Pull up a seat at a typical American bar and you’re likely to find snack peanuts to go with your beer. No, it’s not there as salty subterfuge so thirsty patrons will order another pint. Scientists suggest that the salty, fatty characteristics of peanuts actually balance the bitterness and tannins of beer, making it more palatable. But craft brewers are increasingly moving peanuts off the bar and into the brew tapping into the trend of flavored beers.
Peanut flavored beers in particular are growing in numbers across the country, with over 182 varieties listed on BeerAdvocate.com. In fact, Millennial consumers are fueling the demand for flavored beers, and peanut brews are experiencing profound success. The founders of two breweries with peanut-infused beers shared their very different stories about their inspiration and production techniques for these popular brews.
From Fun Experiment to “Huge Hit”
“This was really born out of an experiment,” says Nick Garrison, president and founder of Foolproof Brewing in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, speaking about their Peanut Butter Raincloud Porter. “We decided to take our original porter and play around with the recipe and add some peanut butter to it. We served it on a very limited basis in our tasting room at the brewery. People just went crazy for it. They loved it,” he says. And he stresses that they use 100 percent real peanut butter to flavor the porter.
“We use dehydrated peanut butter powder, quite a bit of it. We add that to the beer in the fermentation tank. The peanut butter kind of mixes with the beer and the beer absorbs the flavors and the aromas and the peanut butter eventually settles out of the solution,” says Garrison.
After initial success, they showcased the product at the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, hosted by Beer Advocate magazine. “We filled some kegs of that and it was just a huge hit. At that moment we knew we wanted to produce this beer on a large scale,” says Garrison. “We released it into the market last September. It was just an overwhelming success. We had predicted we might brew at most five batches of the beer. We ended up brewing 15 batches.”
They’ve paused its production for now to focus on lighter beers, but have plans to bring it back in the fall. According to Billy Pyatt, owner of Catawba Brewing Company in Ashville, North Carolina, that’s because “beer is cyclical,” meaning lighter beers are more popular in warmer months, and darker beers in colder months. Unlike a dark porter, Pyatt produces a peanut flavored beer known as a brown ale, which they call Peanut Butter Jelly Time. Their process of infusing the PB&J flavor into the beer takes a long time to produce so they create it in winter.
“Our sales in January and February are much lower than in July so we take advantage of the slow time, when we have space in our production facility. It’s typically introduced the first week of March and it’s gone really quickly,” says Pyatt. His inspiration for making the PB&J flavored beer was actually born out of tragedy.
Brew Honors the Happy Memory of a Life Cut Short
“A gentleman that worked with us at the time, had a close friend who lost their son in an accident, a very young kid,” says Pyatt. “Whenever you thought of this kid you thought of a boy under a blue sky playing outside in the field and then running home for lunch. He would always have peanut butter and jelly dripping down his face. At the time we created a beer to mimic the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sort of a memorial. That’s really how it came about as a tribute.” And it’s a tribute in the highest honor since the annual ale’s production has expanded exponentially.
“When we first started doing this we were making 30 gallons at a time. Now we’re making it in 5,000 gallon increments that has to go into cans and kegs and be distributed in three states,” says Pyatt. But maintaining volume to meet demand is only one of the challenges that Pyatt’s faced in creating the peanut flavored beer.
Reward Outweighs the Challenges
According to Pyatt, “peanuts are an oily product and in beer you really try to stay away from anything with oil. They make the beer feel flat and they make the beer’s foam head collapse.” To achieve that signature PB&J flavor, he actually ages the beer over fresh raspberries, and then ages it again on almost a ton of whole roasted peanuts. “The oils will separate during fermentation. We have to understand how to keep the majority of those from finding their way into the finished product,” says Pyatt..
But Pyatt is happy to endure the obstacles posed by using real peanuts instead of artificial flavoring. In fact, he’s even developing a proprietary new production system to address these issues and help him to expand his peanut flavored product line. “We’ve got some ideas off the drawing board,” he says. So that means more peanut flavored brews coming down the pipeline, which is certainly something to raise a glass to. But get it while it lasts, because peanut brew fans just can’t get enough.