The use of spices in the beer industry has very ancient origins, even prior to the use of hops. The mix of spices and aromas was called gruyt, from a term of Saxon origin, and was given by spices such as pepper, fennel, amber, raspberry, anise, lavender, cinnamon, saffron and carnation.
Homebrewers can delight in the art of brewing by creating new aromas and fragrances, drawing on an extraordinary variety of spices and aromatic herbs. We have selected six examples:
Pepper grains – to be ground on the spot (do not buy them already ground), used in Saisons, but also in some Pale Ale, they give the beer a wonderful aroma. For a 23-liter cooked, 1/2 teaspoon at the end of boiling is enough to give a subtle aroma, 1 teaspoon will allow the aroma to shine through. There are many varieties: you can try, for example, the Cubebe Pepper, which has a warm, bitter and slightly spicy taste, or the Sichuan Pepper, which has a very characteristic and particular flavor, it is not spicy and pungent as black pepper or chili and is characterized by a light lemon aroma.
Cinnamon sticks – used in particular in Belgian beers Biere Blanche, Gran Cru, Triple and Christmas Beers, are also a perfect addition to Winter Warmer and Holiday Ale. You can add cinnamon sticks in the last phase of boiling the wort but boiling could however extract tannins, therefore the ideal is to add 2-4 cinnamon sticks during secondary fermentation, to be left in the second fermenter for at least a week. The distinctive aroma of cinnamon is delicious and gives excellent results also in combination with other spices such as orange peel, vanilla, ginger and cloves.
Dried orange peel
Dried orange peel – is often used together with coriander in Belgian witbiers, it characterizes beers such as Gran Cru, Triple, Biere Blanche, and Christmas Beers. The fruity aroma also goes well with the aromas of coffee, chocolate, and toasted aromas of the Porter and Stout. You can choose between sweet orange peel, which will give your beer an aroma similar to that of Grand Marnier, and bitter orange peel, which will instead give a drier orange aroma. The heat favors the extraction of the aromas, so you can add the dried orange peel about 10 minutes before the end of boiling
Oak Chips – designed to mimic the effect of the aging of beer (or wine) in oak barrels, they can be used with excellent results in all types of beer from Stout to English IPA. For 23 liters, start with 30-60g of oak chips, added in secondary fermentation after boiling them for 10 minutes to sterilize. For lighter beers, a week of contact will give enough oak character, but for stronger beers it will take a few weeks. It is very important to taste a sample every few days to understand the right time to remove the flakes.
Coriander – gives a complex nutty-citrus aroma, particularly suitable for light beers. Notoriously used in Belgian Witbier, to which, together with the dried orange peel, it gives the typical spicy character, coriander can also give a pleasant spicy citrus aroma to Saisons. The dried seeds should be lightly crushed before use, for example using a rolling pin. Add about 30 g during the last 10 minutes of boiling.
Cocoa – gives a strong chocolate aroma to Stouts, Porters, and some Belgian Ales. You can use the Cocoa Beans, lightly toasting them in the oven to remove the skin and crushing them before use, to flavor dark beers such as Stout or Porter. Try cocoa in combination with coffee beans and vanilla. They can be added in small percentages in an infusion or directly in the mashing, or in the fermenter as dry hopping. In secondary fermentation, a week will be enough, however longer exposure periods will not give additional aromas. If added in the last 10 minutes of boiling the wort, they will give a bitter chocolate aroma.