Brewing Flavored Beers at Home

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Unusual Flavorings in Homebrew – Chocolate, Smoke, Spruce Essence

One of the things new homebrewers like to do is to experiment with odd and unusual ingredients. Some of these may be fermentable sugars (those which can be converted to alcohol during fermentation), but many more are simply of the flavoring persuasion.

Here is a brief overview of the exotic and the esoteric:

  • Chocolate: Beer made with real chocolate is a unique brew that brewers are only occasionally inspired to make (most brewers create chocolate character in their beers with the judicious use of chocolate malt, which has nothing to do with the cocoa bean). Use only unsweetened baker’s chocolate. One or two 1-ounce squares in a 5-gallon batch is sufficient. Cocoa powder can also be used.
  • Spruce essence: A tip of the cap to colonial beers, spruce beer was an early American favorite. Using the new spring growth (the needles) of the spruce tree was the old fashioned method. Today, you can buy spruce essence through your homebrew supplier. Five teaspoons or less gives your beer a refreshing spruce taste.
  • Licorice: Brewers who like this flavor can add all they want to their own beer by using unsweetened brewer’s licorice sticks, which are sold by homebrew suppliers. But, be careful not to overuse licorice, as a little goes a long way. An inch or two is sufficient for a 5-gallon batch.
  • Fruit flavorings: Some fruit flavorings are available without added sugar. These liquid flavorings are used in the same way that you use fruit juices or extracts, except that unsweetened fruit flavorings don’t require additional fermentation time. Doses depend on the flavor intensity of the fruit, the brand, the beer style, your personal taste, and so on. Fruit flavorings are much easier to work with than real fruit; they’re widely available and they’re never out of season. To preserve as much fruit character as possible, add the flavoring after fermentation has subsided.
  • Oak chips/oak extract: Brewers wishing to emulate the oaky character of traditional India Pale Ales or their favorite oak-aged Belgian beers can try using oak chips. Because oak adds tannin to beer, you never want to boil the chips; too much tannin can be unpleasantly bitter. The best way to use oak chips is to steam them for 15 minutes (to sanitize them) before adding them to the secondary fermenter. Oak flavor is also available in concentrated extract form.
  • Smoke: Smoked Beer is another esoteric brew. Fans of German Rauchbier -and even Scottish Ales- can emulate their favorite smoky brews by simply steeping smoked malts in water before adding the liquid to the beer. You can buy smoked malt at homebrew supply shops.
  • Vanilla: Homebrewers have a choice of working with pure vanilla extract or the purist’s vanilla bean, though neither is widely used in beer making. Commercial brewers who produce this unusual flavor of brew, usually reserve it for a once-a-year specialty Spiced Ale or Christmas beer.
  • Orange peel: Due to the growing popularity of Belgian Witbier, dried orange peel is now available at most good homebrew supply stores. Choose between sweet orange or bitter (Curaçao) orange variety.

This is just a snapshot of the items that can be used to flavor your beer; surely there are more. The one thing all homebrewers have in common is that they are limited only by their imaginations.

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