Pineapple was reported as the fastest growing fruit ingredient on US beer menus at a recent Craft Brewers Conference by Jack Li of Datassential. Li noted that use of the ingredient is up almost 100% over the previous year, which lead industry expert Ezra Johnson-Greenough to declare 2018 “the year of the pineapple in beer and cider.”
MD-2 Pineapples Prized by Brewers
“Pineapple is very tropical both in flavor and in the imagination,” explains Fal Allen, Brewmaster at Anderson Valley Beer Co. “It lends its own flavors to the beer and because it has a nice acidity that is balanced with fruit sweetness and flavors, it works well in most beers. Some fruits work better than others with malt based beverage, but I particularly like the fruits that bring some acidity to the mix. The acidity and bright tropical flavors work well with some of the new, juicer hops.”
Allen is one of many brewmasters around the world that appreciate the qualities pineapple brings to the cup. Though perhaps few are more passionate about the possibilities the tropical fruit offers than Nat West of Portland, Oregon’s Rev Nat’s Hard Cider.
West’s pineapple journey began with a chance purchase of “Traditional Tepache,” a wild-fermented drink that uses natural yeasts from the whole pineapple, from a street vendor while on vacation in Vera Cruz, Mexico. After that initial taste, he was determined to replicate the experience.
“I will say that when I first started to make tepache, I did not use MD-2; I used a mixture of canned pineapple and juice,” West says. “It was terrible . . . It didn’t have that really bright, fresh aromatic acidity that MD-2 has.”
After his initial experimentations in 2008 and 2009, West gave up on the recipe because he was unable to replicate what he experienced in Vera Cruz. “But once I started using whole MD-2,” he recalls, “it was really mind-blowing to me.” Now, “we make thousands of gallons of [tepache] every year.”
West hosts an annual festival he calls “Night of a Thousand Tepaches” (Saturday, May 4th) that blends the pineapple drink with other beers and unique flavors. “We get hundreds and hundreds of people coming out for it,” West says.
From Nat’s point of view, part of the pineapple’s appeal is that it behaves very similar to apples from “an alcoholic microbiological point of view.” It’s pH falls in the same range as apples, the brix, or sugar content is comparable, and “even mechanically and structurally, when we press pineapple, physically they behave very much like apples in their cellular structures—in how you handle them and grind them,” he adds. “It is a very easy product for us to use.”
West also credits the MD-2 variety with the recent spike in pineapple interest. “If you draw a correlation between the number of people who have pineapple tattoos and the time that they got them, it will line up almost perfectly with the introduction of MD-2 pineapple,” he claims. Though West wasn’t waiting for the right pineapple to be available before he started making tepache and pineapple ciders, the introduction of MD-2 “got everyone thinking about it, which got me thinking about it,” he explains.
Rev Nat’s upcoming cider, the Millie Dillard, pays homage to the origins of the MD-2—“just to bring people to that full circle of what is MD-2 and what the importance of that pineapple is.”
Many crazes come and go in the beer and cider industry, but West thinks pineapple may be here to stay. “I am pro-science, so I am excited about the growers who can make even better tasting pineapples and juice, higher yields which can help reduce pricing” he says. “I’m all for the development of the pineapple as varieties go. With that, people are going to drink it more. It already has enough going for it, and I’m only looking forward to it being more so.”
AVBC’s Fal Allen offers the most succinct, and probably accurate, explanation of pineapple’s rise: “ As to why —who can say for sure why consumers want what they want; they just know they want it.”
The growing list of brewers incorporating the spiky fruit into their beer, ciders, and tepaches confirms Allen’s analysis.