Brewing With Cherries

 

There are a few main considerations to be aware of when you decide you’re going to add cherries to your homebrew. The quantity and type of cherries, their condition, and the brewing stage to add the fruit are all important aspects of preparing a delicious final product.

What Type of Cherries Should I Use?

When deciding what type of cherries to use, remember to keep your final creation in mind. If you prefer the taste of those sugary little red buttons you see on cakes, then buy yourself a big sealed bag of glace cherries. They’re cheap and the whole process of adding a commercial, pre-sanitized food product is much more simple than adding a fresh, harvested fruit. But beware; the fermenting process will remove a lot of the simple sweetness, so you’ll be left with a bitter flavor more like medicine. Having said that, if you enjoy a little sip of cough syrup before bed, buy two big bags of glace cherries. You’ll probably prefer the beer to the medication and I reckon it might help you get to sleep a little easier too.

As for other pre-sanitized food products, many brewers use cherry syrup or juice for a great final beverage. The next section of this article deals with methods and procedures a brewer can use to prepare a solid fruit for brewing, but cherry syrup will allow you to skip all of this. Some kind of pasteurization and pulverization has already been done far, far away in a sanitized environment. If you use a store-bought cherry juice, you can simply tip the liquid into the beer at the perfect moment for a reliable effect. Consider sourcing a high quality, one hundred percent cherry liquid that you can use again and again in future brews. Then you can compare the results from one batch to another and examine the effects the other ingredients of individual brews have on the beer.

How Do I Brew With Real Cherries?

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Use 1.2 pounds of real cherries per gallon of wort (that’s 125 grams per liter). That’s a simple and easy benchmark to work from. More cherries should be used in darker beer, something like 1.4 pounds per gallon (150 grams per liter). Fewer cherries should be used in a lighter beer; consider dropping below 15 ounces per gallon (100 grams per liter) if you’re brewing a really fresh session lager. This amount will allow the other flavors of the brew to shine alongside the taste of the fruit. It seems like a lot, it is a lot, but cherries are notorious for the mild character they imbue into beer and nobody wants to wrap their lips around something disappointing. A weak flavored beer would just be a waste of a brew day, especially if you’ve been waiting a month to enjoy the lovely stuff.

Preparing Your Cherries

There are many little tricks and recommendations out there and a few seem to work quite well. If you freeze your cherries before adding them to the brew, you’ll break down the cell walls of the fruit. This allows the flavor to diffuse into the liquid more quickly. Some brewers suggest that the freezing process also kills the microbes that infect or spoil the brew, but there are too many little nasties with too many attributes to be certain that freezing is an effective sanitary process on its own. So boil your cherries as well. This may create pectin so throwing a little pectic enzyme in with your yeast will clear that up.

The best way to boil fruit for beer is to submerge it in hot water while in a sealed bag (all you brewers who moon-light as chefs, think sous-vide). This retains the flavor within the fruit parcel but cooks any impurities or unwanted microscopic residents. Be sure to use a food-grade plastic bag which can be totally sealed and check to see that the manufacturers encourage the heating of their product. If the bag has the word ‘garbage’ or ‘trash’ in the title, you should use something else. Zip-lock bags work very well.

After your fruit has been frozen and boiled, you may choose to remove the pits and/or blend the fruit. This is an additional stage some brewers incorporate, but it’s not essential. To simplify the process, the fruit can be used whole for great success. If you’d like to test whether or not the whole cherries retain their flavor once you remove them from your brew later on, eat a few. You’ll find any lovely little tang that used to make the cherry your favorite fruity snack is long gone. The flavor is all in the beer now.

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When Should I Add Them?

Cherries can be diced and added to the mash, which will sanitize the fruit, but this method demands that every fermentation and brewing process takes its toll on the flavor. You’ll probably find that the beer loses a lot of the freshness that real fruit offers and the cherry note may taste baked. Adding the cherries directly to the hot wort is another sanitary option, but the sugars and aroma will still be affected by primary fermentation.

The preferable time to add cherries to your beer is during secondary fermentation. At this stage, you can rack your beer onto a permeable brewing bag full of sanitized fruit and allow the flavor to impregnate the brew after all the initial brewing stages have been completed. A good suggestion is to get a few smaller secondary fermenters going. Why not split the brew into a couple of batches and add vanilla to one? A week is generally enough time to withdraw the majority of flavor from the frozen then cooked cherries in the secondary, but leave it longer if you’re concerned for the clarity of the beer.

Real cherries (frozen and boiled) on the left and glace cherries thoroughly sprayed with sanitizer on the right, ready to be added to two separate 1.5 liter porter secondary fermenters. The real cherry porter was great, a decent kick of the fruit flavor lingering at the back of the mouth after the beer dissipated. This would go great with a steak or smoked cheddar (or absolutely anything else). The glace cherry porter had a serious sour/bitter finish. A sour/bitter finish isn’t always the worse thing, but be careful who you share it with… a Sauvignon Blanc drinker is likely to vomit on your brewery (or bedroom) floor
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