Botanical Brews – An introductory guide to using tropical specialty ingredients in beer

By Amanda Dix

(Blogmasters’ note: Experiencing craft beer is a high point for many connoisseurs these days. While beer in its various forms has been around for millennia, today’s brew-masters have taken beer to a whole new level by adding unique flavor combinations to their recipes. Capitalizing on that trend, many gardens and arboreta are incorporating special tasting events into their program repertoire that highlight the herbs that make each brew unique. Below are some of horticulturist and brewer Amanda Dix’s suggestions for upping your botanical beer game. Even if you don’t brew yourself, these might inspire you to try new things and understand how herbs are woven into this timeless beverage.)

Many culinary dishes and beverages are abundant with tropical herbs, spices, and fruit. Beer is no exception, and using unique ingredients alongside barley, hops, and yeast is very common these days.

When formulating a beer recipe, be sure to take into account all of the ingredients collectively. There are so many types of malt, yeast, and hops out there. Focusing on how each ingredient will interact and complement each other is key to making a multi-layered, yet balanced brew.

First, start with the base beer and decide what flavors would interact well with the fruit, herb, or spice. Ask yourself:

What type of flavor does this malt give off? (biscuit, caramel, roasty, malty)

What kind of esters or phenols does this yeast make? (fruity, spicy, funky, none)

What flavors, aromas, and bitterness does this hop provide? (spicy, woody, fruity, floral)

Second, decide at what point in the brewing process this specialty ingredient will be most useful. One of the easiest ways to impart additional flavors in your beer is to add fruit, herbs, or spices during the secondary (post) fermentation process. They can be added to the boil, but their flavor and aroma will be more subtle. So, for the most punch, add some botanical blends during secondary fermentation. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the infusions you create, but here are a few ideas to get you started. CHEERS!

ginger-1960613_960_720Ginger (fresh, thinly sliced)

0.5-1 oz. per gallon in secondary fermentation (or 0.25-1 oz. per gallon in last 5 minutes of boil)

Beer style suggestions: American Wheat, Kolsch, Stout, Belgian, Sour/Wild Ale.

Roasted_coffee_beansCoffee (whole bean, crushed, or cold brewed)

4 oz. cold brewed per gallon in secondary fermentation OR 1-2 oz. whole bean or crushed per gallon in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Stout, Porter, Cream Ale.

5474684018_9181629f19_bChocolate (cocoa nibs)

4-10 oz. per gallon in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Stout, Porter, Brown Ale.



Citrus (lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, mandarin, grapefruit, kumquat, etc.)

0.5-1.5 lbs. per gallon in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Hefeweizen, American Wheat, Saison, IPA, Sour/Wild Ale.

hibiscus calyxHibiscus (dried calyx)

1-1.5 oz. per gallon in secondary fermentation (or make tea infusion).

Beer style suggestions: Wheat, Sour/Wild Ale, Bonde, Kolsch, IPA (or anything light colored to admire the red coloration and delicate flower aroma).

nutmeg-390318_1280Cardamom, Clove, Nutmeg, or Cinnamon

4-5 grams per 5 gallon batch in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Wheat Ales, Saison, Stout/Porter (holiday beer), Pumpkin beer.



Vanilla (whole bean sliced/scraped)

2-3 beans per 5 gallon batch – soak in vodka or bourbon for two weeks and add tincture to secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Stout, Porter, Belgian.


hibiscus for beerAmanda got her B.S. in Environmental Horticulture with an emphasis on floriculture crop production from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has always had a strong passion for anything involving the outdoors/nature and plants/animals. Her wide array of experience in the horticulture field at botanical gardens, arboreta, nurseries, and farms has led her to become the Assistant Conservatory Curator at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI. Amanda works in the tropical conservatory and oversees the production of the annuals that go out in Olbrich’s 16 acres of gardens. For the past 10 years, she has had a strong passion for craft beer and brewing, and hopes to one day become a Certified Cicerone.

Nutmeg – The Rest of the Story

By Maryann Readal

November2019 HOM Nutmeg

Nutmeg is that spice we use in pumpkin and apple pie and sprinkle on our lattes and eggnog during the holidays.  It is also the spice that we use in béchamel and alfredo sauces and is an ingredient in garam masala and curry.  Its medicinal uses include treatment for diarrhea and gas and a topical treatment for pain. In the mid 1300’s it was thought to combat the Black Death. Eaten in very large doses, nutmeg can cause severe hallucinations which have an unpleasant after effect compared to a two-day hangover. Not to worry, culinary doses of nutmeg are very far from the doses needed to achieve unpleasant results.

The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for November is nutmeg. Nutmeg is made from the seed of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans. The outer lace-like covering of the nutmeg seed is dried and ground and that spice is mace. The tree is a native of the Banda Islands in Indonesia. For more information, a beautiful screensaver, and recipes using nutmeg, go to The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month webpage.

The spice trade began in the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago, when Chinese, Persian, Malay, and Arab traders brought spices to Europe. Nutmeg was prized by the European aristocracy who used it for seasoning, medicine, and to preserve meat. Ladies wore nutmeg sachets around their necks and men put it into their snuff. Everyone used it to combat the plague.

European traders began to search for the source of nutmeg and other valuable spices and thus began an era of world exploration. Christopher Columbus was on a search for the origin of spices when he accidentally found America instead.

Now, here is the rest of the story. In 1667, the Dutch traded Manhattan to the British for a small Pacific island named Run.  Run was one of the Banda Islands in the Spice Islands archipelago and was where the nutmeg trees grew. Why did the Dutch do this? They wanted to control the nutmeg trade. At that time, nutmeg was worth more than gold and whoever had the Banda Islands, the only place where it grew, had a monopoly on the spice. The Dutch wanted total control of the lucrative nutmeg trade and they were willing to give up New Amsterdam (Manhattan), their backwater town in the New World for it. Local Bandanese call this trade the “Manhattan Transfer.” The years of war between the Dutch and the English over control of the Banda Islands were called the Nutmeg Wars. These wars were devastating and cruel for the inhabitants of the islands.

As a result of the “Manhattan Transfer,” the Dutch got what they wanted.  But the story did not have a happy ending for them. In 1770, A Frenchman Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper), smuggled nutmeg trees out of the Banda Islands and successfully transplanted them in the French colony of Mauritius off the coast of East Africa, creating competition for the nutmeg trade. In 1778, a volcanic eruption caused a tsunami that wiped out many of the nutmeg groves in the Banda Islands. In 1809, the English reclaimed the Banda Islands but in 1817 returned them to the Dutch AFTER transplanting hundreds of nutmeg seedlings to their own colonies. The Dutch nutmeg monopoly was over! And some say it was the end of the Dutch as a power.

Banda nutmeg is still considered the finest nutmeg in the world, although it is grown in other places. The United States is the biggest importer of spices and New York celebrity chefs prize using their own spice mixes in their restaurants, the haunts of New York well-to-do. An ironic twist to the story.

And that is the rest of the fascinating history of nutmeg.

Maryann Readal is the Secretary of the Herb  Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX.

Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.