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I just brewed my first oatmeal stout (the Brewer's Best kit), and decided I'd try to add a little "holiday" flair. At my local brewing supply store, I found a recipe for a holiday ale, so I followed the spicing directions used in that, but I wonder if there's a better way.

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1 orange, with whole cloves stuck into the skin
  • cinnamon sticks
  • peeled ginger root

Here's what I did:

During the last 15 minutes of boiling the wort, I put all of the above in an extra grain bag I had laying around and added them to the wort. I boiled for 15 minutes before pulling the spices out.

I'm wondering if that's enough time to get the flavors from the spices. I didn't add anything to the primary fermenter. Should I additional spices when I rack it off to the secondary?

What other spices or flavors work well with holiday beers?

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I'm making one right now with cinnamon sticks, nutmeg shavings, peppercorns, orange zest, and vanilla bean. I actually didn't add any to the boil. Instead I'm making a spice extract (a jar with some vodka and all of the spices thrown in) and I will add at bottling time to about a quarter of my batch. I've heard from some people that adding spices during the boil actually cooks off a lot of the good flavor compounds.

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+1 for the vodka. The only truly awful beer I've ever made was a vanilla orange ale. I just sliced the vanilla bean open and "dry-hopped" it. I'm not sure if it was the white stuff from the orange which is notorious for being nasty or vanilla bean germs that ruined the beer, but I will always soak any non-hop additions in alcohol if they're going into fermenting beer now. –  PMV Nov 9 '10 at 21:32
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This is the right way to do it. A really neat comparison to try: Make a regular size batch, and divide it into several 1 gallon batches, and spice them differently. It's a good way to learn which spices/flavors are damaged by heat, and which endure. –  user122 Nov 9 '10 at 21:43
    
I've done this several times. Beyond the other points raised, it allows you to blend more accurately. You can continue to add your "potions" until you get the right balance. Most other methods make you target things at your target potency and if you overshoot, there is not much to do. Also, the vodka will sterilize (sanitize) the spices to reduce chance of infection. –  Tim Nov 9 '10 at 22:03
    
It's the aromas that you risk 'cooking' off, not so much of the flavors. Still, a risk. –  sgwill Nov 9 '10 at 23:32
    
@Tim - Exactly...with the "spice extract" method your can spice your beer to taste, plus I like being able to spice just a few bottles here and there rather than dedicating an entire batch. –  Room3 Nov 12 '10 at 2:26
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I generally add spices at the last 5 mins of the boil for ground spices. I'd say 15 mins is fine for most whole spices.

Did you add a whole, unpeeled orange into your wort?

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Yep, washed thoroughly first, of course. Then I took whole cloves and shoved them into the skin of the orange. I probably used 70-100 whole cloves puncturing the orange. –  Ben Nov 9 '10 at 21:31
    
I simply add them to the last bit of the boil and leave them in. –  sgwill Nov 9 '10 at 23:31
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I used fresh cut basil (a whole bouquet with flowers) at the end of the boil. I expected the hot flavor of the basil to come though (like eating a basil leaf). Instead I got a wonderful Christmasy flavor like the anchor steam Christmas beer.

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This sounds really interesting. I have basil dieing in my backyard now due to the cold. I'd like to find a use for it. Beer would be awesome. What recipe/style did you start with? –  D J Dec 3 '10 at 20:15
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