Brewing SolutionsThe Complete Guide to Spicing your Beer with Herbs and other Exotic Ingredients

Looking for unique brews to serve your customers? Want them to experience something like they’ve never tried before? Have you ever thought of adding spices, herbs and even fruits and flowers to your brews?

Here’s the complete guide to spicing your beer with the right spice and herb mixtures. Let’s get started.

Long, long ago – Hops weren’t the Only Herb used in Beer Making

Though hops are the most commonly used herb for brewing today, it hasn’t always been like that. In fact, hops transformed into the primary ingredient for brewing beer only just around 500 years ago. This happened with the introduction of the Reinheitsgebot, the Purity Law of Bavaria, that limited the ingredients used in beer. This law stated that nothing apart from hops, barley and water could be used for making beer.

Long before this law came into existence, a plethora of ingredients was used to flavor brews and add to the aroma. Scots were known for making beer with heather, while the Belgians add bitter orange peel and coriander to their brews. In parts of Scandinavia, juniper berries were used in brews (this practice exists even today).

Today, creative craft brewers are reviving this ancient practice by experimenting with a variety of herbs and spices. These ingredients add a unique flavor and aroma to regular brews.

How to Choose the Right Herbs and Spices?

Here’s a list of the commonly used spices and their impact on the final brew.

Sweet spices – This includes cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. They add sweetness and warmth to the brew. Think of a spiced Christmas ale or a pumpkin ale. Though star anise and cardamom belong to the tribe of sweet spices, they are used less frequently.

Vanilla – By just adding a few split high-quality vanilla beans into your brew, you can enhance its sweetness and creaminess. Think of it as the super-star of spices. It goes well along with everything else.

Vanilla is often added to brews like cream ales, stouts, and porters. It pairs well with the sweet spices mentioned above as well as other citrusy flavors like oranges and lemons. Vanilla can even balance the spiciness of other ingredients like black pepper or ginger.

Kitchen Herbs – You can even add kitchen herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, pineapple sage, and orange balsam thyme to your brew to add a citrusy or grassy flavor to it. These herbs work excellently with brews that are light.

Apart from the herbs mentioned above, other herbs like lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and lemon verbena also work well.

Coriander –
By adding crushed coriander seeds you can increase the nutty aromas and citrus flavors of your brew. Coriander is especially delicious in witbier styled brews.

Floral Additions – Rosehips, chamomile, and lavender all have delicate flavors that work well with lighter brews. Adding these flowers creates an incredibly refreshing and unique brew. However, don’t go overboard as it can end up tasting soapy.

Piney Notes – Juniper berries, rosemary, and spruce tips add a piney note to the brew. This can be used to either enhance the flavor of hops, complement it or even replace it altogether.

Hot and Spicy Additions –
Ginger, black pepper, jalapenos, and chilies are used to add a satisfying and surprising zing to the brew. A spicy beer tastes like eating chocolate infused with chilies.

Salt – This is one ingredient that is never used with beer. However, if you’re brewing a Gose (a sour-styled beer), then adding a pinch of salt along with the other spices helps to enhance the sour flavor of the drink.

How to use Spices and Herbs along with the Hops?

The hops lend the strongest aroma and flavor to your brew. It’s essential to adjust the strength of the hop so that it works in accordance with the herbs and spices added to the brew. Look for hops that don’t clash with the spices and herbs you choose.

When using herbs and spices, you want the flavors of these ingredients to shine through. So, make sure to lower the profile of the hops.

Should you add Ground Spices or Whole Spices?

Remember that for most spices to release their flavor, they have to either be ground or crushed. Just like you don’t brew coffee with whole beans, you have to crush your spices to extract the best flavor. If you don’t have a dedicated spice grinder, then you can use any coffee grinder.

No grinder? No issues place the spices you want to use in a Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush it. However, remember that finer the spices the difficult it is to filter them out. So, if you’re aiming for a clear brew, then keep your spices big enough.

If you cannot find the right fresh spices, you can use frozen spices. However, remember that frozen spices don’t have as much flavor as regular whole spices.

Fresh Herbs Vs Dried Herbs – Which works for Brewing?

When it comes to herbs, the fresher the better is the flavor and aroma. If you don’t get fresh herbs, then you can use dried herbs. However, remember that the longer the dried herbs are stored in your pantry, the blander they become.

When to Add Herbs and Spices to the Brew?

Just like hops, the time at which you add herbs and spices to the brew determines the flavor and aroma. Here are three different stages when you can add these ingredients.

  • During Boiling

You can add herbs and spices during the initial boiling stage, just like you add hops. Adding these ingredients earlier gives you higher flavor but lesser aroma. If the flavor is your priority, then add herbs and spices half-an-hour after you start the boiling process. If aroma matters more to you, then adding these ingredients towards the end makes the most sense.

  • Secondary Fermentation

You can also add spices and herbs during the secondary fermentation process, just like you add hops during dry hopping. This works well for delicate herbs like chamomile and sweetgrass, which lose their aromas with boiling.

  • In the Bottle

If you feel that your brew doesn’t have enough of the herby flavor, then you can add extra during the bottling stage. To do this, boil the spice and herbs in water, just like you brew tea. Then, add priming sugar and the brew to this “herbal” tea.

Striking the Right Balance – How much is too much?

It’s easy to go overboard with spices and herbs. The general rule of thumb is to add herbs and spices on the lower side. This way, you are in control and you can add extra if needed in the later stages.

Happy Brewing!

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