By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The Reinheitsgebot is a 500-year-old law in Germany that limits the ingredients used in beer making to the big four: hops, barley, water and yeast. But this prohibits all of the other wonderful things in the world that can be used to make a delicious homebrew. While the decree has been in place for ages, people were making beer long before its inception and many of those early concoctions used plenty of flora. So let’s go old school with this month’s Homebrew Hints and explore two ways we can incorporate some local plant life: juniper and spruce.
Most North American juniper trees grow in Western states, like Oregon, so we have an ample supply of juniper berries in our own backyard. Commercial breweries that feature this ingredient often do so in a standard pale ale, usually to allow the juniper to shine and not compete with any other flavors. That’s all well and good, but why not start with a CDA base or even a Belgian wit to mix things up a bit?
Most importantly, consider the berry’s flavor and aroma profiles. Use this information to build a recipe around the ingredient that’s going to complement those characteristics. If you’re unsure about how the berry is going to play out, the best thing to do is test it out. Boil some water and make a tea with the ingredient, which opens some of the aromatics and flavors. You could also make a vodka infusion to taste how it may react as a “dry-hopped” addition. This infusion could also just be continually added in small doses to the brew until you reach the desired flavor. Of course, it’s helpful to research the new ingredient — like the berry — before brewing.
There are a few special ingredients that can only be used fresh. Spruce tips would be one of those ingredients. They’re really only available in the spring/early summer when the fresh growth forms on the trees. Look for the light green “tips” on the branches. Now you don’t want to rush out and just start harvesting them from your neighbor’s yard. The tips should be as clean as possible — meaning you don’t want to use them from trees that have been sprayed with any sort of chemical.
When collecting the tips, you only want the bright green new growth. Older growth could make your brew taste like a pine-scented air freshener.
After you’ve gotten your tips, it’s time to brew. As with hops, you don’t want to boil the spruce for too long or else you’ll lose a lot of the flavor and aroma. Optimally, don’t add them any earlier than 15 minutes into the boil, but they can be incorporated as late as a keg addition.
The best part about using plant life for added flavor is that you can continue to experiment with a tradition that’s as old as the hills.
Spruce Juice [AG]
Spruce Juice [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.