Spice, Herb and Veggie Beers

Fruit/Spice/Veggie/Herbal Beers

As homebrewers, we all know that one limit we have to what we can brew is going to be our imagination. While a majority of the BJCP categories have restrictions and direction as to how a style such as a pilsner or Baltic porter should be brewed and what it may include, the fruit, spice, herb and vegetable categories allow us a blank slate for our imaginations and ideas others believe to be pure insanity to truly run wild. My Mint Pale Ale is an example of taking a chance on an idea that a commercial brewer may not be willing to do, and watching that chance pay off.


History Lesson on Herbs and Spices in Beer

Now, the concept of adding these ingredients to beer isn’t anything new. Beer and alcohol, although not quite the way we know it today, has been brewed since the dawn of early civilization all over the world in a variety of ways. Holiday and seasonal beers use spices and herbs such as coriander, lemongrass, orange peel, chamomile, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise for creating different flavors and aromas; however it’s a far cry from how the ancients used spices and herbs, mainly for hallucinogenic and healing use in their alcohol. They believed fermentation and alcohol was a gift from the gods, and would use it either to try and communicate with them or heal themselves with their power. This was mainly in areas such as the Middle East, but more recently discovered in South America and our own Native American culture.

Fast forward to medieval Europe. Before the discovery and usage of hops, the main bittering additive to beer was a spice combination known as gruit. Basic gruit was made up of three mildly narcotic herbs: sweet gale aka bog myrtle, yarrow and wild rosemary, with each producer adding different herbs to their mix to produce distinct flavors and effects. Some used juniper (Urban Chestnut’s Old Tjikko is one modern beer that uses it, unfortunately not well if you’re not a fan of pine/resin flavor in your beer), while ginger and nutmeg are other examples still used today, but a majority of the herbs added had psychotropic properties supposed to stimulate the mind among other things. It wasn’t until hops started to gain use starting in the 14th century that saw their switch from gruit begin as well as the founding of drug control efforts by Protestant church groups and other trade organizations against merchants and the Catholic Church, effectively, but temporarily, eliminating the usage of herbal and spice additions to beer. Nowadays with the craft beer movement, those additions have become more commonplace as the population now goes crazy for pumpkin spice everything and lemongrass beers are getting notice, but psychedelic additions are still outlawed.


Ever-Changing Fruit Beers

Fruit and vegetable beers, however, have met with much less resistance and continue to gain in popularity, much to the chagrin of those who are anti-pumpkin. Randy Mosher states in his book Radical Brewing that fruit beers go back to Egyptian times, as they mentioned the use of dates and pomegranates, and even the Scottish tended to use gooseberries and elderberries in their beers. But the most common historical use of fruit in beers that are still made today are the fruit lambic styles like Kriek, Framboise and Peche. In these styles,traditionally the beer is transferred into an oak barrel on top of a specific fruit, then left open in a cellar. The wild yeast in the fruit and in the air causes the beer to spontaneously ferment, which gives those beers their sour and sweet tastes and smells from the lactic acids created during fermentation. The additional sugars in the fruit also add more sweetness to the beer rather than reducing it, with the added effect of boosting alcohol content. UK examples of fruit beer tend to be so heavily saturated with sugary fruit extracts or purees they’re hardly recognizable as beers. On the flipside, breweries here in the US such as New Glarus continue the Belgian tradition of sour fruit beers, albeit using cultured wild yeast strains for better control of fermentation and flavor. Two examples of local St. Louis brewed beers that use fruit or fruit juices primarily for flavor and not so much fermentation are Schlafly in their raspberry hefeweizen, in which raspberry puree is used in the secondary; the other is Urban Chestnut with their Berliner Weisse, where they use the traditional Berlin method of adding raspberry syrup at the pour.


Now Drink Your Veggies

Moving on to the vegetable beers, while any beer can be brewed with vegetables (Brooklyn Brew Shop for example has a recipe for making a gluten-free carrot pilsner), the most common vegetable beer on the market is one with a love/hate relationship, the pumpkin beer. While history books state the pilgrims were looking for the New World to set up shop and start new lives, one fact they tend to skip over is that they were primarily looking for land so they could gather ingredients and start brewing, as their beer supplies on the ships were running out as water was difficult to store and keep sanitary over a period of time. Beer was a much more stable and more importantly bacteria/disease free thirst quencher that could be kept sanitary for longer periods of time. However once they reached the New World, much of what they needed for brewing wasn’t available, and they tried a variety of natural resources before settling on pumpkins, which contrary to some beliefs are rich in starches and sugars necessary for mashing, fermenting and flavoring as are other members of the squash family. In the past, the pumpkins were pressed and pulverized, then the juices were collected then boiled, hopped,

cooled and fermented, becoming malt beer. Nowadays there are numerous ways to prepare pumpkin for brewing use. Some homebrewers cut it up or bake it before turning it into a pulp and adding to the mash for scarification while others still use the pressing method to get the fermentable juices out. Commercial breweries tend to use pumpkin puree only due to ease of use, while others use the pie spices only as it’s cheaper and the general public is usually unaware or doesn’t care as long as they can get their fall fix of pumpkin or pumpkin spice.


BJCP Guideline For These Styles

BJCP 2015 guidelines for each beer leave room for experimentation and creativity, however the main requirements are that for competition beers the spice, herb, vegetable or fruit needs to be specified in the entry and should be the predominant flavor and aroma, but balance is needed between what is used and the malt, hops and yeast. Appearance and mouthfeel should be focused on the beer’s base style, so in other words a pumpkin stout should look and feel like a stout in terms of color, body and head retention. With the fruit beers however, if using a lighter color beer like a wheat or a blonde ale some of the fruit color should be noticeable as a slight to moderate tint. The base style also needs to be specified in BJCP sanctioned competitions, however Autumn, Christmas or winter spiced beers as well as fruit lambics or fruit based Belgian specialty beers should be entered under those respective categories according to the new 2015 guidelines. Any beers using peppers should be entered in the SHV category, however in the case of a combo fruit/vegetable/pepper beer, it should be entered in the new 29B Fruit and Spice category.


That’s all I have for now, new post coming soon. Until next time, happy brewing and God Bless

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