Once upon a time, fruit and beer were distinctly different. You chose your beer based on your preferred style – IPA, stout, porter, pale ale, etc., and then based on the strength that you wanted, followed by other tangential things like the hops used in the brewing process. Today, you have those options, but more and more breweries are jumping on the fruit-flavored wagon, as well.
What’s with Fruit?
To be clear, fruit has always had a place in brewing, although it has faded from view in the US market with the ramifications of Prohibition and the stranglehold Big Beer has had on the industry for decades. If you take a look at any traditional brewing history outside of the US, you’ll find fruit used here and there. Lambic beers are a prime example of this, but you’ll find many others if you dig around in international brewing history very much.
The use of fruit gives brewers the means to tap into not just seasonality by using fruit that’s in season within their particular area, but to deliver something refreshing, crisp, lightly sweet and different from non-fruit beers.
So, what beer can be made with fruit? Well, really, the sky’s the limit. It’s probably most common with paler beers, such as IPAs and pale ales, but you’ll find fruit used with darker variants as well. Think coconut porter as a prime example, or blood orange stout.
How Is Fruit Added to Beer?
Adding fruit to beer can be done in a number of different ways depending on the brewer’s budget and needs, the style of beer, how the beer will be served and other factors. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these options and how they work in the wider scheme of things.
Extracts – Extracts are either natural or artificial and provide a concentrated fruit flavor. There are extract versions of most fruit types out there, although the quality varies considerably from brand to brand.
In most instances, extracts are the cheaper option – a way to add fruit flavor without the cost involved with fresh fruit, or the complications that can arise from the introduction of additional sugars to the brewing process. Extracts can be high quality, but are not always and can be used in conjunction with real fruit to increase the amount of flavor and/or aroma in a finished beer.
Puree – Purees allow brewers to add fruit to their beers without having to deal with the whole fruit itself (skins, seeds/pit, stems, wild yeast, etc.). Think pie filling – that’s probably the closest example.
Purees are generally more costly than extracts, and using them is more time consuming, but often provides more “real” fruit flavor than what is possible with extracts alone. Again, purees can be used in conjunction with extracts and other fruit options to increase flavor and aroma in the finished beer.
Actual Fruit – Rarer than extracts and purees, actual fruit can be quite a challenge to use in brewing beer. There are several reasons for this. One of those is the fact that actual fruit flavor depends greatly on sugar and when that sugar is combined with yeast, the little beasties consume a great deal of it.
This means that a significant amount of fruit must be used to achieve even a small amount of flavor in the finished beer. There’s also a greater chance of contamination with wild yeast when using actual fruit and the brewer needs to take greater care when matching fruit to yeast flavor profiles and hops. This is because there’s a more delicate balance between all of these elements, without any single one truly dominating the beer.
Hop Pairings – In many instances, the fruits used in a beer tie directly to the flavors associated with the hops. For instance, Motueka is known for its lime flavor, so why not pair it with a little lime zest in the brewing process? Azacca is known for its pineapple flavor, as another example. These are just two options from an ever-growing list of hops that deliver unique flavors and aromas.
What Styles Work Best with Fruit?
Really, there’s no hard and fast rule that says only certain beer styles can be brewed with fruit. One of the driving forces behind the US craft beer scene is innovation and a commitment to doing things differently, which includes adding fruit to things that you might not otherwise have thought would benefit from them. With that being said, some styles do benefit a bit more from fruit and fruit-based blends than others.
Radler – A radler is a German style beverage that combines lager and lemonade. It was originally served to bicycle-riding merchants to quench their thirst without inebriating them. Today, radlers can be made with almost any type of fruit-based beverage.
Weiss – Weiss beers are tart and crisp, which pairs quite well with many different types of fruit. However, the beer needs to be balanced and the fruit cannot be too forward, or it will overwhelm the delicate taste.
Wheat – Wheat beers benefit greatly from the addition of fruit and you’ll find examples available from both craft brewers and craft-like brands, such as Shock Top and Blue Moon. Wheat beers generally pair well with citrus fruits, but can also be good options for pairing with some stone fruits, like cherries.
Stout – Stouts don’t have to be dark and brooding, dominated by roasted grains and burnt coffee flavors. They can be paired with a wide range of fruit options, from the aforementioned blood orange to many other options.
These are just a few basic examples of the styles where fruit can be used quite well. Really, almost any beer style in the world can pair quite well with fruit. What about your own experiences? Is there a particular fruit beer that you love? One that you hate? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below.