Soured Herb, Spice, and Vegetable Beer
Sour Herb, Spice, and Vegetable beer is mixed fermentation, sour or brett beer with the addition of spices, herbs, or vegetables. These beers, along with Soured Fruit Beers would fall into the 2015 BJCP style of 28C - Wild Specialty Beer. Here we will discuss the use of spices, herbs, and vegetables in sour beers and give recommendations based off of those brewed by MTFers and commercial brewers.
Safety warning: not all plants are safe to consume! Do your research first before incorporating plants into your beer. Be 100% sure of the identification of the plant. Just because a particular plant was consumed historically before science had an understanding of what the effects were doesn't mean you should disregard the modern understanding of health and medicine. See Alex Seitz's resources and guide to edible/poisonous plants.
For commercial brewers in the US, any ingredient not on the TTB exempt lists needs to be approved by the TTB regardless of where the beer is sold. When seeking approval, it is helpful to show previous use and scientific articles supporting the safety of consumption of the ingredient being used. For example, if the item is on the FDA GRAS list (or potentially FDA approved Food Ingredient and Packaging Inventories; see also advice from Andrew Zinn), then providing this information to the TTB or possibly having the FDA GRAS department work with the TTB for approval can help. See also Formulas for fermented products on GPO.gov.
Michael Thorpe and Milk The Funk maintain a list of ingredients that have been approved by the TTB for a specific brewery to use but are not on the TTB exempt list. Help us out by adding your TTB approved ingredient to the list, or use this list to help you get approval for an ingredient that your brewery uses.
- 1 Spices
- 2 Herbs
- 3 Vegetables
- 4 Tree Sap
- 5 Hay/Straw
- 6 General Usage Suggestions
- 7 See Also
- 8 References
For spices, generally fresher is better. Whole spices maintain their freshness better than pre-crushed spices, and it is recommended to use the freshest spices you can get and to crush them fresh right before using them rather than to use pre-crushed spices. On a home scale, this can be easily accomplished with a mortar and pestle. Commercial producers may find that blenders or coffee grinders are better for larger spice quantities. Smell you spices before using them. If they seem stale or muted, it might be a good idea to look for fresher spices.
Some types of spices, such and flowers or citrus zest, may not need to be crushed before use. These spices can be found fresh as well as dried, and fresh spices will generally have stronger or more complex aromatics. For zesting your own citrus fresh, both a zester or a vegetable peeler will work to remove the zest. Using a vegetable peeler may give more complexity, and peelers give more manageable pieces of peel.
When to add and Methods of Extraction
Spices are commonly added between flameout on the hot side and secondary on the cold side. In order to preserve the aromatic properties of spices, they are generally better added later in the brewing process. They can also be added by preparing tinctures and dosing the beer or by soaking the spices in hot water in a sealed mason jar and then adding the mixture. Both of these methods can help to limit the possibility of microbe pickup from adding spices on the cold side.
- Decoction – A decoction is a boiled tea of the spices/herbs/etc. Using higher heat and a longer duration of a gentle boil helps to extract bittering compounds. Experiment with the spices you want to use to determine the proper time and temperature combination. The benefit of doing a tea extract compared to simply adding herbs/spices to the boil is that the tea approach gives the brewer added control of flavor balance and can help to prevent the extraction of too much bitterness or other overpowering flavors.
- Alcohol extraction: Also called a tincture, this is an extraction of flavor compounds from the herbs and spices by cold soaking in pure or high-concentration alcohol. Chemical compounds are differentially soluble in alcohol compared to water and alcohol can better extract hydrophobic compounds such as some essential oils, resins, and organic acids. Tinctures can be made using varying alcohol percentages which may lead to different results in the extraction. Tinctures are generally a very concentrated and convenient for extracting and storing herbs. Tinctures also offer a good level of control over the dosage. Brewers can experiment with the dosage of tinctures by creating test blends of tincture (at the drops level) with samples of the beer that will eventually receive the tincture or a similar beer. 20% alcohol is the minimum requirement for shelf-stability. Tinctures may not viable if you are trying to measure or maintain a certain ABV as you will be adding alcohol along with the herbs/spices.
- Barley wine or wine extraction Wine can also be used as a method of extraction and preserving herbs. White wines are more often used traditionally due to the high tannin content of red wine, which may interfere with alkaloid rich herbs. Wine extraction may also be adapted to imperial or high gravity beer samples, such as using a barleywine, for steeping high volumes of herbs in the beer and then dosing the extraction back to larger batches later. If using this method, consider the influence of the solvent, which has its own flavor, along with the flavor of the herbs or spices you are using. This method is also not recommended if you need to maintain a certain ABV.
- Cold pressing- Cold pressing is similar to a French press in mechanics, but using cold water for extraction. Using sterile water, such as boiled and cooled water, is recommended. 2-24 hours maceration of solids is often needed for this method. Cold extraction allows for retention of volatile compounds that would be lost by extraction methods involving heat. This is especially true if this method is used after or near the end of fermentation so that volatile compounds are not lost during fermentation .
- Barrel Infusion - Tom Antidoot Jacobs reported using an oak chip infusion tube from GW Kent for spice infusions in barrels. Using such a device makes filtering the spices out of the barrel easier .
Herbs can be used fresh or dried.
When and how to add
The same basic consideration for spices apply to herbs. Herbs are typically added between the end of the boil and secondary fermentation/aging.
The following is provided by James Sites :
- Since you want to use the petals only (or maybe not), you want to pick your flowers away from anywhere that sprays and you want to pick them around noon or so, when the flowers are fully open. Ingo Janssen adds: pick the dandelions when they are young and the flower is about to open. You can then pick the petals in one go, just tear away the green leaves around them and you're left with a nice compact set of petals.
- After you pick your flowers you're going to want to depetal them as soon as possible because they will eventually close, making it a more difficult process. If you get a little green with the petals, don't worry about it, as long as most of what you have is the yellow.
- The optimum ratio for dandelion wine is 100 grams of petals per 2 quarts of water. In my last beer I used 760 grams (25.7 oz.) for approximately 5 gallons of water, so about 3/4ths of that amount, with good results. For reference, that amount took me about 2 hours to pick and about 7 hours to depetal. It's an intensive process. Get ready for your fingertips to be dark brown.
- Since you can freeze the petals, you can do this in stages until you have enough to make the tea for your beer.
- After you have gathered enough petals, you want to soak them in hot water for 2 days to make the tea. I just put them into a mashtun and pour boiling water over them and close the mashtun. Stir the petals at least twice a day.
- After the two days, separate the petals from the water (another reason a mashtun is useful) and use it however you want. If you're an extract brewer, you can add extract directly to the water and brew the rest of your beer normally. If you're brewing all grain, I'd use the dandelion tea as sparge water.
- Matt Humbard's dandelion saison with Brettanomyces.
- Elixer Bier's MTF thread on dandelion flowers in a sour beer, as well as bog-myrtle (Myrica gale).
- Pick the elderflowers in the early morning, they're at their best then. After a day of sitting in the sun, part of the aroma has evaporated, and it recovers at night.
- If you hold the flowers upside down, tap it, and the yellow powder falls out, they're at their prime to be picked.
- One night maceration will do. No matter how well you cut off the branches, there will still be a whole bunch left. One night maceration extracts the noble aroma of the flowers and not the green/peppery aroma of the branches (or at least to a lesser extent).
- If you chill your beer before the maceration, to get an actual 'cold' maceration, the extraction is even more pure.
- Barrel age the elderflower lambic for another half year, it will make it way more balanced.
- Respect the nature of your beer and the nature of the flower and you'll be happy.
Generally, cold brewed coffee is used or "dry beaning" is used where cold brewed coffee or whole coffee beans are added to the beer shortly before packaging. Cold brewed coffee can be added incrementally to taste. If "dry beaning", 12-48 hours are recommended to fully extract the coffee from the beans. There are many differing opinions on what types of varieties and roasts to use; the best advice is to test several coffees and choose the one that best fits the beer. The best drinking coffee may not be the best coffee to use in a sour beer, and different coffees might be better suited for different beers . See this MTF discussion on using coffee in sour beer, and this MTF discussion that summarizes the hypotheses on where the green pepper character of coffee comes from and how to avoid it.
Honey should be dissolved in warm water before being added to beer, especially to oak barrels. Honey has a high osmolarity, meaning that it has a high sugar concentration and doesn't readily dissolve in beer. When added to oak barrels it will sink to the bottom and begin seeping out of the barrel staves, resulting in a mess and wasted honey (this might be due to the honey actually drying out the oak staves from inside the barrel, even with beer present, perhaps due to the concentration gradient between wood and honey) . While honey is anti-microbial due to its lack of water content, it is not aseptic and can harbor a wide range of microorganisms (see the Mold page for more information).
See this MTF thread.
- MTF thread on methods and amounts for using spruce tips in beer.
- MTF thread on sourcing spruce and methods of using it.
- Some suggestions on using hot peppers: The spice is in the seeds. Removing the seeds will shift the balance toward flavor and away from spice. Some suggest removing the seeds, and others say they like the qualities of the seeds but are careful to control contact time.
- Beets: start with 64 fl oz per 5 gallons for light flavor, and consider adding more for more flavor impact. Robert Colianni formerly of 2nd Story Brewing intends on using up o 32 fl oz per gallon .
When and how to add
Many vegetables, such as squashes/gourds and root vegetables contain starches which you may wish to convert to fermentable sugars by including the vegetables in the mash. If added to secondary (such as in the case of beet juice), allow adequate time for sugar/starch re-fermentation as appropriate for the microbes alive in the beer.
Some brewers have experimented with replacing water with tree sap during the brewing process. Using maple sap has been used frequently. According to some brewers, using maple tree sap (not maple syrup) does not give any character to a beer due to its light flavor profile and sugar content (1-5% sugar) before being turned into syrup, while others claim that there is a slight "earthy/woodsy" character imparted. See this MTF thread.
Palm sap has been used in palm wine fermentation in Benin, Africa. The pine sap is fermented spontaneously and often distilled into a palm distilled moonshine called Sodabe. See this MTF thread for details and pictures of this process reported by Ryan Deaver, as well as an interview with Ryan on BasicBrewing radio.
- "Questions on the role of hulls, hay, and hops in the mash"; historical perspective on lambic mashing by Dave Janssen of Hors Catégorie Brewing blog.
- MTF thread on experiences using hay/hulls/hops during mash.
- A definition and explanation of the difference between straw and hay (www.usforage.org). See also this MTF thread with thoughts from Gail Ann Williams and Dave Janssen on straw vs hay in historical brewing.
General Usage Suggestions
(in progress) This table gives some suggestions based off of what has worked for MTFers and commercial breweries. It is not a completely exhaustive list, and you are encouraged to add your experiences and experiment outside of this list. Before using anything, be sure that it is safe to use and does not pose a health risk. Parts of some plants that have other parts commonly used for spices as well as plants similar to those used as spices can be toxic (e.g. Rhubarb leaves, parts of elderberry plants, some varieties of juniper). Similarly, if foraging always be 100% sure of what you are picking. Take someone with you with experience if you do not have the appropriate experience and take pictures of what you pick. There is a saying "There are old mycologists and bold mycologists but there are no old & bold mycologists." First and foremost be careful when foraging anything.
- Use single spices until you know how they affect the beer and then blend accordingly for balance. Collect notes on your amounts, process and the full range of any ingredient to help for future beers.
- Look for balance when blending spices with teas and tinctures. For example, wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is rather tangy-tart and blends well with nutmeg or star anise in darker ales, but maybe better with lemongrass or ginger in lighter beers.
- Fresh living herbs can taste and give off drastically different flavors and concentrations than dried or dried/crushed versions and can also be very different than powdered forms. This may be especially true of more delicate and tender herbs such as lavender, lemon balm, dandelion, wood sorrel and fresh basil, compared to herbs such as thyme, rosemary, fennel and other more fibrous herbs.
- Do you have some input from your experiences brewing sour herb/spice/vegetable beers? Please add your thoughts in this MTF Facebook thread.
- As spices are typically used in small amounts, we've presented this table in units of g/l to avoid awkward decimal values. To help those who are metrically challenged, follow this link to convert to oz/gal.
|Spice/Herb/Vegetable||Format||Amount||Added in||Contact Time||Commercial Examples|
|Basil||Fresh leaves||1.5 g/l||Secondary||1-2 weeks ||Lindemans Spontanbasil: 180 kg of fresh basil for 40 hectaliters of lambic; steeped in the beer for one day before packaging .|
|Beats||Fresh and Funky||More is better||Anywhere hot side to aging and conditioning||More is better||Dock Street Ain't Nothing to Funk With|
|Beets||Juice (Lakewood® brand)||13-32 fl oz/gal (3.4-8.5 fl oz/l) ||Secondary (can lose their color over time )||1-2 months (less for kettle sours)||Jester King Hibernal Dichotomous 2015|
|Carrots||Juiced||2 pounds for 5 gal (weight of whole carrot) ||End of boil||Scratch Brewing recommends roasting them and adding to secondary .|
|Cilantro||Fresh leaves||>2.25g/l |
|Cinnamon||Stick or Ground||Varies greatly depending on form, variety, freshness, and desired intensity, see this MTF thread.||Home Sweet Home from The Rare Barrel.|
|Coffee||Whole beans||~11-12 g/l ||Secondary||48 hours||All Systems Go by The Rare Barrel, Coffee Minotaur by Orpheus Brewing, Lunex by Black Project|
|Coriander (Indian)||Whole, freshly crushed||Boil, or during primary fermentation for hypothesized biotransformation ||Many examples of Gose|
|Cucumber||Fresh, skinned and sliced||<1/2 cucumber per gallon||secondary|
|Elderflowers||Whole, fresh||Secondary||Cantillon Mamouche|
|Gentian root||whole, sliced, dry||1-2 g/l (less for dried) ||Flameout or after fermentation|
|Ginger Root||Juiced||20-80 mL/L (or add to taste) ||Secondary|
|Ginger Root||Fresh/sliced||7.5-12 g/l ||Secondary||Minimal contact (2-3 days)|
|Ginger Root||Dried||~3.5 g/l  (~52 minutes in)||Secondary||Minimal contact (TRB uses a Torpedo/hop rocket)||The Rare Barrel Sourtooth Tiger|
|Grains of Paradise||Dried, crushed||Rare Barrel Grainsta's Paradise|
|Fenugreek||Leaves||a bit less than 0.4 tbsp/gal |
|Hay||Mash||Jester King Repose|
|Hibiscus||Dried||2-8 g/l (boil)/2-4 g/l (secondary) ||5-15 mins in Boil (longer time in boil for more tartness)||Bend Brewing Co. Ching Ching Berliner.|
|Honeysuckle||Fresh||1 gallon volume per 5 gallons of beer ||secondary|
|Lavender||Dried leaves||1-2 tablespoons per 5 gal ||Secondary||1-2 days|
|Lemon Balm||Fresh||0.5 - 1 ounces at the end of the boil and 1 ounces after fermentation; or make a tea and add to taste to finished beer ||Boil or Secondary|
|Mushrooms (chanterelle)||Whole/Frozen||0.25 lb/gal ||Secondary||~3 weeks||Upright White Truffle Gose; Jester King Snörkel|
|Oak||See Barrel Alternatives|
|Peppercorns, black||dried, crushed|
|Peppercorns, Pink||dried, crushed|
|Peppers, hot||Upright Fatali Four|
|Rhubarb||Fresh||Secondary||Cantillon Zwanze 2012|
|Rosemary||Fresh Leaves||4-6" sprig per 5 gallons||End of boil to secondary|
|Spruce Tips||Fresh||10-12g/gallon||Secondary (some people add during boiling or cooling/whirlpool, or make an extract with vodka and add at packaging )||3 days room temp, 3 days cold crash||Grimm Artisan Ales - Super Spruce Gose.|
|Sumac||See this MTF thread.|
|Tea||Dried leaves||50-100 grams in 1 L water cold brewed 24-36 hours See also this MTF thread.||Secondary|
|Thyme||Jester King Hibernal Dichotomous 2015|
|Wakame (Seaweed)||~70 grams for 20 liters ||Secondary|
Additional Articles on MTF Wiki
- Gruit Guild Google Doc of herbs.
- Phenol Explorer website for various foods.
- Approximate pH of some fruits and vegetables.
- "The Rise and Fall of Gruit" and "From Herbal To Hopped Beer: The Displacement Of Regional Herbal Beer Traditions By Commercial Export Brewing In Medieval Europe" by Susan Verberg.
- SpruceOnTap.com (vendor for spruce tips, juniper, and other herbs).
- Falling Fruit foraging map.
- TTB Approval Formulation wizard.
- Mad Fermentationist Lemon Berliner Recipe
- Von Seitz Theoreticales Brewery. theoreticales.com.
- Tom Antidoot Jacobs. Milk The Funk Facebook group thread on infusion spices in barrels. 11/17/2018.
- Post on MTF by James Sites on how to use Dandelions. 04/01/2016.
- Conversation with Raf Soef on preparing elderflowers on MTF. 06/06/2016.
- MTF discussion on using coffee in sour beer with Jason Pellett. 09/10/2016.
- Christophe Venot. Milk The Funk thread on adding honey to oak barrels. 12/19/2017.
- MTF spice thread
- Conversation with Robert Colianni and Ed Coffey on MTF about beet juice. 09/28/2016.
- Todd Stephens in the Milk the Funk Facebook Spice/Herb/Vegetable discussion
- "Turning Over A New Leaf | Lindemans Spontanbasil". Belgian Smaak blog. 12/31/2016. Retrieved 09/10/2017.
- Mattias Terpstra. Milk The Funk Facebook group thread on the color stability of beets. 03/27/2018.
- Nolan Patrick Carpenter and DeWayne Schaaf. Milk The Funk Facebook group post about using carrots. 04/08/2018.
- Jimmy Healy in the Milk the Funk Facebook Spice/Herb/Vegetable discussion
- MTF thread on using coffee in sour beer, with notes by Jay Goodwin. 09/10/2016.
- Michael Tonsmeire. "Gose: NEIPA Principles for Coriander". The Mad Fermentationist blog. Retrieved 07/27/2017. 2017.
- Phillip Bouchard. Milk The Facebook group regarding adding coriander during primary fermentation for Gose. 07/27/2017.
- Brandon Selinsky in the Milk the Funk Facebook Spice/Herb/Vegetable discussion
- Tom Antidoot Jacobs. Milk The Funk Facebook group thread on gentian root. 07/15/2018.
- Various MTF members. Milk The Funk thread about ginger usage. 12/19/2017.
- The Sour Hour on the Brewing Network, Episode 29. 02/19/2016.
- Adi Hastings discussion on the MTF facebook page
- Manny Jannes and James Sites on MTF regarding hibiscus usage. 11/29/2015.
- Ryan Steagall on MTF regarding honeysuckle. 05/08/2016.
- Gareth Young. Using lavender on Milk The Funk. 09/07/2017.
- Multiple MTF members. Milk The Funk Facebook group thread on using lemon balm. 05/13/2019.
- Matt Viator. Milk The Funk Facebook group post on using chanterelle mushrooms. 09/19/2017.
- Scott Patterson in the Milk the Funk Facebook Spice/Herb/Vegetable discussion
- Gabriel G. on MTF
- Usage of Spurce Tips thread on MTF. 12/3/2016.
- Conversation with Nathaniel Senff on MTF. 01/19/2016.
- Conversation with Mattias Terpstra on MTF on using seaweed. 07/22/2016.