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What is the best way to add fruit to a beer? I'm afraid boiling it will break down the fruit too much (a muslin bag could fix this I guess), but I'm not sure how to add it to the fermenter without contaminating the beer. I suppose this answer could depend on the fruit, too (bananas, blueberries, cranberries, oranges...)

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You generally want to add fruit to the secondary fermentation. At this point, you already have alcohol that can help ward off any meanies hiding in your fruit. I am having trouble finding a source for this but I remember from a course I took that adding fruit to the primary will add more fruit smell and secondary would add more flavor. The smell part might be wrong but adding during the secondary definitely imparts more flavor.

As far as sanitation before hand, you have a few options. Give the fruit a rinse and any prep it needs (cubing, peeling, etc) and decide whether you would like to heating it, freeze it, or just add it. They all have their own downsides. Obviously just adding it has the biggest risk of infection, but I have done it successfully with great results. Freezing is an option (and I usually do this to allow me to save some fruit for later if I want to do multiple additions) but I don't think it actually kills all of the meanies, just puts them into hibernation. Heating for 10 minutes or so should be good. The downside to boiling is that you will have pectins, which will create a hazy beer. Which is fine if you are making a wheat anyway.

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"Freezing does slow down the microbes that cause food to spoil, but it's pretty much useless for killing dangerous bugs." npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/04/04/176242166/… –  Wyrmwood Apr 30 at 16:07
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My friend who made a kick ass imperial cider told me that he baked about 5 pounds of apple slices in the oven, then immediately put them in the freezer for 24 hours. Then plopped them in the secondary for 2-3 more weeks. It turned out awesome! So now I'm going that route. Although I'm not making a cider, I needed to add about 1.5 pounds of apples to my Chai Beer. So I'm doing it this way. It's called "Make Them Chai Slowly"....yeah, a little wordy.

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I have always just added the fruit to secondary. I cleaned the fruit, but did not boil it or otherwise try to sanitize it.

The alcohol content in the beer (which will be present when adding the fruit in secondary) should make it difficult for the little buggers to grow.

I have had some issues with infection, especially when doing this with strawberries. These issues have come about after a couple of months, though, so if you drink it quickly, it should be fine. Essentially, you get a shorter shelf-life, but if you enjoy your creation soon after making it, you should be fine.

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Though I use strawberries in the boil (and this does add to the cloudiness and detracts from the flavor), I have noticed a significant decrease in fruit flavor after 2 months or so. My perspective is that especially for strawberries, you don't want to age it. –  Mlusby Nov 23 '10 at 3:24
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If you are really worried about it, you could use fruit extract. I've done that and wasn't crazy about the flavor. I made a cherry wit a few weeks ago and I froze my cherries and thawed them in the fridge. I then added them to a muslin bag at the same time I moved to secondary.

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Along these lines, I wanted to add some grapefruit to a pale ale, but I wanted no risk of contamination so I used some Simply Grapefruit juice. I figured since it was pasteurized, there was little risk involved. –  Joe Lencioni Nov 16 '10 at 15:32
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It depends on what you're doing really. Adding fruit can be risky as there is always a chance of contamination.

I've made fruit beers before and didn't want to boil them and lose a bunch of flavor. So instead I opted to freeze the fruit, and then slowly thaw it out in the fridge. Now keep in mind that freezing will not guarantee no contamination, but it will reduce the risk. At this point I added it during secondary fermentation. This helps reduce the risk of contamination because all of the fermentable sugars have been eaten, and there's less in there for bad bugs to eat.

If you're really skiddish about adding raw fruit to your beer, but don't want to sacrifice much in the way of flavor, add your fruit during the last 5 minutes of the boil.

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Freezing will also help the flavors get out of the fruit and into the beer. The water inside the cells of the fruit will crystallize and expand, bursting the cell walls. This essentially mashes the fruit from the inside out. –  pkaeding Nov 14 '10 at 16:35
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