First of all, it’s just fun to say: pawpaw. Pawpaw. Pawpaw, pawpaw, pawpaw. It even looks funny in print, now that I’ve gone and worn it out. (Don’t stare at it too long.)
But what is pawpaw? It’s a tree that mostly grows on the eastern side of North America—and, more usefully for our purposes, it’s also the fruit that is grown by that tree. If you’re keeping notes at home—or perhaps helping your kid with a science report—here’s a cool fact: Pawpaw is the largest edible fruit that is native to our continent.
What’s it like? It appears ovaloid, usually green-skinned, with pale, yellowish flesh and dark seeds on the inside. Despite not being a tropical fruit, its bright flavor has the power to evoke tiki drinks—often described as a cross between banana and mango. The flesh’s texture is somewhat creamy and banana-like, and some bakers like to use it as a substitute for banana. You can also eat the flesh raw—but it doesn’t keep or travel well unless it’s frozen.
And hey, guess what? You can brew with it. (What did you think this was about?) In fact, lately we’ve seen some fascinating examples—flip to the back of this issue for reviews of Fonta Flora Carolina Custard (Morganton, North Carolina) and Urban Artifact Dilophosaurus Paw Paw (Cincinnati), to name just two.
One of the country’s more established pawpaw beers is Jackie O’s Paw Paw Wheat. Since 2012, the Athens, Ohio, brewery has made it once a year for the annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival in September, in nearby Albany. This is no ordinary fruited wheat beer—it’s a 9 percent ABV bruiser with buckets full of puree dumped into the fermentors.
Seth Morton, Jackie O’s head brewer, says that they get all of their pawpaw from Integration Acres in Athens County, Ohio. “Thanks to them, we’re able to purchase frozen pawpaw puree whenever we need it,” he says. “They also ship pawpaw puree when available for those interested in trying it out.” (Notably, for homebrewers: Integration has an online shop that sells the frozen pulp in one- or two-pound quantities.)
Besides the banana-mango-like flavors, pawpaws “also carry really fun tropical tones that you can’t find in other fruits.” However, Morton says, the flavors are more delicate than assertive, “and [pawpaw] should be brewed with accordingly.”
“We thaw the buckets in our walk-in, then add [the puree] to an ale ferment once we hit high kräusen,” he says. They also will sometimes add pawpaw to mature mixed-fermentation beers in one of their fruiting tanks.
Advice for pro brewers: “First, make sure it is fully thawed before trying to pour a five-gallon bucket of puree through a four-inch tri-clamp ferrule,” Morton says. “Second, keep a change of clothes at work.”
How much to add? “Ten pounds per barrel [1.6 pounds per five gallons] is a great place to start, then adjust as you see fit,” Morton says.
“Due to its tropical-flavor profile, [pawpaw] works well with a wide range of styles. It works particularly well in a hefeweizen. Lower your mash temperature to compensate for the unfermentable pulp. For mixed-fermentation beer, pawpaw works great on its own or as a partner fruit, and it plays nicely with a bolder fruit like raspberry or cherry.”
More possibilities: “Pawpaw would work very well in hoppy beer, especially alongside the Neomexicanus and Neomex-hybrid varieties that are becoming more widely available. I bet a hazy pale ale with pawpaw, Talus, and Citra would be delicious.”
A fringe benefit of brewing more beers with pawpaw: more chances to say its name.