3 Things You Can Add to Homebrew Beer for Flavor
If you’re a beer drinker, there’s no better way to get the exact mix you’re looking for than to homebrew it yourself. While it can take some time to perfect the process, there’s no doubt that homebrew is tastier and less expensive than the store-bought stuff. Unfortunately, homebrew can often taste bland because commercial beers add all kinds of various flavors to their beer.
You can add fruit, spices, various herbs, jalapenos, other peppers, and many more types of flavorings to homebrew. Through these additions, you can make your beer more personalized and tailored to your preferences while also enhancing its taste.
Adding these little extras to your homebrew gives it the full-bodied flavor you’re used to getting from commercial beers. It removes all the blandness and leaves you with a beer with a rich taste. Here’s how you can go about the process:
1. Adding Fruit to Homebrew
Fruit is ideal to add to various homebrews. Fruit goes especially well with ales because of how the fermentation process pairs with the flavor of the fruit. You can add all kinds of fruit to your homebrew – apricots, berries, apples, and so on.
When adding fruit to your homebrew, you don’t want the flavor of the fruit to be overpowering. Instead, you want the beer to simply have the fruit’s aroma, so you get just a hint of fruit as you’re drinking it.
Remember that different fruits have different sweetness levels, which will also affect how your homebrew turns out. For more information on adding sugars to your homebrew check out my blog on how much sugar to add.
Let’s look at some of the most common fruits added to homebrew.
Adding Berries – Blackberry and Raspberry
Berries are a fantastic addition to homebrew beer. When fully ripened, both blackberries and raspberries exhibit the perfect level of sweetness and acidity to complement your beer.
Yeast feeds on sugar, and adding small amounts of fruit sugars can allow the yeast in the beer to ferment even more, giving you a stronger end flavor.
To add berries to your homebrew, first mash them and mix them in with the grain. During this time, you can expect the flavor and sugar from the berries to absorb into the grain. When the wort gets filtered through, the berries and sugars are released to be fermented into amazing homebrew.
Adding Apples to Homebrew
Apples are probably the most common fruit added to commercial and homebrew beers. Most apples are very sweet, leaving your homebrew with the perfect addition of sugar and tangy flavor.
The best way to add apples to your homebrew is to avoid using the entire fruit. It works best if you use apple juice or cider. Typically you’ll end up using about ½ gallon (1.9 liters) of juice for every five gallons (19 liters) of wort.
Add the juice at the end, during the last twenty minutes that the wort is boiling.
Adding Apricots to Homebrew
Apricots can be added to homebrew by getting the entire fruit and cooking it down with sugar or by adding apricot extract. Most often, the apricot extract is used because of the ease of access when adding it.
Apricots add a lot of flavor to your homebrew because of their intense sweetness and tanginess. When added in the right quantities, they are an incredible addition to your homebrew.
One of the main things you’ll want to look out for with any fruit, but with apricots especially, is that they are very ripe ahead of time. Fruit doesn’t get very sweet before it’s fully ripened, although apples tend to have more of that sweetness ahead of time.
When you’re using an extract, though, you won’t have to worry too much about this. Add apricot extract at the end, after the fermentation and clearing are complete. Begin by adding about ½ ounce (14 mL) at a time until it tastes right to you.
If you’re finding that your beer has a bit of a bitter flavor even after adding sweeter fruits, take a look at this article on homebrew beer and bitterness.
2. Adding Spices and Herbs to Homebrew
Spices and herbs make the world go round. Truly though, these plants are an excellent addition to nearly anything, including homebrew beer.
They bring out the flavors of one another and the taste of the beer, and when mixed in just the right way, they make the perfect complement to your homebrew.
You can add all kinds of spices to your beer – everything from citrus to sweet vanilla, thyme and rosemary, black pepper, and coriander.
They all have different preparation processes to go through to get them into a place where you’re ready to use them, but once you get them ready, watch out because the flavor impact is enormous.
As a quick note, spices and herbs are often grouped into the same category, and there’s a reason for that. After all, they’re both parts of a plant.
Typically, herbs are the leafy parts of the plant. Think cilantro and parsley. Whereas spices usually come from other parts of the plant. Sometimes a single plant can provide both herbs and spices, such as in the case of coriander and cilantro, which both come from the same plant.
So let’s cover some herbs and spices you can add to homebrew.
The Garden Herbs – Thai Basil, Rosemary, Cilantro, and More
Garden herbs are best handled completely fresh, but you can also use dried herbs. Just be aware that oftentimes herbs lose some of their potency over time.
Most of the time, when we think of these herbs, we think of them in terms of cooking, but surprisingly enough, they play a huge role in homebrew beer as well.
For a sweeter flavor, you’ll want to focus on herbs such as:
- pineapple sage
- thai basil
All of these herbs add the perfect delicate sweetness to your homebrew. For a brighter flavor, focus on herbs such as:
For a more citrus-based flavor, add lemongrass and lime.
When they’re added depends upon you and what types of flavors you want to bring out in the beer.
Add them midway through the boil if you want to maximize the flavor potency of the herbs. If you simply want to add a subtle aroma of the herbs, add them close to the end of your boil.
The Floral Herbs – Lavender, Chamomile, and Rosehips
Floral herbs have a major calming effect. Many people drink beer late into the evening, using it as a wind-down, and adding floral herbs maximizes this effect.
Chamomile, long related to sleepy time tea, is an excellent addition to your homebrew. It provides a sweetness that allows you to drift peacefully into that long nap you’ve been holding out all day for.
Lavender is well known for its stress-relieving properties and adds a delightful hint reminiscent of wandering through fresh flower fields. It’s a dainty flavor, best added when you’re only looking for a subtle flavor and aroma.
Rosehips add an odd mixture of sweetness and tartness to your beer and may be best paired with various fruits.
Winter Flavors – Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves
Winter spices are a fan favorite. They enhance everything from deserts to coffee and, of course, homebrew beer.
These winter delights add the best mix of sweetness with a little bit of a kick. You’ll want to start out adding these in fairly small quantities and go up from there. Some spices are best used alone, but when it comes to nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, they all tend to bring out the flavors of one another.
The Wild Spices – Sage, Pine, Spruce, and More
Sometimes you just need a hint of the wild in the suburban life we almost all live. Adding the flavors of sage, pine, and spruce into your homebrew is an excellent way to reconnect with the bold life.
These spices have a distinct flavor that stands out above the rest. Needle trees produce large, very potent oils that come off as enormously strong, even when intermixed into the beer.
However, the effect they have on enhancing beer flavor is just incredible.
3. Adding Peppers to Homebrew
Peppers of all sorts and types are an excellent addition to homebrew. With peppers, you can add everything from just a hint of spice to a drink that lights your mouth on fire. Since this is homebrew, there are no limits.
Peppers such as jalapenos and chilis have been added to various foods and drinks for years, including homebrew beer.
Typically, the best way to add spice to your homebrew is to pair it with some sweetness. This creates the perfect flavorful combination.
Some spicy flavors you’ll want to consider include:
- black pepper.
Be cautious when adding high-spice items to your homebrew. A little goes a long way; sometimes, the spiciness isn’t apparent in the upfront flavor. The fermentation process can also have an effect.
Some Things to Consider When Mixing Flavors
Pairing various spices, herbs, and fruits together can be an excellent way to create homebrew full of flavor. You’ll want to be aware of a few things, however.
Not All Flavors are Meant for Beer or Mixing
As much as I love adding everything I can find to my homebrew, sometimes a flavor just isn’t going to pair well with the yeast in the beer. There must be a certain degree of acidity, sweetness, and heat to fully complement your homebrew.
Moreover, some things just go better on their own. Of course, this can make for more bland beer, so if you’re concerned, it might be better to just go with a different mix altogether. It’s usually best not to add more than a few flavors into one batch.
Sometimes, beer lacks flavor, no matter what you put in it. If you’re experiencing this, check out my other piece on why all your homebrews taste the same.
Quantity vs. Quality
Home brewing beer is a delicate process. It’s a lot like baking a dessert or bread. It’s important to be precise with your measurements and not just throw together various flavors.
If you just add in whatever sounds good at the moment, then the end product probably isn’t going to be very tasty. Plus, you won’t ever be able to replicate the recipe if you don’t know what you put in it.
Be aware of how much of each spice, herb, fruit, and so on you’re mixing into the beer. Taste along the way, and get a firm grasp on what pairs well with what before tossing things into your beer.
Keep a close watch on how much sugar you’re adding as well. More sugar equals a higher alcohol content in most situations. For more information, check out this article on the effect of adding sugar to beer, or watch this video for a brief snapshot.
It’s Not About Equal Portions
Some spices are stronger than others. Some fruits are more flavorful than others.
Sometimes, you just want a tiny hint of something, and sometimes you want whatever it is to be the dominant flavor.
Start small, always adding little bits at a time until the flavor meshes just right.
Look for Harmonies
Remember, homebrewing is a process of experimentation. So take the time to look for flavor harmonies. You may love adding berries and apples together or adding the slightest spiciness to a sweeter brew.
Harmonies come together with all sorts of flavors, and the best way to discover them is to keep trying new combinations until you discover the perfect taste for you.
One thing I didn’t discuss is adding unconventional harmonies to your homebrew. There are things you’d never think of adding in that contribute to an enormous increase in flavor.
Even coffee adds an excellent flavor. If you’re interested in this unconventional idea, check out this blog on adding coffee flavor to your beer.
You can also take a look at this video detailing how to brew a coffee bear at home.