Herbs and Spices

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Herbs and spices are the common names for any of a group of flavorful, aromatic plant products that have been commonly used in cooking, and in some cases in beer, wine, mead, and cider making, for centuries. While they are most commonly seen in meads, where an herb or spice beer is known as a metheglin, spices are also used in some cider and some traditional beer styles such as Witbier.

Wines and ciders are not traditionally seasoned with herbs or spices, although both can be traditionally served with spices. However, some home wine and cider makers, and some commercial wineries and cider makers, now do make wine and cider fermented with herbs and spices.

The chart below lists some herbs and spices which can be used in making fermented beverages, including their traditional uses, their flavor characteristics, and where possible suggested amounts. All quantities assume a standard five gallon batch as well as freshly ground or grated spices and fresh herbs unless otherwise stated.

Common name Scientific name Suggested uses Suggested quantity (in 5 gallons) Commercial examples
Anise Star anise adds a strong black licorice flavor to holiday and specialty beers. Boil for 30 minutes to extract flavor.
Caraway Carum carvi Anise-like flavor; seeds are used in rye bread and some versions of American Rye Beer (but never German roggenbier). C'est What? Caraway Rye; Triumph Brewing Jewish Rye
Chamomile Matricaria recutita Adds a floral aroma and spicy, apple-like flavor to beer. For beer, a quarter ounce to two ounces late in the boil. The German variety and not the similar Roman variety is traditionally used in tea and beer. Rogue Chamomile; Stoudt's Scarlet Lady with Chamomile; Three Floyds Rabid Rabbit; Founders Chamomile Ale
Cinnamon (Cassia) Used to add cinnamon flavor to holiday beers. Goes well with ginger, honey and orange flavors. Most "cinnamon" sold in the U.S. is actually cassia; cassia flavor often works as well in holiday spice blends as the more subtle (and expensive) "true" cinnamon available in some specialty stores. Add one stick 5 minutes from the end of the boil.
Coriander Coriandrum sativum Traditional in Witbier and some other Belgian beers. For a Witbier, half an ounce to an ounce at the end of the boil or in secondary; for a lighter spice flavor in beer, a quarter ounce. Witbier (all); La Chouffe; Three Floyds Rabid Rabbit
Gale Sweet gale is a very strong, fragrant shrub. Great spice, though relatively unknown. Aroma used in soups, stews, and candles. Well suited for holiday beers. Use sparingly in the last 10 minutes of the boil -- the aroma and flavor are VERY strong.
Ginger Zingiber officinale Common in mead; excellent in dark ales and Winter Warmer; traditional mulled wine and cider spice. For beer, one ounce or more near the end of the boil. Avoid dry powdered ginger; thinly sliced is easier to handle but fresh grated will impart the most flavor. As little as 1/2 ounce per 5 gallons is noticable, but up to 4 oz can be used for a strong ginger flavor. Bar Harbor Brewery Ginger Mild
Grains of Paradise Also called Paradise Seeds or Grains of Paradise. Native to west Africa. Pepper zing with citrus notes, pine aroma. Often a better choice than peppercorns to add a "peppery" flavor to beer. Add to last five minutes of the boil. Sam Adams Summer Ale
Lavender Lavandula angustifolia Traditional mead herb. For beer, a half ounce fresh or dried late in the boil or in secondary. Three Floyds Rabid Rabbit; Bush Shack Lavender Beer
Orange peel Bitter orange peel adds a characteristic flavor to Belgian Wit and other spiced beers; sweet orange peel adds a sweet, citrusy character to Belgian Strong Ales and holiday beers. Add either bitter or sweet orange peel to the last five minutes of the boil.
Parsley Petroselinum crispum) Reportedly adds a "spicy" note to beer.
Rose Hips Rosa rugosa Gives beer a citrusy flavor and red color. For beer, a quarter ounce to an ounce late in the boil. Three Floyds Rabid Rabbit, Indian River Honey Amber Rose
Sassafras root bark Warning: the wood and root of the tree may be toxic; only the bark is safe to eat. This is the original source of the flavor for root beer, and adds a great root beer flavor. Boil for 60 minutes to extract the flavor.