Because of its association with chocolate desserts, mint has long been a natural ally in stouts and porters. But there are also some hop varieties that share characteristics with the cooling herb, and that’s what got Jeremiah Zimmer of Chicago’s Hop Butcher for the World thinking about brewing a mint IPA.
The brewery had experimented with mint, using extract, in a pistachio milk stout but was unhappy with the “artificial” taste. “I just thought we could do better,” Zimmer says. It wasn’t until a collaboration with Arcane Distilling (Brooklyn, New York) and a taste of its fernet (an Italian type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit) that Zimmer started thinking about mint again.
It just so happened that the collaboration happened around St. Patrick’s Day and that a certain global fast-food chain had released a seasonal green-tinted milkshake. A milkshake IPA made sense, and Zimmer loaded it up with Calypso, Northern Brewer, and Fuggles, all which have minty characteristics. But he also needed the real thing, so a trip to the local supermarket led him to the tea aisle where he loaded up on every kind of mint available.
The brewers did a variety of tests on the dried leaves of each kind of mint—both cold steeping and hot steeping them, then adding the resulting water to the base beer. The cold side proved the better temperature option because it was less tannic.
There are a lot of different mint varieties available, from wild to spearmint, peppermint, and more. All have the bright menthol aroma and flavor that is easily identifiable.
For the IPA, the brewers decided on a fifty-fifty blend of peppermint and spearmint because it offered familiar mint flavors. It was steeped cold and added to the finished beer in the fermentors. The beer was called Swans of Lir, and to complete the holiday look, the brewery added turmeric and spirulina to give it a green tint that Zimmer admits under certain light “looks like pond scum.” But, it did drive home the mint intention.
“If you’re going to offer a beer that says mint, you need to make sure people can find it, not hunt for it,” Zimmer says.
To brew with mint at home, you can dry fresh mint yourself or go the route Zimmer did and raid a store for different varieties to see what suits your own tastes. Mint is assertive but versatile and can be applied to a multitude of beer styles. The likely best application is a cold steep added after fermentation, but experimenting with the herb on the hot side can yield interesting results as well.