When the craft brew and micro-brew boom was launched in the 80’s, one of the outcomes, for better or for worse, was the new-found enthusiasm for adding unusual ingredients to brews, experimenting with spices, fruits and other foods. Some new brews were based on long-standing traditions, others were, in fact, direct revivals of older styles gone more or less extinct. Still others, however, were brand new ideas, products of (in my opinion) brewers with too much time to think, too much freedom to experiment.
I’m not really serious, there is no doubt in my mind that every idea deserves a shot. But. Some ideas only deserve one shot and should not be repeated, once they have been tried “for the sake of trying”…
So on to fruit beers. There are of course many traditional beers brewed with fruit. Most of them come from Belgium, and most of the Belgian fruit beers are sour, brewed as lambic-style ales or Flanders Reds. There are traditions of using Damson plums, raspberries, even strawberries, in England, but they are rare. At a guess, more than half the fruit beers brewed in the world today are made by US craft and micro-brewers. I have had beers made with cherry, apricot, peach, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, kiwi, grape, rhubarb, melon, banana, plum, passionfruit, guava, grapefruit, tangerine, cranberry, elderberry, apple, mango… I have tried to make some version of many of them as well… Some have been excellent, some only so-so, some… well, some should never have been tried.
The one fruit that I get consistently pleasing results with is cherry. I’ll admit that it is my favorite fruit flavor, although not my favorite fruit to eat. I do make an annual batch of lambic, which I divide between cherries, blackberries and apples, usually. I always enjoy the cherry (“kriek”) best. Among commercial fruit brews, I tend to prefer cherry to anything else as well, even Sam Adams’ Cherry Wheat (which I know makes many people, including my daughter, cringe…).
I got it in my head a couple weeks ago that a light cherry-flavored wheat beer would be a perfect summer beer. Today, two days after a weird spring snowstorm that left anywhere from 3 to 20 inches on the ground in parts of Vermont, I brewed my first summer beer.
Cherry Wheat Ale
5 gallons, all-grain
- 4 lbs. lager malt
- 3 lbs. malted wheat
- 1 lb. cara-wheat malt
- 1 oz. Willamette hop pellets (5.8% aa)
- 1 oz. Tettnang hop pellets (5% aa)
- Nottingham dry ale yeast
- 2 bottles (8 oz. each) Knudsen’s Black Cherry Juice concentrate
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Willamette hop pellets. Boil 30 minutes, add Tettnang hop pellets. Boil 30 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, then pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing to aerate well. Add first 8 oz. bottle cherry juice concentrate, pitch yeast. Seal and ferment 7 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, condition cool (55 – 60°F) 10 – 14 days. Prime with corn sugar and add second bottle cherry juice concentrate (mix well!), bottle and age 8 – 10 days.
Note on ingredients and procedure: As this is a spring brew, fresh cherries are not readily available in Vermont. The Knudsen’s concentrate is awesome stuff, and I would probably use it even if there were cherries available. In the summer, however, when I do my Kriek, I use fresh cherries (my own Montmorency and wild sour black and choke-cherries) because I think the flavor derived from the cherry pits is an important one in a lambic.
I have developed an aversion of late to hefeweizens, so I decided to use a neutral ale yeast for this brew. I have really begun to dislike the clove/bubblegum/banana esters that most hefeweizens have, and I don’t brew them. Personal taste, and I will still try yours if you offer it to me.
This beer will be a pale pinkish amber in color, when finished. Half of the cherry juice will be part of the fermentation, giving it some sour fruit flavor, half will be added at bottling giving a sweeter fruitier finish (but not a cloying syrup/extract flavor).