Have Your PB&J And Drink It Too: Craft Beer’s Flavor-Forward Reinvention

Want an adult take on the classic PB&J? Look no further than your local craft beer store. If you don’t have one yet, you will soon enough.

Craft beer volume climbed 18% last year, with the industry boasting a double-digit share of the brew market (11%) for the first time ever. You could say that we are living in a golden age of beer. And the color “golden” doesn’t just refer to your favorite West Coast IPAs, which exploded onto the scene in the mid-90s. More obscure styles boasting unique flavor profiles — those of America’s favorite sandwich not excluded — are having a moment.

 Bon Appétit’s beer expert, Joshua Bernstein, recently deemed trending peanut butter beer “a childhood indulgence wrapped up in an adult package.” Though the flavor merges most seamlessly into stouts (Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout) and porters (Willoughby’s Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter, DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus), Blue Moon — owned by MillerCoors and hardly considered a craft brewery at this point — also boasts a peanut butter flavored ale in its repertoire.

Many brewers consider using whole peanuts to be a no-no, since their oil destroys a beer’s frothy head. The powder version — peanut butter with 75% of the fat removed — is the preferred substitute.

Pectin, a primary ingredient in jelly, is bad for beer. But fruit-forward renditions of the imbiber are all the rage, from raspberry (Founders Blushing Monk) to cassis (Unibroue Éphémère Blackcurrant). Fruit is particularly prevalent in trending sour beers. Some examples of these popular tart styles include Flanders Red— cask brewed and created by mixing young and old beers together — and Gose — a controversial German ale brewed with coriander and salt. Classic Belgian Lambics — often brewed with fruit —have also gained popularity in recent years.

However, peanut butter and fruit are only two of the flavors you might find in your mug. A brewer’s choice of malt, hops, yeast, water, the possibility of aging craft beer in a second use liquor barrel, and adding flavors during fermentation open the door to a wealth of possible taste profiles: smoke, coffee, chocolate, chili, vanilla, maple and bacon, to name just a few.

CRAFT BEER LOVERS UNITE

Peanut butter brews have been made possible by the rise in the experimentation of craft beer in recent years. These days, ordering at a craft beer bar can be likened to trying to choose dinner in a restaurant where you don’t speak the language. As you decode your menu, you will notice other patrons recording each beer tasting experience on UNTAPP’D, the “Foursquare of beer.” More than a million users have downloaded the app, which allows drinkers to unlock badges by “checking in” to the brew they are drinking, adding location and tasting notes, and reviewing beers with star ratings.

The craft beers they’re slurping are often adorned with moody titles: Evil Twin’s Ashtray Heart, a smoked imperial stout, and Stillwater’s The Devil Is People, a sour smoked wheat beer, are two examples. Beer labels today have become what album covers were in the ‘90s: dark and captivating works of art. That is if those brews are even sold in bottles — many are only available for purchase in growlers (or small growlers, affectionately referred to as ‘squealers’).

With some exceptions, these beers are either produced by Belgian monks, made in the ever-increasing number of small breweries in the U.S., Canada and Europe, or created by “Gypsy brewers.” The latter are fermentation-obsessed concocters such as Mikkeler’s Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, and Lauren and Joe Grimm of Grimm Artisanal Ales, whose single batch limited-edition releases are created in facilities leased out by larger breweries, saving them the resources required to procure a brewery of their own.

Many small batches of experimental releases have inspired a craft connoisseur community constantly on the hunt for the best brew. The Alchemist’s Heady Topper Imperial IPA out of Waterbury, Vermont might be the most coveted of ‘whales’ — codespeak for those craft beers with the highest demand. Cars full of thirsty bros circle Vermont package stores like vultures — after consulting headyspotter.com, of course — waiting for the brewery’s trucks to make deliveries in the hopes of getting their thirsty claws on the $14 4-pack.

Other websites such as BeerAdvocate and RateBeer have sprung up to provide not only a record of personal tasting histories but also a forum for analysis on everything from “Is that what skunkiness is?” to mixing beer with ice cream. “I wasted a Founders Breakfast Stout by mixing it with homemade peppermint ice cream. I wouldn’t recommend trying it,” wrote one poor soul.

These web communities have formed an underground craft beer trade economy, where users meet for “bottle shares” and arrange beer barters — either in person or via postal service. The sentiment, “I would like to trade my Pliny the Elder for your Kate The Great” is expressed in the abbreviated code speak “ISO: PtE FT: KTG” and requires at least a certain level of sobriety to decipher.

GOING THE DISTANCE FOR CRAFT BEER

So how easy is it to get your hands on a peanut butter beer? A recent search around New York City on Beermenus.com came up mostly empty, with the nearest bottle of Horny Goat Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter showing up 21.9 miles away. The nearest place that carried Catawba Brewing Co. Peanut Butter Jelly Time “aged for weeks on raspberries and toasted peanuts” — yes, the closest thing to peanut butter and jelly beer — was a whole 451.2 miles away.

While it might sound like an absurd notion to travel that far for a craft beer, it wouldn’t be the first time. “What lengths have you gone to over ONE beer?” inquired a recent thread on BeerAdvocate. “On my way to my buddy’s wedding I drove 2 hours out of the way to stop off at Tired Hands…stayed too long…phone died…got lost…missed the bachelor party…gave a horribly hungover and long-winded speech as best man the next day,” wrote one poster.

“This thread makes me feel better about myself,” wrote another.

But not all craft beer superfans are quite as concerned about the chase or uncovering the obscure flavor profiles within their pint. At a recent Other Half tasting at Brooklyn Brewery, an enthusiastic patron commented on the interesting bubble gum flavor in his IPA. “What is that?” he asked. To which the brewer promptly responded: “It’s beer.”


Author annotation: 

PB&Js are crucial on the trail. The sandwich is a trusted, energy-rich lunch, packed with protein and Ziploc compatible. If you think that makes me sound like a health nut—think again. After my hike, you will find me popping into Peekskill Brewery or saddling up to one of my favorite NYC craft beer haunts—Brouwerij Lane, Tørst, Proletariat and Beer Street—ordering 5 oz. pours of peanut butter beers, coffee stouts, fruit-forward sours, and skunky saisons. In my article, I wanted to shed some light on the many amazing beers I have tasted and the craft beer-obsessed culture I have encountered along the way.

Greta Braddock, Editorial 

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Classic PB&J, Just Like Mom Used To Make

I’m Sorry, Skippy: Confessions of a Peanut Butter Snob

Adults Try PB&J For The First Time

PB&J Parallels Around The World

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Have Your PB&J And Drink It Too: Craft Beer’s Flavor-Forward Reinvention