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Fruit Without Fear: Embracing Natural Inoculation

Borrowing a page from winemakers, some brewers are pitching freshly picked fruit instead of slurry, taking advantage of the natural yeast and bacteria on their skins—a process that requires a leap of faith and the best, ripest fruit you can find.

Jeff Alworth Mar 2, 2023 - 10 min read

Fruit Without Fear: Embracing Natural Inoculation Primary Image

Alesong believes that using locally harvested fruit, picked only at peak ripeness, produces better fermentations with naturally occuring yeasts. Photos: Courtesy Alesong

On a sunny fall morning 11 years ago, I drove from Milan to the tiny village of Marentino, just east of Turin. The nearer I got, the denser the vineyards, until my rented Renault was scooting along the ridges of rolling hills where the only interruption to the rows of Barbera grapes were hilltop castles. My destination was Valter Loverier’s LoverBeer, a small brewery known for its subtle wild ales.

That afternoon, Loverier introduced me to an under-explored process of wild inoculation: using clusters of those grapes growing just outside his brewery to inoculate wort. He believes he’s the first modern commercial brewer to pitch the skins of fruit as a medium of natural yeast, and I’ve found nothing to disprove the claim. He got the idea, no surprise, from nearby vintners who use the same microorganisms to ferment their wines. It didn’t take long for him to dose a batch of wort—and he even fermented it in a small foeder, so that the culture would remain to re-inoculate future batches.

A few years later, I learned that Oregon brewer Jason Kahler was doing the same thing to make his cherry and peach beers. His brewery, Solera, is in the hills below Mt. Hood amid vast acres of fruit—in his case, orchards of pear, apple, cherry, and peach. It remains an obscure practice (perhaps it only occurs to brewers sitting in the middle of flowering fields of fruit?).

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