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Thyme Has Come: 13 Brewers Using Herbs, Spices

Craft brewers are turning to herbs and spices as they look to add exotic ingredients to beers. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Craft brewers are turning to herbs and spices as they look to add exotic ingredients to beers. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Craft brewers increasingly are like chefs. They’re sprinkling herbs and spices into their beers much like a chef who wants to complement a dish. The upshot: Brewers have food in mind when selecting herbs and spices to use, ranging from basil and sage to cardamom and the world’s most expensive spice, saffron.

“The use of spices helps us design beers that are great for pairing with food, as well as just dang tasty,” says Tim Hawn, brewmaster at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc. in Milton, Delaware.

At the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver in September, the herb and spice category was the seventh most popular. It attracted 142 beers, behind the 149 in the coffee beer category.

What’s the trick to using herbs and spices in craft beers? “Try not to overdo it,” brewer Kevin Haborak, co-owner of Coastal Empire Beer Co. in Savannah, Georgia, advises. “I always start light because you can add more. And you can’t take it back out.”

With fall temperatures cooling, now is a great time to add some herbs and spices to your beer drinking. Below are 13 herb and spice beers worth trying.

Allergeez

Panther Island Brewing uses rose hips and chamomile flowers in its Allergeez beer. Credit: Pixaby 2015 Pixaby 2015 IamColorBlind

Panther Island Brewing uses rose hips and chamomile flowers in its Allergeez beer. Credit: Pixaby 2015 IamColorBlind

Allergeez (ABV: 5.7%), an American wheat beer that won a silver medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF), includes Texas honey, chamomile flowers and rose hips. “Rose hips help with a nice and subtle cranberry tart flavor while the chamomile gives a big floral nose,” says Ryan McWhorter, founder of Panther Island Brewing, in Fort Worth, Texas.

McWhorter, the head brewer, says Allergeez came about because he had a recipe for an American Wheat Beer — but wanted to add something. His wife brewed him a chamomile flower tea and added honey. “I thought it was delicious and decided to give that a try in the wheat recipe,” McWhorter says. Rose hips were later added.

Zarabanda

Chef José Andrés, left, and Deschutes founder Gary Fish created a beer with lemon verbena and pink peppercorn. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Chef José Andrés, left, and Deschutes founder Gary Fish created a beer with lemon verbena and pink peppercorn. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

Zarabanda (ABV: 6.3%) is a Spanish take on the farmhouse-style Saison. Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend, Oregon, crafted the beer in collaboration with famed Spanish chef José Andrés. This brew includes two ingredients Andrés likes to use in his cooking — lemon verbena and pink peppercorn — as well as dried lime and sumac.

Deschutes founder Gary Fish and Andrés began discussing the idea of collaborating on a beer “many years ago,” according to Fish. Zarabanda was introduced last year. Deschutes said the name was inspired by the Spanish saraband dance which, “loosely translated, means popular fun or enjoyment; hubbub; racket; row; party.”

Chai Milk Stout

Adam Draeger, head brewer at Yak & Yeti, created a Chai Milk Stout. Credit: Copyright 2012 Erin Draeger

Adam Draeger, head brewer at Yak & Yeti, created a Chai Milk Stout. Credit: Copyright 2012 Erin Draeger

Yak & Yeti Restaurant & Brewpub’s Chai Milk Stout (5.2% ABV) was a 2013 GABF silver medalist. The chai spices are Yak & Yeti’s proprietary blend. Adam Draeger, head brewer at Yak & Yeti, which operates a brewpub and two restaurants in the Denver area, says the blend uses spices typically used in Nepali spiced tea: whole cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon.

Chai Milk Stout is a riff on Yak & Yeti’s Milk Stout. “You usually add milk to your chai tea,” Draeger says. He is tight-lipped about the beer’s chai spice blend: “The only bit of info I’ll give you on the spices is that they are mixed and then finely ground and not left cracked or whole.”

Midas Touch

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery adds saffron to the mix. Credit: Courtesy Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery adds saffron to the mix. Credit: Courtesy Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Midas Touch (ABV: 9.0%), by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc., is made with ingredients found in the 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas in central Turkey. The world’s most expensive spice, saffron, gets a starring role. “Saffron is perceived to add a bit of floral sweetness to the beer,” says Tim Hawn, brewmaster at the Milton, Delaware, brewery. He adds that saffron is “known to bring flavors together – in this case the grapes and honey from the base fermentable materials.”

The brewery calls its Midas Touch beer “somewhere between beer, wine and mead.” Dogfish Head, in general, uses many spices in its beers. “What we love about spices is the endless creativity they offer,” Hawn says. “Historically they have been used in the culinary world, but they can also play into beer flavors.”

Heather Ale

Cambridge Brewing's mix of herbs sit on the "brewdeck." Credit: Courtesy Cambridge Brewing Co.

Cambridge Brewing’s mix of herbs sit on the “brewdeck.” Credit: Courtesy Cambridge Brewing Co.

Cambridge Brewing Co.’s Heather Ale (5.0% ABV) snagged a silver medal at the 2012 GABF and a bronze in 2011. Each summer the Cambridge brewery crew picks heather flowers along the Massachusetts coast. “It’s really just a beautiful floral character in terms of flavor and aroma,” brewmaster Will Meyers says of the heather, noting the beer is “all about the heather.” It includes sweet gale, lavender and yarrow.

Heather Ale has roots in Europe and Scandinavia. The brewery says inhabitants of coastal Northern Europe, Scandinavia and the Northern British Isles originally crafted similar beers, adding that “fresh heather flowers and other herbs were used to balance and flavor the rustic yet sweet toasted character of the malted barley.”

Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Boston Beer uses spices found in pumpkin pie for its Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Credit: Courtesy Boston Beer Co.

Boston Beer uses spices found in pumpkin pie for its Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Credit: Courtesy Boston Beer Co.

The spices typically featured in pumpkin pie are featured in Boston Beer Co.’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale (5.7% ABV): cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. To top it off, the brewery tosses “real pumpkin” into the mix.

The brewery says its Harvest Pumpkin Ale is a modern adaption of a traditional New England pumpkin ale. “Lacking the ability to produce barley, early colonists brewed with pumpkin,” Boston Beer adds, noting the beer delivers “a smooth, rich flavor and unmistakable malty character.”

Utah Sage Saison

Epic Brewing uses sage, rosemary and thyme, steeping them in the wort kettle. Credit: Courtesy Epic Brewing Co.

Epic Brewing uses sage, rosemary and thyme, steeping them in the wort kettle. Credit: Courtesy Epic Brewing Co.

“We wanted to make something that expressed Utah and the high desert. Sage turned out to be the perfect ingredient, but it needed to be rounded out so we added thyme and rosemary,” Matthew Allred, communications director for Salt Lake City-based Epic Brewing, says of his company’s Utah Sage Saison (7.6% ABV). The Belgian-style ale captured a bronze at the 2012 GABF.

Epic uses fresh whole sage, rosemary and thyme for its Utah Sage Saison and steeps them in the wort kettle. “They have a huge impact on the nose, creating a very floral, savory aroma. This is an amazing beer with roast chicken, lamb or other fall seasonal dishes,” Allred says.

Royal Tea Chai Porter

At The Brewer’s Cabinet, a custom chai spice blend is inspected after drying. Credit: Courtesy The Brewer’s Cabinet

At The Brewer’s Cabinet, a custom chai spice blend is inspected after drying. Credit: Courtesy The Brewer’s Cabinet

Charlie Johnson, head brewer for The Brewer’s Cabinet in Reno, Nevada, says the brewery’s Royal Tea Chai Porter (5.4% ABV) was inspired by a dirty chai latte he enjoyed at a local coffee shop and “my love of Indian cuisine.” And the taste: “It’s basically like a spiced chai latte,” Johnson says of the porter.

The brewery uses a house chai spice blend, saying the beer has “a chocolate/roast backbone. The lactose balances the spice notes with a small amount of sweetness and a velvety feel.” Johnson adds: “I’d like to think our beer is made to be paired with food — or replace it as a course.”

Aloha Piña

5 Stones Artisan Brewery's Aloha Piña uses jalapeños and pineapple. Credit: Courtesy 5 Stones Artisan Brewery

5 Stones Artisan Brewery’s Aloha Piña uses jalapeños and pineapple. Credit: Courtesy 5 Stones Artisan Brewery

A “Hawaiian fire” pizza topped with pineapple and jalapeño pepper inspired 5 Stones Artisan Brewery’s Aloha Piña (6.4% ABV). The beer won a silver medal at last year’s GABF in the Herb and Spice Beer Category. (This year, GABF added a Chili Beer category.) The Cibolo, Texas, brewery calls its Aloha Piña an American Golden Ale. The beer is flavored with roasted jalapeño as well as “massive amounts of fresh cut pineapple,” Amarillo hops, and honey.

Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout

Coastal Empire's Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout, with its mix of spices, aims to achieve a Mexican mole sauce flavor profile. Credit: Courtesy Coastal Empire Beer Co.

Coastal Empire’s Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout, with its mix of spices, aims to achieve a Mexican mole sauce flavor profile. Credit: Courtesy Coastal Empire Beer Co.

Coastal Empire Beer Co.’s Dawn Patrol Imperial Molé Stout (10% ABV) — a 2014 GABF bronze medal winner — is a seasonal stout aged four weeks on coffee, raisins, ancho and serrano peppers, cumin, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. The aim: achieve a background flavor profile similar to a Mexican mole sauce.

Chris Haborak, co-owner of the Savannah, Georgia, brewery, says the addition of the spices seemed like a good match with the other ingredients. “We figured the spices would pair well with the chocolate backbone of the Imperial Stout.”

Basil Ryeman

 At Tennessee Brew Works, brewers work with local farmers to source their herbs. Credit: Courtesy Tennessee Brew Works

At Tennessee Brew Works, brewers work with local farmers to source their herbs. Credit: Courtesy Tennessee Brew Works

Tennessee Brew Works’ Basil Ryeman (6.25% ABV) combines a Saison-style beer — also known as a classic Belgian Farmhouse Ale — with Thai basil. “We love the anise, fennel and spicy characteristics of Thai basil and the interplay of these flavors with the Belgian Saison yeast,” head brewer Laura Burns says. The Nashville brewery works closely with local farmers to source its herbs.

Burns says the brewery’s Thai basil and rosemary-infused beers are intended to be “very palatable and well suited” for pairing with food. “We use herbs to add distinct flavors that interplay with traditional brewing ingredients,” she notes. “But this also allows our beers to accentuate and help make dishes pop much like an herb does.”

Local Honey

 Woods Beer uses yarrow, eucalyptus and lavender for its Local Honey beer. Credit: Courtesy Woods Beer Co.

Woods Beer uses yarrow, eucalyptus and lavender for its Local Honey beer. Credit: Courtesy Woods Beer Co.

Woods Beer Co.’s Local Honey (6% ABV) combines an American Pale Ale with Bay Area honey and flavors that attract bees: yarrow, eucalyptus and lavender. The Oakland, California, beer is available year-round on tap.

The base beer for Local Honey is an unhopped Pale Ale. The first batch relied on uber-local ingredients. “The herbs and honey were originally locally foraged, by me, from my neighborhood and my own beehives,” brewer William Bostwick, the creator of Local Honey, says. “But now that we brew it on a regular basis and on a larger scale, we can’t pick enough! So we buy our herbs commercially.”

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale

Oatmeal cookies and beer? It goes well at Aftershock Brewing, which created Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale. Credit: Copyright 2013 Christian Wicklein

Oatmeal cookies and beer? It goes well at Aftershock Brewing, which created Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale. Credit: Copyright 2013 Christian Wicklein

“We wanted the taste and aroma to remind you of oatmeal raisin cookies,” Rebecca Batz, Aftershock Brewing’s tasting room manager, says of the Temecula, California, brewery’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ale (5.5% ABV). “O.R.C.A.” won a bronze at this year’s GABF. The beer initially was intended to be a winter seasonal brew. It became a year-round offering thanks to popular demand.

Owner and brewmaster Marvin Nigh bases the ale on his wife’s oatmeal raisin cookie recipe. (His wife, Karen, is co-owner.) The beer includes oats, raisins and cinnamon. “Most people automatically assume this is a stout. It is not,” Batz says. “It’s just a cookie in the form of a beer.”

Main photo: Craft brewers are turning to herbs and spices as they look to add exotic ingredients to beers. Credit: Courtesy Deschutes Brewery

 



Zester Daily contributor Roger Fillion is an independent writer and editor … and an accomplished home cook and bread baker, with a special interest in craft beer, wine and olive oil. Roger also works as a social media specialist for specialty food companies. He has spent more than two decades as a journalist writing for major media outlets such as Reuters, the Denver Post, MSN.com and the Rocky Mountain News, where he spearheaded coverage of Colorado’s brewing industry.

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