Fruited style beers II.
In my previous blogpost we went over the technological side of adding fruit to beer, so now it is time to look at the different beer styles suitable for this addition. Let’s begin!
The most common fruited style is perhaps radler. This mixture of a simple lager and a sparkling lemonade originates from Germany, where at first the two parts were mixed on site. It is very common to find examples of pre-mixed canned radlers in the portfolio of big, industrial breweries. These „beer-mixes” are not real fruited beers, in fact they are not even considered beer by law, at least not in Hungary. Still, depending on the quality of the ingredients used, you can find very decent examples of this drink, with 0.0 to 2% alcohol by volume. I would look out for ones that were made using real fruit concentrates and natural flavorings only.
Spontaneous fermentation and mixed fermentation ales using fresh fruit are exceptions as well. I have covered these in the previous part of this post, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The thing to remember is this: in case of beers fermented with a single yeast culture, the addition of fresh fruit dramatically increases the risk of infection, resulting in premature spoilage. It is worth noting however, that homebrewers can and should experiment with fresh fruit additions. Methods that would be unfeasible or too costly on an industrial scale might be suitable for the kitchen. A quick blanching of the fruit followed by an ice bath could be enough to determine the fruit „clean enough” for a homemade beer that will be consumed in a short amount of time. It is possible to use this method with any beer styles, but if you are concerned with the shelf stability, or if you want to confidently give away bottles of your own beer (instead of hand grenades waiting to explode), it is a good idea to look for a style that are high in alcohol content and/or have been soured. Stone fruits go well with Imperial Stouts, Doppelbocks and Baltic Porters. Think of peaches and plums. Berries and citrus fruits pair well with already tart or sour beer styles. But of course, homebrewers can experiment with more susceptible beer styles as well, if the hygiene of the cookware is impeccable, and if they don’t mind the occasional ruined batch. It can be interesting to pair tropical fruits with wheat beers, but one of my personal favorites is the combination of sour cherries with a Czech dark lager base.
Now let’s see what craft brewers are doing! We already discussed that in most cases the fruit enters beer in the form of a concentrate in most cases, but what are the styles that dominate the fruit beer scene nowadays?
For a long time, low quality sugary concentrate infused lagers dominated the Hungarian craft beer market’s fruited segment. It is still a common sight to see boards advertising „kivi beer” and „strawberry beer” at low-end beer festivals, with vibrant, artificial-looking colors and a mediocre taste. Conscious consumers should stay away in my opinion.
It is highly recommended to turn towards high quality products, where a more diverse and complex array of styles can be chosen! Of course, there are more to choose from in the case of blonde beers. Fruited IPAs are very popular these days. Modern hop breeding programs are focused on coming up with strains that produce aromas and flavors of a huge variety of fruits. Citrusy, stone-, and tropical fruit flavors are very common in IPAs and NEIPAs, so it is easy to understand why fruit additions could complement such a drink nicely. Using a high-quality concentrate during fermentation can help with emphasizing the hops’ character, but one can also achieve a contrast between flavors. For example, we added sweet cantaloupe and tart maracuja to a NEIPA called Sweet Melony, which had a hop profile dominated by tangerine and coconut aroma.
I also have to mention pastry and milkshake ales. Usually, the base of such a beer is a simple pale ale, into which brewers add lactose and fruits. It is more common to see perhaps with beers of this nature the use of flavorings, which can be problematic. You see, in high concentrations milk sugar not only gives body and texture, but flavor as well, which paired with the narrow spectrum of flavorings can result in odd, not so harmonious beers. However, if the recipe is developed properly, and high-quality ingredients are used, a creamy, silky and pleasantly fruity ale can be achieved.
Sour beers might be the most common examples of craft fruit beers. What started the trend is probably the style Berliner Weisse; this low ABV sour wheat beer is traditionally poured on a fruit syrup, like raspberry. The direct evolutionary step is the so called Florida Weisse, where fruit is added during fermentation. Similar in concept are the gose style of beers; a salty sour wheat beer, traditionally brewed with spices like coriander. In the new age of brewing, the spices are usually left out in favor of fruit additions. Think citrus or berries; something that is already acidic in nature. I personally prefer sours when looking for fruit beers, because of the very refreshing, light base beer can act as a blank canvas for the fruit to shine on.
A very special branch is the so-called Smoothie Sours. In these cases, the base recipe often resembles that of a Berliner or a gose. Huge amounts of lactose and fruit pulp are added to the fermenter. Whilst the styles that it originates from tend to be quite dry, in the case of smoothie sours the exact opposite is expected. Mildly sweet, very creamy and also really challenging from a production standpoint, with the correct know-how and adequate preparations extreme examples can be achieved.
And of course, I must mention dark beers as well! The first Fehér Nyúl beer that I remember drinking was a raspberry infused Black IPA called Cranachan. The notes of dark chocolate pair great with certain fruits. This is true not only in the case of Black IPAs, but also with porters, and stouts. In case of the higher ABV styles it might be worthwhile to try adding dried fruits during the long aging process. When it comes to easy to drink, less alcoholic styles like dry stouts or dark lagers, going for tart, refreshing fruits like sour cherries or blueberries is the way to go!
Whatever we decide, let us not forget that fruits are just one of the many ingredients that go into making a complex beer. Before setting the method of delivery and the variety of the fruit, first think about what we want to achieve with the final product, and tune the parameters accordingly. Do you want a refreshing tartness in a light summer ale, or perhaps would you like to add a sweet, pastry profile to a Christmas dessert beer? There is a solution to every problem, we just have to know what we want exactly!