Getting A Little Fruity

Posted by Darryl | Experimenting, Fruit Beer, Homebrew | Posted on June 17th, 2011

Most of the beers that I’ve brewed since I started last August have been on the darker side; a few different stouts, a porter, ESB, and a scotch ale. My regular “customers” have enjoyed them all, but they’ve started making requests. The most common request was for a style that isn’t high on my personal favorites list; a Weizen. But I do like to accommodate my friends, so I found such a recipe. But because it wasn’t a beer I was looking forward to, I felt it was okay to experiment with this brew, and I’m glad I’m did.

Prepping A Year In Advance
Last year I tried my hand at canning. I had bought an excessive amount of strawberries from one of the local farms and took the opportunity to make some homemade preserves. After all the strawberries were done I still had some extra canning jars that could be filled, so I looked around the kitchen, found some dried apricots and an industrial size container of honey — about a quart really — and preserved the apricots in the honey. I was mostly just experimenting and curious as to how the apricots would end up tasting. If nothing else the jar looked good on the shelf. But after almost a year the apricot/honey jars had gone untouched. When I decided to make the Weizen I also saw a chance to finally empty those jars.

Can You Add Whole Fruit To Beer?
I did very little research into how to add fruit and/or honey to fermenting beer. I figured it was something simple and straight-forward: add fruit during fermentation, let it sit for awhile, enjoy. I did come across a couple of articles that talked about sanitizing the fruit first to ensure that the batch didn’t become contaminated, but I didn’t want to start adding chemicals, and I figured the honey wouldn’t be easy to sanitize. I realized though that I probably killed off anything nasty during the canning process itself; isn’t that part of the canning process? Besides, I was semi-okay if the batch got ruined since I wasn’t making it for myself, so I decided to take the chance and just simply use the apricot/honey mixture.

The Original Recipe
The recipe for the Weizen was “Wet & Wild Wheat (West Coast Style)” which I got from the The Home Wine, Beer, and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills, CA. The grain bill contained carapils, belgian 8L, gambrinus pale malt, and belgian aromatic. Hops included Mt. Hood, Crystal, and Spalt. Rounding out the recipe there’s Alex Wheat Extract and Kolsch yeast.

Brewing & Fermenting
The beer was brewed on February 22nd with a OG of 1.050. After 14 days I added the apricot & honey mixture to my secondary carboy. Although it made quite a mess trying to cram the 3 mason jars of sticky apricot mess into the sanitized carboy, all the apricots and most of the honey made it in. The beer was then transferred into the secondary, at a gravity of about 1.0116 (before it was added to the secondary with the apricot/honey). Other than the simple swirling action of the racking process, I didn’t mix the honey and apricots into the batch. Then the hardest part came…waiting.

Concerns About the Secondary
If you’ll recall, I mentioned that I had used dried apricots. Sitting in honey for close to a year did nothing to rehydrate them, but sitting in the secondary did. After about a week I began to have concerns about the now swelled fruit. How would I get it out of the carboy? (They swelled quite a bit as each piece was about the size of 1/2 an apricot.) Did they soak up too much of the wort and would now deny me some of that liquid when I go to bottle? Perhaps most significantly, they were all floating on the top of the liquid and there was something on them with a very odd color. Is something growing on them that shouldn’t be? Oh well, I had to forge ahead.

Bottling
Around the beginning of May my schedule opened up enough for me to finally bottle. After 9 weeks in the secondary I cleaned and sanitized my bottles, and prepped the batch for bottling with some brewers sugar. A quick measurement of the FG (before adding the sugars) showed it to be, um… 1.0116. I didn’t expect that at first, thinking that the FG would’ve dropped even lower, but then remembered that I didn’t measure after the apricot and honey were added. More significantly, all the honey was gone. At this point I presumed that the yeast had consumed it all, and in turn produced additional alcohol. (Anyone have a good formula for calculating honey to alcohol conversion?)

Also, I was no longer worried about anything the fruit had done in the secondary. The amount the fruit absorbed was nominal, and most didn’t remain in the now swollen but not overly hydrated fruit. Cleaning the fruit out wasn’t difficult at all. Adding water to the carboy seemed to dissolve the apricot-shaped objects and they flushed right out. And what I thought might be growth on them was actually the remnants of the yeast bubbles generated during the yeast’s feast on the honey. Visually it seemed all good.

Tasting the wort wasn’t very encouraging though. The taste wasn’t “bad”, but it also didn’t taste great. It seemed to have less flavor than expected, but also didn’t taste quite like a Weizen either. I knew it would be drinkable, but I didn’t know how much it would improve… or worsen… after bottle conditioning.

Another Wait
Having waited for over 9 weeks just to bottle, I now waited 2 weeks for the bottle conditioning. I had intended to have several friends over for the unveiling along with another brewing session, but a leg injury grounded me to the couch, so it was a limited audience.

I was a little nervous about about cracking that first bottle. Would its taste improve? Would I want to open a 2nd bottle? More importantly, would anyone else want that 2nd bottle?
Thankfully, it tasted good enough that I immediately opened another bottle. I only hard 2 bottles that first night. I didn’t touch another bottle for another 5 days, which gave them a chance to bottle condition even further. After that 3rd week of bottle conditioning I realized that this had become some of the best beer that I’ve brewed. But the best part about brewing is getting the unbiased opinion of others. Or so I thought.

A Happy Disappointment
I hadn’t previously imagined what the worst result could be from brewing a good beer, but I learned what it is: it disappeared quickly. Too quickly. Everyone that tasted it, even those that aren’t fans of fruit or Weizen styles loved it and asked for more. The fruit taste was very subtle, as was the honey. The apricot and honey mated so well with the original recipe that everyone loved it. I had 5 friends over for “big” unveiling and we went through 25 bottles of it, despite me trying to push the stouts. I was very, very proud.

The Future Challenge
Now I’m being asked if I can make it again. This has triggered a whole slew of thoughts of what to do. My biggest concern is time; I want it sooner. How much time can I cut from the process? I’m pretty certain that by monitoring gravity closely I’ll be able to get to bottle faster. My other concern is fermentation temperature though. Right now my primaries and secondaries sit in my garage, where the temperature can fluctuate wildly. Even if I had a chest freezer or fridge to ferment in (I’m checking Craigslist daily) I didn’t record the temperature during the first round. Also, did I just get lucky that the apricots and honey weren’t infected?

I believe I decided to move forward with a plan to make a similar brew, but maybe with a different fruit. I still plan to go through the “canning” process; at least raising the temp of the fruit for a period of time to kill off any nasties that may be in there.

I know it’ll be labor intensive. I know I’m taking risks and simply put I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I don’t care. I started this because it’s fun. I’m loving the science, the simplicity, the labor, and the complexity of the whole brewing process. I’m learning a lot, and I’m getting others interested too.

Bottom line: I’m loving this, and not just for the buzz.

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One Response to “Getting A Little Fruity”

  1. […] I WAS BREWING Awhile back I made my best batch yet: Apricot/Honey Wheat beer. I was making a wheat by request (personally, not my favorite style) and decided to experiment and […]

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