In the ever-changing world of brewing and potential flavors we might add to our brews, the original flavored beers remain those we enjoy through the cold winter months. With a careful balance of spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables and higher alcohol contents, these wonderfully diverse flavor profiles can help get anyone through the never-ending months of Oregon rain (or snow). Of course, in home brewing, artificial constraints don’t exist so finding fun new ways to be innovative is all part of the adventure. Whether you’re making a traditional winter spice or a new and exciting peppermint patty chocolate porter, options abound for adding the perfect amount of flavored flare.
The most natural source of flavor reagents for any spiced or otherwise non-traditional beer ingredient is, of course, the ingredient itself. Consider adding actual raw peppermint as a dry hop addition, or maybe using sweet potatoes in your mash. Simple additions like these are the most obvious ways to add flavor outside the usual hops, malt, water or yeast to accentuate the new flavors you wish to impart into your award-winning brews.
But be warned: you might find a few drawbacks when using raw ingredients. Consistency is the hardest thing to control when brewing beers and, when adding extra ingredients, this increases the chance of developing inconsistent flavor profiles. Because ingredients vary based on many reasons, you might discover interesting batch-to-batch flavor changes or annoying differences between two beers you expected to be identical.
Naturally, this is not to say that using the actual pure form of an additive ingredient to get a desired flavor is a bad thing. But the process might be more consistent and streamlined by implementing other methods of flavor enhancement.
Beyond the Plant
Beyond the plants themselves, your next option for adding flavor profiles to your brews is extracts or essential oils. But be careful: extracts can occasionally result in an “extract” flavor, which sometimes occurs when large amounts of extract are used. To avoid this undesirable effect, the easiest solution is to pre-taste the chosen extract in a dilution of the beer you wish to pair it with.
If you cannot find a commercial extract that gives you the target flavor profile, you can always make your own. The simplest way? Soak the flavoring ingredient in 100-proof (50 percent ABV) neutral grain spirit. The extraction process during the soak shouldn’t take longer than a week. Once the process is complete, simply strain the soaked material from the grain alcohol and dose your keg or secondary until the desired flavor profile is reached. In the interest of consistency, take meticulous notes of all of the measurements you used throughout the process — this will increase your chance for achieving accurate repeatability. The discipline of keeping accurate notes is a universal benefit in brewing — recording everything you do and keeping track of what actually happens during the process can dramatically increase the odds that every beer you produce comes out exactly the way you want! It goes without saying that your notes can help you make changes or adjustments if undesirable results occurred on your most recent version of a certain beer.
In the end, creation and innovation are the name of the flavor game. To produce and reproduce those award-winning beers, you’ll find keeping track of everything you do can make the process much easier and more enjoyable. What’s the point of creating the next big brew if you don’t remember how you got there in the first place? •
See the digital edition of Oregon Beer Growler for recipes!