How To

Just as in cooking, different spices, herbs, flowers, roots, bark, seeds, berries and other plant ingredients impart very different characteristics to beers. They not only contribute to a beer's aroma and flavour, but can also lend a uniqueness to the beer's finish and a complexity that is hard to achieve with hops alone.

As for all types of beer, spiced &/or herbed beers require careful design, with thorough consideration for the desired balance of flavors, aromas, alcohol, bitterness and finish. Once a basic malt bill and alcohol target are established, the next step is to decide whether to use multiple spices that blend and marry the individual spices into a more complex sum of the parts, or to focus on just one spice (or herb). Many brewers choose to make a beer with an extremely one-dimensional spiced character, but even then some forethought as to the malt foundation and the strength and type of spicing is important. The most successful spiced or herbed beers are the usually the ones that retain a notable malt foundation and a moderate amount of bittering hops, where the spices and herbs complement (but do not overwhelm) the basic beer flavours. [1]

The rules of combining herbs for a beer are similar to herbal tea mixing: roots generally give a depth of flavour and either sweetness or bitterness, depending on the root; berries give a fruitiness; and aerial parts impart herbiness and often a volatile top note. Some mixtures seem good in your head but turn out to be horrible on the palate.

Herbs also have many medicinal qualities, and mankind has been exploiting herbal remedies for thousands of years. So, not only can you brew a beer with an interesting new flavour profile, but it may also have additional health benefits! (For more information see the links listed under further reading.)

Before you start adding spices and herbs to your beer, try preparing a spice or herb tea first. Experiment with the teas to get the right balance of flavours and aromas before actually committing to the home brew. Making a tea is simple. If considering using herbs, just introduce them to hot water for a few minutes (just like you would a regular tea). If you are considering spices, it is recommended that you experiment with different amounts of time. The point here is to establish what timed introduction to the heat of brewing results in what aromas and flavours. Note that seeds, berries, pods, etc should be crushed first to release their flavours and aromas. [2]

When adding spices &/or herbs to the brew, it is best to use a fabric infusion bag (as shown above) so that, after flavours are extracted, solids can be easily removed.

Some spices and herbs contribute their best flavour when added to the boil. Alternatively, adding them to secondary fermentation is also common, and the cooler extraction can provide a different flavour profile. These additions are often just poured into the secondary fermentation vessel two to ten days before bottling. For sanitation, let the spices soak for 24 hours in just enough unflavoured vodka to cover them before adding to the secondary. Pour the entire solution into the fermenter, as a lot of flavours will have already been extracted by the vodka. [3] You will lose some flavour this way, but gain good control over the outcome. Use both methods (boil and vodka-soaked tincture) together to get a well-rounded spiced/herbed beer profile. Typically, the earlier a herb or spice is added in the brewing process, the more flavour will be extracted, but also the less aroma will be retained.

Detailed note-taking and repeat experimentation are crucial. When in doubt, it is often safer to err on the conservative side and adjust upward in subsequent brews, to avoid producing a completely undrinkable beer. If a taste from the fermentor leaves you wanting more spice character, you can cook up some spices &/or herbs in a tea and add them directly to the fermentor or bottling bucket. You can also dry spice - just like dry hopping - adding the sterilised spices at the end of the primary fermentation, in the secondary fermenter, or even right into the keg. [4]

Don't overdo it with your spice additions; rather add spices in small amounts and strive to hit an elusive spice character. Making a good spiced or herbed beer is all about balance - the delicate balance between "just enough" spices &/or herbs, and too much that can overpower your palate and ruin your beer. Below is a quantities chart showing the recommended maximum amounts of herbs and spices to be used in a 20 litre batch. As the spicing of beers is a relatively new craft (actually, an old but lost craft!) and is still very much in the experimental stages, we can only offer information on quantities for the most commonly used herbs and spices. Note that information on the subject varies widely, so this chart is a guide only. Don't be afraid to experiment with more, less or different ingredients than the ones listed below. Brewers who have succesfully experimented with any spices and herbs are invited to contact us with feedback on quantities used, so that this chart can be updated.

Homebrewing is a hobby of experimentation. Adding spices and herbs can turn a favourite recipe into a classic all your own. The combinations are almost endless and, while some experiments can result in disaster, others can create that special beer that wins competitions (and fame with your friends!). Like any good recipe, try it every way that you can and mix up the ingredients until it's just perfect.

Good brewing!!

Lauren

Sources:
1. morebeer.com/articles/brewing_with_spices
2. beer.about.com/od/ homebrewingextract/f/How-Do-I-Brew-With-Herbs-And-Spices.htm
3. drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/05/homebrewing-how-to-brew-with-spices.html
4. morebeer.com/articles/brewing_with_spices

Quantities Chart


Ingredient Part of plant used
(All parts listed are dried)
Max amount in 20L batch When to add For how long
(reduce time for a more subtle character)
Allspice berries * 15g boil 45 minutes
Basil, Sweet leaves 60g steep 15 minutes
Cacao nibs 230 g secondary fermenter 10 days
Caraway seeds * 1 teaspoon boil 15 minutes
Cardamom, Green seeds * 30g boil 30 minutes
Chamomile flowers 60g boil 45 minutes
Cinnamon - Cassia bark 1 stick boil 30 minutes
Cinnamon - True bark 4 sticks boil 30 minutes
Cloves buds 10 buds boil 30 minutes
Coriander seeds * 60g boil 15 minutes
Cowslip flowers 30g boil 15 minutes
Dandelion leaves 900g boil 60 minutes
Elderberry flowers 60g secondary fermenter 2 days
berries / fruit * 4.5 kg steep 15 minutes
Elecampane root 60g boil 60 minutes
Fennel seeds * 6g boil 45 minutes
Ginger root 90g boil 15 minutes
Grains of Paradise seeds * 8g / 1 tsp boil 5 minutes
Heather flowers 12 cups boil 90 minutes
Horehound leaves + herb 60g boil 60 minutes
Juniper berries * 55g boil 60 minutes
Lavender flowers 30g steep 15 minutes
Lemon zest / peel 60g boil 15 minutes
Lemon Balm leaves 30g steep 15 minutes
Lemon Verbena leaves 30g steep 15 minutes
Licorice root 60g boil 40 minutes
Mugwort leaves + herb 60g boil 60 minutes
Nutmeg pod 3g boil 30 minutes
Oak bark chips - toasted 90g secondary fermenter 7 - 40 days
Orange - sweet zest / peel 60g boil 20 minutes
Orange - bitter zest / peel 30 g boil 15 minutes
Pepper - black / green / white berries / fruit * 1 teaspoon boil 10 minutes
Pepper - pink berries / fruit * 1 teaspoon boil 5 minutes
Rose Hips berries / fruit * 60g boil 60 minutes
Rosemary leaves 60g boil 45 minutes
Saffron threads 10 threads boil 10 minutes
Sarsaparilla root 110g boil 60 minutes
St. John's Wort leaves + herb 55g boil 10 minutes
Star Anise pod * 30g boil 30 minutes
Vanilla beans (ground and extracted in alcohol) 2 beans secondary fermenter extract is part of finished beer
Wintergreen artificial wintergreen oil: Methyl salicylate 4 drops secondary fermenter part of finished beer
Wormwood leaves 6g boil 15 minutes
Yarrow leaves + herb 60g boil 30 minutes

* Ingredient should be crushed first (use a fabric infusion bag for crushed spices so that, after flavours are extracted, solids can be easily removed before fermentation; these are available from us in 2 different sizes - see Products list).