Persimmon Beer - Gastro Obscura

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Persimmon Beer

This old American style is being resurrected by Indiana brewers.

The American persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana), a fruit native to the United States, has been sweetening the country’s palate since before the “discovery” of the New World. Early English settlers recorded that the fruit was eaten on its own, baked into bread, cakes, and puddings, and even the seeds were used to make what were regarded as very strong buttons. But its most common use might have been as persimmon beer, a sour style that’s currently enjoying a resurgence in Indiana.

The beer became a staple among enslaved plantation workers in the South, who had limited access to fresh, potable water. Plantation songs mention the enjoyment of this beer, which was commonly enhanced with such additions as sweet potatoes and apple peels. West Turner, a former slave in Virginia, wrote that leaving persimmons to ferment in a keg with water, sweet potato peels, and some hunks of cornbread yielded sweet persimmon beer. In his book, The Cooking Gene, culinary historian Michael Twitty offers a recipe for his Southern grandmother’s persimmon beer, where the fruit is boiled in water and the pulp fermented for months in a jar with red pine straw, sugar, and honey.

Recently, brewers in southern Indiana attempted to experiment with indigenous fruits and to bring back lost recipes that were a part of the nation’s history. In its contemporary form, persimmon beer is often a sour pale ale, with top notes of persimmon, pear, and peach, and a fresh, dry finish.

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