Secret Weapons

So you’ve used enough fruit and the right type of yeast, but your fruit beer still isn’t sweet enough? Obviously just adding cane or corn sugar to the beer is just going to get fermented out by the yeast, so that’s not gonna work.  However, yeast does have an Achilles’ heel when it comes to sugar, and its name is lactose.  Also known as milk sugar, yeast cannot consume lactose (suckers), so adding between a ½ pound to a pound of lactose per 5 gallon batch at bottling will sweeten things up a bit.  You can dissolve the lactose in a cup of water, boil and reduce it, cool it and then add it to your beer at bottling.  Some people say that along with its semi-sweetness, lactose can add a creamy body to beer, which you may or may not want in your fruit beer, but personally, I think it’s worth the trade-off.  And besides, we’re only talking about ½ a pound in 5 gallons of beer.  If you’ve never had a chance to taste lactose in its dry powder form, I can tell you it’s not super sweet.  Lactose is about ½ as sweet as sucrose, so don’t expect your brew to turn into a sugary sweet soda beer just by adding lactose; you’d have to add A LOT to come anywhere close to that, and even then, it be more of a cream soda— sorry, had to.  From my experience brewing with lactose, I found that it can produce a faint powdered sugar sort of aroma and taste, and may mute the fruit aroma a little.

Some brewers use maltodextrine to sweeten things up, but take into account that maltodextrine is only about 1/10 as sweet as sucrose, and in brewing, it’s primarily used to add body and increase head retention.  Play around with both, but as far as sweeteners are concerned, I’d go with lactose over maltodextrine any day of the week.

Another option, especially for those who are “too good” for lactose [lactose intolerant], would be to add some other unfermentable sweetener like xylitol.  Xylitol is an alcohol sugar which is about as sweet as sucrose, and the only known “side effect” is that it can act as a mild laxative if enough of it is consumed, which of course depends on the individual, but would probably have to be more than 65 grams per day.  Get a buzz and cure your constipation? Deal!  Personally, I’ve never used Splenda or stevia when brewing, but some brewers do use these sugar substitutes to sweeten their beers.  If you decide to go this route, don’t forget that Splenda is about 600 times sweeter than sucrose, while stevia is about 300 times more potent, so use them sparingly.

By the way, the issue of fermented beverages becoming “too dry” and losing most or all of their sweet character is a problem that not only brewers of fruit beer face, but one that’s encountered by both mead and cider makers too.  In those circles, you hear a lot about “back sweetening”, which is a trick that’s used to sweeten a cider or mead that’s lacking in the appropriate amount of sweetness.  Just like with wine makers, the yeast is neutralized (usually with Campden tablets and Potassium sorbate), but then more cider or honey is added back to the drink to sweeten it without worry of fermentation beginning and drying the beverage out again.  But then again, it’s pretty common in the cider and mead worlds to have “still” or non-carbonated beverages, whereas intentionally flat beer is more the exception, although you do come across “still beer” with some super high gravity beers (upwards of 18%).  Once the yeast is neutralized in your beer, the homebrewer is left with few options if kegging isn’t one of them.  If you’ve got the money, a counter pressure bottle filler would do the trick, or maybe a simple little setup like this.  And then there’s always the option of dropping a carbonation tablet into the beer which are sold at most homebrew shops.

One last word: For my all grain brewers out there, mashing your grains at higher temperatures (154-167 F) creates less fermentable sugars for the yeast to get their grubby little hands on which can leave some more residual sweetness in your final product, but also adds some body.  Sorry extract brewers, as far as the mashing schedule goes, your fate is in the hands of the manufacturers of the malt extract.

Whew.  FIVE PAGES of discussing fruit beer and we’ve only hit on just a small portion of the many challenges that come with brewing this unforgiving style of beer.  So why even attempt to brew this bitch of a beer without taking the kegging shortcut?  The same reason people climb Everest: to prove you’re a badass, in this case with, uh, fruit beer.

1. Fruit to beer ratios: Daniels, Ray. “|.” Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1996. Print.

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Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.

Daniel J. Leonard Beer Syndicate Co-Creator

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