Brewing With Bananas (How Much, When To Add, and More!)

From hefeweizens to banana bread ales, banana is a delicious addition to many styles of beer. Thanks to their fruity, malty aroma that pairs perfectly with the natural aromatic compounds created during fermentation, you will find almost unlimited possibilities when it comes to adding banana flavors into your beer.

Banana flavors in beer are produced primarily from isoamyl acetate, in addition to 48 other volatile aromatic compounds. Many of these can be induced naturally by choosing appropriate yeast and hops combinations, but the flavor can also be added using banana extract, banana juice, or mashed banana at various points throughout the brewing process. 

Read on to get an in-depth look at how to get the best banana flavor for your beer!

How common is banana beer flavor?

Although European beers would never have included bananas, banana flavors have long been used while brewing alcohol around the world.

German wheat beers and African banana beers derive their fruity aromas from different sources, but the similarities in their results show how ubiquitous the flavors of banana are in the world of brewing. 

The compound responsible for the banana flavors in hefeweizens and other wheat beers is the aroma known as isoamyl acetate. Although it is particularly pronounced in certain styles, this flavor is found in all beers to some extent. 

Many brewers have begun to use bananas to flavor European and American-style beers to highlight these naturally occurring banana-like esters, both for fruity IPAs and malty “banana-bread” stouts. 

Finally, you shouldn’t overlook the rich history of banana beer made throughout the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Though some might consider it wine due to its high percentage of fruit to grain, the recipe’s use of starchy beer plantains, malted sorghum wheat, and astringent bananas used like hops for their strong tannins and bitter resin makes for a beverage closely related to our traditional understanding of beer.

Beer styles that traditionally include banana flavors

Although European beermakers would not traditionally have access to fresh bananas to add to their beers, there has been a long history of banana flavors in alcoholic beverages.

In southern Germany, wheat beers often expressed strong banana and clove-like flavors thanks to a yeast byproduct known as isoamyl acetate, or “banana oil.” Meanwhile, the Great Lakes region of Africa has a long history of using bananas as the main ingredient for beer making. 

Sometimes considered an off-flavor, isoamyl acetate is considered an essential aroma in many German wheat beers and hefeweizens in particular. Wheat beers produce especially high amounts of high alcohols, including the isoamyl alcohols that produce banana oil. 

While there is more to bananas than just isoamyl acetate, many of the 49 flavors compounds identified in bananas are also produced during the fermentation process.

In addition to the banana flavors found in German wheat beers, there is a long history of brewing with real bananas in Southeastern Africa. There, banana juice is mixed with water and roasted sorghum before being fermented into a fruity beverage. 

Other types of banana flavored beer

While banana is an increasingly popular flavoring in beer, many of the beers that have featured banana have been limited runs. Nevertheless, seeing how professional breweries have used the flavor can give you inspiration for your own brewing projects!

A couple of great banana-flavored offerings have included:

  • Eagle Brewery Banana Bread Beer – A widely loved dark lambic featuring a malty toffee body. The grassy, citrusy aromas of fresh banana blend with a dry, peppery finish.
  • Eclipse Banana Fritter – An imperial stout brewed with bananas, cinnamon, sugar, and aged in rum barrels.
  • Stillwater / Hoof Hearted Fruit (and Hops) on the Bottom #1 – A sour IPA brewed with lactose, vanilla extract, yogurt, strawberry and banana. Hopped with Mosaic and Citra.
  • The Bruery Bakery Banana Bread – An Imperial Stout rested on walnuts and banana for a sweet banana flavor.
  • To Øl Dangerously Close to Stupid Amount of Banana – An imperial DIPA flavored with banana, lychee, and passion fruit and dry hopped with Citra and Centennial.  

What causes banana flavor in beer?

Banana flavors can be introduced into beer through the brewing process or by adding banana flavor after brewing in the form of banana extract or banana juice.

When brewing a banana-inspired beer, remember that adding fresh bananas can input more sugar into your brew and may require that you edit your recipe.

Isoamyl acetate and similar aromatic compounds can develop naturally in your beer and will not require you to drastically alter your recipe.

Which beer styles pair best with banana flavors

When planning a banana-inspired beer, you’ll want to make sure to match the flavor profile of your beer to the aromatic compounds found in bananas.

Wheat beers, IPAs, and stouts can all highlight the flavor of bananas as long as you use the right hops and banana preparation!

According to Chef James Briscione, author of The Flavor Matrix, flavors pair well together when they share a large number of aromatic compounds. With that in mind, beer and bananas are already a perfect match since many of the aromas found in bananas are naturally produced in beer.

That being said, let’s take a look at some of the flavor groups and how they might help you plan a great banana-flavored beer:

  • Fruity notes – The most powerful aromas found in bananas are the fruity aromas found in isoamyl acetate, 2-pentanol acetate, 2-methyl-1-propanol, 3-methyl-1-butanol, isobutyl acetate, and acetal. These aromas are naturally produced during fermentation, but wheat beers that favor these high alcohol compounds will naturally enhance banana flavors.

Bananas’ fruity flavor profile also features floral pineapple-like flavors of ethyl butyrate and butyl butyrate (no wonder pineapple-banana smoothies work so well!).  So if you want to lean into a tropical, fruity flavor profile you can experiment with hops like El Dorado that feature a pineapple aroma.

  • Spicy notes – Another flavor found in bananas is the spicy clove flavor produced by eugeno and E-2-hexenal. This flavor is also naturally produced in German wheat beers thanks to the 4-vinyl guaiacol produced by traditional weissbier yeast strains.
  • Malty notes – Bananas are rich in 3-methylbutanal, the same malty aroma found in beer, cheese, chocolate, and coffee. This is the aroma that takes center stage when bananas are used in desserts like banana bread and bananas foster. If you plan on making a banana stout, you should lean into these rich, malty flavors.
  • Citric and grassy notes – Fresh bananas are known for their pungent and grassy smell thanks to healthy amounts of hexanal and limonene. These compounds smell like a freshly cut lawn and orange peel, respectively, and are great flavors to work with when selecting hops. 

Based on the flavor profile of bananas, the best options for a banana themed beer are: 

  • Dark and malty banana-bread inspired
  • Clove-forward wheat beer
  • Fruity IPA

No matter the style, you’ll want to select a yeast that promotes spicy clove-like flavors and a hop that plays well with banana, like:

  • Fruity hops like El Dorado (fruity, pineapple and guava aromas)
  • Cascade or Galaxy (Floral, spice and citrus)
  • Topaz (Fruity, grassy, and clove), or
  • Any hops used for German Wietbier like Hallertau (Spicy, floral, and grassy)

How to brew a beer style that includes banana flavors

While planning your next banana-flavored beer, be sure to consider all the possible ways you can add banana flavors.

Yeast byproducts, banana extracts, mashed bananas, and banana juice should all be treated differently and highlight different characteristics of the classic banana aroma you know and love.

Banana Hefeweizen Beer Recipe

Though hefeweizens are already packed with banana esters when brewed naturally, there is plenty of room to add more flavor to this style.

While there aren’t too many recipes out there for banana hefeweizens, there are a number of experiments out there, like this one from Brewer’s Friend.

However, since hefeweizens are already famous for their banana and clove aromas, you can always follow an all-grain recipe like the one featured here at Northern Brewer.

If the final product really leaves you disappointed, you can always mix up a bananaweizenbier, the German beer cocktail made by mixing weissbier with a splash of fresh banana juice! 

How to add banana flavor to any beer style

Although banana flavors work incredibly well with many styles of beer, it can be quite difficult to work with fresh bananas. Let’s investigate the pros and cons of using different methods to develop the great flavors associated with this fruit.

When planning a banana-flavored beer, you’ll have to choose how you will develop these aromas:

  • Developing banana flavors from yeast
  • Using banana extract
  • Using fresh banana juice
  • Infusing bananas in your wort

Banana flavor from yeast

Banana flavors are often produced in German wheat beers thanks to the production of high alcohols during wheat fermentation. 

Along with the type of grain, high alcohols are generally produced during fast fermentation at higher temperatures, so if you want to induce more isoamyl acetate in your beer, you can experiment with fermenting it at a higher temperature. 

If you decide to go this route, you should be aware that high-temperature fermentation can produce other off-flavors as well and may result in a beer that tastes acrid and overwhelmingly hot. For this reason, I recommend using a traditional wheat beer recipe when trying to develop banana flavors from yeast.

Banana flavor from extracts

Banana extract is an easy way to add a powerful kick of banana flavor to your beer.

However, these extracts rarely produce the full depth of banana flavor you could produce through natural fermentation or by using real bananas and are often described as having an artificial “banana-candy” flavor. This is because banana extracts don’t have any of the E-2-hexenal, limonene, or eugenol found in the real thing.

If you do decide to use banana extracts to flavor your beer, use about 2 ounces per 5-gallon batch of beer, and add it right at the bottling stage.

Banana flavor from fresh banana juice

The banana beer enjoyed throughout Uganda, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi is made by mixing fresh banana juice with water and roasted sorghum. Thanks to the sugar content in bananas, banana beer ferments quickly, reaching between 6 and 11% alcohol by volume within 2-4 days.

Your beer will certainly take longer to ferment if you use the banana juice as a flavoring instead of as the main ingredient, but you should still be aware that the high sugar content from fresh banana juice will drastically change your recipe. 

If you are an experienced brewer and are ready to experiment, I recommend using a splash of fresh-squeezed banana juice during bottling instead of priming sugar. Though this might require a bit of experimentation, using banana juice in this way will allow you to enjoy the volatile aromas of fresh banana while paying homage to the quick-fermenting banana beer of Southeastern Africa.

Banana flavor from infusing bananas

If you’re looking for a simpler method for infusing banana flavor into your beer, you can also mash your bananas and let them soak in your beer. This is the method with the least room for error, although it is certainly more time-consuming than using banana juice or banana extract. 

If you’re looking for malty, caramel notes for a banana stout, you can poach your bananas in hot wort after hopping. You won’t get as many of the grassy, citrusy aromas this way, but the sweet, cooked banana flavor ideal for darker beers will absolutely come through. 

If you prefer a lighter, more aromatic banana flavor, you can also let your mashed, pasteurized bananas soak later during the fermentation process just as you would do with hops if you were dry hopping your beer.

If you try either of these methods, just be sure not to let your banana mash reach above 160°F either while cooking the wort or pasteurizing the fruit itself. High temperatures may release pectin, turning your beer into jelly!

Banana beer all grain recipes

If you’re excited about trying out a banana-flavored beer at home, you’re probably wondering where to start.

Here are some awesome banana-inspired homebrew beer recipes:

  • Banana Bread Beer
  • Banana Milkshake IPA
  • Banana Cream Pie Ale
  • African Banana Beer

Banana Bread Beer

This classic brown ale is rested on bananas and walnuts for a malty, cooked banana flavor.

The Clawhammer Supply brew team put a lot of effort into highlighting the natural banana esters in their beer by inducing isoamyl acetate production and with the addition of Hallertau hops.

The straightforward methods are hard to beat, but you should be prepared for an extended bottle conditioning to get the most out of this recipe; the additional sugar from the bananas produced some higher alcohols that needed time to mellow out.

Check out the recipe at the Clawhammer Supply website.

Banana Milkshake IPA

This IPA shows just how much banana flavor you can get from a recipe even without adding fruit to it!

With a combination of lactose, bananza ale yeast, and a masterful blend of hops, this recipe will highlight the flavors of hops without the hassle of infusing fresh fruit.

If you’re interested in trying out this recipe, you can find it on the Omega Yeast website.

Banana Cream Pie Ale

Another interesting addition to the list, Ballast Point’s Banana Cream Pie Ale recipe features a unique way to introduce banana flavors into your beer.

Instead of using fresh banana mash or extract, this recipe calls for dehydrated banana chips to be used after fermentation. 

This is a great way to add banana flavor without adding too much sugar, so this recipe is worth a read.

African Banana Beer

Though there’s been some discussion about whether or not African banana beer should be considered beer, there’s no way I could leave it out of a discussion on brewing with bananas.

When you compare the methods for brewing banana beer and traditional European beer styles, the similarities are pretty much one-to-one. Both recipes feature malted cereal grains supplemented with added sugar (either from bananas or barley malt). Both of these mixtures are then boiled with a bittering agent (either bitter, resinous plantains, or hops).

Of course, if you want to try making banana beer but don’t have access to the types of bananas grown specifically for brewing beer, you can still produce a similar beer using hops. This recipe from Epic Curiosity uses magnum hops, so feel free to experiment and explore the world of beer!

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