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This week I take a look at the brewing of very high gravity beers to include styles like Barley Wines and extreme Imperial Stouts. These beers require somewhat special handling as it can be hard to achieve the very high starting gravity and a good fermentation, and in addition they often require extensive aging. Very […]
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This week I look at methods to reduce oxygen in your finished beer. Oxygen is known to negatively impact beer flavor and long term stability. While oxygen is widely used at the beginning of fermentation to aid in yeast growth, the yeast effectively scrubs virtually all of the oxygen out of the beer during fermentation. […]
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A top seller at last weekend’s GABS Festival Sydney was the delicious 6.5% Braupakt Blonde Ale collaboration brew between Germany’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephan and their Belgium neighbours, St Bernardus! The good news for beer connoisseurs is that it’s been restocked for GABS Brisbane and Melbourne this June.
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While I love the pure expression of malt, water, hops, microbes, barrel, and time... fruit can make a fantastic addition to a barrel-aged sour. From a "sales" standpoint it is also easier to explain the difference between beers with fruit, than those with subtle differences in grain bill or microbes. Most people know they like cherries, plums, and raspberries... they may not know they enjoy horse blanket, minerality, or rubbery notes. 

This is the third in a series of posts updating my thoughts from American Sour Beers ten years ago. The two beers featured below (Jammiest Bit and Fruit of Many Uses) were both part of the first shipment of the Sapwood Cellars Out of State Shipping Club. Memberships for that shipment are closed, but you can still sign-up now for the next shipment fall 2024 ($146/shipment including shipping). Bottles of both are still available at the tasting room!


Sourcing Fruit

I would almost always rather use fresh in-season local fruit over a puree, juice, freeze-dried, concentrate, and especially natural extract. Local produce tastes unique, meaning a beer that doesn't taste the same as one brewed on the other side of the country or by a larger brewery. You'll get a more complex character from having beer in contact with the stems, skins, pits etc. Working with farms, orchards, and vineyards "fits" the narrative of an artisanal product... making it look good on social media too! Not to mention our fruiting tanks (without conical and glycol jackets) work best with whole fruit rather than purees.


Talking directly to farms and orchards at farmer's markets is a great place to start. Tasting things, chatting about what sort of capacity (and excess) they might have. Sometimes you can get a good deal on seconds... but for me these often aren't worth it since it can take a lot of time and effort to sort them (going rotten before they are all ripe) and cut-out mold etc. 


We've used IQF (Individual Quick Frozen) fruits several times with great results. For smaller batches I've just gone to supermarkets, found a product I like the flavor of... and bought out a couple locations. Online specialty purveyors like Northwest Wild Foods have weird things you might not find locally, like honeyberries. For lager batches we've ordered from Coloma Frozen Foods, but don't do it regularly as refrigerated shipping is expensive. Recently we've been getting our raspberries from Twin Springs Fruit Farm (which freezes their own). Using high-quality frozen fruit is something great lambic breweries do, and it allows to extend the fruiting season so you don't have to have enough tanks for all of your fruit beer at once!


That said, not all fruits are available locally. You can certainly source whole fruits from a good local produce supplier (and we have), but purees have their place too... especially in "smoothie" type sour beers. That said, there is no magic bullet on sourcing them. We've used Oregon Fruit, Greenwood Associates, Kerr/Ingredion, Asceptic Fruit Purees, Hop Havoc, Boiron, FruitGuild, and Araza. None of them are "always good" and none of them are always bad. It's often about preference. For example, Oregon Pineapple is thin, closer to juice, great for an IPA where you'll drop out the solids. Araza Pineapple is much thicker, perfect for a smoothie sour. Both taste great. 


Frozen wine grapes are another great option, either juice or must. Again, I love working with local vineyards (Crow Vineyard and Winery has been especially nice to work with), but that isn't always an option! We've had good luck with Grapes for Wine and Wine Grapes Direct


The only concentrates I've enjoyed are "freeze" concentrates (the wild blueberry and raspberry from Greenwood Associates are great). I've disliked the flavor of all of the standard high-concentration "boiled" concentrates which end up tasting like caramel, and are so thick that they are difficult to mix with beer. Granted, after an early batch with concentrates from Kerr we really haven't tried any more. On the other hand, Kerr's NFC (Not From Concentrate) raspberry juice was terrific, so I suspect the issue was the concentration. 

Freeze-dried fruit can be a pretty good option for tropical fruits like mango. I've yet to find a mango puree that didn't taste cooked. The freeze-dried stuff tends to have a brighter "mango popsicle" flavor. It can be pricy, but there is a lot of flavor pound-for-pound. North Bay Trading generally seems to have the best bulk pricing. 


Processing

We have a chest freezer at the brewery so we can keg fruit when it is ready, but not necessarily have to go onto it immediately. Freezing the fruit also helps break the cell walls allowing better/quicker contact and refermentation. Just make sure to line your freezer with cardboard so the bags don't stick to the interior. That's all we do for berries. Freeze them, let them thaw in the tank, then transfer beer on the next day.

When it comes to larger fruits (e.g., stone fruit like peaches and nectarines) we'll manually quarter them and discard the seeds/pits. In an ideal world we'd selectively process and freeze the fruit on a flow basis as it reached peak ripeness.

I've never had good luck with fermented citrus, so for limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit we use the zest. We use a Starfrit Electric Rotato Express. It struggles a bit on really large grapefruits, and we go through a couple a year as they just aren't sturdy enough for a "production" environment. 


There is some science that cherry stems have glycosides that Brett can work on to free fruity aromatics... but in practice I find they add a "stemmy" flavor that reminds me of dried leaves. I like the pits though. Obviously nice to find a source that has your preferred processing so you don't have to do it!

However you process the fruit, purge the tank with CO2 thoroughly before transferring beer in. This will help ensure the brightest, freshest, fruit expression possible!


Reyeasting

We usually repitch rehydrated (with StartUp/GoFerm) wine yeast along with the fruit to ensure a rapid refermentation, scavenge oxygen, and enhance the fruit character. While our sour beer production area has "light" HVAC, we don't have jackets for our fruiting totes (Flextanks). As a result, we'll change our yeast depending on the seasonal temperature. Usually using more heat-tolerant red wine strains in the summer, and cool-loving whites in the winter. 

We also add a small amount (5-7 PPM) of hop extract to prevent additional acidification if the beer is already sour enough for our tastes. See my article on hopping sours for more details.


Fruit Contact Time

I've slowly come to be an advocate for relatively short contact time, enough to ferment out the sugars, but not much more. This is especially true of raspberries (which develop a "seedy" flavor from extended contact). I've also heard strawberries as a quick-contact to reduce the phenolic "plastic" flavor they can develop. Although I've also read that can be varietal specific, and others claim freeze-drying can help mitigate. 

If I'm aging a beer on raspberries and another fruit that I prefer longer contact, I'll do that separately in two totes. That way we can keg off the raspberry after 10-14 days, while the cherries, wine grapes etc. have a little more contact time (1-2 months). They we blend them together. This could also be accomplished sequentially by racking the beer off of the raspberries and then onto the cherries. 


Separating Fruit and Beer

Our Flextanks have stainless steel filters from Utah Biodiesel Supply fitted over the racking arms with stoppers. A false bottom would likely work even better, but with a slow transfer we haven't had many issues with whole/pieces of fruit. The lone one I remember causing havoc with chunks of frozen mango that totally disintegrated. 

Second Use Fruit

With all the time and effort of getting the fruit and processing it, we often try to get a second beer out of it. Second use fruit is more subtle, allowing a more "beer-forward" balance. You could likely get similar results from ~25% of the fruiting rate, but second use fruit is easier (and free)!


We'll often just push in a single keg of sour beer onto the fruit from a whole batch to "rinse" it. This gets a big fruit character and it's an easy way to make a unique one-off

We'll do a whole new batch onto especially high fruiting rate beers. For example when we did 4 lbs/gal of raspberries in Throwing Hearts with Other Half, we went onto the fruit with a sour red along with vanilla beans to make Galactic Swirl.



For Fruit of Many Uses, we racked the beer sequentially into each tote after a previous beer. Getting Chardonnay grapes (from Field Learning, our Bissell Brothers collab) before going into barrel, followed by raspberries, then cherries (both from Jammiest Bit), and white nectarines (Polite Company). 

We haven't tried it, but I know some brewers who will knock-out fresh wort onto spent fruit as a way to get fruit flavor along with a strong house culture. 

No matter your technique, be extra mindful of limiting oxygen exposure as you won't have refermentation to scavenge oxygen.

Jammiest Bit

Barrel #71 Golden Strong #3 (Pils, 2-row, Chit, Wheat malt, and Flaked Wheat to 1.056 with aged Celia and Lemondrop pellets). Primary fermentation with 58W3 and some microbes from a blend of older barrels that was primarily Yeast Bay Mélange (but also various dregs from Oxbow, Jester King, and Backacre). Then aged 17 months in a second-use Malbec barrel. The culture in the barrel itself was originally derived from a De Garde bottle. 

Barrel #36 Marylambic #7 (Weyermann Barke Pilsner, Flaked Wheat, and Chit to 1.044 with .5 lbs/bbl aged East Kent Goldings). Primary fermentation T58. Then aged 13 months in a third-use Pinot Noir barrel. The microbes in the oak were originally from dregs from two Floodlands bottles. 

Racked into two totes one with 150 lbs Twin Springs Raspberries and the other with 150 Baugher's Orchard Sour Cherries. Both frozen and thawed. Each received 10 g of HopSteiner Alpha Extract, and fresh 71B for refermentation. 


Tasting Notes

Smell - Mix of fresh berries, raspberries more than cherries. Not a hugely complex funky or "Brett-forward" beer, but there is a little lemon and hay Barrel character is hidden behind the fruit as well. 

Appearance - Crystal clear, brilliant red-purple. Light-pink head fizzles quickly, but stays as a thin covering.

Taste - Cherries come through more on the palate. Good fruit intensity, still really fresh/vibrant. Firm acidity, slight sharpness from the malic acid of the cherries? Again not an especially complex or funky beer, but it’s a showcase for good fruit. The Baugher's cherries without stems seems to have been a good choice. A bit sweet which lends a more Flemish Red lean rather than Lambic or Saison.

Mouthfeel - Medium-high carbonation. Medium-light body. 

Drinkability - It grows on me as I drink it and my palate gets used to the acidity.  Good blend of fruit, bright flavor, I just wish the base beer was a little more interesting. 

Changes for Next Time - Wouldn’t mind depitted cherries to make sure we are getting good extraction.

Fruit of Many Uses

Base Beer: Belgian Pale #3

78% Murphy & Rude Virginia Pilsner

18% Murphy & Rude Wheat Malt

4% Murphy & Rude Vienna Malt

OG 1.047

.5 lbs/bbl 5-year-old Australian Summer Hop Pellets

Primary Yeast Lalvin 71-B

Microbes from Chardonnay Grape tote (originally a Bissell Brothers house souring culture they sent for the collab).

Then aged in a third-use Cabernet Sauvignon (microbes originally from Modern Times House of Sand) and Barrel #41 fourth-use merlot barrel for 11 months (microbes in barrel included East Coast Yeast Senne Valley, Bokkereyder dregs, Mad Fermentationist Saison, Casey, and Afterthought dregs)

Racked sequentially onto 150 lbs Twin Springs Raspberries, 150 Baugher's Orchard Sour Cherries, and 250 Twin Springs White Jade Nectarines. 


Tasting Notes

Smell - The berry leads, more cherry than raspberry. Earthy hay, candied fruit salad. The nectarines and grapes don’t shine in the aroma, but they help to send it in a direction that isn’t one-note “berry.” Almost apricot brandy as it warms. I don’t taste anything off from the pits, seeds etc. 

Appearance - Carbonation seems a little low. A hard pour results in only a two-finger white head. A few bubbles rising through the pale body. Good clarity. 

Taste - Pleasantly tart lemony acidity, without being harsh. The nectarine comes through more distinctly on the palate. Finish is berry again, but light, bright, and juicy finish. Non bitterness.

Mouthfeel - Medium carbonation, could be spritzier. Smooth, no astringency. Light body, without being thin. 

Drinkability - Really complex with the different fruit notes coming in and out of awareness. 

Changes for Next Time - The Chardonnay is mostly lost, would be a better feature in a plain beer or maybe light dry hopping. 

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