The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Flavored Beer
Once you’ve mastered the basics of home brewing, it’s time to start adding a little flavor! Experimenting with brewing flavored beer is a great way to be creative and create unique brews that you’re proud of.
To brew flavored beer, you can adjust the ingredients and techniques you use during brewing according to the desired flavor profile: hoppy, malty, roasted, crisp, fruity, or sour.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the various beer flavors and how to achieve them. If you’re ready to make a brew that is unique to you, keep reading.
What Are the Flavors of Beer?
Before you set out to brew a flavored beer, you should have a handle on the different flavors beer can have. The following table outlines various flavors, what they taste like, and the types of beer that typically contain the flavor profile:
|Flavor||Taste||Types of Beer|
|Hoppy||Bitter, intense||India Pale Ales, English Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, American Amber Ales|
|Malty||Sweet, nutty, caramel||Dunkel Lagers, English Brown Ales, Doppelbocks, Irish Red Ales, Belgian Pale Ales|
|Roasted||Coffee, cocoa||Brown Porters, Oatmeal Stouts, Imperial Brown Ales, Imperial Porters|
|Crisp||Light, slightly sweet||American Blond Ales, Pale Lagers, Pilsners|
|Fruity||Fruity, sweet||Belgian Blond Ales, Hefeweizens, Belgian Dark Ales, Weizenbocks|
|Sour||Tart, acidic||Goses, Berliner Weissbiers, Sour IPAs, Milkshake Sours|
Now that you have a better idea of beer’s different flavor profiles, let’s look at how you can implement these flavors into your next homebrew.
Equipment and Ingredients for Flavored Beer
If you’re at the point of tinkering with beer recipes to add new flavors, you probably already have a homebrewing kit. However, if you don’t, I recommend reading my article on the best homebrewing kits for beginners for my product recommendations.
If you have further questions about what’s needed for brewing beer, I have an article outlining the 23 must-haves that I recommend you give a read. I also have a video on useful tools:
One item that many homebrewers overlook is a grain mill. Milling your malted grains before brewing them makes extracting the starches from the grain easier.
I recommend the Brewland Grain Mill from Amazon.com. I like this mill because the eight calibration knob makes it easier to adjust the rollers and mill the grains without destroying the husks. I also like that you can attach an electric drill to the end, so you don’t have to manually mill everything.
Once you have your equipment, it’s time to start gathering your ingredients. What you use in a beer recipe dictates its flavor, so you have some freedom here to play around.
All beer recipes have four main ingredients: hops, base malts, yeast, and water. Let’s take a closer look at each of these:
- Hops. You can purchase fresh hops or pellet hops, but be mindful that fresh hops rot quickly. Pellet hops are more affordable and easier to use.
- Malts. Malted grains are made with various types of grains. I recommend purchasing malts in bulk to save money and milling them to make the brewing process a little easier.
- Yeast. Yeast consumes the sugar in the wort and leaves alcohol behind. You can use ale yeast or lager yeast.
- Water. This ingredient is pretty self-explanatory. You can just use tap water.
One of the primary ways to incorporate different flavors into your beer is to experiment with these ingredients. Different hops, malts, and yeast will result in different flavor profiles.
There are hundreds of types of hops that you can use to brew beer. The recipe you’re following will likely call for a specific kind, but if you want to experiment with changing the flavor, you can switch it up to see what happens.
The freshness of the hops you use can also influence a beer’s flavor. Beers brewed with fresher hops tend to be more bitter than beers brewed with older hops. If you’re wondering about other reasons why your beer is bitter, I have an article on the causes of bitter beer.
The following table outlines some common hop types and their flavors. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a sampling of what’s available to give you an idea of what flavors you can implement in your homebrew:
|Type of Hop||Flavors|
|Cascade||Citrus, floral, tart|
|Citra||Citrus, melon, floral, lemon|
|Simcoe||Citrus, pine, herbal|
Another ingredient you can alter to add flavor to your beer is the malts. Similar to hops, different malts come with different flavor profiles. Here are the different kinds of malts you can use:
- Barley base malts
- Non-barley base malts
- High-kilned malts
- Crystal malts
- Biscuit malts
- Brown malts
- Black malts
- Coffee malts
For even more ideas, I suggest reading my article that outlines every type of grain that can be used to homebrew beer.
Finally, you can experiment with the yeast you use. There are two kinds: ale and lager. After choosing one of these two options, you can choose which strain to use. Here are some popular options:
- American Ale
- British Ale
- Belgian Ale
- Belgian Lambic Ale
- German Ale
- India Pale Ale
- Brown Ale
- Bohemian Lager
- American Lager
- Munich Lager
- Mexican Lager
Once you’ve decided on your desired flavor profile and gathered the proper equipment and ingredients, it’s time to begin brewing your flavored beer.
How to Brew Flavored Beer
Brewing flavored beer follows the same basic steps of brewing “normal,” unflavored beer, just with a few changes and twinks to the process to add in the unique taste you’re after. Let’s investigate how to achieve different flavors.
Hoppy beers can be bitter, but if the popularity of IPAs in the United States is any indication, people love this flavor profile in their beer. Here are some techniques you can implement to make your hoppy masterpiece:
- Dry hop your homebrew. To employ this method, place hops in a filter bag and suspend them in your beer during primary fermentation. Leave the hops suspended in the mixture for no more than 72 hours.
- Add more hops. Be careful not to overdo it, but adding more hops than the recipe you’re tweaking calls for will add hoppiness to the final product.
- Boil hops for longer. A longer boiling time allows more oils from the hops to infuse into the beer.
India Pale Ales are the most common beers with hoppy flavors. You can learn more about them in my article about what IPAs are and how they’re made.
If you love nutty, caramelly beer, it’s time for you to try to make a brew with a malty flavor profile. Here’s how to do it:
- Replace some of your base malts with Munich malt. Munich malts have more of the malty flavor you’re after, but only replace some of the base malts with this variety. It won’t taste good if you try to make a beer using only Munich malts.
- Try decoction mashing. Decoction mashing involves mashing in steps by boiling portions of the mash, returning it to the pot, increasing the temperature, and then repeating the process. This can be time-consuming, but it will give a malty flavor.
- Use fewer hops. Hop aroma can overpower malt aroma, so use fewer hops to allow the malt to shine.
Malty beers are earthy, complex, and often have nuanced flavor profiles. The best way to achieve a malty flavor is to experiment with the ingredients you use at the beginning of the process.
When it comes to achieving a roasted flavor, you can choose to lean more toward coffee or more toward chocolate. Either way, you’re in for a treat! Here are some ideas:
- Add unsweetened, pure cocoa powder to the mash. Ground cocoa adds a dark, bitter, roasted flavor to beer. Just make sure that you’re using unsweetened cocoa and not the kind of powder you use to make hot chocolate.
- Add chopped baker’s chocolate to the boil. Baker’s chocolate usually contains added oils which can increase boil time, but this is a minor inconvenience for the yummy flavors you’ll be able to achieve.
- Mix in some creme de cocoa before bottling. This is a quick and easy way to add roasted, chocolatey flavor to your beer at the very end of the process.
- Use roasted grains. Highly-roasted barley malts create a coffee flavor.
- Add coffee during primary or secondary fermentation. My favorite coffee to use is Lavazza Whole Bean Coffee Blend, which you can get on Amazon. I like it because it adds roasted hazelnut and brown sugar notes to the final product.
For more information on brewing coffee-flavored beer, check out my how-to guide on adding coffee flavor.
Crisp beers are more balanced than other flavor profiles: they aren’t too sweet, bitter, or hoppy; they’re simple and refreshing. Here’s how you can achieve that balance in your brew:
- Ferment at a higher temperature. Allow your beer to finish fermenting at around 70°F (21°C) to get a crisper flavor.
- Add a teaspoon of gypsum to mash water. Gypsum adds sulfites to your mixture, which helps enhance the natural crispness of hops.
Most pilsners have a crisp flavor. For more information about pilsners, you can read my article on what they are and how they’re made.
Here’s how to brew fruity beer:
- Add fruit extract before bottling or kegging. I recommend using 2-4 ounces (56-113 grams) of extract for every five gallons. I also suggest bottling your beer instead of kegging it. Check out my article on why bottled beer tastes better to find out why.
- Add fruit puree during fermentation. Common puree flavors include blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, dark cherry, mango, and apricot.
- Add fresh fruit to your mash. Cut fresh fruit and add it to your grains while making your mash. By doing this, the fruit flavor will dissolve and incorporate itself into the wort.
- Steep fresh or frozen fruit in your hot wort. As the wort boils, place your fruit in a nylon bag and submerge it in the wort. The wort will absorb the flavors of the fruit.
When brewing sour beers, you have two options: brewing a kettle sour or going the traditional route. Kettle souring is faster and more convenient, but a traditional sour tends to have more complex and nuanced flavor profiles, so the choice is yours. Here’s how to brew a sour:
- Use the kettle method and add lactobacillus to the wort. Lactobacillus is a probiotic that turns sugar into lactic acid, which creates a sour flavor in the final beer.
- Use Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is a type of yeast that contributes to a more sour and acidic flavor.
- Increase your secondary fermentation time. If you aren’t using kettle souring, you should expect to leave your brew in secondary fermentation for at least six months. This gives the yeast and bacteria ample time to develop the sour flavor.
For more about sour beers, I recommend reading my article on the history and ingredients of sour beer.
Brewing Flavored Beer Tips
Brewing flavored beer can be challenging, but if you’re up to the task, it’s certainly not impossible. Here are some tips to help you experience as much success as possible in this endeavor:
- Don’t change too much at once. Tinkering with established recipes is a great way to achieve new and interesting flavors, but if you change too much at once (such as changing the type of malt, yeast, and hops), you risk convoluting the brew.
- Ensure your pH is at a good level. Flavored beers should be between 2.85 and 3.15 pH. Use a pH meter throughout the brewing process to check the pH level and ensure you’re on the right track.
- Sanitize properly. Improper cleaning techniques can lead to contamination or leftover materials infusing in your beer, ruining the flavor profile you were going for (and making your brew less sanitary).
- Use fresh ingredients. High-quality and fresh ingredients are more flavorful than ingredients that aren’t in their prime.
- Document everything. It would be a shame if you brewed a delicious flavored beer and then forgot how you did it! While you’re brewing, keep track of everything you do so you can replicate the process or make appropriate tweaks.
Brewing flavored beer is a great way to spice up your brewing hobby, get creative, and make delicious beer. If you’re sick of your homebrews all tasting the same, try experimenting with different ingredients and techniques to achieve new flavors.