It’s probably difficult for most breweries to pursue hard seltzers with real fruit. It may require some different techniques than they’re used to, or it’s going to require different equipment. But essentially, we are taking that neutral sugar base, we are adding real fruit, then getting all the particulate out, and then pasteurizing, so that that product doesn’t referment in the can.
Adding fruit, without a pasteurizer—it might be that you’re leaning on using some preservatives. Or you might just be fermenting it out. For a long time, brewers have been adding fruit and fermenting it out in beer, and you’re still left with a lot of fruit flavor in it.
I think pasteurization has become more and more useful in beer, as we’ve seen with stouts and fruited sours—really pumping that fruit flavor and residual sugar into those. To create a stable product, there are quite a few breweries who are buying, as a starting point, just a small-batch pasteurizer or looking at a flash pasteurizer—or going all the way to a tunnel pasteurizer.
There’s a desire to use real-fruit purees and concentrates because the flavor is better. We’ve gotten really good at using extracts of all sorts. Some extracts are really good. But typically, fruit extracts do not have the richness of the flavor that the fruit itself has. And then you also don’t have the sugars, and a lot of fruits depend on the sugars to actually create flavor.
I’ve heard of people having good results using preservatives, such as potassium sorbate. Some people are on the fence about that, but it’s certainly an option.
Ultimately, if you’re packaging a product that contains residual sugar, you have to be safe about it.
There’s residual sugar in almost every beer, but we know that fermentation has completed, and it’s stable. But if you’re adding sugars after fermentation—whether it be from fruit or whatever—and then packaging, you’d have to treat that the same way people package orange juice or apple juice. You have to either pasteurize it or add preservatives.
You can’t package a product that could have some potential to ferment in the can or in the bottle.
For more perspective on pursuing natural fruit flavors in hard seltzer, see Phil Markowski’s The Road More Traveled.