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Why! Why! Why add spices to beer?!?!

Tried a beer sampler at a brew pub where on one of their beers used coriander in the beer.
It tasted like cold, savory beer soup. The beer actually caused me to gag.

I know it's popular for people to add savory spices and herbs to beer. Maybe I'm just unenlightened, but I prefer herbs and spices in soups and savory dishes.

Has anyone tried a good beer with herbs and spices?

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  1. Why add herbs and other weird crap to beer? To try to get people that don't like beer to drink it/try it? I don't know. Tried a highly recommended "artisinal" blueberry beer once that made me want to slap the one who told me it was good.

    1. Coriander is a spice that is traditionally used in Belgian Wit beers and my guess is that may have been the type of beer that you tasted. I'm not sure exactly what a beer soup would taste like but Wits have an interesting wheat/herbal/citrusy character to them. Hoegaarden is probably the easiest example of the style to find though it is not my favorite.

        1. re: Chinon00

          Not in a traditional sense when used in general cooking.

          1. re: Chinon00

            you could argue that they are a herb but not a spice

            1. re: chefj

              Yeah, brewers refer to it as the "spice" of the beer. Adds a considerable signature to the beer.

              1. re: Chinon00

                The OP was mentions directly Coriander which is a spice.
                Even if Brewers talk about Hops adding spice to Beer that does not make Hops a spice.

                1. re: chefj

                  The OP also mentions herbs (for which I think hops qualify). I've had beer brewed w/ mint, parsley, basil, etc.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    still does not make hops a spice

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      Chefj is correct about the terminology. From a culinary standpoint hops are an herb because herbs are the leafy parts of plants. Spices are things like bark, seeds, and twigs. I do not know the history of this distinction.

                      1. re: Josh

                        The OP stated: "I know it's popular for people to add savory spices and HERBS to beer. Maybe I'm just unenlightened, but I prefer HERBS and spices in soups and savory dishes."

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Understood. He's just making the point that in culinary terminology hops wouldn't be called a spice.

                          1. re: Josh

                            So hops are an herb that the OP makes an exception for in regard to having in beer?

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Obviously, I make an exception for hops in beer. That's the primary use for hops is in beer making, but I had a feeling that people would become very technical about hops being an herb, but hops are not a common "herb" using in cooking and savory dishes.

                              Maybe I should have phrased the question a little more exactly, "Why are spices and herbs commonly used in cooking added to beer?"

                              I've actually learned a lot from reading these answers - who and why beer makers use spices and the types of beer.

                              I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the corriander laced beer. Maybe I just tried a beer from someone that just didn't know what they were doing?


                              1. re: dave_c

                                No prob. I can be a bit of a prick occasionally;]

                                1. re: dave_c

                                  Maybe! I've had a coriander and ginger laced beer before and it was alright. Barely tasted anything different from a blond, mind you.

                                  I've had a maple flavoured stout once that was horrible. Then i had one from another microbrewer and its was great.

                                  So brewers are like chefs. There are good ones and bad ones. Then there is also your personnal taste ;-)

                          2. re: Josh

                            hops are the flower, actually -- similar to a pine cone.

                2. Christmas and other seasonal releases often have spices added. Belgium has been using spices in beer for hundreds of years, and prior to the discovery of hops (which are also a spice as Chinon00 pointed out) breweds used lots of herbs and spices to offset beer's sweetness.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Josh

                    I guess I'm just biased...the best Christmas beers I've had are the more traditional ones that don't have spices added. Of the American ones, Anchor's Xmas ale was once a real favorite of mine, in the pre-spiced days. It was a real gem.

                    1. re: The Professor

                      The recipe changes every year, so hand in there next year it may be great.

                      1. re: TroyTempest

                        I _do_ buy a single bottle each year, living in eternal hope. (just like I buy only single bottles of other new craft beers, having been burned roughly half the time on really crappy sixpacks).

                        So far, no dice on the Anchor Christmas...it was at its best _before_ the spices came into the mix.
                        I guess I'm just not a fan of spices in beer.
                        Personal taste is all it is.
                        But I _do try it every year ... Hope springs eternal.

                        1. re: The Professor

                          I like it before, sfter, it doesn't matter. Though, in small doses, a bottle here and there.
                          I also like SN Celebration, a lot.

                          1. re: TroyTempest

                            I like SN Celebration, too. It is not a spiced ale, of course.

                            Baxter Brewing's new Autumn Ale is an example of a spiced beer that works, to my mind. The effects of the spices are subtle and interesting. Harpoon's Winter Warmer, which positively reeks of cinnamon and sugar, strikes me as a disastrous mess.

                          2. re: The Professor

                            What was it like before spices? Or maybe I should say, how did it differ from other beer varities before spices were added?

                            1. re: Shaggy

                              Before the spices came to Anchor Christmas, I guess it was in some ways similar to SN Celebration, perhaps a tad more aggressive. It was full bodied and delicious...it is many years ago but I seem to recall it being somewhat 'maltier'. Still well hopped, but perhaps less aromatically so than the SN beer. It was great stuff. Imagine some Anchor Steam with maybe 1/4 or 1/3 Old Foghorn blended in, and that would probably come close.

                            2. re: The Professor

                              I wish I had gotten to try that version of it. I feel like that beer is always over-spiced.

                              1. re: Josh

                                Sound pretty good to me. I agree that some of them are over spiced, but I did a tasting a few years ago of about 8 years in a row, and the older ones were much more mild, and were great. I also made a spiced ale 9 months ago just to try it, and at first it was a ginger bomb, but after aging for 8 months they are delicious, very subtle.

                      2. some hopless beer are actually nice. new beer vocabulary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruit

                        beer soups i had in Germany a nice, actually. all made with seasonal dark beer (i usually spend christmas and new year hols in Germany, and strong dark beer is popular around this time of year.)

                        1. Because it can taste good? As noted, the Belgians have been doing it for hundreds of years and a lot of their product is considered some of the best in the world. Do you also object to clove? Orange peel? I do agree you have to know what you are doing and go easy with these ingredients and I can very easily get tired of the traditional Belgian spices (especially coriander) if theres too much of it or it wasnt brewed right. But it can be very good too. What was the brewpub? It may have just been that particular beer.

                          1. Yes, lots of Christmas beers, white beers, summer beers, and tons of belgian beers. Keep trying, some are overdone but when done well they can be great.

                            1. Depends on the mood; sometimes yes, sometimes not.
                              Of course, purists will poopoo the idea, but many times, I'll salt my beer - especially draft. Why? 'cause I like salty beer, simple as that.
                              Sometimes I'll mix Clamato in my beer - been doing it for many more years than Bud came out with the chelada
                              Again, cause I like it. With Clamato, I like plenty of black pepper as well.

                              1. Coriander and orange peel are characteristic of Belgian witbier. According to beeradvocate.com: A Belgian Style ale that's very pale and cloudy in appearance due to it being unfiltered and the high level of wheat, and sometimes oats, that's used in the mash. Always spiced, generally with coriander, orange peel and other oddball spices or herbs in the back ground. The crispness and slight twang comes from the wheat and the lively level of carbonation. This is one style that many brewers in the US have taken a liking to and have done a very good job of staying to style. Sometimes served with a lemon, but if you truly want to enjoy the untainted subtleties of this style you'll ask for yours without one. Often referred to as "white beers" (witbieren) due to the cloudiness / yeast in suspension.

                                1. Because they taste good. When used properly you may be hard pressed to identify a beer that has used spices or other adjuncts. Some brewers want a pronounced flavor in their brew like is Finnish Sahti, or Bink Winterkoninkske.

                                  1. Tried some interesting beers at a brewery last week, including one with jalapeno and another with Thai chili. Had one somewhere else made using yams. I don't see this as much different than eating foods using different ingredients. Some you like, some not so much. At least with beer they ALL have some alcohol in them. ;o]

                                    1. I think it would be one of the few times I'd turn up my nose and say, "No." I can't even figure out why people insist on having lemon with their beer. Fruit is fruit and beer is beer. Never the twain should meet.

                                      13 Replies
                                      1. re: njmarshall55

                                        Some beers taste good with a lemon. It gives an extra note on top of the beer. Though i think it is totally lost when brewers try to brew it into the beer rather than just serving the lemon on the side.

                                        (eg. the recent lime flavored beer crazy with the mass market beers)

                                        1. re: njmarshall55

                                          The country of Belgium disagrees with you often.

                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            Agree with Chinon here. Quite a number of quality Belgian ales are brewed with spices, but invariably the level of spice flavor is very low, so that it remains in the background. But remember that some 70% of the beer consumed in Belgium is of the mass-produced lager variety such as Stella.

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              That is all.

                                              (some of my very, very favourites, by the way)

                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                  trying something a little less worn than 'nuff said.

                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                  The term 'lambic' on its own doesn't connote fruit. In any case, other fruits are found in Belgian beers, such as apple, pear, strawberry, black currant and peach. There are beers other than lambic made with fruit; Flanders red/brown beers come to mind. And I expect there are other examples to be found.

                                                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                                    but it is arguably most often found outside of Belgium as a fruit variety..

                                                    ...and it pretty much sums up the argument that fruit most definitely DOES exist in beer -- to the great delight of a lot of people.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      I would disagree with that. It might be the case among people who don't know much about beer, but it's just not true. Lambic is a style of beer that originated from a particular locale in Belgium. Its characteristics include a grain bill comprised heavily of unmalted wheat, the use of aged hops to give preservative benefits without much hop flavor or aroma, and spontaneous fermentation via airborne yeast strains. Lambics are also typically aged in wooden vessels that are home to colonies of yeast and bacteria that give the particular brewery's beer its distinct flavor. Some lambics are made with fruit, but the fruit is usually completely fermented which means it doesn't add much in the way of sweetness.

                                                      Many Americans do think of lambics as fruit beers because of Lindemans. Lindemans lambics, though, are definitely way over on the sweet side of the spectrum, and people into traditional Belgian lambics typically avoid the Lindemans product.

                                                      1. re: Josh

                                                        Josh, right about Lindemans.
                                                        My favorite are the Liefmans beers since they start with a brown ale base, which I think goes better with the cherries and the raspberries used in their two representative beers.

                                                        1. re: Josh

                                                          I think Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic has also caused some confusion.

                                                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                                            Oh my god was that beer a train wreck.

                                                            1. re: Josh

                                                              Cranberry Lambic put me off of ALL Sam Adams beers for several years. Truly unforgivable mistake on a non-lambic brew.

                                              1. On the West Coast, the best examples of Belgian style lambics are from Lost Abbey in SoCal and Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. Red Poppy is one of my favorites. And pretty much anything from RR that ends in tion. Vinnie Cilurzo at RR learned from the best, at Cantillon. New Belgium's Lips of Faith series can be fun also. They also did a collaboration with Lost Abbey called Mo Betta Bretta that was pretty interesting. Bay Area beer drinkers I know are very much into Belgian style lambics.

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: chuckl

                                                  Are these West Coast beers you talk about fermented with ambient airborne yeast? Or are they just Belgian-style ales? Those that use brett are not the same as lambics, I believe.

                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                    spontaneous fementation with wild yeast. Here's a description of Beatification, one of my favorites. http://russianriverbrewing.com/brews/...

                                                    1. re: chuckl

                                                      THanks for the response! I haven't followed RR for quite a while, and it is good to see how creative Vinnie is getting.

                                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                                        Tomme Arthur is doing a nice job at Lost Abbey as well

                                                        1. re: chuckl

                                                          Yes, I met him several years ago at a beer event in SF where he gave a presentation with Rob Tod, Vinnie, and Peter Bouckaert. The four of them were billed as the Brett Pack. At the time, I was particularly impressed with Tomme's beers.

                                                          1. re: Tripeler

                                                            Tomme's best beers can be very good, but I've been to more than one bottle tasting where anything older than a year or two was unceremoniously dumped out. Never had that happen with any of Vinnie's beers. Hopefully they have improved their QC.

                                                            1. re: Josh

                                                              I agree, they are more hit and miss than RR. Also, I've had some Angels Share that had almost zero noticeable carbonation. Just a little carbonation would make it a much better beer, in my opinion