Subscriber Exclusive

Creative Spicing for Homebrewers

Want to try your hand at a beer spiced with something other than cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger? Here’s how to experiment before you brew a whole batch.

Jester Goldman Mar 11, 2016 - 8 min read

Creative Spicing for Homebrewers Primary Image

Spiced beers bring to mind Christmas ales and their pumpkin-infused upstart cousins, but cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger are all too predictable. Homebrewing challenges us to be adventurous and create something truly unique. You can take inspiration from the Belgian brewers who are culinary artists, concocting beers with cumin seed, black pepper, or grains of paradise. Even if you're not a cook, you can apply culinary principles to come up with something more exotic and drinkable. It’s all a matter of playing around with flavors to construct a combination that is structurally sound.

Approaching these beers from the perspective of a chef, I often start by picking a spice rather than beginning with the base beer. For this example, I chose star anise. Most people immediately think of licorice, but star anise has more complexity and, at lower levels, can add some bright herbal notes. In cooking, I include it in my pasta sauce, and it’s part of my dry rub for smoked pork shoulder, but neither of those dishes seems helpful for brewing. There are other flavors that go well with star anise, among them chocolate, cinnamon, citrus, cranberry, and garlic. As I was thinking about the recipe, citrus stood out for me because there are plenty of citrusy hops (e.g., Cascade and Citra). That inspired me: What about an IPA made with star anise and orange zest?

Proof of Concept

Once you pick a spice or spices and decide on the style of the base beer, the idea may appear good on paper, but who wants to speculate with a full five-gallon batch? Fortunately, it’s possible to test out the idea by doctoring a sample beer. With its heavy helping of Citra and Mosaic hops, Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA seemed like a good foundation for my experiment. I ground up some star anise and put a pinch into a glass along with a little bit of fresh orange zest. I added some of the IPA and took a taste. There was too much orange, so I added some more anise until they seemed in balance. But the two spices overpowered the beer. No problem. I just diluted it with more IPA until all three elements came together. The orange zest proved to be the perfect bridge between the hoppy IPA and the star anise. It accented the citrus and tropical fruit character of the hops, while pulling in the spicy complexity of the anise. The proof of concept was a success.

Building and Brewing the Recipe

Make & Drink Better Beer

Subscribe today to access all of the premium brewing content available (including this article). With thousands of reviews, our subscribers call it "the perfect beer magazine" and "worth every penny." Your subscription is protected by a 100% money back guarantee.