Want to Take Your Beer-drinking Experience to a Higher Level?
Any home brewer knows that the vast majority of beers are composed of four main ingredients: water, hops, yeast and any grain such as barley or malt. These ingredients provide the basis for the texture, taste, aroma and consistency of every beer from a stout to a lager to an India pale ale.
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However, astute beer drinkers and brewers will notice several varieties of beer where secondary and tertiary ingredients seem to be included right in the name of the beer. These varieties include standard fare such as chocolate or oatmeal stouts and more exotic types such as strawberry wheat ales or bitter-root lagers.
These flavors are achieved through the use of beer flavor additives, which are secondary ingredients that are added during the brewing process or after the beer is completed to increase the complexity of the beer’s stated notes.
Types of Flavor Additives
There are endless flavor additives that have been added to beer throughout the years; after all, beer is commonly thought to be one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages, and trails only tea in global popularity!
Generally, beer flavor additives fall into a few different categories: fruits, herbs, spices, grains, or other beverages. Fruits, herbs and spices are relatively self-explanatory. Many seasonal beers are dressed up by using flavor additives from fruits or spices that are reminiscent of the season in question.
Pumpkin seeds are often used in autumnal brews, whereas summer shandies or light ales often call for the addition of fresh peach or lime flavoring.
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Grains and other beverages are also used to flavor beer products, although these additives are usually employed more sparingly. Grains such as oatmeal and rye are often inserted into the grain portion of a stout mix in order to change the texture of the beer. Whereas oats tend to be relatively flavor neutral, rye actively changes the taste of the beer that it is added to.
Other beverages are also utilized as flavor adjusters: coffee and other alcoholic spirits, such as whiskey or rum, are the most common offenders. Although American brewing laws forbid the active infusion of spirits into beers, laws in other countries are not so strict: Canadian microbrewer St. Ambroise McAuslan features an oatmeal stout and a scotch ale among their many offerings.
When to Insert Flavor Additives
There is no definitive agreement among brewers on when to insert flavor additives into the brewing process. Additives can actually be added at any time, from the boil to the first or second fermentation to the very end of the process, depending on what the brewer is attempting to achieve and which additive he or she is attempting to employ.
Flavoring can even be added with priming sugars to the bottling bucket, where the beer is completely finished and is simply waiting to be transferred into a consuming container.
Many home brewers have come up with inventive solutions to common flavor addition issues that occur during the brewing process. Because fresh fruits can leave undesirable chunks and seeds in a brew, many hobbyists use hop bags that allow the fruit flavor to infuse throughout the beer without leaving a mess to clean up at a later stage.
Home brewers also tend to insert additives that could potentially leave traces of themselves behind at a stage where alcohol already exists in the brew, such as during the second fermentation. In this way, the alcohol can protect the liquid content from infection by foreign bacteria and other harmful substances.
There are many insightful and informed opinions presented across the internet on this topic. For the flavor additive novice, Das Beer Show has a collection of commentaries on the additive industry that avoid complex vocabulary as well as oversimplification. The podcast is highly recommended for hobbyists and home brewers who wish to gain a little more insight into the mechanics of flavoring.
Adding Flavor Additives to Store Bought Beer
Beer flavor additives are important for beer masters across the world to master, but they can also be useful to amateur beer drinkers the world over.
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In fact, just as the last section made clear, flavor additives can be added during any part of the brewing and bottling process – even post-sale! Beer flavoring can be done from the comfort of your couch thanks to new improvements in cheap and safe flavoring options.
Since the beginning of the microbrew revolution in the 1980s, “hop transducing modules” have been proffered to consumers by large companies and home operations alike. These modules allow beer drinkers to experiment with alternative flavorings without forcing them to slave over their own formulas.
Drinkers can purchase their favorite brand, buy a few interesting flavor generators, and concoct their own version of the beer.
Beer retailers continue to come out with revolutionary advances on this technology. American microbrewery Dogfish Head recently created a module that it calls the Randall 3.0 that has beer drinkers from coast to coast salivating at the mouth.
Image Credit: Dogfish Head
The Randall 3.0’s simple design masks its effectiveness at infusing flavors into beer and then filtering unwanted pulp or seeds out of the finished product. Home modules like these are very good at imparting the flavors of fruits, seeds, spices and other solid additives into a finished alcoholic product.
Experimenting With Flavor Additives
The most important thing to remember with beer flavor additives is that every batch will not turn out exactly as planned. Flavoring is a delicate process, and one mistake can ruin an entire batch.
It is best to experiment frequently with smaller batches so that large quantities of beer do not have to be sacrificed on the altar of increased knowledge. Late-process flavoring is also easier to experiment with than early fermentation flavoring or mash adjustment are, precisely because the flavoring process is shorter and the potential variables are easier to control.
If, for example, you decide that you want to add oats or coffee beans into the mash prior to boiling and fermentation, ensure that you have done proper research. The deliciousness of an oatmeal stout or a coffee and cream stout may not be worth discarding an entire batch of your product.
As with any part of the home brewing process, flavor addition is best learned through frequent repetition. Trying out different solid and liquid additives is a fun way for experienced brewers to challenge themselves after mastering the basic art of beer manufacture.
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Flavored artisanal ales have never been more popular than they are right now, and a brewer who understands the flavoring process is an increasingly valuable commodity. Do your research, buy your choice of additives, and discover the flavoring process for yourself!
Have you tried flavor additives to your home brew or even to store-bought beer? If so, what is your favorite flavor and technique for spicing up your suds?!? Do share in the comments!
Professional jockey Jose Sanchez always liked to kick back after a training session with a high-strung thoroughbred, but he’d never indulged in beer until, one day, the raven-haired owner of his most challenging mount slid him one from across the table. One sip of the ice-cold, frothy pale ale and Jose was a changed man. Now married to an heiress, Jose works as a sports journalist and collects cars. You can find him blogging over in Drinxville.