Build a Spice Infuser

Part of your infuser requires a tine from a standard stainless steel wire whisk. Cut it with a tin snip or bolt cutter.

Quite a few seasonal beer styles or other specialty recipes call for the addition of various spices, herbs and other flavoring adjuncts that may not be part of your normal brewing regimen. Some recipes advise to add these spices during the boil, some during primary or secondary fermentation, and some may specify additions during multiple phases of the brewing process.

Adding such spices during the boil is simple enough. Either throw them in during the last 15 minutes of the boil and leave them behind when transferring to primary, or put them in a small hop bag and remove either before or after chilling the wort (depending on the type of chiller you use). Spice additions to the primary or secondary fermenter, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier, especially when it comes to removing the spices without disturbing the beer. And if your plans change unexpectedly, your beer may well sit on the spices for days or weeks longer than you originally intended.

Enter the “suspended spice infuser,” which will allow you to add spice additions to, and remove them from, your beer whenever you have just a minute or two — and without requiring you to rack the beer.

Bill of materials

Stainless steel tea balls will have either a “jump” ring at the end of a chain (top) or a double bend loop (bottom)

The construction of the suspended infuser varies a bit based on what type of fermenting vessel you’re using. But whether it’s glass, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or a plastic bucket, the overall idea is the same: you need some type of stainless steel mesh container to hold the spices and a way to suspend and retrieve it.

Because of the relative wide mouth of PET carboys and the huge opening of buckets, making the infuser for these fermenters is a bit easier than for glass carboys. For these fermenters, you’ll need at least one stainless steel tea “ball” infuser and a 12″ stainless steel whisk. As an alternative to the whisk, you can use stainless steel welding wire, but avoid aluminum.

If you’re using the old standby glass fermenters, you’ll need a fine-mesh stainless steel strainer of at least 5″ in diameter and a 12″ stainless steel whisk.

All of the items above are available at home goods retailers such as Linens N’ Things, restaurant supply stores, and sometimes even at general retailers like Target. Total cost for these should be in the $10 to $12 range for one completed infuser, but the price goes down if you make multiple units as the whisk can be used to make six or eight infusers.

Your infuser can be attached to either a grommeted bucket lid or in a PET carboy with drilled #10 stopper.

Make it mesh

For PET carboys or buckets, making use of existing mesh containers is the easiest way to go. Stainless steel mesh tea balls, traditionally used by tea aficionados for steeping loose tea by the cup, have a very fine mesh and a handy fastening mechanism to make loading and cleaning up spices a snap.

For PET carboys, be sure to get a tea ball that will fit through the neck opening, which has an interior diameter of approximately 15⁄8 inches. If you can’t find one that will fit, you can also follow the next set of instructions for glass carboys. For use with a bucket, use the largest tea balls you can find.

Now that you have your spice container figured out, it’s time to rig up a way to insert and remove it from your fermenter. Cut one of the individual wire loops from the whisk. You may need a tin snip or bolt cutter to cut the whisk, as the wires that form the loops are quite thick on most stainless steel whisks. As usual, I used my trusty Dremel to make the cuts.

Straighten out the center portion of the wire, and then use a pair of pliers to put a U-shaped bend in the last half-inch or so of each end (I know this seems like unnecessary destruction to a perfectly good whisk). Attach the tea ball to one end of the wire, which will either have a “jump” ring on the end of a small chain or will be of the larger type that has a large double-bend ring. The other end of the wire will slip through the center shaft of a three-piece style airlock, which can then be used in either a grommeted bucket lid or in a PET carboy with a drilled #10 stopper. With a bucket, you can easily attach multiple tea balls.

And that’s all there is to it! Now grab a copy of Randy Mosher’s “Radical Brewing,” load up that infuser, and get to brewing. Note: Be sure to cut off the hop-restraining shield on the bottom of the airlock to allow your wire to fit through. As an alternative to the drilled stopper, PET carboy owners can also use an orange carboy cap.

For PET carboys, you can also use an orange carboy cap instead of a drilled stopper.

Rolling your own

For glass carboys, you’re going to have to create your own mesh container. I could not find any tea balls or anything else similar that was small enough to pass through the opening of a glass carboy (approximately 11⁄8 inches interior diameter) that was also food grade and safe for extended steeping.

Mark the area of the strainer you intend to cut to make your infuser.

Mark off a rectangular area in the center portion of the strainer and cut out the mesh. Take extra care when cutting and handling the mesh, as it is very easy to cut yourself on the rough edges. A rotary tool with a cutting wheel specified for metal will make quick work of this cut, as will tin snips.

Roll the mesh cutout into a cylinder shape. I found it helpful to use a small length of 3⁄8-inch copper pipe as a guide to bend the mesh around, but it doesn’t have to be perfectly round. Use a vise or pair of pliers to flatten the last 1⁄8 inch of one end of the mesh cylinder. With pliers, fold this flattened section back onto the cylinder and flatten it again, creating a securely crimped bottom for the cylinder.

Next use an awl or center punch to make a small hole about an inch down from the top of the non-crimped end. The hole should go through to the other side of the cylinder. Prepare a metal wire from a stainless steel whisk as described previously to use to suspend your new infuser.

All that’s left now is to fill the infuser with the spice of your choice (I use a small funnel to reduce spillage), slide one hooked end of the metal wire into the hole, and very lightly crimp the top end of the cylinder. In my testing,

Fittings for this project are common, and are easily found at regular hardware stores.

I’ve found that a light touch with a pair of pliers will close off the top end well enough to keep the spices in but also allow for easy reopening. Stainless steel mesh in this range of thickness is remarkably easy to work with and very durable. I crimped and reopened the pictured infuser more than 40 times without noticing any functional degradation.

Now simply attach the whole thing to your three-piece airlock or carboy cap. This is the same attachment method as described in the previous section on PET carboys and buckets.

Securely crimp the bottom of your cylinder with a pair of pliers.

Alterations and tweaking

What I’ve described here is a very basic approach to making an infuser that can be inserted and removed on the fly. There is a lot of room in this project for customization to fit your setup. For example, the glass carboy infuser I made is only four inches long, but you could easily make one twice that size by starting with a large strainer. You could also twist two of the steel whisk wires together to facilitate attaching multiple infusers (each with a different spice). Be creative, be careful, and have fun!

Once you have filled your mesh cylinder, lightly crimp the top to close it.