Fruited style beers I.
There is nothing more refreshing in the summer heat than a good fruit beer. However, there is huge variety not only in the fruits that are used, but also in the beer styles used as a base. A complex topic for sure, and pretty long too, so I am going to split it into two chapters.
Let's start with the fruit itself! I don’t mean the variety, but the method of adding said fruit into the beer. Craft brewing gives us plenty of opportunity to experiment, and that is partly the reason why so many methods developed over the years.
For those outside of the industry, the easiest method may seem to be to just use fresh fruit; indeed, that’s how traditional Belgian fruited lambics are made. The best-known example is the sour cherry infused kriek. The fresh fruit is added to already aged lambic, where its sugars, flavors and aromatics leech into the beer. It is a simple and reliable method; however, it only works with a minority of beer styles due to a significant drawback; microorganisms. Many people don’t know this, or don’t think about it, but the air around us is full of microorganisms, and these critters are also present on all surfaces, including the peel of fruits. Of course, with a good wipedown many of these microbes can be washed away, but not all of them. Some of these microbes can thrive in beer - bacteria, yeast and mold mostly - where these organisms will cause spoilage. During a normal brew, these contaminants get killed off by the initial wort boil, however the fresh fruit is added after this process takes place, during the aging process. The key to create a fruited beer in this manner is choosing the fermentation method. In case of lambics and the ever more popular farmhouse ales brewers use naturally occurring microorganisms to ferment their wort, and the bugs in the local air tend to be the same as the ones on the fruits’ skin.
However, if we are not looking at a spontaneous or mixed fermentation beer, this approach is simply not feasible. Of course, one can try to disinfect the outer skin of fruits, but this is far from an economical process and it is also not reliable on a commercial scale.
That’s where processed ingredients come into play; purées, concentrates, aromas. Craft beers are often regarded as extra-premium products; however, it is not that hard to find budget breweries trying to mask their inferior products as high-quality examples. Cutting costs results in a decrease in the quality and quantity of the ingredients used.
The simplest way is to use some kind of aroma. In some cases, the usage of high-quality natural aromas can be validated - in case of nuts for example. But you have to understand that even the highest quality aromas lack a huge array of compounds the real fruit would add to the beer; fermentable unrefined sugars for example. Due to this, the final product often lacks the complexity and depth you would assume from such a highly regarded product category as craft beer. It only makes things worse that cheaper, often artificial flavorings are also available, that impart a distinct, uncanny taste to the beer. It is hard to pinpoint, but I think all of us had the experience at some point, where you can either not fully taste the fruit in a drink, or have something extra, an unpleasant aroma or flavor to it.
The other, also less than fortunate option is to use an old-fashioned concentrate. These are produced using the “old-school” method of boiling off moisture, and often contain additional ingredients like extra sugar, or flavor enhancers. The core of the problem is the transfer of heat; while cooking the pulp helps with microbiological stability, it also gives the fruit a distinct, cooked taste. This is not an issue with a jam, however in a fruit beer you want to be able to taste the fresh fruit. Still, overly sweet fruit beers have their marketshare, just look at the industrial sour cherry lagers that are so popular in Hungary these days. My personal opinion is that a sour cherry beer loses all of its meaning as soon as it becomes sweeter than it is tart. The fruit itself is sour, so the beer should be too, but that’s not the case with these stabilized and often sweetened drinks. But that’s just my opinion, feel free to drink them if you enjoy them. But let us turn back to the original topic! The drawback of concentrates is the fact that the flavor and aroma profile of the fruit is turned upside down. Their upsides are the low costs, ease of handling and the guaranteed sterility; brewers don’t have to worry too much about introducing contaminants to fermented beer. But what can we do, if we want to showcase the full spectrum of flavors and aromas of a certain fresh fruit? Well, there is a solution!
The new generation of fruit concentrates alleviate all previously mentioned problems! First of all, you can think of these products as freshly ground fruit purées. Whilst the water content is reduced, this is done with high tech equipment, using technologies like vacuum evaporation on aroma capturing. The resulting products contain all of the important parts of the fruit, without adding a cooked taste. And they are also considered aseptic! These same ingredients are used by high-end fruit juice manufacturers, and in their smell and taste they are really close to the fresh fruit they were made out of. In fact, I can say this from my own experience; at Fehér Nyúl we use the highest quality concentrates, and we also consume them on a regular basis; we just add a little bit of water to the residue left in the containers, and voila! Freshly squeezed mango juice for every thirsty brewer!
Have you decided on the addition method of your fruit? And what kind of beer would you put them into? Let us explore this part of the question in the next chapter!