The results of brewing beer with herbs.Brewing beer with herbs is not some new fad, a product of the recent craft beer boom. Before hops were popular (we’re talking hundreds of years ago), a wide variety of herbs and spices provided the bittering and flavoring characteristics to balance beer’s malty sweetness. Brewing beer with herbs was the norm. By adding herbs in your own homebrew, you can recreate ancient styles of beer (such as Sahti and Scottish Gruit) and also exercise your creative spirit to develop something entirely new. Below are just a short list of herbs, flowers, and other plants that can be used, alone or in combination, to contribute a unique flavor profile to your homebrew:
  • Basil
  • Betony
  • Birch
  • Borage
  • Chamomile
  • Coriander
  • Dandelion
  • Elderflowers
  • Ginger
  • Ginseng
  • Heather
  • Horehound
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Licorice
  • Mint
  • Nettles
  • Oregano
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Thyme
When thinking about how to use herbs in homemade beer, add them in the same way as we do hops. These herbs may be added early or late in boil (depending on whether you’re looking for more bitterness, flavor, or aroma) or to the secondary fermenter, just like with dry hopping. One thing to keep in mind when brewing beer with herbs is that the herbs tend to be more delicate than hops. Many of them don’t need to be boiled as long as hops in order to extract bitterness and flavor. You can pick these herbs from your own garden, or buy them from the store. Many herbs are available as tea blends, the tea bags making it east and convenient to strain out the herbs. When developing an herb beer recipe, think about what flavor characteristics work well with the base beer. The herbs should complement the style characteristics, rather then dominate them. (Consult the BJCP guidelines for style 21A for more detailed information.) If brewing a gruit, forgo the hops. Other base beer styles, such as pale ale and wit, can be given an interesting twist by incorporating herbs in addition to the hops.Shop Beer Flavorings To help start you out brewing beer with herbs, here is a pale ale recipe using oregano. Feel free to substitute basil, rosemary, and other herbs as desired. Oregano Pale Ale Recipe (5 gal): OG: 1.054 FG: 1.011 ABV: 5.6% SRM: 11 All-grain: 8 lbs. Two Row Malt 1 lb. Munich Malt 1 lb. Caramel 40L Partial Mash: 6 lbs. Golden Light Extract 1 lb. Munich Malt 1 lb. Caramel 40L Hops: 1 oz. Northern Brewer @ :60 1 oz. Centennial @ :30 0.5 oz. Tettnanger @:15 0.5 oz Tettnanger @ :5 Other: 0.25-1 oz. of fresh oregano* @ :15 1 tsp. Irish Moss @ :15Shop Steam Freak Kits Yeast: Wyeast 1056 American Ale Yeast** *The oregano can contribute a lot of bitterness and flavor. Up to a full ounce of fresh oregano may be used, but may need to be aged depending on your taste preferences. **For best results, prepare a yeast starter. Have you ever tried brewing beer with herbs before? How did it turn out? Do you have an herb beer recipe you'd like to share? Put it in the comments section below. ----- David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He is a graduate of the Siebel Institute of Technology's "Start Your Own Brewery" program and the Oskar Blues Brew School in Brevard, NC.
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