Spice Road Spices
Artisan Spice Merchants
A journey of 3000 years to bring gourmet, time saving pure spice blends to you the Home Chef
Water and Malt and Hops and Yeast. These days nearly every brewery has a t-shirt with some variation of these words and while those four ingredients are essential for any brewer, they are not the only ingredients that brewers over the centuries have used to spice up their ales.
Prior to the proliferation of hops, most brewers would use a combination of local herbs and spices to flavour beers. This spice blend was known as “gruit” and might be as simple as crushed coriander seed with some orange zest - still the base flavouring for most Belgian-style wheat beers - or may be as complex as the recipe for Purl, a hearty ale served warm to English fishermen and flavoured with a combination of gentian, juniper, wormwood, senna, ginger, horseradish, calamus, pepper and galangal.
With the explosion of micro-breweries in recent years many of these older styles of spiced beers have been re-discovered and are well worth trying for those whose palates are jaded by bland, mass-produced lagers.
As a keen home-brewer with the space constraints of an inner-city apartment I began experimenting with spiced brews some years ago. It was a way of creating more interesting flavours without the cost, space and equipment requirements of moving from kit-brewing to full-mash. Luckily my local home-brew supply shop is run by a bloke who is fairly open-minded about experimental beers although he did draw the line at a pomegranate and ginger concoction I made one time: "Interesting, but I wouldn't call it beer."
Some herbs and spices lend themselves well to brewing and pop up time and again in various styles of beer, e.g. coriander, pepper, cardamom, and lemon myrtle. But some do not work out so well. Nutmeg and cinnamon should be used very sparingly and only in heavy dark beers. In a typical 20+ litre batch of home-brew, no more than 2 cloves. And never attempt a rosemary ale!
When adding spices to beer it's best to err on the side of caution. It's amazing how little is required to infuse a distinct flavour throughout a batch. A single sprig of rosemary can ruin an otherwise delicious golden ale. Whereas a teaspoon of roughly ground coriander seeds can elevate a relatively bland brew into a thing of beauty.
Our spices begin their journey.