Using Herbs and Spices to Enhance Your Brews

Having mastered the basics of home brewing, the next step in developing your home brews is to experiment with using herbs and spices to enhance them. The right combination of ingredients can dramatically alter the color, flavor and aroma of beer, turning an ordinary brew into the perfect drink for holidays and special occasions.

Before delving into the various herbs and spices available to the home brewer, there are a few basic but important things to keep in mind with your first few attempts. Firstly, always research an herb or spice before experimenting with it. Familiarize yourself with the flavor and aroma an ingredient will bring, and make sure to follow the suggested quantity given in the recipe. Using too much can lead to an overpowering or unappetizing brew, while using too little will make any changes unnoticeable and disappointing.

Secondly, it is equally important to follow any instructions on when to add any herbs and spices to the boiling cycle. This can vary greatly from ingredient to ingredient, as some flavors are more potent or easier to extract than others. This can also depend greatly on individual preference and whether you desire intense or more subtle changes to flavor and aroma.

While these basic guidelines are important, always feel free to experiment! Mixing various herbs and spices can lead to surprising and delicious brews. The joy of home brewing, after all, is in creating something unique, exciting, and delicious.

With those tips in mind, let’s examine just a few of the many herbs and spices available for enhancing home brews:

Cinnamon-
Used for thousands of years for its aromatic and flavor-enhancing qualities, cinnamon can greatly enhance ales and ciders. It’s particularly useful for those looking to brew a holiday drink with an extra touch of spice and warmth. Cinnamon pairs very well with ginger or honey.

Anise-
A plant native to both Southwest Asian and the eastern Mediterranean, anise has a long history of use in Western cuisine. When added to beer, it brings a strong black licorice flavor and is a perfect fit for specialty beers.

Orange Peel-
One of the most popular specialty herbs available, orange peel comes in two varieties:sweet and bitter. Bitter orange peel is a favorite addition to spiced beers like Belgian wit. Sweet orange peel brings sweetness and a citrus character and is a great way to enhance seasonal brews.

Coriander-
Like cinnamon, coriander seeds have been used to enhance flavor for thousands of years. Coriander is often used in Belgian style beers and pairs well with orange peel for an added citrus flavor.

Heather tips-
This aromatic herb adds a smooth and complex bitterness with a hint of spice to home brews, along with a purple coloring. Its unique flavor should be immediately recognizable to fans of Scottish beers. Heather tips also pair well with honey.

Paradise seeds-
Also known as “grains of paradise,” this West African spice is great for adding a delicious, peppery flavor with a hint of citrus to home brews. They also add a unique, pine aroma. This specialty spice is great for holiday beers.

Sweet Gale-
Though relatively unknown compared to the herbs and spices listed above, gale is a delicious spice that can dramatically enhance your home brews. Gale is traditionally used to add bitterness and a strong, spicy aroma. It is also called “Bog Myrtle” or “Myrica gale,” so keep this in mind when researching this versatile shrub.

Keep in mind that these are just a few of the more popular herbs and spices used for enhancing home brews. There are many options available, so don’t limit yourself to those listed above. Remember to familiarize yourself with each ingredient’s unique qualities so that you can choose the best one to meet your needs. Also, experimenting with different quantities and combinations can lead to some surprisingly delicious results, so feel free to think outside the box!