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 (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.
Coffee (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.
Chocolate (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 (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).
Cardamom, 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.
Amanda 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.