With the explosive popularity of cooking shows on television we are becoming a country of foodies. There is a never before seen demand for gourmet food, and also gourmet beers. Chefs both professional and amateur are searching for ways to make the perfect food and beer combinations. There are infinite books and recipes for the home brewer to follow, which produce the perfect beer to compliment every dish. Like any artisan though, as we become more proficient at our craft, we want to add our own personal touch not just follow a recipe. A fantastic way to do this is by using spices and herbs to flavor your brew. Sam Adams® has embraced this idea with great success having seasonal, holiday, & flavored beers in their repertoire.
For centuries master brewers have searched for unique and novel flavors and seasonings to add to their signature brews. Beyond hops, barley (or wheat), yeast and water they have scoured the natural world searching for that je ne sais quoi or perfect something to complete and compliment the flavor palate of their brew.
Full-bodied dark holiday beers are often spiced with chilies, fruits, herbs, and even chocolate. Belgians have a history of using black pepper, coriander, grains of paradise and orange peel in their famous wheat beers. Colonial Americans developed fall beers with the rich aromas and flavors of apples and pumpkin pie.
You probably have a vast group flavor options sitting in your spice rack, but before you brew cayenne and cinnamon into your next beer try to imagine the flavors working together. A great way to experiment is to add a small amount of the spices you are thinking of working into a tea of sorts using an already finished beer. This should at least give you an idea if they will work together.
Remember one last thing; fresh whole herbs and spices work much better than dried stale or powdered ones. So consider growing a beer garden, and have the cream of the crop to choose from! Here is a great list of spices to flavor beer with. Enjoy!