Confessions of a Bottler…
I should tell you that I was relegated to bottling at the time I brewed this mango wheat fruit beer. Why is that important? It’s important because if I were kegging, I could have had some more choices when it came to controlling the level of sweetness and fruit taste. For example, after primary fermentation was done, and just before adding the fruit, I could have cold crashed the beer, which is the practice of lowering the temperature of the beer down to about freezing for a few days. Doing this essentially slaps a red tag on the fermentation party, preventing the yeast from chowing down on every last molecule of sugar. As long as the beer was kept below 45 degrees or so, more of the yeast would fall out of suspension, becoming more or less paralyzed (or at worst VERY SLOWLY consuming the sugar), and then I could regulate the carbonation level manually in a chilled keg. If you cold crash your beer, add more fruit, then bottle, you’re asking for gushers and/or bottle bombs, and I DON’T recommend it. Cold crashing before the yeast has fully metabolized all fermentable sugars only slows down the yeast if the beer is kept at cold temperatures; the yeast can and will become more active and continue to produce CO2 at warmer temperatures.
Alternatively, I could have done what wine makers do when they want to lock in the right level of sweetness, before their yeast totally dries out the wine, and dropped a few Campden tablets and some Potassium sorbate into the beer to put the brakes on the yeast. Again, if I were kegging, I wouldn’t be relying on the yeast to carbonate my beer (the CO2 tank would do that), therefore I wouldn’t need the yeast to be active so it wouldn’t matter if I carpet bombed those fun-guys with a little Potassium sorbate.
That’s all well and good if you’ve got a kegging setup, but what if you don’t? What if bottling is your only option and you’re right in the middle of brewing a fruit beer? Even worse, what if you just did a pre-bottling taste test only to find that your yeast decimated your fruit addition, leaving you with a sugar-free, fruit flavor-free, fruit-ish beer?
Don’t panic yet (well maybe a little bit). You still have some options, but realize you’re probably facing two separate problems that might require two separate solutions. Problem # 1: You’re missing the expected fruit flavor. Problem # 2: You’re missing the appropriate level of sweetness. Assuming that you’ve already added an appropriate amount of fruit, simply adding more fruit at this point is most likely not the solution, so don’t let the yeast fool you twice and ferment all that fruity goodness away a second time. Brace yourself- this is the part of the conversation where you have to take a hard look at fruit extracts and/or fruit flavorings, both of which are sugar free and add only flavor to the beer. Talking about the pros and cons of using fruit flavorings and extracts could easily take up another page, BUT if I were forced to condense all that down into one really long run-on sentence, it would be this: Not all fruit flavorings and extracts are created equal, so shop around, pick a couple, smell them before you buy if you can, and if do you buy a couple, pull a SAMPLE of your beer (about 10 ounces or so) and add measured amounts of the fruit flavoring with a dropper to the beer sample and TASTE IT in order to figure out the proper ratio you want BEFORE you add it to your ENTIRE batch of beer, and if you don’t like the taste of the extract/flavoring in the beer, DON’T USE IT; just bottle your beer without it. Damn that sentence had legs!
But wait, what about Problem # 2- missing the appropriate level of sweetness? Being that fructose, or fruit sugar, is about 1.7 times sweeter than sucrose, and that sugar is a major flavor component of fruit, you better believe you’re going to notice when it’s missing from your fruit beer if your yeast greedily scarfs it all away. But is there anything you can do to sweeten up that bone dry beer of yours without the yeast doing what it usually does with sugars? Glad you asked…
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