Adding Spices to Your Home Brew Beer
So its winter at the moment and right now is the time of year when you get a lot of seasonal winter warmer style beers available. A lot of things these beers have in common is the addition of spices to add a further warming character that really changes the beers flavour. I have to say that I am a big fan of adding herbs and spices to my beers and I try not to confine it to any season. There are many varieties of beer like Belgian Wit and Saison that use spices as standard so don’t go thinking that you can’t introduce some spice to your brews at any time of year.
What Spices Can You Use
I will quickly run through some of the herbs spices that you can experiment with but won’t go into too much detail here because I want to cover how you go about using them. I will look at what each of these herbs and spices add in a future post. Here are a few among others:
Allspice, Star Anise, Aniseed, Basil, Bay, Caraway, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Fennel, Ginger, Heather, Juniper, Lavender, Liquorice, Mint, Nutmeg, Orange Peel, Pepper, Rosemary, Sage, Vanilla, Yarrow.
How Do You Get Them in Your Home Brew
There are a couple of ways to start using herbs and spices in your home brew so I will cover a few aspects here. First off when I brewed my first spiced beer I had a recipe so I did as I was told and put the stated amounts of each spice in at the specific point. However I soon thought that I have a ton of spices sitting in a rack and I want to try my own variation, but I don’t want to ruin a whole 5 gallon batch and end up with a load of beer that tastes of perfume. There is an easy way you can experiment with spices on a small scale just one bottle at a time.
All you need is a small amount of cheap vodka, your spices and a bottle of beer.
- Take some spice you like the look of. Say you want cardamon, fennel and juniper berries measure them and note the quantities you used and put them in a jar.
- Cover with a small amount of the cheap vodka you want roughly twice the amount of vodka to spices.
- Allow this to infuse for a few days to a week.
- Now pour your beer into a glass and add a drop or two of the vodka spice mix (a pipette is good for this).
- Stir the vodka into the beer and test it. Decided if its enough, is it too strong, is one spice overpowering the rest. As you added such a small amount you may decide its not strong enough so you can keep adding until you get a quantity you like.
It now a case of when you find a mix you like to scale it up to your brew length. If you added 8 drops in your pint and your brew length is 40 pints you need 320 drops. This works out at around 16ml of vodka (this assumes a drop is 0.05ml).
Of course you may need to add more or less of the spice solution according to your beer and spices you are using. It is easiest to add this solution at the point of bottling as you can just add this to your bottling bucket with any priming sugar solution and rack the beer on top to get it thoroughly mixed. Adding this vodka solution won’t add up to much extra alcoholic strength so don’t worry to much about that. Also you won’t risk infection because all the spices will be sterlised in the alcohol. Win
Adding At The End of the Boil
The other option open to you is to add the spices directly into the beer. I like this method as it doesn’t require as much prep and, I am lazy. It is important though you have a rough idea of the quantites and ratios that you are going to add to the beer before hand because you don’t want anything overpowering.
A good way to get an idea of quantities and combinations is to either test yourself in small batches or to study some recipes and see what other people are doing. Ultimately though it is all about trial and error. If you are adding spices straight into the beer the best time to add them is around the last minute of the boil. You don’t want the spices to lose all their aromatic qualities. Things like orange peel can be added for longer to extract more flavour. Apart from that just use your common sense, if you add a herb like mint half way through the boil its going to lose a lot of its aromatic qualities.
So there we have it. I think this really just scratches the surface so will follow this post up soon and go into more detail on what each of the spices adds in terms of flavour and some combinations I have used and seen.