Start with a good base beer
Make sure you have a good recipe to start with. Fruit or spice beers are like making a house. A poor foundation means the house won’t stand. The same is true for beer. If your beer has off-flavors, the fruit or spices will not improve the beer and could possibly make it worse. If you’re adding fruit to improve your beer flavor, you might want to think again.
Lose the hops
Hops usually do not mix well with fruit or spices, especially flavoring and aroma hops. The grassy flavor clashes with other flavorings. You’ll want to remove your flavoring and aroma hops from your recipe.
You will want to back off the bittering hops as well. You want to make the beer a bit sweeter than normal to stand up to the fruit. Usually you should remove about 10% of the bittering hops from the recipe. If the fruit you are using is really sour, you might want to reduce your bittering hops as much as 20%. You are using the sweeter maltiness of your beer to balance the sourness of your fruit. This works for spices too.
Make an extract for some spices
There are many good extract flavorings (not fruit extracts, see below) you can find at the store. I use vanilla extract at kegging to get a fuller vanilla flavor in my beers. Sometimes you won’t be able to find the extract you need and you’ll need to create your own.
For example if you want to flavor your beer with some vegetable, you might try soaking the vegetable in vodka for a week first in a sealed jar. Use vodka because the spirit is very neutral and has little flavor. This method works great with chili beers (yes, I know chilis are fruits-anything with seeds is a fruit). After a week or so, the vodka should be infused with the flavor you desire.
Not only is this a good plan for flavoring the beer in general, it is also great for controlling your late flavorings. If you didn’t get the flavor you wanted in the secondary, you can always add more flavoring. You can create an extract of the flavor and then add it to your beer in controlled amounts until you get the flavor you desire.
Don’t use too much
Do not go crazy with the spices, it is easy to do. You want the flavors from your adjuncts, but you do not want the spices to overpower your beer and taste like a spice rack. Your best plan is to add less spices than you think you need late in the boil. Then after the first fermentation, taste the beer. If you need more spice, add a bit and try it again in a few days.
Using the homegrown extract method in the previous section, you can fine tune the spice flavor. You can add a little flavor, taste, and repeat until you dial in on the perfect flavor.
Another thing to consider is the number of spices. It might sound like fun to add half a dozen spices to your beer, but it might be very difficult to pick out each spice when drinking the beer. Too many spices will remove the beer flavor. Remember, you are making beer with spice flavoring not spices with beer flavoring.
Add to the secondary
Add your fruit to your secondary. You will lose less fruit flavor, color, and aroma if you add it after your primary fermentation. Adding fruit at the secondary allows you the opportunity to sample the beer before you add the fruit to detect any off-flavors, lets you control the amount of time your beer sits on the fruit, and you can be less concerned about bacterial contamination from the added fruit.
Add spices at the end
Add spices at the end of your boil, usually between 15 minutes and knock out. You add the spices late in the boil for the same reasons you add fruit in the secondary – to preserve the aromas and flavors of the spices. If you boil the spices too long, much of the aromatics will boil off.
Using pectic enzyme
Pectin is a carbohydrate found in fruit. When you heat pectin, it tends to gel. This is how you make jams or preserves. This is great if you’re making something to put on your toast, but it can make a beer cloudy like orange juice. The pectin causes two problems in your homebrew.
The first is pectin makes your beer cloudy. This is entirely cosmetic, and if you are making a cherry stout or cranberry porter you won’t see it at all. The second problem is if you are filtering, the pectin gels and makes your filtration almost impossible. Not all fruit has the same amount of pectin. Strawberries, pears, and apricots have low amounts of pectin, cherries and raspberries have a medium amount of pectin, and apples or citrus fruits (oranges, etc) have high amounts of pecin.
Add pectic enzyme to get rid of the haze. The pectin enzyme will increase juice yield by breaking down the cellular walls of the fruit and will help with flavor extraction.
Don’t use fruit extracts
Cherry extract tastes like cough syrup, and not the good kind (if there is possibly a good cherry cough syrup). Orange extract can taste like Tang or baby asprin. When you’re choosing a fruit flavor for your beer, avoid using fruit extracts. The flavors rarely come out like you hope, and they almost always taste artificial. There are some extracts which are good, but more often than not it will taste horrible. Personally I don’t like to chance it.
The only reason I can think to use the fruit extracts is if you didn’t get enough fruit flavor from your fruit and you want to “kick it up a notch”. You might try adding a bit of acid blend first if you can taste the fruit flavor, but you’re just missing an extra “tartness”. You might actually have enough fruit flavor, but the acidity is not low enough to have the fruit tartness.
Watch out for the fruit volcano
The best time to add fruit is in the secondary. Crush your fruit to a pulp or use fruit puree. Put the fruit into your secondary and then rack your beer on top of it. Make sure you use a blow off tube or rack to another fermenting bucket. The yeast from the fermentation will chew though your fruit like a tornado through Kansas. If your airlock gets clogged, it can create a dangerous situation. In best case you will find half of the fruit on the ceiling (really bad if you used raspberries), and worst case your fermenter will shatter.
Some fruits are more equal than other fruits
Some fruits are much stronger than other fruits. Keep this in mind when you are deciding how much to add to your beer. 10 pounds of strawberries might give you a hint of strawberry, but 10 pounds of sour cherries might remove all beer character from your brew.
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