Brewing Beer With Herbs: Workin' Your Green-Thumb!

Beer With HerbsWhen focusing on flavors in beer, hops and malt usually get the most attention, often followed by fruit, chocolate, vanilla, and wood. But creating delicate layers of taste and aroma can be as easy as brandishing your green thumb. Try brewing beer with herbs!
For me, I’ve found success with two herbs I’m able to grow in my backyard: rosemary and basil. Summers are hot here in North Carolina, but with a little daily attention, it’s been easy for me to grow more than enough of these herbs to use as late additions to the boil. Remember: the key to unlocking the highest quality flavors from these ingredients is to use them as fresh as possible, so brewing beer with herbs you’ve grown yourself just makes sense.
Here are a couple ways to utilize these easy-to-grow herbs for a new beer recipe.

Homebrewing with Rosemary
There are many varieties of rosemary to choose from, but the easiest for homebrewing purposes may be the “common” varietal, which does well in many climates and is sun-tolerant. If you’ve ever used rosemary for cooking, you’ll recognize it’s piney characteristic. That makes it a good complement to certain kinds of hops, especially ones with spicy or piney characteristics.
If you want to enhance piney flavors of your hop bill, consider using some rosemary with Chinook or Columbus hops. Alternatively, the piney aspect of rosemary can supplement citrus characteristics – think of how well rosemary works with lemon when preparing food dishes. In that case, rosemary can work well with Cascade, Citra, and Simcoe hops. About half an ounce of freshly cut rosemary will do the trick. You don’ t want to over-do-it. Balance is a big part of brewing beer with herbs.
I’ve only used rosemary with IPAs, but pale ales or even saisons might be a good recipe option. Here’s an IPA extract beer recipe to try with rosemary:

Recipe: Piney the Elder IPA
(5-gallon batch, extract with specialty grains)Shop Beer Flavorings
OG: 1.065
FG: 1.016
ABV: 6.4%
IBUs: 55
SRM: 10
1 lb. Caramel 40 malt
9 lbs. Golden light liquid extract
1 oz. Columbus hops at :60
1 oz. Chinook hops at :15
1 oz. Columbus hops at :5
0.5 oz. freshly cut rosemary at knockout
1 oz. Chinook dry hop (optional)
Wyeast 1056: American Ale yeast
Steep the grains in 2.5 gallons of water at 150˚F for 30 minutes. Remove the grains, mix in liquid malt extract, and bring wort to a boil. Add hops and rosemary according to schedule. At end of boil, cool wort to 70˚F or below and transfer to a clean, sanitized fermenter. Add enough clean water to make 5 gallons of wort. Stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes and pitch yeast. Ferment at 70˚F.

Homebrewing with Basil
The basil you grow at home or find in the store offers a delicate sweetness and a twinge of spice, a flavor combination that often pairs well with wheat beers. I’ve found great success mixing the flavor of basil with honey.
Shop HopsOnce again, when brewing beer with this herb think of using it in terms of cooking in the kitchen. Its sweetness mixes well with Italian dishes, cuts some of the heat of Indian food, and enhances the pleasant, savory feeling of meat. Similarly, using basil in home brewing should enhance the beer rather than dominate it.
The trick with basil is to focus on using it at the knockout/flameout stage of the boil or as a dry-“herbing” option. If it’s boiled too long, it will bring unwanted bitterness to your beer.
I’ve had success with this beer recipe adapted from the July/August 2011 issue of Brew Your Own magazine, which balances some of the basil flavor with medium-range alpha acid of Cascade hops.

Recipe: Honey Basil Ale (Bison Organic Beer Honey Basil clone)
(5-gallon batch, partial mash recipe)
OG: 1.052
FG: 1.010
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: 19
SRM: 6
3.3 lbs. light, unhopped, liquid malt extract
2 lbs. light dried malt extract
1 lbs. two row pale malt
0.75 lbs. Crystal malt 20 L
0.7 lbs. Carapils malt
1 oz. Cascade hops at :60
0.6 oz. basil leaves at :10
0.5 to 1 lb. honey at :5
0.6 oz. basil leaves at :0
Wyeast 1056: American Ale yeast
Steep the grains in 2 gallons of water at 148˚F for 30 minutes. Remove grains from wort. Stir in liquid and dry malt extracts and begin boil. Add hops, basil, and honey as detailed above. After boil, add the wort to two gallons of cold water in the fermenter and top off to make five gallons. Stir well to aerate and pitch yeast. Ferment at 70˚F.
Interested in brewing beer with herbs? Check out Brew Your Own Herb Beers!
Bryan Roth is a beer nerd and homebrewer living in Durham, North Carolina. You can read his thoughts on beer and the beer industry on his blog, This Is Why I’m Drunk, and send him suggestions on how to get his wife to drink craft beer via Twitter at @bryandroth.