Comprehensive Guide to Using Spices and Herbs in Homebrew Beer

Wednesday, January 10, 2024
The art of brewing beer, an endeavor as ancient as civilization itself, has always been intertwined with the creative use of herbs and spices. This fusion of botanical ingredients with traditional brewing methods is not merely a modern craft beer trend but a historic practice steeped in necessity and cultural expression. Originally, the inclusion of herbs and spices in beer was born from the practical need for preservation.

Before the advent of hops, which are now ubiquitous in beer brewing, ancient brewers relied on a medley of herbs and spices to prevent spoilage. This early beer, known as "gruit," was a mixture of various local herbs that brewers used to impart flavor and increase the longevity of their brews.

These botanicals often included sweet gale, yarrow, heather, and juniper, each chosen for their natural preservative qualities and unique flavors. This era of brewing highlights not only the ingenuity of early brewers in their quest for preservation but also their deep connection with the natural world around them.

adding spice and herb to beer brewing guide

As brewing techniques evolved, the role of herbs and spices in beer shifted from necessity to artistic expression. The introduction of hops in the 9th century gradually changed the brewing landscape, leading to the hop-dominated beers we know today. However, this did not spell the end for the use of other botanicals in brewing. Instead, it paved the way for a more nuanced and intentional approach to incorporating herbs and spices.

Brewers began to experiment with these ingredients, not just for their preservative properties, but for the complex and diverse flavors they could impart. This period of experimentation led to the emergence of styles like Belgian witbier, which is often brewed with coriander and orange peel, and the traditional German hefeweizen, which sometimes features clove and banana notes. These styles represent a marriage of traditional brewing practices with a modern appreciation for the intricate flavors and aromas that herbs and spices can bring to beer.

Ready, it's time to spice up your life!

Here's a small selection of spices and herbs that can be used to add flavor to home brew beer

  1. Coriander: Known for its lemony, spicy profile, coriander is a classic in Belgian witbiers. It pairs exceptionally well with the soft, fruity, and slightly sour notes of these beers. Coriander can also add complexity to lighter ales and lagers, where its citrusy character can shine without overpowering the beer’s base flavors.

  2. Orange Peel: Often used in tandem with coriander, particularly in Belgian wits, orange peel offers a bright citrus note. Sweet orange peel imparts a mellow, fruity sweetness, while bitter orange peel (or curaçao) adds a sharper, more pronounced citrus bitterness. This combination works splendidly in wheat beers, where the freshness of citrus complements the beer’s natural zestiness.

  3. Juniper Berries: Reminiscent of gin, juniper berries impart a piney, slightly fruity flavor. They're a traditional component in Scandinavian sahti, a style that combines these berries with a variety of malts. Juniper can also be intriguing in darker, malt-forward beers like porters, where their resinous quality adds depth and contrast to the rich, roasty malt base.

  4. Heather: Heather imparts a floral, slightly earthy aroma and a mild bitterness. It's historically used in Scottish gruit ales, where it provides a delicate, tea-like quality. Heather can be a charming addition to Scottish ales or even pale ales, where its subtle floral notes can complement the malt and hop character without overwhelming them.

  5. Chamomile: With its gentle floral and apple-like notes, chamomile is an excellent addition to delicate beer styles like Belgian tripels or light saisons. It enhances the beer’s fruitiness and adds a soothing, aromatic quality that's especially noticeable in the finish.

  6. Ginger: This spicy, zesty root can add a warm, peppery kick to a variety of beers. It's particularly effective in holiday ales, spiced stouts, and Asian-inspired beers. Ginger pairs well with sweet and rich malts, offering a balancing spice that cuts through the beer’s body.

  7. Cinnamon: Common in winter warmers and pumpkin ales, cinnamon adds warmth and spice, complementing the sweetness of malt-heavy beers. It works well in combination with other spices like nutmeg and clove, offering a classic, comforting profile that’s perfect for colder months.

  8. Hibiscus: Hibiscus flowers contribute a tart, berry-like flavor and a striking red hue. They're fantastic in wheat beers or sour ales, where their tartness can echo the beer’s natural acidity. Hibiscus is also visually appealing, making for an attractive and flavorful brew.

  9. Cardamom: This aromatic spice, with its complex, slightly sweet and spicy flavor profile, can be an intriguing addition to stouts and porters. It pairs well with the roasty characteristics of these beers, adding an exotic twist.

  10. Lavender: Lavender’s floral, slightly sweet profile can be a beautiful addition to lighter styles like pilsners or cream ales. It should be used sparingly to avoid overpowering the beer.

How and When to add spices and herbs to your homebrew beer

Incorporating spices and herbs into homebrew beer is a nuanced art, and each stage of the brewing process offers unique opportunities for flavor infusion. Let's delve into each of these stages in greater detail:


Mashing is the initial stage where grains are steeped in hot water to extract fermentable sugars. Adding spices and herbs during mashing is uncommon but can be effective for certain robust ingredients. The gentle nature of this stage allows for a subtle extraction of flavors without the risk of boiling off delicate aromatics.

  • Suitable Additives: Hard, durable spices like cinnamon sticks, cloves, or star anise are ideal for this stage. Their robust nature can withstand the prolonged exposure to warm water without losing their essential qualities.
  • Flavor Complexity: The flavors extracted during mashing are often less pronounced and more integrated with the malt profile. However, the exact outcome can be unpredictable due to factors like mash temperature, pH, and the type of grain bill used.
  • Considerations: It's important to remember that the mash environment is different from boiling – it's a lower temperature and more pH-sensitive. This means that the extraction rates and the final flavor profile can vary significantly from what might be expected in boiling.
herbs and spices list for brewing with beer


Boiling is the most common stage for adding spices and herbs due to its effectiveness in extracting flavors and ensuring sanitization.

Early in the Boil (45-60 minutes)

  • Flavor Integration: Adding spices early in the boil allows their flavors to meld seamlessly with the beer, often resulting in a more rounded and integrated profile.
  • Bitterness Contribution: Some spices, like cinnamon or ginger, can contribute a mild bitterness when boiled for extended periods. This can complement certain beer styles, particularly those that benefit from a subtle spice-derived bitter note.
  • Ideal Additives: Robust spices that benefit from prolonged exposure to heat, like cinnamon, ginger, or black pepper, are best added during this stage.

Late in the Boil (last 15 minutes)

  • Aroma Preservation: Adding herbs and spices towards the end of the boil helps preserve their volatile aromatics, which are key to their flavor profile.
  • Delicate Ingredients: This approach is ideal for ingredients like orange peel, coriander, or chamomile, whose delicate flavors can be lost with prolonged boiling.
  • Extraction Balance: The brief exposure to heat extracts flavor and aroma efficiently without breaking down the more delicate compounds.


  • Flavor and Aroma Maximization: Adding at flameout or during the whirlpool stage utilizes the residual heat for extraction while minimizing the loss of volatile compounds.
  • Sensitive Ingredients: Ideal for ingredients like lavender or hibiscus, which may become overly intense or bitter with prolonged heat exposure.


Adding spices and herbs during fermentation is a sophisticated technique that mirrors the dry-hopping method used for hops.

  • Timing: Typically added after primary fermentation has slowed, this method allows the beer to absorb the flavors without the alcohol and CO2 produced during active fermentation driving off delicate aromatics.
  • Fresh Aromatics: Perfect for ingredients with delicate, volatile aromatics like lavender, rose petals, or citrus peels, as it imparts a fresh, vibrant aroma.
  • Sanitization Concerns: Since the alcohol level is higher at this stage, it helps to naturally sanitize the additives.

Secondary Fermentation/Bottling

This stage is crucial for fine-tuning the beer's flavor profile.

  • Precision in Flavoring: Adding spices or herbs during secondary fermentation or at bottling time allows for very precise control over the intensity and balance of flavors.
  • Sanitization Method: Typically involves using an alcohol tincture or pasteurizing the additives in water to ensure they are sterile before introduction.
  • Ideal for Final Adjustments: This method is best suited for making final tweaks to the beer's flavor, ensuring that the desired intensity and balance are achieved.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.


absorption caps abv acetaldehyde acid adjuncts advice about beer brewing aeration aeration kit aging air lock alcohol alcohol poisoning ale ale beer kits alkaline alkaline brewery wash all grain american amylase apera apples attenuation autolysis automatic temperature compensation bacteria baker's yeast baking yeast ball lock ball valve bar keepers friend barley batch prime beer brewing beer capper beer dispenser beer filtration kit system beer gushers beer kit beer kit review beer kits beer lines beer salt beer taps beerstone best brewing equipment biotin bittering BKF black rock bleach blichmann blow off tubing bluelab bohemian pilsner boil in a bag boil over boneface bottle cap bottle caps bottle conditioning bottling bottling beer bottling spigot bourbon brettanomyces brew and review brew day brewing beer guide brewing salts brewing spoon brewing sugar brewing thermostat brewzilla british thermal unit brix brix scale BTU budvar buffer buffer solution burton snatch buyer's guide calcium chloride calcium sulphate calibration calibration probe calibration solution campden tablets capping carbon dioxide carbonation carbonation drops carboy cascade caustic soda cherry wine chinook chlorine christmas chronicle cider clarity cleaning your equipment clear beer clone recipe cloudy beer cold crashing coldbreak conditioning tablets conductivity conical fermenter contamination coopers copper tun corn sugar cornelius corny keg craft beer creamy beer crown cryo hops cubes danstar nottingham demijohn dextrose distilation DIY DME dopplebock draught dry hopping dry malt extract edelmetall brü burner eisbock ekuanot electrode enhancer enzyme equipment ester ethanol experiments in beer making faucet fermcap-s fermentables fermentation fermenter fermentis fermentor final gravity finings five star flat beer floccing foam inhibitor force carbonation french fresh wort pack fridge fruit fusel alchohol garage project gas burners gelatin gift and present ideas gin ginger beer glucose golden ale golden syrup goldings gose grain grain mill green bullet grist guinness gypsum hach hacks hallertauer heat mat heat pad heat wrap home brew honey hop schedule hops hops spider how not to brew beer how to brew that first beer how to brew with a beer kit how to grow hops how to make a hop tea how to wash yeast hydrated layer hydrogen sulfide hydrometer IBU ideas idophor infection inkbird instruments isoamyl acetate jelly beans jockey box john palmer juniper keezer keg cooler keg regulators kegco kegerator kegging kegs kettle kombucha krausen lactic acid lager lagering lauter lion brown liquid malt extract litmus LME lupulin lupulin powder lupuLN2 making beer malic acid malt malt mill maltodextrin mangrove jack's maple syrup mash mash paddle mash tun mccashins mead methanol micro brewing milling milwaukee MW102 mistakes mixing instructions moa mouth feel muntons must nano brewing New Zealand Brewer's Series no rinse nut brown ale oak oak wood chips off flavors original gravity oxygen pacific gem palaeo water pale ale panhead parsnip PBW pear pectine pectolase perlick ph levels ph meter ph pen pH strips ph tester pico brewing pilsner pitching yeast plastic drum poppet valve pot powdered brewing wash ppm precipitated chalk pressure relief valve priming prison hooch probe problem solving propane and propane accessories pruno pump system purity law radler re-using yeast recipe record keeping reddit refractometer reinheitsgebot removing beer labels from bottles review rice hulls riwaka rotten eggs saaz saccharomyces cerevisiae salt sanitization secondary regulator sediment seltzer session beer silicon simple tricks for brewing siphon site glass skunked beer small batch brewing soda soda ash soda stream sodium carbonate sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate sodium hydroxide sodium metasilicate sodium percarbonate sour beer sparge spigot spirals spirits spoon spraymalt star san starch STC-1000 steinlager steralisation sterilisation sterilization sterliization still stoke storage solution stout sucrose sugar supercharger tannins temperature temperature controller therminator thermometer tips for beginners tri-sodium phopsphate tricks and tips trub tubing tui turkey vodka infused gin vorlauf water water testing wet cardboard taste wet hopping weta whirlfloc tablets white claw williamswarn wine winter brewing wood wort wort chiller yeast yeast energizer yeast nutrient yeast rafts yeast starter yeast traps zinc
Back to Top