin is a fruit) beer. If you are extract brewing, you just add it to the brew kettle with about 15 or 20 minutes left in the boil.

If you are making an all-grain pumpkin beer, you can add the pumpkin directly to the mash.

3) Primary Fermentation

Many homebrewers like to add the fruit to the primary from the very beginning of fermentation.

Adding the fruit at this time will most likely cause a more vigorous fermentation because of the natural fermentable sugars in the added fruit.  Just make sure you have enough headspace, and a blow-off tube should be used instead of an airlock.

The main drawback with this method is a significant loss of the aroma and flavor from the fruit during this aggressive fermentation period.

Since most of the sugars from the fruit will be eaten by the yeast, there is a chance the finished beer could be more tart or bitter than what you were expecting because most of the sugars were fermented out.

4) Secondary Fermentation

From my experience, adding the fruit during a secondary fermentation is the preferred method for most homebrewers because you get the best aroma and flavor profile from the fruit.

You also won’t get that “cooked” fruit flavor because the fruit won’t be subject to any heat.

Since the primary fermentation has just about completed, there is less chance of your beer developing off-flavors from the yeast and a much lower risk of infection. 

Although there are still some contamination risks involved when adding the fruit to a secondary fermenter, the alcohol in the “young” beer will help protect from bacteria.

How you add the fruit is your choice. You can add the fruit to the secondary vessel first and then rack the beer on top. Or you can transfer the beer first, and then add the fruit while gently mixing to avoid adding any oxygen.

Depending on the fruit you are using, you will leave the fruit in the beer from 3 to 7 days. After a week or so, the fruit will have extracted most of its sugars and flavor, so leaving it on any longer won’t have much of an effect.

Adding a few pounds of fruit to your secondary vessel will add to the volume of beer, but you will also lose some of the volume when you transfer for conditioning.

Even though fermentation has completed, adding more sugars to the beer can start another fermentation stage, but not as vigorous as it would be in the primary.

If needed, you can add  Potassium Sorbate at the same time when adding the fruit. The Potassium Sorbate won’t kill the yeast, but it won’t reproduce any more cells and will go dormant.

5) Straight into the Keg

If you are kegging your beer, you can also add the fruit right into the keg which will also give you a very strong fruit profile to your beer.

Keep in mind that the fruit will collect on the bottom of the keg which can clog the dip tube and beer lines.

If you are committed to adding the fruit the the keg, it is best to use a muslin steeping bag or a stainless steel fine mesh filter. You can also use the filter for dry-hopping too.

What Form of Fruit Should You Use For Homebrewing?

The fruit you choose to flavor your beer can come in many forms.

There are basically four different types of fruit additives:

  • Extracts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Frozen fruit
  • Fruit puree

Extract Flavoring

Using various fruit flavoring extracts is probably the most simple and easiest way to add some fruit flavors to your beer. The best way to use the extract is to add it to the entire beer batch before bottling or kegging.

The extracts are clear and don’t contain any pulp, so you won’t get any extra sediment in the beer. Unfortunately, many of these extracts contain artificial flavorings that won’t have the same taste as using fresh, frozen, or fruit purees.

In fact, using too much of a concentrated extract can make the beer taste like candy, or even cough syrup.

Many of these extracts come in 4oz or larger bottles, but it is highly recommended to start with an ounce or two and give the beer a taste, then add more if needed. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

If you have a certain recipe you really like, adding a drop or two of extract could give that same beer recipe a whole different flavor profile.

If you brewed a traditional wheat beer, a little bit of extract flavoring could make a delicious blueberry wheat, raspberry wheat, peach wheat, or any other flavor you choose.

Fresh Fruit

Using fresh fruit is the ideal method for many homebrewers because of their intense flavors and sweetness. But a specific fruit isn’t always in season and might not be readily available when you are ready to brew.

Fresh fruit can taste great in a beer when it’s in season, but it also comes with more prep-work before you can use it. The fruit must be washed thoroughly and peeled and seeded.

fruit basket

Also, fresh fruit can contain small amounts of bacteria that isn’t enough to hurt you when eaten, but the bacteria and wild yeast can multiply in the warm wort and cause some unwanted off-flavors in the beer.

Frozen Fruit

You can buy bags of frozen fruit at the store, or you can freeze your own fresh fruit. The fruit should be organic or packaged without any additives or preservatives.

If you are wanting to freeze your own fresh fruit, it should be peeled, seeded, and any leaves or stems should be removed before it is cut into pieces and frozen.

Freezing the fruit will cause the water molecules to expand and help break down the cell walls, which will mix with the fruit and extract more flavors.

When you freeze the fruit, it will kill some of the bacteria, but not all of it, so freezing is not an acceptable way to sanitize the fruit. When you are ready to use, make sure to thaw the fruit before adding to the beer. The cold fruit can shock the yeast if it isn’t thawed first.

Fruit Puree

The last type and is my personal preference is to use a can of fruit puree like Vinter’s Harvest. Unlike fresh fruit, these fruit purees are are always available all year

The fruit puree is already pasteurized and ready to go. The only thing you need to sanitize is the can and the can opener. The puree also doesn’t contain any seeds or skins, so it can be dumped into the fermenter right from the can.

Just be careful not to transfer the fruit puree to the bottling bucket or keg when it’s time to condition and carbonate the beer.

How Much Fruit Should You Use When You Brew?

How much fruit you use is entirely up to you, depending on what fruit you are using and what kind of beer you are brewing. There is a rule of thumb you can follow as a guideline, but how much you add comes down to what you are looking for.

A good starting point is to use 1 to 2 pounds of fruit for every 5-gallons of beer.  But not all fruit is created equal.

Certain fruits like peach and apricot are very subtle and a 5-gallon batch of beer could easily handle 6 to 9 pounds of fruit to get a nice fruit flavor without covering up the actual beer characteristics.

Then on the other hand, raspberries are much stronger and won’t require as much. Using just one can (3 lbs) could be more than enough for 5-gallons of beer. Any more than this could take away all the beer flavor and just make it taste like a fruit drink instead of a beer.

And of course the color of the fruit will have a direct impact of the beer. Although the color of the beer will change when the fruit is added, some of the color can fade during the bottle conditioning period.

Final Say

Every time you brew beer, especially when brewing new recipes, there will always be trials and errors involved when trying to design the perfect beer.

And adding fruit is a learning process too, that is why brewing your own beer is so cool.

Because there are different times when you can add the fruit, as well as the type of fruit you use, it might take you two or three times to get that desired fruit enhancement you were looking for.

So you can make adjustments the next time you brew, always take good notes about what kind of fruit you used and the amount in relation to the batch size.

Happy Brewing!

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