Tincture Brewing

IMG_2866First off, what is a tincture? A tincture is simply an infusion of a spice or herb in an alcoholic solution. Traditionally these were used for medical purposes, extracting and preserving the healing properties of herbs and spices for use at a later time. A happy extension of this practice is the infused alcohol which we enjoy in cocktails (think rosemary infused vodka martini or the infamous Jägermeister). For our purposes as brewers, we can use these tinctures to improve our homebrew. Tinctures allow a quick, precise, and relatively easy way of adding a unique and exciting boost of flavor to your beer.

Advantages of Tinctures

Tinctures provide the home brewer with a number of distinct advantages over simply adding the flavoring agents to the beer. Firstly, tinctures allow for a precise amount of control over the amount of flavor added. When added at the end of fermentation or before bottling, the brewer can add small amounts of a tincture and taste the beer with each addition. This prevents the risk of adding too much or too little flavor and can cater the taste exactly to your personal preferences.

The next great advantage is the reduced risk of infection. While many herbs and spices, hops included, have inherent antimicrobial properties, there are still some which may harbor bacteria. By soaking your flavor addition in an alcoholic solution, you are significantly reducing the chances of a rogue microbe getting into your beer. The alcohol not only extracts flavor but sanitizes at the same time.

The final great advantage is the shorter time frame associated with tinctures. This is especially true when working with oak. When aging on oak, the time required for full extraction can be along the lines of months to even years. On the other hand, you can make an oak tincture (with either vodka or bourbon) and have it ready for addition within 2 weeks time. While it is true that this can take away from some of the complexity associated with oak, its time advantage can definitely outweigh this disadvantage.

What Spices/Herbs to Use

Any spice or herb can be used as a tincture. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the flavor of your tincture should compliment the beer you put it in. While sage may be delicious in a saison or Belgian wit, its flavors may clash with a malty porter. I’ve outlined a number of spices/herbs you may want to try, and the beers that they could go very well with.

  • Sage: With a fresh yet potent aroma, sage screams out spring. It makes an excellent addition to saisons and Belgian wits but I would recommend using it with a light hand as it’s flavor can get overpowering very quickly.
  • Rosemary: This is one of my favorite herbs and it lends itself very well to beer. I personally enjoy using rosemary in my saisons, but I could see it being an excellent addition to a Belgian golden ale or possibly even a dry cream ale.
  • Mugwort: Said to ward off evil spirits and promote vivid dreams, this unique herb possess a sage like aroma and intense bittering potential. This is one of the ancient bittering herbs used for gruits. Try it today ind rich porters or northern English brown ales.
  • Heather: This herb is common to the Scottish highlands and was commonly used in old school scotch ales. With the high taxes associated with hops (usually grown in more southern climates) the Scotts often turned to this bitter herb to mellow out the malt in their beers. Heather possesses floral and earthy notes. Try adding a tincture of heather to your next scotch ale.
  • Cinnamon: This favorite spice can be found in almost every pantry across America. Obviously cinnamon imparts a cinnamon type flavor, but what many people don’t realize is that cinnamon lends a unique spicy heat to the beers it is put in. You could experiment by adding just a dash to your next stout or English mild. I’ve had a great deal of success adding cinnamon to Irish Red ales.
  • Vanilla: We all know vanilla from various experiments in baking. Its flavors go very well in stouts, particularly milk stouts. For something a bit beyond the pale, you could try adding this to a blond or cream ale. If you want to try an example of this, Forgotten Boardwalk’s Funnel Cake Ale is a Cream Ale brewed with lactose sugar and vanilla.
  • Cocoa Nibs: Cocoa nibs are just dried and fermented cocoa beans. They lend a rich chocolate flavor to your beer. For a pure chocolate flavor, add these to a neutral spirit such as vodka. For something a bit more extraordinary, you could add them to either rum or bourbon. Stouts would be the classic beer to add this tincture to but Triptych Brewery’s Golden Oatie adds coffee and cocao nibs to their blond ale with very unique results.
  • Pumpkin Spice Mix: The types of beer that you could put this mix into are endless. My personal favorite style is a rich and malty amber, but I have put it in stouts and saisons as well with varying levels of success.
  • Gingerbread Mix: I generally like putting this mix in brown ales but it really could go into anything. Check out the recipe below for my Gingerbread Beer Recipe.
  • Winter Spice Mix: Generally consists of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger but other permutations are more than possible. I have heard of cardamom being used as well as mint. Generally this mix is associated with very full bodied malty beers. You could try them in an old ale, a stout, or a porter

How to Make a Tincture


While this is not the only method of making a tincture, it is a great starting point for the newbie willing to experiment. The following pictures are from an experimental green tea tincture I decided to make.

Clean Equipment Step 1: Start by thoroughly washing your container. While sanitation is not essential for this process, it is important to make sure there is no dirt which could lead to off flavors in your tincture. As far as choice of container, I personally like using canning jars. In regard to size, I would recommend either 4 oz or 8 oz jars. They are large enough to provide almost any size tincture, but small enough to easily fit into any space for storage.

Add Spice/Herb to JarStep 2: Add your spice or herb to the mason jar. For wet herbs, I would recommend shredding them lightly to increase surface aria and release some of the essential oils. The amount that you use is completely your prerogative and is a matter of personal choice. At this point, it would be hard to go overboard with the amount since you will essentially be diluting this mixture later.

Step 3: Add the alcohol to the jar. Make sure that the spirits are completely covering the spice.


Store the TinctureStep 4: Store the tincture in a dark place. The warmer the location, the faster the extraction will occur. Every few days give the jar a shake to mix the herb/spice and disperse the flavor. After 2 weeks, the tincture will be fully extracted. Longer wait time will only increase the potency. A combination of tasting and trial and error will let you know when its finished extracting.

Straining TincturesStep 5: Once you have decided that your tincture is finished extracting its time to take the extract off of the herb/spice. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to purchase a fine mesh bag and squeeze until all of the tincture is separated from the left over gloop. Another way is to use plain old coffee filters. While less efficient than a mesh bag, coffee filter’s convenience and price point makes them a reasonable alternative. Store in a cool dark location. Shelf life should be good for several months before flavors begin to diminish.

Recipe: Gingerbread Brown Ale

This beer is the perfect winter brew, combining the rich malt of an English brown ale with the warm spice of gingerbread. This makes an excellent gift to family or friends for the holidays. Although the spice diminishes slightly as the beer ages, the flavor still gives the beer a unique twist.

Gingerbread BrownOG: 1.060 —- FG: 1.015 —- ABV: 5.9%

  • 6.6 Lb Gold LME
  • 0.5 Lb Carapils
  • 0.5 Lb Crystal 80
  • 0.5 Lb Biscuit
  • 0.5 Lb Chocolate
  • 0.5 Lb Marris Otter
  • 3/4 oz (East Kent Golding) – 60 min
  • 3/4 oz (East Kent Golding) – 20 min
  • 8 g (Gingerbread Spice Mix) – Flameout
  • Gingerbread Spice Tincture to Taste

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 (London Ale III)

Notes: Gingerbread Spice Mixture as Follows (2 Part Cinnamon : 2 Part Ground Ginger : 1 Part All Spice : 1 Part Clove : 1 Part Nutmeg)

Next time I will consider dialing back on the darker malts in order to balance the profile and make the beer a bit lighter in both body and color.


Pittsburgh Brewery Tour

On my way back from an extended stay in Illinois I took the opportunity to stop and explore Pittsburgh. Having done a bit of research before hand, I knew that this city offered some excellent beer and had a rich history of brewing. The first commercial brewery, Point Brewery, was established in 1765, and the city has progressed in brewing prowess ever since. Today Pittsburgh, and the surrounding area, boasts over 15 breweries. Each one of the breweries has a diverse beer selection and a unique story to tell. Unfortunately, with limited time, I was only able to visit three of the breweries in the area. My choices were driven more by location and time constraints than the superior reviews of one location against another. On the whole I was very impressed by the beers I tried and even the worst brewery had at least one quality beer available. One man, One evening, Three breweries…. it made for an excellent time.

East EndEast End Brewing Company: This place is a fun hole in the wall establishment that provides a huge selection of quality beer in a very relaxing environment. The brewery brings to mind an old fashioned speak easy, with the entrance being hidden from the public gaze. When you enter, you are greeted with an eclectic collection of tables and bar tops, providing ample space to sample the brews. The staff is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about serving their beers to the public. East End offers an amazing and diverse selection of beers. When I visited, there were over 15 beers to choose from. Their year round selection is very nice and designed to fit a number of tastes. Monkey boy, the house hefeweizen, tasted like a fresh banana cream pie; highlighting the esters and providing a creamy mouth feel. At the same time, their stout provided a nice smoky contrast with a solid base of roasted coffee and rich malty goodness. My very generous server also treated me to a special tasting of the house weizenbock. The flavors of the Weizenbock, Monkey’s Uncle, highlighted the aromatics found in monkey boy but brought it to a whole new level. Brewed with ample portions of sugar, this beer has a slightly cidery edge but also provides a super rich and slightly sweet mouth feel. I highly recommend this brewery to anyone driving through the area. With a huge selection of beers to choose from, this brewery may be a multi-stop destination.

Penn BrewingPenn Brewery: This brewery is an excellent example of how classic German brewing built the American beer scene. The brewery’s core line up is a set of traditional German (reinheitsgebot friendly) beers that, while not completely unique, are certainly brewed with heart. Their beers are clean, traditional, and highly drinkable. The brewery’s atmosphere is extremely welcoming with both indoor and outdoor seating available. The building has an incredible history. It was originally built to house the Eberhart and Ober brewery, founded in 1848. The building extends into a series of caves, originally used for lagering in the age before modern refrigeration.  This history comes alive when you sit and look over the brewery courtyard, imagining the old barrels being rolled by. Apart from the quality beer selection, the brewery offers a very beer friendly dining menu. Although I didn’t get a chance to sample their entrees, I was able to try their beer and cheese flight. With 5 beers and 5 cheeses, you are treated to a wonderful pairing combination. Possibly my favorite was the smoked mozzarella, possessing a rich and creamy texture underlying a powerful oaky smoke, that the brewery paired with their dark lager. Considering the care that they take in their cheese and beer pairing, I would highly recommend that you ask for your servers recommendation on what beer will pair well with your meal. If you are in the area, definitely try to check out this seemingly overlooked gem.

Church Brew WorksThe Church Brew Works: I really wanted to like this brewery, and I certainly loved the ambiance, but I was severely underwhelmed by both the beer and the food offered. The beer flight I tasted had a few highlights but, on the whole, the beer failed to meet the bill. My favorite beer in their line up would have to be the Kenya Coffee Blonde, which had a really nice roasted coffee flavor that played very well with the blonde base beer. Unfortunately their core beer selection was highly disappointing. Their dunkel was very thin, their blond was watery, and their stout was mediocre and lacked the full body creaminess I would hope for in an oatmeal stout. I would have tried their pale ale but the tap had run dry during my visit. My meal, pirogues and bacon, was an example of the individual components failing to be better than the sum of their parts. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, but the dish failed to overwhelm or impress, and I felt cheated out of a great meal in this city. The service was lack luster as well, and I felt that the bar tender couldn’t care less if I was drinking a glass of water or their house selection. I would say come to this brewery if you have a little extra time in your schedule. The sheer bizarre combination of hedonistic pleasure and catholic guilt you experience while drinking in a church make it a unique experience at the very least. Overall, do not expect this brewery to be the highlight of your trip.

House Blond Ale #1

I’ve recently been looking for a solid house blond that I could brew repeatedly and nail down. My goal was to create a recipe with a pleasant malt base, restrained bitterness, and an overall high level of drinkability. I decided to go with a high alpha hop and a later addition in order to get the best of both bittering and flavor. Citra, with its unique and pleasant characteristics in addition to its high alpha content, made a great choice for this beer. I chose honey malt since it would provide a level of sweetness, a hint of color, and a level of “what is that taste” to this brew. I decided against carapils for this round, but I may use them in the future to bulk up the body and add a bit of stability to the head.

Overall, I found this to be a good first try in creating a house blond. It is what I would consider to be an IPA lover’s dream blond ale. It comes at you with a very pleasant floral bouquet, and imparts strong flavors of cooked pineapple. It is most certainly a highly drinkable beer, but I am not thrilled by the hop selection. Next time I would like to go with something a little more subtle, allowing the malt bill to shine. However, I am hugely fond of the base of this beer and think it is a keeper.

Recipe: House Blond Ale #1

This beer has a pleasant malt base, restrained bitterness, and an overall high level of drinkability. The citra hops come across as a melange of tropical fruits with pineapple taking the lead. This recipe could be adapted to any taste with the substitution of another high alpha hop for the citra.

Blonde AleOG: 1.047 —- FG: 1.0** —- ABV: *.*%

  • 9.5 Lb Brewers 2-Row Malt
  • 0.5 Lb Gambrinous Honey Malt
  • 1 oz Citra at 15 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1099 (Whitbread) with 1800 mL starter of 2 days, cold crashed

Mashed at 152° F for 60 min, Whirlpool 10 min, Rest 20 min

Fermented at 67° F for 11 days, Cold crashed at 40° F for 3 days


  • With the starter, this beer took off like crazy and finished fermenting in around a week
  • 1099 flocculated amazingly, it formed a very compact bed at the bottom of the fermenter and left very clean beer behind
  • The flavor has mellowed with time to become more of a subtle hop character

Champaign, Illinois – Brewery Reviews

map_of_champaign_ilOut of the wisdom of my Medical School, I was sent to Illinois to participate in a medical board preparation course. Like Napoleon, I was sent away to dwell on a small island. Instead of being surrounded by the crashing waves of the sea, I was surrounded by waves of corn. During my temporary exile I decided that it would be appropriate to evaluate the local brew scene. I discovered that Champaign has a very active beer scene, with 3 excellent microbreweries close by. If you are passing through Illinois, I would definitely stop by this college town for a pint.

TriptychTriptych Brewing: This small brewery offers a very pleasant bar feel, while providing a great selection of beer. As you walk into the brewery, you are greeted by fermentation tanks to your left and comfortable seating to your right. The bar offers a very wide selection of beers ranging from sours to stouts. Particularly of note is one of the brewery’s flagship beers the “Golden Oatie”. This unique beer is a coffee and chocolate flavored blond. While it is not my favorite beer in their line up, I have to applaud their execution of this one of a kind brew. My personal favorite is their dark sour, with a hint of dark fruit with a powerful kick of lactic sourness. One awesome aspect of this brewery is that they will can draft beer for you at your request. So, even if you are just passing through, you can grab a can or two of their delicious brews.

IMG_2751Desthil Brewery: This brew pub is an excellent place to grab a burger and a beer. What impressed me most is  the vast variety of beer served at this establishment. During my visit there were over 20 beers to choose from. For the person wanting to sample a variety of brews, this brewery offers numerous sizes of beer: 4 oz, 8 oz, 12 oz, and 16 oz. As far as food goes, this place has some of the best bar food around. My burger was perfect in both size and preparation. The combination of beer and food makes this a great one stop destination. If you are just passing through, a number of local liquor stores sell the brewery’s beer. I highly recommend their sour series, with styles including Gose, Berliner, and Flanders Red.

IMG_2722Blind Pig Brewing Company: The Blind Pig is a great little brewery in downtown Champaign. Their personally brewed beer selection is small, but they make up for this by having a number of bottles available for patrons. One of the greatest aspects of this brewery is their outdoor beer garden which is quite extensive. The beer is very solid and quite refreshing. Although the selection is small, the  beers that they have available are quite diverse. I think that this brewery stole my heart with their reference to the chewbacca defense. The beer in question is Wookie Snacks, a delicious Black Rye IPA which is both rich and well hopped with a pleasant bitterness and spice. I would also highly recommend their pilsner, which proved to be a refreshing beer for a hot summer night.