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Context:

I'm brewing into small, split batches lately to test the effects of various additives. I've got some true cinnamon bark and cacao nibs which I am planning on crushing up, letting steep in alcohol (upper-shelf vodka) for a couple of weeks, and then pitching into 1gal batches of stout when I rack them into secondary.

Question:

Since I'm adding these tinctures/flavorings into such small (1gal) batches of beer, I don't want to end up adding too much of the alcohol sanitizing/tincturing agent and messing up the beer. I'm hoping to dilute the alcohol with some water, so that there's enough to immerse (and thus sanitize and start infusing) the crushed-up flavorings without making my beer taste too much like vodka. What is the minimum safe solution of alcohol:water that will still result in

  • a good, flavor-rich infusion, and
  • a bacteria-free addition to secondary?

The first point is less important: I can prolong the infusing process for months to get the proper flavor levels if need be, so long as the end product is sanitized.

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1  
This may be a question in itself, but what about pasteurization? According to this chart normal pasteurization is done at 145F for 30 minutes. That seems like a low enough temp to not destroy/bitter spices, and you can add the water in with the spice to the beer. I've never tried this, so I'm not adding as an answer. –  JoeFish Aug 7 '12 at 15:22
    
I would do this before adding booze...like @DavidPGB stated, making a "tea" works well. –  hartski Aug 8 '12 at 14:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A few drops of vodka (or higher proof Everclear if you can get it) on top of the spices/additives, just enough to wet them. Let sit for 60 seconds and add to beer.

Realistically, you probably would be fine adding them directly to the beer without sanitizing. Finished beer is aseptic enough to withstand additives without infecting, it's unfermented wort that you really have to be careful with. If you are worried, though, feel free to sanitize as above.

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I agree on the adding without sanitizing. I've done that many times and it's never caused a problem. In addition, you don't get the alcohol heat you get by using vodka. –  Denny Conn Aug 6 '12 at 15:25
    
+1 I also agree with not sanitizing, and have never had a problem myself. –  hartski Aug 7 '12 at 15:55

I can't speak to your concern about the sanitizing effects of diluted vodka, but I'm not sure you're going to need so much volume that dilution is necessary.

Let's say you're OK with adding vodka to the beer as long as it doesn't raise the alcohol content by more than 0.5 % pts. So for a 1 gallon batch that's a maximum of 0.64 oz of ethanol you can add, or 1.6 oz of vodka. That seems like plenty to infuse a small amount of cinnamon, cacao, etc. Remember, a 1 gallon batch is only 8 pints of beer -- just how much cinnamon do you want to add?

(As a side note, if you really do feel like you need more vodka volume, I wonder if you could gently simmer it on the stove after you've finished the infusion, to drive off some of the alcohol.)

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Wouldn't simmering increase bitterness, though? Both by reducing the liquid and enhancing the bitterants in the vodka, and by releasing tannins from the bark/seeds I'm using for flavor? –  Zac B Aug 6 '12 at 6:04
    
OK, maybe heating the infusion isn't a good idea. But I still think that 1.6 oz of vodka is more than enough. –  Henry Jackson Aug 6 '12 at 13:40

Have you considered using Star-San or some other no-rinse sanitizer? I routinely rack into containers that are still wet from sanitizing, and have never had any ill effects or off-flavors.

That said, I also agree with @bk0 -- I think you'd be fine to rack directly on top of any flavorings or additives, as long as they aren't fresh fruit.

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Disinfection (99.9% kill) occurs with 62% ethyl alcohol with a wet contact time of about 30 seconds. Note that hand sanitizers are required to have "at least 62% ethyl alcohol". I'm doubting that you have vodka that is over 120 proof that you would want to waste on sanitizing something for a brew!!!!! I've always found pasteurizing, or even boiling with a small amount of water works the best. Make the smallest "tea" that you can with your addition, cool it and add it to your mixture.

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+1 on making a "tea". –  hartski Aug 8 '12 at 14:15

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