One of beer’s most remarkable aspects is its versatility. On top of the fundamental ingredients of water, grain, yeast, and hops, a brewer can add almost any extra ingredients (unless you’re in Germany, where there are literal brewing laws about what you can put into beer). Ingredients found in beer today include fruit, chocolate, coffee, nuts, waffles, cookies, spices, cocoa, marshmallows, breakfast cereal, toffee, and so much more. This is not to say that WE use all of these ingredients, just that brewers, mainly in the United States, have really been pushing the limits of what can be added to beer.
But before us wild Americans started pouring Cheerios into our mash tuns, the Belgians were adding all sorts of unconventional ingredients to theirs. These extra ingredients, labeled “adjuncts” in brewing terminology, included mainly fruits and spices. And the Belgians used these unconventional ingredients to create delicious, subtle, and complex beers. It’s this tradition that we, at Allagash, built our brewery around. Our flagship beer, Allagash White, is brewed with coriander and Curacao orange peel, in fact.
Of all these diverse ingredients that a brewer can (but maybe shouldn’t in the case of waffles or cookies) add to beer, fruit is the oldest. Below, we’ll take you through the most widely used ways that fruit gets into beer.
In the case of Farm to Face, we add fresh peaches to our beer.
AGING ON WHOLE FRUIT
Our preferred method of adding fruit to beer is adding fruit to beer. Whole fruit, fresh-picked, never frozen, from a nearby farm or orchard. First, you’re getting the pure flavor of the fruit, just the same way it’d taste picked fresh off of the vine.
In most cases, the fruit we add to our beer is picked in a nearby orchard and added onto our beer in a matter of hours. Our relationships with local farms like Doles Orchard or Goss Berry Farms makes that possible. The other reality is that most of the beers we’re adding fruit to are sour or wild beers. Which means they have additional bacteria added to the beer that makes it tart.
When we’re making a fruit beer, yeast and souring bacteria also actually lives on the skin of fruit. These wild, naturally occurring additions bring another layer of distinct flavor to our tart beers that we couldn’t add any other way. It’s true that aging a beer on fruit takes time to get the correct flavor: our beer usually ages on fruit for somewhere around four months in most cases. It also means that there’s quite a bit of physical labor involved for certain fruits. In our sour peach beer Farm to Face, our brewers and production crew get together for a couple of days to core all the thousand pounds of peaches that we need for that one beer. That being said, nobody in our brewery wouldn’t tell you that the waiting and extra effort is totally worth it.
EXAMPLE: Farm to Face – A sour ale made with fresh, whole peaches grown at Applecrest Farms in New Hampshire
ADDING FRUIT DURING THE BREW
Like we mentioned above, we add dried Curacao orange peel while we brew Allagash White. Adding fruit in this way serves another purpose than adding whole fruit. In our brewing process, we’ll add dried fruit as a way to add depth to our beer’s flavor. And if you’ve ever enjoyed an Allagash White, it’s not likely that you remarked on its notable orange flavor—and that’s the point.
The orange peel rounds out the flavor in a way that you’d miss if it weren’t there, but can’t exactly put your finger on when it is. This is purely intentional and it speaks to the balance we seek in all of our beers.
EXAMPLE: Allagash White – Belgian-inspired wheat beer made with coriander and Curacao orange peel
ADDING FRUIT CONCENTRATE / WHOLE FRUIT PUREES TO BEER
Concentrate is whole fruit that has its skin and seeds removed, a bit of the water content removed (concentrating the fruit (get it?)), and is then pasteurized. This keeps the fruit flavor intact, but it does remove the ability to add that extra hint of wild yeast and bacteria from the fruits’ skin.
Another ingredient, similar to concentrate, would be whole fruit purees—also know as aseptic purees. These are literally what they sound like: pureed whole fruit, pasteurized and packaged as a liquid.
The benefit of using concentrate or purees is pasteurization. It means that the brewer can add that fruit at a different part of the process and not have to worry about any unwanted bacteria making its way into our beer. Adding fruit later, after the boil, means that more of the pure fruit flavor gets into the beer. In the case of our Little Grove beers—where we’ll be using blackcurrants in one and peach on another—we do want a detectable trace of fruit flavor, on top of the flavors added by the beer’s yeast, grains, and hops.
EXAMPLE: Little Grove Blackcurrant – a slightly tart, bright, and light ale made with blackcurrants.
ADDING FRUIT FLAVORING OR EXTRACTS
In our experience, the method of adding after-the-fact fruit extracts or artificial flavoring to beer is not the most worthwhile road to go down. The positive aspects of these methods are that they’re simple, consistent, and require very little extra quality control measures. The downside is that the flavor is just not going to be the same as what you can attain from other methods. We don’t plan to ever use these methods to flavor our beer, but we absolutely understand that other breweries find value and success in this method.
With all of these methods and ingredients at a brewer’s fingertips, there’s no limit to the number of different beers that can be produced. We hope, next time you enjoy a fruited beer, that you pause to appreciate the hard work and careful decisions that went into getting that fruit flavor just right.