By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The use of various fruits in beer has become a commonplace in the brewing world. Almost every brewery produces a beer with fruit in some shape or form. Of all the different fruits that are available, the most widely used are those from the citrus family. There are several reasons that citrus is heavily utilized, but one important factor is that those fruits have flavors that are mirrored in certain hops.
In brewing, the most commonly employed citrus fruits are grapefruits, lemons, limes and oranges and all of these feature two major components: the zest and the juice. When the peel is grated down to the pith, which is a whitish layer that’s very bitter, the resulting zest can be a flavorful and aromatic addition to a brew. Meanwhile, the juice of the flesh can be very acidic and not add much to the overall flavor. However, if you want to use the juice, be sure to test the pH of your wort. It should be somewhere between 5.2-5.5 — getting it closer to 5.2 will help with fermentation.
Naturally, using fresh fruit is best. But if that isn’t an option, most homebrew supply stores will have dried lemon, bitter orange and sweet orange peels. These components can add subtle notes to a beer. And while going over the top can be fun, remember that there’s no going back once the fruit has been added. The only way to soften the blow of too much citrus is to blend the beer.
Citrus is easy to turn to because it’s available year-round. But deciding which fruit to use in this family can prove challenging. For the most part, there are not wrong styles when making a fruit beer. What’s important to consider is how the flavors will play together. Virtually every commercial brewery has a citrus IPA or pale ale on the market, so that might be a good place to begin your experimentation. But if you want to go bold, perhaps you try out a chocolate blood orange imperial porter. Whatever path you choose, there are a few more guidelines regarding the use of the zest and juice.
Just like with hops, the zest has delicate oils that will evaporate if added too early to the boil. They may also get lost during primary fermentation. But incorporating the zest or the juice in stages can help round out the flavor profile and lead to a balanced finished product. The ratios of zest and juice will vary based on what fruit you’ve selected.
Once primary fermentation has occurred, you can taste your beer to see if more fruit flavor is needed. Adding raw zest directly to your secondary as if you were dry hopping is one method to give the brew a boost. You can also give your beer doses of extract, which you can make. Simply pour clear alcohol that’s more than 100 proof into a Mason jar and add the zest of several citrus fruits to the liquid. Allow the mixture to sit for about two weeks sealed at room temperature. Add that to the beer for a fresh zest punch.
Shandies and Radlers
If you’re interested in making a warm-weather appropriate shandy or radler, typically you’re not going to ferment the juice with the wort. These drinks are more commonly a 50/50 mixture of citrus juice and a finished beer. Though some people use the terms “shandy” and “radler” interchangeably, the meaning may vary depending on what region on country you’re in. Either way, both beverages mix beer with something other than beer.
An easy way to experiment with shandies and radlers is by combining one of your favorite homebrews with a touch of citrus juice. Keep adding the juice until you feel like it’s balanced. This will prevent you from risking an entire batch on what may end up being an undrinkable brew. Just remember, homebrewers are the mad scientists of the beer world. No brew is ever a failure. It’s merely another opportunity to perfect our craft.
Zesty Lass Grapefruit IPA [AG]
Zesty Lass Grapefruit IPA [Extract]
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