By brewing beer at home, one is granted the ability to make experimentations with the process. For example, choosing to include different herbs and spices will allow one to create a nearly infinite number of different flavors. Though this has often unspoken of within the home brewing community, as well as an obscure practice due to a historical preference to keep herbs other than hops out of beer, this need not be so in today’s modern world. In fact, a number a large scale breweries are taking this idea head on and offering unconventional admixtures with their beers, including things such as peppers, hazelnuts or goji berries.
Making home brewing a hobby requires some level of creativity. Even when making that very first batch of brew, many unexpected elements might get thrown into the wort. A number of these elements might turn out to be symbolic, offering great results, while some will require being poured out in the end. In the event that one chooses to implement such unconventional methods and ingredients when brewing some beer, one will have to prepare for any results, ranging from the desirable to the just plain strange.
Before actually making any experiments with herbs and spices, it is recommended to request advice from one who has some sort of knowledge in regards to herbs, as many of them, such as hops, retain very powerful qualities, making them medicinal. Should one have an ingredient that of which is ill-advised in a batch, it has the potential of making someone sick, thus bringing the recommendation back to asking for advice beforehand.
Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers, written by one Stephen Buhner, has taken on the role of an unofficial bible for those who wish to undergo alternative brewing. It contains a number of different recipes which have been culled from the annals of history of brewing, as well as the folklore and mythology which surrounds most of the brews. However, it is important to keep in mind that the book is only for reference purposes, though it puts forth many a great idea in regards to the different herbs and spices which have been found in beer. Many of the ideas as outlined within the book might seem a little unconventional, though one should keep in mind that several of these have deep roots back in traditions that existed prior to the German Beer Purity law.
Another series of books that may prove to be beneficial to enhancing one’s brewing style would be the Pharmako Poeia, Pharmako Gnosis, as well as the Pharmako Dynamis books by Dale Pendell. They offer a home brewer a rather unique outlook towards understanding the different personality types between herbs and plants, even those of yeast. These series of books are more of a spiritual kind of variety, and should one look as brewing in an alchemical sort of way, they can come quite in handy for the experiments.
This article is, as one may conclude, far too short to be able to explain much about the different herbs and spices which can be used in a batch of beer and is simply a preface. One important thing to note, however, is that a varying amount of qualities can emerge from varying parts of varying plants at varying extraction levels. To illustrate, one may get a certain quality by boiling a plant, such as tea, though they will probably achieve something different from alcohol extraction. It is even possible to obtain different qualities from using either a high potency batch from a lower potency.
It is clear to see that even large scale breweries are taking more of a leap to home brewing and home ingredients over the past few years. For example, New Belgium has proven such with their Springboard Ale, containing a number of unconventional ingredients, including schisandra, goji berries, oats, Mount Hood hops and wormwood. Rogue Brewery offers a delicious hazelnut variety of beer, as well as mocha porter and even chipotle ale. It is definitely inspiring and heartening to know that even successful breweries are indulging in the experimentation with herbs and spices and are coming up with tasty, inventive drinks on such a large, grand scale.