It is inevitable that you’ll make a spiced beer. American style beers are screaming for unusual adjuncts, and even the traditional Belgian beers often use peppercorn, coriander and fruit. So where do you start?
The bottom line with spiced beer is that it should be balanced. Remember that it is still beer, and no single spice should overwhelm another, or the malt or hop profile. Just like all other ingredients in a beer, spice should be present, but not overwhelming.
Certain spices have different effects on different people. I for instance, am very sensitive to cinnamon. Others are more affected by ginger or mint. I usually consider my own taste when it comes to creating my beers, but if you strive to be a commercial brewer or a competitive brewer, you should consider your target (judges and drinkers). Overall, any person will notice an obvious imbalance, and taking their tastes into account will help keep your spicing in check.
The first thing you should do is research. Poke around on the forums, and flip through literature to find recipes or clones of examples that you like. You can also look at past winner of the NHC competition winners in the specialty beer (23) and spice/herb/vegetable (21) categories. These will give you a baseline to start from.
The next step is to consider your tastes. Is there a specific flavor you’re going for? Is there a flavor you’d like to enhance from the example beers you’ve found? This is the time to begin defining your direction and ultimately beer you want to end up with.
The third step is to consider your capabilities. Do you have easy access to the ingredient you need? What form are they in (powder, whole, dried, fresh)? The form has a big impact on the flavor and flavor intensity. For instance, if using powdered ingredient, you can get away with using much less of that ingredient than if it were whole.
If you are very concerned about overdoing any particular flavor, or find that you played it too safe and didn’t get the flavor you wanted, you can also make tinctures. Simply put the spice in a small container with just enough vodka to cover it. In about a week’s time, you’ll have a flavor tincture that you can use to add flavor at bottling time. To use it, pull a one-cup sample of the beer, and add drops (start at 5-10) to the sample and taste it. Continue to add drops until you have the flavor you want. Be sure to keep track of the number of drops you put in, then scale up (16 cups to a gallon, which means: # of drops x 16 x batch size = total addition).
If you are not sure on how a spice will affect a beer, try making teas. Use four glasses to make four 1-cup teas of varying degrees of your different spices. Be sure to measure the weight of each ingredient you use in your teas, and scale up for batch, just like the aforementioned tinctures.
For instance, if you’re testing ginger, lemon zest, and cinnamon, your four tea spice additions may look like this:
|Tea 2||Tea 3||
|0.35 g||0.70 g||
|1.05 g||0.70 g||
|0.35 g||0.17 g||
Each tea has varying strength of each ingredient (0.35 grams is about 1 oz/5 gallons when scaled up), with one tea being strong in all ingredients. You’re looking for the combination of flavors to work well together, but also the overall strength of each flavor. Keep in mind that you’ll also have yeast and malt character that may mask some flavors, and its important to take those flavors into consideration when tasting these teas.
You may find that you like the strength of a flavor in one tea, but the flavors in another are also appealing. All you have to do is make a fifth tea with those new weights to test the final solution. This process is a great exercise in defining a starting point, but also discovering interesting flavor combinations at a low cost.
Below are two recipes of mine that have been very well received by my fellow home brewers. Each was designed to have spices that played well with the malt and yeast characters of the beers; these beers had noticeable, but not overwhelming spice flavors. Many of the Pumpkin Beer haters loved the pumpkin stout because it stayed true to the pumpkin and stout flavors and was not just a pumpkin pie beer. The Winter Saison was well balanced with cranberry and yeast character, with just a tinge of cinnamon in the nose and nutmeg to wrap together the malt character.
Spices can be a lot of fun to play with, but still demand the same respect that your grain bill design demands. Experiment, taste, and explore the world of spices. The possibilities are near limitless!
Calabazaza – Pumpkin Stout
1.069 OG, 6.59% ABV, 90 min boil
10lbs – 66.6% Marris Otter
2lbs – 13.3% Flaked Oats
1lbs – 6.67% 60L
12oz – 5% Chocolate Malt
8oz – 3.3% Roasted Barley
8oz – 3.3% Brown Sugar
4oz – 1.7% Carafa III
Step mash 110ºF – 20 min
Step mash 122º ¬– 20 min
Step mash 158º – 20 min
3.5 AAU Crystal – 90 minutes
4.3 AAU Liberty – 15 minutes
0.25oz Nutmeg – 15 min
0.25oz Allspice – 10 min
0.75oz Ginger Root (shredded) – 10 min
0.20oz Cinnamon Stick – 10 min
2lbs Pumpkin (canned, roasted) – 5 min
Wyeast 1318 London III
68º for 10-14 days in primary
1lbs Pumpkin (canned) – 2 days in primary
Cranberry Fields – Winter Saison
1.080 OG, 8.33% ABV, 60 min boil
13lbs – 76.2% 2-Row Pale Malt
2lbs – 11.7% White Wheat Malt
1lbs – 5.9% 60L
8oz – 2.9% Chocolate/Choc Rye
5oz – 1.8% Midnight Wheat
4oz – 1.47% Crystal Rye (optional)
Single Infusion 154ºF
2 AUU Saaz – First Wort
2 AUU Saaz – 60 min 8 AUU
Pearle – 20 min
0.20oz Nutmeg – 10 min
Wyeast 3711 French Saison
75º for 20 days in primary
0.20oz Cinnamon Stick – 5 days
2lbs Dried Cranberry (rehydrated, shredded) – 5 days
*Add cinnamon tincture as necessary at bottling