This month, VinePair is exploring how drinks pros are taking on old trends with modern innovations. In Old Skills, New Tricks, we examine contemporary approaches to classic cocktails and clever techniques behind the bar — plus convention-breaking practices in wine, beer, whiskey, and more.
Big, juicy fruit flavors are popular in summer, and every season that’s not summer, for the bold ripeness they bring to beer styles: the commanding sweetness of mango; the sharp tartness of raspberries; or the unmistakable tropical character of pineapple are a few tantalizing examples. But every brewer reaches a point of curiosity beyond what they know — and the hope is that drinkers will come along for the journey.
Perhaps out of a sense of innovation, or maybe because of palate fatigue, there is a new style of fruit beer on the rise that exhibits the more subtle, nuanced side of fruit. These beers are made with a technique often referred to as “second-use fruit,” and it’s capturing brewers’ and beer lovers’ attention across states, styles, and flavor profiles.
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The reason for all the attention around this technique, which involves repurposing the used, but not totally spent fruit left over from another batch of beer, is the way the impact of the fruit changes from one batch to the next, becoming less intense, less acidic, and more ephemeral. Beyond uncovering a new depth of flavor, this technique is also environmentally friendly, and gets more bang for every buck invested in fresh produce.
Below, four professional brewers explain how, and why, they started experimenting with second-use fruit, and the best ways for homebrews to take advantage of what they’ve learned.
Why Reuse Fruit in Multiple Batches?
Perhaps the most obvious reason to reuse fruit is the fact that it saves money on fruit costs, but Jake Endres, co-owner of Crooked Run Fermentation in Serling, Va., says that shouldn’t be a brewer’s first consideration. When deciding to employ this technique, homebrewers should consider that the ideal fruits for second use can be more expensive up front than fruits that will only be used once (but we’ll get to that later).
“Don’t think of it as a way to stretch your dollar (although it helps),” Endres says. It’s a taste profile he looks for in his saisons, like Newfangled with grape pomace, and grisettes, like Gob with second-use blackberries. “It really is a different flavor,” Endres says.
As does Brett Taylor, co-founder and head of brewing at Wild East Brewing in Brooklyn. “The real reason to do it is that second-use fruit allows you to get very subtle fruit notes from the beer,” Taylor says.
This more mild fruit character is an ideal addition to beer styles with delicate flavor profiles, like blonde ales, table beers, or grisettes. Acidity, and the fresh, juicy qualities of the fruit in its original form, are stripped away by the first beer, leaving more muted qualities that won’t overpower less intense beer styles.
“Our grisette, Gob, was made with second-use blackberries from a fruited golden sour, Brambles,” says Endres. “The two taste nothing alike. Brambles is acid-forward with lots of gunpowder-like minerality, and Gob is light and fruity with very mild acid.”
There is also a change in the type of flavors available for extraction during the second use of the fruit, says Endres. “As you might expect, you get more tannins from using second-use fruit since it’s mostly skins.”
Tannins are the compounds that create the drying, sometimes rough mouthfeel in some red wines and over-steeped black tea. Endres uses the pomace (remains of grapes after wine production) of Chambourcin grapes in his vibrant red saison called Newfangled. He says with this second use of the purple-skinned grapes, “You can get less acidic flavors and also more grapefruit-like flavors.”
What Fruits Work Best Second?
When it comes to using a fruit more than once, not all fruits are created equally. Some varieties simply don’t pack enough punch to have any flavor by their second use, while others can’t hold up enough structurally to be usable in an additional batch.
“Any assertive berry or stone fruit works great, as there will be enough residual flavor hanging around after the primary fruiting,” Seth Morton, head brewer at Jackie O’s Brewery in Athens, Ohio, says. “Delicate fruits like pears or white grapes would probably not stand up to second fruiting.”
Fruit purees are commonly used in homebrewing because they come pre-sanitized and are easy to use. The qualities that make them optimal for use in fruit-forward styles — namely, the massive surface area that allows maximum contact between wort (or beer) and fruit and the purees’ lack of skins, pits, and other structural materials — make them poor candidates for second use.
“I would avoid anything processed or pureed,” says Matt Levy, head brewer at Threes Brewing, also in Brooklyn. “Second-use fruit beers work best with organic whole fruit. By the second use, you’ll be digging deep into layers of fruit that using puree simply can’t yield.”
In other words, when fruit doesn’t have the structure to “dig deep into,” there’s no flavor left to contribute to a second batch. For this reason, Endres avoids strawberries when considering second-use fruit beers for Crooked Run Fermentation. At Wild East Brewing, Taylor says, “Watermelon, we only use once. It’s so subtle as it is, and it’s pretty decimated after the first go around.”
There’s another reason to shun puree when making a second-use fruit beer: it lacks the native yeast that comes along on the skins of whole organic fruit.
At Threes Brewing, says Levy, “The fruit comes directly from a local farm, and likely has wild yeast on it.” He uses a mixed-culture beer called Eternal Return for the first fermentation on the farm-fresh fruit, and follows it up with a simple saison, Thought Experiment, for second use. Both beers benefit from the native yeast on the fruit skins.
Levy suggests going straight to the farm, even if it’s more expensive: “There is so much potential for the homebrewer because the batch size is so small. It’s worth paying a little extra for high-quality organic fruit,” he says.
What Beer Styles Work Best?
There is no limit to the styles you can make with second-use fruit.
When using whole fruit that may have wild yeast on the skins, it is a good idea to use a mixed-culture base beer or be prepared for the funky flavors that wild yeast create. For “clean” beers, with no desire for funk, use whole frozen fruit or sanitize whole fresh fruit in a StarSan (or another food-safe sanitizer) solution.
It’s best to make the more intense style first — for example an imperial stout as the first use of the fruit, followed by a delicate style such as a dark mild as the second use.
Color is another factor in picking a style to make with second-use fruit. “If your primary fruiting beer was dark, you may see some unwanted color pickup on the second fruiting with a pale beer,” Morton says.
How to Add the Fruit for Second Use
After the tough decisions of what fruit to use and what styles to make have been settled, the actual technique of making beer with second-use fruit is straightforward. The first batch of beer is simply racked off the fruit, and the second batch is added on top of it as quickly as possible.
“If you can, it should be done in the same go — beer goes off, and new beer goes on,” says Endres.
The second batch should be a finished or nearly finished beer (one that has reached its final gravity) to minimize the yeast growth happening in the vessel with the fruit. There should be minimal fermentation happening when the beer is on the second-use fruit to avoid blowing off volatile aromas from fruit, or created by the yeast in the primary fermentation.
“Avoid oxygen pickup at all costs,” says Morton, who has been making mixed-fermentation beers with second-use fruit for almost a decade at Jackie O’s.
Oxygen pickup in this context can be even worse than the typical impacts of oxidation, like an overly sweet flavor or staleness. Because Brettanomyces (wild yeast possibly on the fruit) creates acetic acid in the presence of oxygen, too much exposure to air can cause your entire second batch to taste like vinegar. Ah, vinegar, the flavor of a drain pour.
To be the most efficient at avoiding oxidation, homebrewers can purge the fermenter with CO2 as the first beer is being transferred off of the fruit. This will prevent air containing oxygen from filling the extra space in the keg or fermenter.
Then, it becomes a waiting game. After four to five weeks, it’s time to start tasting the beer about every other or every third week. (Remember to avoid introducing oxygen when taking samples.) Levy ages on second-use fruit for three to six months to acquire the right balance of fruit without the beer getting too funky. When you taste the amount of fruit flavor you’re looking for, the process is complete and beer is ready for packaging.
And there you’ll have it — a nuanced fruited beer to show your sophisticated side to all those who thought you only enjoy unrefined fruit bombs!