Dec 13, 2012

Adding Spices to Your Brew

As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn't think my Pumpkin Ale had enough spice character to it.  The general process for adding spices, which we followed, is to add them with 5 to 0 minutes left in the boil.  You can add them earlier or later, but adding them around knockout is the general practice.  Some spices or flavors (like vanilla) can be added to the secondary.

Some whole spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
But, I don't really want to make this a "how to" spice post.  I am no expert in the world of spices.  I can just tell you what I did when my beer had too little spice.  I wanted to add more.  But more of what?  And how much more?  Since I keg, dumping in a bottle of ground cinnamon would've been easy, but over-spicing is really, really easy to do and it can ruin a batch of beer.  (Please note, a bottle of ground cinnamon IS too much to add to 5 gallons of beer.)  I wanted a way I could add a little bit of spice to a pint to find the right balance of flavors.

Not the brand I used, but cheap nonetheless.
So, here's what  I did:  I collected several clean jars of all types - baby food, Mason, salsa, but they don't need to be big.  In fact, smaller may be better.  To each one I added a "serving" of spice - cinnamon, all spice, clove, ginger, nutmeg.  "A serving" is relative, but about a tablespoon or so is what I did.  I tried to use whole spices where available and just crush them a little bit before putting them in the jar.  For some, I used McCormick brand ground spices, and I think it worked out ok.  Once I had all the spices in their own little jars, I poured just enough (cheap) vodka over them to cover.  Then, I let them sit.

What I got over the next few days was a spice-filled liquid to add to my beer.  I bought some plastic droppers and would add a little of this and a few drops of that to each pint I poured.  It is amazing what 3 drops of cinnamon could do to a beer.  Then I started mixing and tweaking - vanilla (bought extract from the store.  Shortcut!), cinnamon, all spice... they all brought something to the beer.

While I didn't end up opening the keg and adding spices to the whole batch, I got to play around with different spice mixes and I have a much better idea as to where to start next time I make a pumpkin ale.

Another benefit to this process is scalability.  I know that 4 drops of "Spice A" in a pint is spot on; 8 pints in a gallon; 5 gallons in a batch.  So, 4 x 8 x 5 gives me 160 drops per keg.  My droppers are marked for measurements, so I can figure out how many drops in a mL and figure out how many mL of spice to add to a batch.  I guess the tough part will be figuring out how a number such as '24 mL' equates to dry spices.  But it should at least give me a starting point and a ratio to the other spices I'm adding.  Or, I could brew the beer and only add spices at kegging.

After a while, I took some coffee filters and filtered all the crushed spices out of the vodka, leaving me with pure spice liquid.  I hope to save it and use it in another beer sometime soon.  Or, maybe I brew well enough that I won't need to add any more spice to my beer.

But that day isn't here... yet.