Making Flavorful Homebrews Using Your Spice Rack
Herb and spice beer is the category that really challenges the conventional concept of beer, although what seemed alien a decade ago is now considered mainstream.
Your spice rack at home presents an (almost) unlimited variety of choices for your next brew, but just because you like cumin and lemongrass, that doesn’t mean they would taste good in beer. Before trying anything imagine the taste of the beer you have in mind. Or better yet, give your beer flavoring idea a taste test: try brewing a little “tea” with the herb or spice you have in mind and strain it into a commercial beer similar to the style that you intend to make.
And remember- fresh and whole herbs and spices are always better than those that are old, stale, chopped, or powdered, and using too little of an ingredient is better than using too much.
Most Popular Spices for Use in HomeBrewing:
- Allspice: This is one of the more interesting spices to use; within the single small berry is a natural mixture of flavors reminiscent of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and juniper berries.
- Cardamom: The plump seeds of the cardamom family are used in culinary applications as diverse as coffee flavoring, barbecue sauces, and curry powder. Used judiciously, cardamom lends beer a unique and subtle spicy flavor.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon works well in big-bodied beers made for wintertime consumption. Cinnamon bark is preferred over the powder because you can easily remove the sticks from the brew; cinnamon powder (unless filtered out) would remain in the beer and may create a harsh flavor and an unpleasant lingering mouthfeel.
- Cloves: Clove-like aromas and tastes occur naturally in some beer styles — most notably the Bavarian Weizenbiers and some Belgian Ales. Homebrewers can introduce clove character by using whole cloves -but use them in small quantities, as cloves are perceived as having a strong medicinal character.
- Ginger: The flavor of raw gingerroot is intense and may be described as spicy-hot or sharp in anything but small quantities or dilutions. The actual flavor -closely associated with ginger ale soda- actually works quite well in beer. The key is to use grated gingerroot rather than ginger powder.
- Vanilla bean: Although high-quality vanilla extract is easier to work with, the oil of the vanilla bean can also lend a pleasant mouthfeel to your brew while it gives a rich aroma and flavor. For best results, use macerated (crushed) vanilla beans during secondary fermentation only.
Some Herbs that May Work Well in Homebrew:
- Anise: The star anise variety is most often used. This herb gives beer a subtle licorice undertone.
- Caraway: This seed is rarely used on its own, but it’s a natural complementary flavoring for anyone attempting to make a flavorful rye beer.
- Coriander: Coriander is the seed of the same plant from which cilantro is derived. The lemony coriander is a key ingredient in a traditional Belgian Witbier, but it works well in many beer styles.
- Sweet gale: This herb is an aromatic seasoning that is used by many Belgian brewers to add a lightly sweet flavor. Use sparingly.
- Mint: Mint isn’t high on the list of desired herbs for brewing, but it can work in certain beer styles if handled properly (think dark beer). Peppermint and spearmint are easily recognized, but there are lesser known mint varieties, such as apple mint, that are less assertive but equally refreshing.