If you’d like to re-create the aroma of fresh piney Christmas trees and or the spicy flavor of earthy gingerbread in your beer, many brewers recommend doing so via stout—a style of beer they say can be brewed with just about any spices. In Issue 4 (Winter 2014/2015) of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®, I got the skinny on how to best use spices in stouts.
“Balance is probably the most immediate thing I consider. The spices have to dance with the base beer. They should never insult or overwhelm the base beer. Also, determining which spices to use and when to use them can make the difference between a great beer and a mediocre one.” — Wayne Wambles, Brewmaster at Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Florida)
“The base beer of the Mexican Cake is just a 10 percent ABV imperial stout, nothing that special about it. Habaneros, cinnamon, vanilla, and cocoa nibs are added during conditioning. I try to make the flavors apparent but not overwhelming.” — Edward Westbrook, Cofounder of Westbrook Brewing (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina)
“The base of the Indra Kunindra is inspired by an Export Stout, heavily relying on the acridness of black roasted barley balanced by a creamy mouthfeel coming from flaked barley and heavier roasted caramel malts. Neutral ale yeast and earthy hops help showcase the five additional savory spices. Madras curry, cumin, cayenne, kaffir lime leaf, and toasted coconut are added for a burst of aroma and a unique beer and food pairing in the same glass. The challenge is making a beer that is curry-flavored and not a spiced bomb that makes you forget you’re drinking a beer.” — Colby Chandler, Executive Director and Specialty Brewer at Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen (San Diego, California)
“We’re adding fresh ginger into a pot of boiling honey that will be pumped into our imperial stout [the Hardywood Gingerbread Stout]. We’re cutting up whole Madagascar vanilla beans to add with a bit of cinnamon. Milk sugar contributes to the full body of this stout and tames its roasty character, while oats lend a silky quality.” — Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond, Virginia)
“Ska’s three stouts that have spices—Vernal Minthe, Molé , Estival—all have milk stout bases. I’m really surprised because the Molé Stout has three different types of chilies, and it doesn’t seem like you’d want a lactose base. It’s like cooking: you create something unique enough that somebody with a strong palate and an open mind can easily fall in love with it. Nothing you’ve ever had before, but it’s delicious.” — Dave Thibodeau, Cofounder at Ska Brewing (Durango, Colorado)