Are you ready to fruit or spice your beer?

by Brewing beer

Alabama House Bill 9  (HB9) is the current incarnation of legalizing homebrewing for Alabama home brewers. Since Mississippi passed a law legalizing homebrewing in March of this year (goes into effect July 1st), Alabama is now the only state in the entire union where making beer is illegal. Homebrewing is actually a felony in Alabama! You can’t even legally sell homebrewing equipment in Alabama.

Alabama has a history of getting close, but can’t ever seem to cross the finish line. Last year the homebrewing bill got to about the same point. HB354, as it was called last year, died in the Alabama senate.

As far as homebrewing laws go, this one is very restrictive. This bill only allows you to brew 60 gallons a year, compared to the federal limit of 100 gallons per person and 200 gallons per household. If that wasn’t enough, you can only have 15 gallons in your house at any time. There are times where I’ll brew 20 gallons in one shot, so the 15 gallon limitation seems excessive to me. And if you happen to live in a dry county in Alabama, you’re out of luck no matter what happens to the bill.

This beer would put me over the quarterly limit in Alabama for this year. (10 gal + 10 gal earlier)

This beer would put me over the quarterly limit in Alabama for this year. (10 gal + 10 gal earlier)

Even with these restrictions, you have to wonder why they can’t pass the law. Well you don’t have to wonder too hard. It’s the Baptists.

One big opponent (if not THE opponent) of Alabama homebrewing is Alabama Citizen Action Program (ALCAP). Once you’re on their site, you only have to reach the second sentence before the words “bible” and “moral compass” get tossed around. There’s no surprise there, and it’s nothing new. They do provide other “reasons”, which are more entertaining than the usual bible quotes.

Homebrewers can’t self-regulate

The argument goes like this. The law only allows 15 gallons of homemade beer, wine or cider per quarter (3 months) and only 15 gallons ever in your home at any time. But homebrewers are already making beer in Alabama, so according to ALCAP, they will ignore the new law as well. The only way to enforce it is to have police raid your home, something even ALCAP didn’t feel comfortable with. Still it makes you wonder. If people will ignore laws no matter what, why pass laws at all?

Think of the children

Oh you knew this reason would be here somewhere. Apparently having large amounts of homemade alcohol (15 gallons) would be too much of a temptation for children. ALCAP’s argument is if children try beer because it’s more accessible, they will try other “mind altering” drugs. Since children see their parents drinking, it would be hypocritical for the parents to challenge their child’s new drug habits. For some reason, this effect doesn’t work if it’s a store bought can of Budweiser.  Homebrew has special evil powers to corrupt children that regular alcohol is missing.

Homebrewers will want more

Previous Alabama homebrew bills had a 100 gallon limit to match the federal limits. This bill was slashed down to 15 gallons to appease critics like the ALCAP. Their “fear” is future bills will request higher amounts to brew and store, maybe even as much as 100 gallons (*gasp*). Well I’d have to say they are correct on this one. 15 gallons is unreasonably low, and should be challenged. There are no limits on the amount of beer you can purchase and store in your home. Why is homebrew more “dangerous”?  Oh yeah, special evil powers — I keep forgetting.

Homebrew makes alcoholics

Again for some strange reason, homebrew will take well-educated, chuch-attending citizens down a dark path to alcoholism, but regular store bought canned beer will not. ALCAP states “they [sic- homebrews?] begin by drinking socially and they gradually begin to drink more and more, until they find themselves addicted.” I guess they are assuming new Alabama homebrewers don’t drink beer now, and this new hobby will somehow make them alcoholics? Or again, homebrew has special evil powers which store bought beer does not possess.

These are the main reasons they highlight on their website on why you should oppose HB9. They also provide other laugh inducing reasons like the urban legend vodka tampon and butt chugging, and all the usual bible quotes in other parts of their website.  They state they are [the self appointed] moral compass for Alabama, and they have guide on all the other things you shouldn’t do.

If you’re in Alabama, you need to call your state senators and tell them YES on HB9. I really don’t want to be writing another article about how you’re close to passing it again next year.

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!

A good spiced or fruited beer is an amazing thing.  When the beer is off however, the beer is really off.

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.


Key Limes work great in Belgian Wits

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.

single hop

Hops are still required in fruit beers, but you want to add just enough to balance the beer. Too much will clash with the fruit flavor.

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.

mandarin orange hefeweizen

This Mandarin orange hefeweizen added a nice orange hue to my basement ceiling, racks, bottles, etc...

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.