Fake It When You Make It!

takes you on a rapid-fire jour­ney through a range of spices and herbs that en­hance, aug­ment, im­i­tate, and/or in­ten­sify both tra­di­tional beer fla­vors and beer-ad­ja­cent fla­vors that you might want to work into your recipes.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Josh Weik­ert takes you on a rapid-fire jour­ney through a range of spices and herbs that en­hance, aug­ment, im­i­tate, and/or in­ten­sify both tra­di­tional beer fla­vors and beer-ad­ja­cent fla­vors.

WHEN BREW­ING, IT’S NEARLY

al­ways bet­ter to think in terms of fla­vors, not in­gre­di­ents. De­cid­ing on a fla­vor pro­file is a use­ful first step, and whether you’re build­ing from a known style/guide­line or just wing­ing it, it’s still pro­duc­tive to be­gin with where you want to end up. That goal—what­ever it is—might re­quire you to think be­yond the usual water, grain, hops, and yeast.

Once upon a time, rel­a­tively early in my brew­ing life, my wife wanted to make a maple beer. We added maple syrup at mul­ti­ple points in the boil, in pri­mary, and in sec­ondary, and then tasted: she had made es­sen­tially a re­ally hot, re­ally thin English brown ale with not a hint of maple fla­vor be­cause ap­par­ently yeast cells are re­ally into pan­cakes and had con­sumed every last scin­tilla of maple syrup that we threw at them. I knew that maple syrup was highly fer­mentable, of course, but I made the mis­taken as­sump­tion that if we added it through­out the brew­ing process then at least some maple fla­vor would sur­vive when it came time to pack­age up the fin­ished beer. I was patently wrong, and although we sal­vaged the beer

(oddly enough with a touch of al­mond ex­tract—that’s a story for an­other day), we could have made the very maple beer that Bar­bara wanted if we’d known there was a par­tic­u­lar spice that did the job in­stead of tak­ing the “ob­vi­ous” route.

So, in that spirit, this ar­ti­cle will take a rapid-fire jour­ney through a range of spices and herbs that en­hance, aug­ment, im­i­tate, and/or in­ten­sify both tra­di­tional beer fla­vors and beer-ad­ja­cent fla­vors that you might want to work into your recipes. Keep your arms and legs in­side the tram at all times…

Hopped Up Hops Sub­sti­tutes

Since hops are them­selves some­thing of an her­bal/spice prod­uct, many spices and herbs can be used ei­ther to re­place or reimag­ine your “hops” pro­file.

FLO­RAL

If we’re look­ing for some­thing in the neigh­bor­hood of “flo­ral,” it might be a bit on-the-nose to point out that we have a wide range of flower petals from which to choose. If you want the clas­sic geran­iol-driven rosy fla­vors, why not con­sider rose petals (not to be con­fused with rose hips, but we’ll get back to those)? If you want a brighter fruit/flo­ral nose, con­sider dried hibis­cus, which will also add a vivid red­dish hue to your beer.

Ac­tual flow­ers are a bit of a cop-out, though: what about non-flo­ral things that add flo­ral notes, es­pe­cially when they add more? Dried rose­mary is a fa­vorite, and an­other ex­per­i­ment (this one suc­cess­ful) from my wife’s brew­ing reper­toire: in ad­di­tion to a light flo­ral note, it adds a bit of pine and even light cit­rus to the mix, much like Amer­i­can or New Zealand vari­ants on no­ble hops. I’ve used rose­mary as a straight-up hops re­place­ment. If you have the means, saf­fron is also a great choice, be­ing it­self a hand­picked part of a flower, and while costly, a lit­tle goes a very long way. Car­damom is also a nice al­ter­na­tive and adds some cit­rus fruit fla­vors, es­pe­cially in the cracked (rather than ground) seeds.

WOOD­LANDS

What if you want some­thing be­yond the meadow and into the woods? Here, again, we have any num­ber of lit­eral and not-so-ob­vi­ous op­tions. First, there are ac­tual pine prod­ucts: nee­dles, tips, and even some pinecones. Cas­cade hops are great,

but noth­ing says pine like pine! It’s even healthy: spruce tips, just as one ex­am­ple, are loaded with vi­ta­min C in ad­di­tion to adding bright pine fla­vors to your beer (be care­ful not to overdo it, though: we don’t want beers that smell like floor pol­ish).

For an in­tense and evoca­tive pine and cit­rus fla­vor, you might also con­sider ju­niper ber­ries for a bril­liant pine punch with some sharp cit­rus tang that goes far be­yond what hops can of­fer. (Be very care­ful here, though! They’re in­tense, and a lit­tle goes a very long way!)

And if you’re look­ing for that leafy­woods char­ac­ter rather than the ever­green va­ri­ety, spices such as turmeric and thyme will evoke that deep-woods, barky fla­vor. Turmeric, a cousin of cin­na­mon (it­self a bark), has a deep san­dal­wood aroma, while thyme fea­tures an her­bal (and, de­pend­ing on its source and breed­ing, lemony-cit­rus) char­ac­ter that is back­stopped by a touch of wood-and-men­thol cam­phor oil.

FRUIT

Then there are your fruity fla­vors. Per­haps the king of cit­rus-spic­ing for beer is co­rian­der, which, when cracked or ground, adds a le­mon-pep­per-with-a-hint-of-mint fla­vor that is com­mon to Bel­gian wit­biers but can be used in a great many more styles. I re­cently popped open a fresh bag of Ger­man Po­laris hops, and co­rian­der’s cit­rus-mint char­ac­ter was al­most a per­fect match for it! We can also take ad­van­tage of a wide range of dried peels, which have the ben­e­fit of adding the fla­vor of the fruit in ques­tion—whether it be key lime, Meyer le­mon, Seville or­ange, and more—with­out adding the sharp acid­ity of the juices from the same. Ac­count for a bit of tart tan­nin from the pith (or just stick with zest), and the cit­rus oils will take it from there!

Last, I promised we’d get back to rose hips: rose hips aren’t even part of the rose flower, but are rather the fruit of rose bushes and trees. They yield a tart berry fla­vor and are a com­mon ad­di­tion to beers and meads.

Give Your Mi­cro­biota a Help­ing Hand

Then we have spices that mimic (and maybe even out­per­form) the out­put from the fer­men­ta­tion process. Re­mem­ber, fla­vors are fla­vors, and whether we get them naturally or “cheat” and add them di­rectly, your palate won’t care about the dif­fer­ence if they’re done well!

BEL­GIAN

One class of th­ese we can safely re­fer to as the “Bel­gian” fla­vors: spicy phe­nols, dark fruit, ba­nana, and the like. Luck­ily, our spice rack has a num­ber of ex­cel­lent op­tions for us. Fen­nel seed is one such op­tion, and it will im­part a lovely laven­der-li­corice fla­vor that takes the best of star anise and soft­ens it to the point where even those of us who hate the fla­vor of unadul­ter­ated li­corice (point­ing at my­self) will en­joy it!

We also have the ever-pop­u­lar grains of par­adise (also known, in­ci­den­tally, as “al­li­ga­tor spice,” which should in­crease your de­sire to brew with it by a fac­tor of ten), a pep­per-like spice that kicks off not just the pep­pery phe­nols com­mon to Bel­gian yeast fermentations but also a dizzy­ing blend of ad­di­tional fla­vors in­clud­ing pas­sion fruit, jas­mine, and even grape­fruit and lime.

Fi­nally, let’s not make this too com­pli­cated: if what you want out of your Bel­gian (or Ger­man weizen) yeast is clove and ba­nana, then think about adding cracked clove and diced dried ba­nana. Even if you get the per­for­mance you’re hop­ing for from your yeast, the ad­di­tional help prob­a­bly won’t hurt!

SOUR

The other class of fla­vors might best be de­scribed as the “sour­ing agent” con­tri­bu­tions. Many brew­ers are a bit gun-shy when it comes to us­ing sour­ing agents in their beer, for fear that they’ll end up with con­tam­i­na­tion prob­lems in beers that shouldn’t have been ex­posed to all-too-per­sis­tent bugs, de­spite care­ful clean­ing and san­i­ta­tion. To get around this, we can add tart­ness and sour­ness di­rectly, but naked ad­di­tions of lac­tic or cit­ric acid can be a bit too stark on the palate, leav­ing you with the same im­pres­sion you get when see­ing an ob­vi­ously-pho­to­shopped-in face in a pho­to­graph. In­stead, you might con­sider a spice op­tion that can add a more well-rounded but still cleanly tart fla­vor, of­ten with some good sec­ondary fla­vors.

Op­tions abound, but there are two in par­tic­u­lar that I’ve seen used with great suc­cess. First is tamarind, a com­mon in­gre­di­ent in In­dian cook­ing and a shock­ingly good brew­ing in­gre­di­ent! Young tamarind is brightly—some might say ag­gres­sively—sour and has an un­der­ly­ing fla­vor of pear and mango that makes for the most in­ter­est­ing Ber­liner weisse you could pos­si­bly hope for. It also pairs very well with the Flan­ders sours, with the fruitier Red and even the darker and maltier Brown. Don’t be­lieve me? Fun fact: tamarind ex­tract is a key in­gre­di­ent in Worces­ter­shire sauce, so it’s more than up to a sa­vory ap­pli­ca­tion that’s heavy on dark malt fla­vors.

An­other ex­otic in­gre­di­ent (this one is harder to find, but worth the ef­fort) is loomi, or black lime. Th­ese are limes that have been de­lib­er­ately de­hy­drated and aged, and the re­sult is a fruit that has a slightly “fer­mented” fla­vor, bright acid­ity, rich aro­matic cit­rus oils, and a dry­ing tan­nic fla­vor from the rind. Sliced and added post-fer­men­ta­tion, loomi cre­ates won­der­ful and ex­otic sours out of al­most any beer style, but es­pe­cially Amer­i­can pales and IPAS.

And the Rest

Last, we have a smor­gas­bord of spices and prod­ucts that can add fla­vors that aug­ment and punch-up things we might find in beer any­way, just in dif­fer­ing amounts or from dif­fer­ing sources (we’re fi­nally get­ting back to that maple!). I’ve ei­ther per­son­ally used or tasted home­brews with th­ese in­gre­di­ents, and I feel con­fi­dent rec­om­mend­ing them. In no par­tic­u­lar or­der:

Brew­ing can be hard enough with­out the un­cer­tainty of try­ing to yield every fla­vor from the same four in­gre­di­ents. Fer­men­ta­tion can be un­pre­dictable, es­pe­cially from a fla­vor per­spec­tive. Hops oils in­ter­act strangely and in ways we don’t yet com­pletely un­der­stand. Why not take the guess­work out and add the fla­vors di­rectly?

Co­coa nibs and cof­fee beans: sure, we’ve all seen th­ese used be­fore, but see if you can hunt down less-com­mon va­ri­eties from spe­cialty mar­kets and in­de­pen­dent cof­fee shops or beaner­ies to add un­ex­pected vari­a­tions on your clas­sic porter and stout recipes! Want a maple beer, but can’t keep the maple in the beer? Fenu­greek is the an­swer: a ground seed that adds some light bit­ter­ness but also an un­mis­tak­able touch of maple. Sumac might call to mind itchy an­kles for some, but that’s the poi­son va­ri­ety: dried and ground sumac ber­ries add tart cit­rus and bril­liant red to your beer in much the same way the cran­ber­ries do, but with­out the mas­sive tan­nin at­tack that ac­com­pa­nies them. We’ve all heard of basil, but what about cin­na­mon basil? It’s just what it sounds like. It’s a va­ri­ety of basil that also hap­pens to have flow­ing in its leaves the same com­pound that makes cin­na­mon taste like cin­na­mon. It’s a wild and fun in­gre­di­ent that I first ex­pe­ri­enced added to an Ok­to­ber­fest beer, of all things—the rich bready malt and warm­ing cin­na­mon and cool basil were a per­fect match.

Fi­nally, there’s what we might call the “kitchen sink” spices: blends of mul­ti­ple spices and herbs. Th­ese can serve as “catch-all” spice ad­di­tions that take a shot­gun ap­proach to spiced-beer brew­ing. Mulling spices (usu­ally a com­bi­na­tion of cin­na­mon, dried ber­ries and peels, and clove) make every beer a win­try spiced beer but also work well with sweeter stouts. All­spice (not ac­tu­ally a blend, but acts like one!) and Chi­nese five-spice add a clove-heavy and some­what “hot” spice fla­vor that pairs well with Dunkel­weizen and some of the Bel­gian strong styles. Ras el Hanout, a sta­ple of Moroc­can cui­sine, adds a sim­i­lar clove-and-cin­na­mon fla­vor but also in­cludes a healthy dose of cumin, bring­ing in an earth­ier fla­vor. And, of course, there is a wide range of smoked salts and spices that dou­ble-up the fla­vor im­pact by pro­vid­ing a smoky back­ground fla­vor in ad­di­tion to what­ever their spices are bring­ing!

Want It? Add It.

Brew­ing can be hard enough with­out the un­cer­tainty of try­ing to yield every fla­vor from the same four in­gre­di­ents. Fer­men­ta­tion can be un­pre­dictable, es­pe­cially from a fla­vor per­spec­tive. Hops oils in­ter­act strangely and in ways we don’t yet com­pletely un­der­stand. Why not take the guess­work out and add the fla­vors di­rectly? This isn’t just pop­ping the cap on an ex­tract, which too of­ten can re­sult in a beer that tastes ar­ti­fi­cial; in­stead, you’re lean­ing on the culi­nary traditions of mil­len­nia and build­ing fla­vors that fit hand-in-glove with our ex­ist­ing “beer” fla­vors. There’s a world of spice out there: we’d be crazy to ig­nore it.

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