The Spice Rack: Spice-Infused Suds

By Chef Gabriel Caliendo
Corporate Executive Chef – Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar

All those who love beer raise your hand! It is obvious that the craft beer revolution is still in full swing. The creative juices around the world have been working double-time to create some fantastic beer based in both tradition and contemporary inventiveness. Let’s take a look at how spices and dried herbs are used in creating these sumptuous suds.

Heather Tips: The flowers and leaves of this herb are used to add a smooth, mint-like flavor and chamomile aroma to Scotch Ale beer. Heather Tips and honey are a classic combination. Beers that use this herb are referred to as “Heather Beer.” Heather tips must be cleaned carefully before being used as it can contain a hallucinogenic fungus.

Cardamom: This spice, which comes in a pod form and is in the same family as ginger, is pungent and offers a slightly spicy-molasses quality to beer. It is commonly used to flavor Belgian beers, porters, stouts or red ales.

Coriander: The seed of the coriander herb is commonly used in making German Wit Beer and Belgian Style White Beers. Often it is paired with dried orange peel and cardamom. Coriander seed offers a nice pungent aroma and should always be toasted before adding to the brew.

Woodruff: Before hops became the popular choice about 500 years ago, Woodruff was the preferred herb for infusing bitter flavor into beer. This herb has a distinctive vanilla aroma with bitter hay-like notes. Beers made with Woodruff are referred to as “Gruitbier.” It is hardly ever made commercially, but it is still being produced primarily in Germany where Woodruff simple syrup is added to balance the acidity of Berliner Weisse beer.

Juniper Berries: These are most commonly known to flavor gin, however, they are also used to flavor the traditional ale of Finland, known as Sahti. Juniper berries are purple-black in color and are generally available dried. They are very strong so use sparingly.

Mugwort: The leaves of this plant impart an Anise-like bittersweet flavor and aroma to beer. The dried leaves are brewed like a tea and then “pitched” into the fermenting beer. The name was derived from the fact that beer was drunk out of mugs and a good beer was thereby considered a “mug’s worth.”

Sweet Gale: This shrub produces bark and leaves that contain strong resinous oil and can be substituted for the same bitter flavor that hops produce. It grows in the bogs & moors of Scotland and is used in making Scottish Ales. Sweet Gale is also known as “Bog Myrtle” & “Badge of the Campbells.”

Next time you are shopping the beer section of the market, take a peek at the ingredients. You never know what today’s craft beer brewers are experimenting with and sometimes they might just be sticking with tradition. Enjoy a nice cold beer or two.

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