Banana stout didn’t just come out of nowhere. There are great stout brewers, such as Other Half (Brooklyn, New York), J. Wakefield (Miami, Florida), and Main & Mill (Festus, Missouri) that started doing it. When I first heard about it, I never thought a banana—a whole banana—would make a great adjunct in a stout. But, I had a banana stout at a festival, and it surprised me so much that I thought that we just had to try it ourselves.
It’s a progression. Everyone has used coconut, and it’s played out. So you need to think about ways to think outside of the box. Bananas and strawberries are surprisingly good. It makes sense. A lot of the stouts we drink today are inspired by desserts, and those fruits can be desserts, too.
Our base beer goes really well with a lot of adjuncts. It’s not too thick. It’s dark but not too roasty, and that just pairs well with fruits. When you think about the fruits out there, they can be tart or berry-forward, and you don’t want that to be lost by something too robust. When you’re going to do these kinds of beers, think about the stout as a blank canvas, but make sure it is where you want it to be.
We use a lot of chocolate malts and add some crystal here and there, and we like to boil to a gravity that makes it pretty big, like 35-plus Plato (1.154 SG or more). Our boils can go from three hours to five or six, depending on whether we sparge too much or too fast. We’re always experimenting with different timings, additions, and processes, so we often blend beers to get the final result where we want it. Most of our stouts are barrel-aged, so an addition of fresh stout toward the end adds a little life.
We recently made a banana stout where we took a 50-gallon barrel, transferred it to a bright tank, and added three cases of peeled bananas (132 pounds). We put the bananas in muslin bags and let the beer circulate for about 3 days. That’s when you get a good, fresh banana taste and aroma in the stout without losing the flavors of the base beer. I think that’s important. I’m old-school with my beers, and I like just simple barrel-aged stouts without adjuncts. But if you’re going to make one, make sure the beer is still presented.
We lose a lot of beer when we add the bananas and only wind up getting about four kegs out of it. So there’s a loss.
When we use strawberries, we just puree them and use freeze-dried as well, and the result is the same. You get this nice fresh-fruit flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the beer because we still want what you’re tasting to be enjoyable as a beer.
If you make a stout with bananas or get a bottle of one, I’d say drink it fresh. Maybe six months, tops, before it starts to lose the character or change. In some cases, it mellows over that first six months and is really nice to drink at that point, because all the flavors have had a chance to blend. But no matter what, if you call it a banana stout or some-kind-of-fruit stout, make sure you’re using enough fruit so people don’t have to guess at the flavor. But don’t overwhelm the base beer.
Photo: Matt Graves/www.mgravesphoto.com