Let Fruit Beer Be Fruit Beer

Long dismissed as gimmicky and relegated to a bit part, fruit beer has never gotten the respect it deserves. Yet the craft of brewing with fruit is poised to enter a golden age, with a bag full of tricks and seeds planted to grow much wider appeal.

Joe Stange Mar 7, 2022 - 15 min read

Let Fruit Beer Be Fruit Beer Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves/

For too long, fruit beer has borne the burden of too many adjectives—too much tortuous explanation for every technique borrowed from a different tradition. Fruited, kettle-soured Berliner-style weisse? Fruited sour milkshake IPA? Come on. That’s just fruit beer—and fruit beer is a beautiful thing to be.

We’re long past the days when it seemed like every brewpub had to make a bog-standard raspberry wheat—the days when brewers were told (cringe with me now)that they had to make one “for the ladies.”

Now, we know better. The beer world has evolved—and so has fruit beer, thanks to a heartier embrace of fruit flavors and greater knowledge about how to achieve them in the brewhouse. Brewers have been trying and teaching each other a lot of tricks over the past couple of decades, and they’re all fair game.

Conceptually, all those tricks are the tools in our communal toolbox. These tools have expanded alongside a shift in what drinkers expect from a fruit beer and, thus, in what brewers are trying to accomplish.


The older, classic approach is to balance the fruit and the base beer—so that the product is a bit of both, compatible rather than clashing, ideally greater than the sum of its parts. That remains valid, and it’s why the classic raspberry/apricot/cherry/whatever wheat beers can still work: a soft backing of grain, low hop character, and clean fermentation profile. That’s also what’s going on with fruited stouts—going for that chocolate-cherry cordial, for example—and with most fruited mixed-culture beers that embrace Brettanomyces or barrel-aging—the fruit getting balance and depth from the funk.

However, I’d argue that the new school is conceptually different. It’s not about balancing the beer and the fruit—it’s about fully embracing the fruit. It’s about putting the beer in total service to it.

These tools are good for either approach. They represent choices, via ingredients and technique, that can emphasize and support your chosen fruit.

In the pages of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine, our writers have gone deep on several of these topics—including how to use fruit, acidification, and the sensory psychology of simulating fruit. Here, I just want to lay out many of the tools we have at our disposal for showcasing the kinds of fruit flavors that please the palate and light up our brains.


For Acidity

Most fruits are acidic to some degree, but the medium of beer can muffle it. Getting a controlled amount of acidity from elsewhere is an effective way to underscore fruit flavors.

Kettle-souring may be the most significant technique absorbed by the fruit-beer Borg. Berliner weisse and gose inspired the method, even if they traditionally relied on re-pitching mixed cultures and probably weren’t all that sour. Give yourselves some credit: It was modern brewers who developed and refined more predictable methods to get clean, consistent lactic acidity without off-flavors. Gone are the days when we’d throw in a handful of grains and likely end up with vomit-like butyric notes. (For all the basics, see “Become a Kettle Sour Expert,”

Acid additions are an easy way to add and control acidity, and you can even blend different acids—mainly lactic, citric, and malic—to approximate the type of fruit you want to simulate. It’s an industrial trick and arguably not very “craft.” Yet if we’re freeing ourselves from traditions to focus on the fruit, it certainly has a place in the toolbox. Whether you use it is up to you.

Bacteria and yeast provide various means of producing acidity. The obvious one is Lactobacillus, which besides kettle-souring (above) can be part of a mixed culture; a moderate addition of bittering hops (say, 10 IBUs) can help inhibit and thus control the acid production. However, an increasingly available route is the use of Lachancea thermotolerans yeast, sold in dried form by Lallemand as Philly Sour. Ontario-based Escarpment Laboratories also sells a locally sourced strain of it as Lactic Magic. This is not bacteria; it’s non-Saccharomyces yeast, isolated from nature, and it produces lactic acid as a by-product of fermentation. Usefully, the acidity is moderate—gently tart. No need to fuss with kettle-souring or constantly purging with CO2—just pitch the yeast as you normally would and ferment warm-ish (68–75°F or 20–24°C). Escarpment also recommends adding sugar—specifically, dextrose—because Lachancea consumes it to produce lactic acid. Thus, a sugar addition of anywhere from zero to, say, seven percent becomes a lever to adjust the acidity. Two other things I like about this strain: First, unlike Lactobacillus, it won’t kill your foam; second, hops don’t inhibit it—so if you want some bitterness, you can have it. Note: The yeast are a bit pokey, often taking up to two weeks to finish fermenting.


For Sweetness

Sweetness also helps to evoke fruit—and not only fresh fruit, but also the desserts, jams, juices, and wines we associate with it.

Lactose is an increasingly common (and arguably overused) tool in the modern brewer’s kit, adopted from the milk-stout tradition. Its usefulness is in providing a residual sweetness that brewing yeast won’t eat into dryness. It also adds body and certain smoothness of flavor and mouthfeel. It can accentuate dessert-like flavors; in moderation, it can do the same for fruit. Too much can quickly cloy, with an unpleasant character that I associate with nondairy creamer, baby formula, and milk replacer for cows.

Vanilla isn’t sweet on the palate, but our brains strongly associate the aroma with sweetness. It can help push cherry and blueberry, for example, if added at levels where you don’t know unless you know. (Start with adding a small amount during secondary, with a short extraction time, and taste as you go.) Used with restraint, it can hint at fruit cobbler. Too much, and your cobbler is drowning in ice cream—or worse.

The mash and grist provide many ways to adjust sweetness, from temperature to grain choices. A high mash temperature can add sweetness and body—as well as malty flavors that might distract from the fruit. Long popular is a healthy portion of wheat, which has a soft, relatively neutral flavor, although it can also be slightly lemony. Some malts have fruity flavors of their own; could a light touch of Special B help give plums or cherries a nudge?


Pasteurization is an option that deserves attention. The problem with adding fruit in large quantities is that it brings more fermentable sugars to the party. The safest route is to let them ferment—but then you lose that fresh, juicy sweetness. An option at home is to simply not let it ferment—i.e., crash it, keg it, and drink it soon. On the commercial level, flash pasteurization is a surprisingly common way to lock in those sweet fruit flavors—and according to some brewers, even enhance them—while eliminating the risk of exploding cans or bottles. Leaving lots of fermentable sugars in the package is dangerous—just don’t do it. If you need disincentive, to avoid the risk of bodily harm, just think of the mess.

Artificial sweeteners are beneath consideration.

For Aroma and Flavor

Let’s not forget the part where you want your beer to smell and taste like fruit.

Real fruit is how we get there. But in what form? There’s a whole spectrum; the most “craft” choice is whole and macerated. Canned puree and juice are not as taboo as they once were; they’re also aseptic and dead easy to use, and the flavor can be excellent. Another question is when to add—the usual answer is secondary fermentation, but adding on the hot side can produce interesting results. Besides the type of fruit, the form, and timing, another fun variable is quantity. These days, many brewers aren’t shy about adding truckloads of puree. Making a smoothie-beer like that taste good is not as simple as you might think—remember those adjustments for acidity and sweetness, plus considerations for mouthfeel, carbonation, and fermentation/safety. At what point the drink stops being a beer and becomes a fruit cocktail that happens to have beer as an ingredient is an interesting semantic question for a few of us. Most won’t care.


Flavor extracts are tempting to dismiss, and yet there they are—another tool in the box. We’re now in the realm of dark arts. Relying on extracts alone is unlikely to taste good or convince anyone. On the other hand, a light touch can encourage reluctant fruits. When I was planning a blueberry beer—more on that below—and pondering how to give its notoriously shy aroma a nudge, one pro brewer recommended extract. For those who have cursed yourselves with an ethos, it’s worth remembering that you can make your own extracts at home—essentially, just leave a bunch of fresh, crushed fruit in a jar full of vodka for several weeks.

Hops can be fruity, in case you’ve just arisen from a 40-year nap. Especially in recent years, the profiles of newer varieties have moved increasingly fruit-forward. That’s especially true with citrus and tropical notes—but if you can think of any fruit, it’s probably a descriptor for some hop variety out there. For my blueberry beer, I eschewed extracts and asked around about the blueberriest hop. I settled on Mosaic, adding some at flameout and dry hop, just before packaging. Without smelling too “hoppy,” it was enough to give the imagination a nudge toward fruit.

Yeast also can produce esters to underscore fruit. For example, Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire is one that can give subtle stone fruit such as apricot a bit of a lift without adding distracting phenolics the way a fruitier Belgian strain might. This takes trial and error; the safer route is to go with a cleaner yeast strain and let the fruit itself do most of the talking.

For Mouthfeel & More

These are the precision instruments.


Salt is one we’ve bastardized from the gose tradition because it works beautifully in small quantities to complement fruit flavor—it seems to add juicy depth and body while softening the overall profile. (If the beer tastes salty, you’ve gone too far.)

Dextrins add body and a sense of heft, if desired, without more than an impression of sweetness or malty flavors. There are several ways to add them, including higher mash temperatures, maltodextrin, and dextrin malt (such as Briess Carapils).

You get the idea. Throughout the brewing process, there are nearly infinite places you can make tweaks and adjustments that can emphasize or complement your fruit flavors. The trick is in choosing the tricks that work best for you.

Keeping It Simple: My Own Modern Fruit Beer

One inspiration for this article was seeing various brewers come up with increasingly awkward descriptions of what their beers are supposed to be. (Maybe “fruit beer” doesn’t sell as well as “sour milkshake IPA,” but I don’t sell beer. I just try to write true stuff.)


The other spark came when Oregon Fruit offered to send us some cans of puree at roughly the same time that Lallemand sent some Philly Sour yeast to try out. I had dabbled in fruit beer—there was one with farm-picked blackberries and Brett that became vinegar, and we shall never speak of it again—but it wasn’t really my thing. Yet the timing of the puree and yeast seemed fortuitous. So, I scaled back my rustic ambitions and started from scratch.

Taking a cue from Berliner weisse, I went with a 50-50 grist of pilsner and wheat malts. I wanted it light and dry, so I mashed relatively low. I added dashes of Mosaic at mid-boil and at flameout for light, balancing bitterness and some fruity flavor. I pitched the Philly Sour yeast and fermented it at ambient temperature—68–72°F (20–22°C). Then I forgot about it for a few weeks—just left it alone, because I am lazy—so it was only later that I learned that some brewers were experiencing slow and stuck fermentations. Mine fully fermented to about 3.5 percent ABV, and it had an easygoing, quenching, lemon-curd tartness.

Now for the fruit: I split the 10 gallons in half—one half got passion fruit, the other blueberry. Each five-gallon batch got two cans—that’s 98 ounces, roughly 2.8 kilos—of Oregon Fruit puree. I let that ferment again before I crashed—dry-hopping the blueberry one with a bit more Mosaic—then kegged and carbonated.
Even with the hops, the blueberry was too subtle—but balanced and refreshing. The passion fruit was the bigger success, with its brighter yet effortless fruit flavor and aroma.

It was an easy crowd-pleaser, and I aim to make more. And when anyone asks what style it’s supposed to be, I’ll take a little pleasure in shrugging and saying, “Just a fruit beer.”