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Herbs in non-hopped beers

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TimT

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What are the best herbs to add flavour to a beer? Aside from hops? And what are some of the pluses and minuses of using them in brewing? I'm thinking especially of using herbs to bitter beers - yes, I know you can get lots of great effects from hops, but I want to look at the great alternatives in the herbal world too. I'm sure there are many.

I've been experimenting with some of my latest brews and want to do a lot more this year. Partial list follows -

Yarrow - bitter taste but you need more than just a few leaves to get a strong taste, it seems. Flowers also add aroma.
PLUS: Plentiful plant, sometimes a weed. Like hops, it's a preservative. Apparently (unlike hops) it has 'psychoactive' effects, so it tends to wake you up.
MINUS: Not sure whether boiling for too long would kill the bitter flavour? (Possibly this happened with my latest brew).

Wormwood - extremely bitter, also extremely plentiful.
PLUS: Grows in gardens all over the place, also wild. Probably don't need much to bitter a brew. Again like hops, it's a preservative and is anti-bacterial.
MINUS: It tends to make the soil around it inhospitable for other plants, so not always a good gardening plant.

Raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, blackberry leaves - all impart somewhat sweet, slightly astringent flavours to the brew (if used in sufficient quantities). Give it a tea-like character, and also tannins (which might tend to make the beer more wine-like).
PLUS: Plentiful at this time of year.
MINUS: Not really a good base herb for bittering. Of course you might want a sweet beer but I'm of the opinion that a slight bittering is nice to offset the remaining malty sweetness.

Lavender - everyone knows it and it seems to be growing in everyone's garden. Would imagine it could be used for bittering, flavour, and aroma and pretty much every part of the plant would seem useful for this - leaf, twig, flower. Not sure if it has preservative effects?
PLUS: Ridiculously plentiful, delicious smell, and it's taste is very strong and seems to linger (try eating a leaf), so I don't think you'd need very much. Not sure if it's poisonous but it's popular in cooking and pot-pourris so I wouldn't think so.
MINUS: Possibly lavenders smells and taste may not survive a long/vigorous boil? (Be interested in hearing about this - I'm planning a lavender-honey saison soon).

Juniper - you can get the berries pretty easily at shops (I got a teeny tiny bag from Grape and Grain for a largish amount of money and then a day or so afterwards discovered I could buy a huge amount at the local supermarket for a much smaller amount of money); the twigs and branches and needles can be used in brewing too apparently. We have one growing in our garden but it's very small.
PLUS: Like hops they are a preservative. Since one traditional beer-making practice was to make a juniper essence, and then use that to do the mash before boiling the beer, the taste is probably pretty strong and will survive a long boil.
MINUS: Can't really think of any minuses!

This is related to some other threads I have going here. I'd love to hear from other folks who have experience making hopless beers - what's worked for you?
 

wynnum1

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Juniper berry that's one of the main ingredients for gin.
 

Not For Horses

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What about sasafras bark? That's pretty bitter and with an interesting flavour.
 

TimT

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Read about it. Must be in some of the naturalist stores I guess....
 

mr_wibble

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Remember to check the toxicity of this stuff.

Wormwood contains Thujone, which you may or may not want in your drinks.
(it was supposedly the psychoactive "bad" ingredient in absinthe)
 

TimT

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Oh yeah. Meant to mention that.

Wormwood does contain thujone - but my reference book says you'll find more thujone in sage, which is considered a perfectly acceptable culinary herb. So, it doesn't seem cause for concern.
 

TimT

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I made a sage beer a while back (did have a low level of hops too). Very interesting flavour, though if I was doing it again I'd probably try and make the sage-iness a bit more subtle. It was fairly overpowering.
 

TimT

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Since I'm planning a lavender and honey saison in a few weeks 'm doing a bit of an experiment with lavender to compare flavours. I've boiled one teacup of water last night and poured it over two sprigs of fresh lavender, thrown two more sprigs in some water and boiled it (to see how much flavour that would extract), and steeped two more sprigs in a third cup of cool water. Let's see what each comes up with.
 

manticle

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The alcohol content of early absinthe plus the frequency with which it was consumed was more likely to account for descriptions of psychotropic experiences. Maybe that and the laudunum.

Personal taste maybe but lavender should be kept well away from anything entering the mouth I reckon. Grandma's underpants drawer (that and napthalene) in a glass?

When I worked in commercial kitchens, I experienced lavender icecream. **** me it was horrible. The company we purchased from (didn't make our own at that place) normally made delicious icecreams but that was bought deliberately to stop people ordering icecream desserts as our serving freezer was on the blink and every bowl that went out was a creamy soup. The owner wouldn't take the dish off due to its popularity (hey it's summer, let's order icecream) so the chef ordered lavender to get people thinking their money would be best spent elsewhere on the menu.

I wouldn't touch it in beer. Rosemary on the other hand might be OK in the right beer.

Have you got radical brewing TimT? Sure I've mentioned it before.
 

TimT

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Have been doing a bit of reading around on the other brewing sites, Manticle, and some brewers seemed to have quite positive experiences using lavender. One, though, mentioned that some varieties contain camphor - ie, that mothbally scent - and ought to be avoided in cooking. So it may be best to be careful which varieties are being used. The advice usually seems to be to use lavender sparingly to avoid an overwhelming bitterness.

Only recently I've been dabbling with lavender in cooking (making a lavender-infused panacotta) and it's quite delicious - a slight sweetness and astringency from the lavender pairing up well with the rich honey flavour.

Still building up my brewing library!
 

TimT

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Re: early accounts of psychotropic experiences associated with absinthe: it's quite possible the early absinthe drinkers, the decadent poets, were inclined to give exaggerated accounts of drinking liquors, and exaggerate the importance of liquor itself - as they were interested in the nature of subjective experience and the mind, and were an early example of a bohemian drug-culture.

ABSINTHIA TAETRA

Ernest Dowson, 1897

Green changed to white, emerald to opal: nothing was changed.

The man let the water trickle gently into his glass, and as the green clouded, a mist fell from his mind.

Then he drank opaline.

Memories and terrors beset him. The past tore after him like a panther and through the blackness of the present he saw the luminous tiger eyes of the things to be.

But he drank opaline.

And that obscure night of the soul, and the valley of humiliation, through which he stumbled, were forgotten. He saw blue vistas of undiscovered countries, high prospects and a quiet, caressing sea. The past shed its perfume over him to-day held his hand as if it were a little child, and to-morrow shone like a white star: nothing was changed.

He drank opaline.

The man had known the obscure night of the soul, and lay even now in the valley of humiliation; and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies. But for a little while he had forgotten.

Green changed to white, emerald to opal: nothing was changed.



Ernest Dowson, attempting to prove what a bad-arse he was.
 

MHB

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People have been making beer for over 20,000 years; as far back as archaeologists have been able to trace something has been used to offset the sweet flavour.
People tried everything, some things were poisonous, some carcinogenic (see Sassafras) but as soon as someone discovered hops, everyone who could get their hands on them dropped the alternatives as fast as they could and used hops!
This in the face of a great deal of opposition from those vested interest groups who in some places had control of the alternative bittering agent market – read a bit about the history of Gruit and the Church.
If you want to make good beer Hops are the best
Mark
 

TimT

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Hops are overwhelmingly associated with beer these days.... though not without quite a bit of legislative and financial (through taxes) help. I love them.... but there are plenty of other, perfectly good, non-beer drinks made without hops. (In fact how many products are they used in apart from beer these days)?

And think of how much of a killing beer shops would make if they could sell dried herbs - wormwood, yarrow, sage, etc - alongside hops...!
 

manticle

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Probably not much but I still understand your interest. Hops AND other herbs.
 

TimT

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I may have slightly exaggerated but less than Ernest Dowson did.... bottom line, I agree with what you say - I like the focus to be hops and other herbs, though with a focus on the 'other' since hops are so well covered elsewhere.
 

Tex083

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If you can get your hands on some Beer 916 Lebanese Pale Ale have a taste I love it but it's not for everyone.

It's a pale ale with Zatar the middle eastern spice mix, little to no hops in it I can't remember. Tim I think you were relatively close to me, Black Hearts and Sparrows usually have it in stock.
 

Tex083

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Oh and I'm planning on using a smoked tea in a upcoming beer, after tasting a peated saison I'm all over the smokey flavours.
 

MHB

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[SIZE=medium]I freely admit to being a bit of a beer purist, largely because I have taken every opportunity to taste other products like Gruit and have yet to encounter a non-hop beer that was worth the effort, if you find one that does taste good I would love to hear about it.[/SIZE]

[SIZE=medium]“Hops are overwhelmingly associated with beer these days.... though not without quite a bit of legislative and financial (through taxes) help.”[/SIZE]
[SIZE=medium]Crap, complete crap, well not the “Hops are overwhelmingly associated with beer these days” true they are because they make good beer – the part about tax. Hops are a globally traded commodity they are taxed like any other product of agriculture, there may be some anomalies in some countries tax laws tho I have never heard of any. The implication that if hops weren’t in some way advantaged with tax concessions they wouldn’t enjoy their prominent role in beer production is garbage. If you have any evidence to the contrary please post it – or at least think before you post shit.[/SIZE]

[SIZE=medium]As for making a killing out of selling herbs and spice, well I don’t and I carry a reasonable range, I try to focus on harder to get ingredients like Grains of Paradise, Curacao Zest, Mauritian Vanilla Pods and Coriander that is suitable for brewing, even went to the trouble of buying a proper spice mill.[/SIZE]

[SIZE=medium]I very much understand, even support and encourage experimentation, if you want to please do so but there never was a better alternative to hops, herbs and spice (used judiciously) are fundamental to some beers and there is a long history of their use.[/SIZE]
[SIZE=medium]This is a spreadsheet I have converted from American units to something a bit more rational – having used some of the recommended dosing rates I would suggest you use half the recommended maximum as an upper limit as some of the additions are anything but subtle and will dominate the beer, it’s also a shed load easier to add more at need than it is to pick out excess flavour molecules with tweezers.[/SIZE]
[SIZE=medium]Mark[/SIZE]
[SIZE=medium]View attachment Brewspices 2.xls[/SIZE]
 

technobabble66

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Hey Tim,
Check: gentian, goldenseal, globe artichoke, dandelion root, andrographis.
They're all herbs that herbalists use for their bitter elements.
Note that goldenseal is traditionally used against candida, so it might have a suppressant effect on brewers yeast (I'm a naturopath ;-) ).
 

Yob

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Heather? there was a pretty good adventure into Heather a few years ago, mixed results I grant you.. still have some Heather in fact..

will also grant we used hops as well.. but the reading I did showed you 'coulld' make a beer with heather and various other bits and bobs.. they are better off being used in addition to hops as subtle specialties rather than a stand alone if you know what I mean?

downloaded that spreadsheet.. thanx for sharing it
 
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