“Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.”
—the Reinheitsgebot, a beer purity law, the first of its kind, enacted in Germany in 1516.
And now I’m going to talk about brewing with strawberries.
They’ll take away my homebrew when they pry it from my cold dead hands!
There are two ways to make a fruit beer. The first is to use fruit purely as a flavoring, by adding some fruit extract to the nearly-finished beer just before bottling (or sterilized fruit juice to the keg). This is how most commercial fruit beers (and pretty much every brew pub fruit beer I’ve ever tasted) come about. The other way is to actually brew with the fruit, converting its natural sugars (fructose) into alcohol and creating an entirely distinct set of flavors which may not taste at all like the original fruit (wine tastes significantly different from grapes–likewise with cider and apples).
If you haven’t already guessed, I don’t put much stock in the former method; I do not love cloyingly sweet beers, or any beer that tries to hide the fact that it is beer. But some amazing stuff can and has been done with the latter method, as anyone who’s ever had a framboise lambic can vouch. Of course, as the Scarecrow will tell you, people do go both ways: brew with fruit, then add some fruit extract after the fermentation is complete. Maybe I’ll try that next time.
The raw materials
I started with seven pounds of strawberries, which amounted to about one and a half brimming-full cardboard flats, and for which I paid $14 and an hour or two’s worth of picking at scenic Warner Farm in Sunderland, MA. Why strawberries? Because they were in season, I got them cheap, and then had so many I didn’t know what else to do with them. I didn’t have any mason jars or I could have made jam. But let’s face it, I probably would have made alcohol anyway. (See note above about brew free or die.)
When I got the berries home, I washed them, picked off the stems and froze them for a week or so, then thawed them out for juicing. (Ice crystals help mash up the fruit.) I piled the thawed fruit in a cheesecloth-lined metal colander securely suspended over a food-grade five-gallon bucket, then placed on top of them a large plastic bowl of a size to fit snugly inside the colander, which I gradually weighed down by adding more and more water to a gallon wine jug. After about 3 hours pressing in this style, I had slightly less than a gallon of beautiful, ruby-colored juice, 4 lbs., 2 oz. by weight.
I wanted to try making both a strawberry wine (fermenting just strawberries) and a strawberry beer (using strawberries as an adjunct fermentable sugar, in addition to those derived from grain). To that end, and knowing next to nothing about winemaking (which does have significant differences from brewing, though the fundamentals are the same), I got a couple of books out of the library: The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry A. Garey, and Winemaking: Recipes, Equipment and Techniques for Making Wine at Home, by Stanley F. Anderson. Both were educational and fascinating. I also did a fair amount of internet research into both fruit beer and fruit wine, using, among other resources, the recipe archives at brewery.org and the LiveJournal homebrewing and winemaking communities.
- Strawberry Wine — to make 1 gallon:
- 5 lbs strawberries ~= 92 oz strawberry juice
- 3 lbs table sugar (cane or beet, aka fructose — in a beer recipe, this would be frowned upon, but in a fruit wine it’s preferred)
- 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
- 3/4 tsp malic acid
- 3/4 tsp tartaric acid
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme (to clarify out the fruit pectins for a clearer must)
- 2 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 sulfite tablet (Used in winemaking as a sanitizing agent in lieu of boiling. Some people are allergic to sulfites. Not me. Woo.)
- Pasteur Champagne yeast
Starting gravity: 1.100
Finishing gravity: 1.000
Procedure (short version — refer to one of those winemaking books for more): Juice berries. Siphon juice into a clean, sanitized gallon jug. Top off with water, leaving a few inches of head space at top of jug. Add sugar and acid blend (which modifies the pH of the must to provide an optimal environment for the yeast). Stir thoroughly to combine. Add sulfite tablet, shake vigorously to dissolve, and let stand 24 hours (during which time the sulfites will kill off any wild yeasts or bacteria in the must). Then add pectic enzyme and pitch yeast. Wait another 24 hours. Add 2 tsp yeast nutrient if fermentation has not begun. Shake vigorously. Ferment to dryness (check specific gravity every few days until it reaches finishing gravity). Rack wine off lees. Age 3-6 months, bottle, age another 6 months to 1 year. Drink.
At post time, mine is finished fermenting and has been aging about a month. I have no idea what it will taste like when it’s done, but I can tell you the alcohol content will be over 10%. Research attempts to convince me that unlike other fruit, strawberries can actually produce a complex, full-bodied wine worthy of being drunk with dinner as well as dessert. We shall see.
- Strawberry Wheat — to make 2 gallons:
- 1/2 lb wildflower honey (added to the hot wort for the last ten minutes of a one-hour boil)
- 2 lbs strawberries ~= 36 oz strawberry juice (added to the hot wort for the last ten minutes of a one-hour boil)
- 1 lb flaked wheat
- 2.5 lbs dry extra pale malt
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme (again, to encourage a clear rather than cloudy brew)
- 1 pinch irish moss (likewise)
- .5 oz Kent Goldings hops (.2 at start of boil, .2 at 30 minutes, .1 at 60 minutes)
- American ale yeast
- 2 oz corn sugar (for bottling)
Starting gravity: 1.050
Finishing gravity: 1.011
Procedure (short version – refer to The Complete Joy of Homebrewing or my Honey Porter entry for more): Juice berries. Mash grain in water for 45 minutes at 154 degrees F. Sparge grain with water at 170 degrees F. Bring wort to a boil. Carefully stir in malt extract and return to boil. Add .2 oz bittering hops. Boil for 30 minutes. Add another .2 oz bittering hops. Boil for 20 minutes. Add honey and strawberry juice, mixing well. Boil for 10 more minutes (total boil 1 hour). Shut off heat, add .1 oz aroma hops. Cool to 85 degrees F. Siphon into primary fermenter. Pitch yeast. Ferment for 3-4 days (until it nears finishing gravity). Rack to secondary fermenter and wait 7 days. Rack to bottling bucket, add bottling sugar, mix thoroughly, and bottle. Wait 14 days. Drink.
This turned out to be a very different kind of strawberry wheat than the usual American microbrewery wheat beer with fruit extracts. Those beers are easy-drinking summer fare with a bit of fruitiness added as an afterthought so the ladies at the pub have something to tempt them. Nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t at all what I set out to make. Mine is only subtly fruity, nearly as frothy as champagne, tart, mildly hoppy, and rather high-potency, i.e. ‘full-bodied’, maybe 6% alcohol. It’s not exactly a lambic, because it’s crystal clear and doesn’t use the Belgian yeast, but the fruit-to-beer ratio and alcohol content are similar to a lambic, so I guess that’s the best word I’m going to come up with. Anyway, now that I’ve figured out how to drink it (sipping, not gulping, from a flute like champagne) I really like it. I suspect it will age incredibly well, if I can manage not to drink it all
If the recipes and ruminations above look like gibberish to you, please refer to a good homebrew how-to book such as The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, or have a look into the Literary Beer back catalog. There’s a much more in-depth step-by-step brewing process in the Honey Porter entry, and more about bottling at Bottling Your Homebrew. Good luck