I have tried to brew with cinnamon several times and have been disappointed in the results. Either the cinnamon flavor is nearly undetectable or comes through as bitter (definitely not hop bitterness). What do you recommend?
Iowa City, Iowa
I must admit that I have developed many beers at the Springfield Brewing Company over the last 11 years and I am very proud of most of my formulations. We don’t have a small system to use for formulation and I usually come up with new recipes based on experience using different ingredients or reading about ingredients I have not used. There was one recipe I developed several years back, however, that had cinnamon in it and the flavor intensity was way too much. Upon returning from a trip I anxiously rushed to the pub for a pint and was immediately horrified. The next day that batch was taken off line and given a sailor’s funeral.
When brewing with spices the first rule is caution. It’s very easy to be tempted with spices. I think this tendency comes from cooking things like chili where you taste your concoction as it cooks and add a dash of this, a dash of that. The difference between brewing and cooking, of course, is that brewing ingredients are not added by the dash, so it’s really tempting to add enough spice to be able to actually taste it. The downside is that adding too much is pretty easy.
In addition to exercising caution you need to consider what flavors the spices are capable of adding. As you point out with cinnamon you can get more flavors than you want. I am guessing that the bitter notes you got from your cinnamon resulted from boiling in the kettle. Many spices are best added at the end of the boil and in many cases added to the beer after fermentation to control how the flavors are extracted. When I think of cinnamon in beer I think of a nice spicy, inviting aroma. By boiling aromatic spices the nice aromas dissipate and other compounds of the spice extract into the wort. In the case of cinnamon these compounds include tannins from the tree bark. Not only do tannins add to the perception of bitterness in beer, they add astringency.
Personally I like to have control over my salt shaker. You can have this control if you brew a spice tea and add the tea to your beer after fermentation. By using this method you can add the spice little by little until you are satisfied. If you make spice teas you have many options on brewing method and can choose to steep in hot water, cold water, small volumes of beer or neutral spirits. In all cases you brew the tea and add it to your beer and by doing so retain control.
In conclusion, remember to use an easy hand and to consider your spicing method. If you are too subtle with the expression of the spice of choice there is always the next batch where you can tweak your recipe. Also remember that some ingredients add more than one signature flavor. I have had chili beers that have so much DMS aroma from green chilis that I forgot what I was drinking and half expected to get a kernel of corn stuck in my teeth. Define your expectations and make sure your planned method is likely to result in success before attempting to use the method or methods that seem to have failed you so far.