Homebrewing with Flavoring Extracts
One of the best parts of making beer at home is brewing outside of the box. Being a homebrewer, or even a cider or mead maker nowadays, is kind of cool because we have such great access to exotic fruits, flavor concentrates and even extracts, as well as being able to make them ourselves. This week, we wanted to really focus on the available flavor extracts, and how you can use them in your beer, wine, mead or cider, to nail the flavor profile you want, whether it’s a campfire stout or a pineapple-coconut cider.
The Beauty of Options
You’ve heard us say before that recipe formulation starts with the yeast, and that’s definitely true...AFTER you decide what it is you want to make. It always starts with an idea, like a vanilla coconut pale ale, or the ever famous Apricot ale. Even when making apple cider or mead, it’s pretty natural to want to add spices or fresh fruit to enhance the character and make something unique.
Using flavor concentrates has always seemed to be somewhat polarizing. Some brewers, and even craft breweries, are purists and using such unconscionable ingredients in their beers is sacrilege, while some won’t use anything else! The important part is being able to see them for what they are: just another tool in our fermentation toolbox. In all honesty, both schools of have merit, and this hobby is all about doing what you want, how you want, which is as it should be! At the end of the day, we can all find a common center if we use these ingredients properly.
For us, the real beauty of flavoring concentrates is their insane versatility. There are so many flavors! You literally have the ability to put just about any flavor that you can think of, in anything, and if you do it right it will taste amazing! They are safer than dry fruit and easier to use than roasted peanuts, as well as cheaper than a handful of vanilla beans to add vanilla flavors. About the only thing they don’t add is alcohol!
First Things First: All About the When and How
Adding concentrates is not like adding fruit, herbs or spices. You aren’t adding sugar, so adding them into fermentation is too early and you risk leaving behind character. You don’t need to do any actual flavor extraction since that’s part has already been done, so no need to coax flavors out in the boil, or as a ‘dry hop’ via ethanol extraction in the late stages of fermentation. All of that is kind of the point! The best place to add flavor extracts is right at packaging, either in the bottling bucket, or directly to the keg!
This ensures that you don’t lose any of that concentrated flavor magic in any other point in the process, and makes sure that you get all of the goodness in your finished product. The cool thing about these is that you literally just pour them in. Now how much is really the trick, and it depends on you, your senses, and what you want the finished product to be.
How Do I Know How Much To Use?
The real trick to utilizing these flavor extracts is restraint. If you use too much, many of the flavors can come across as ‘fake’ or ‘cloying’. Because they are so concentrated, and depending upon your base beer, they can easily overpower your beer or dry cider or whatever you’re making and ruin the whole thing.
Our fix for this is add them in slowly! Half an ounce to an ounce at a time. If you’re in a bottling bucket, stir them in very gently, then taste. If you’re in a keg, our them in, close the keg, purge it with CO2, and pour a sample and taste. Rinse and repeat until the flavor is where you want it!
One thing we’ve noticed is that this method can be VERY tedious, and it’s easy to get fed up half way through and pour it all in! Sometimes, you go slowly and you need 8 ounces instead of four! These variables will always depend on the base beer, what flavor you’re trying to add, how much of that flavor and aroma you actually want, and your own senses. We always recommend doing this with a brewing partner, spouse, or some friends because different palettes can help you decide.
Another thing to remember is that you’re not actually tasting the finished beer at this point, you’re trying the ALMOST finished beer. This means that, at least in your head, you have to account for what the carbonation is going to do, too!
If you’re in a keg, you can easily just carbonate the beer first, then add your flavoring, and that’s an awesome way to proceed! If not, though, you’re stuck in this ethereal realm of ‘What will my beer taste like carbonated?’. This, surprisingly, can have a somewhat easy fix! I will generally get the flavor to just BARELY more than I think I would actually want, then leave it there. Carbonation generally lightens up the entire beer, in a sense, and definitely lightens up the flavor concentrates.
Fruit and Flavor Pairings
Another thing that flavor concentrates add is dimension and complexity. For those of you who have fermented fruit, either by itself or in a beer, wine, mead or cider, you know that it generally comes through as a ghost of the original, and can be extremely hard to make turn out the way it is in most of our heads when we develop the recipe!
Many of the flavor compounds in fruit are attached to or brought out by the sugar in that fruit, so adding them to fermentation and letting all of that sugar get eaten leaves a shell of the flavor behind, making the fruit seem super underwhelming!
Enter flavor extracts! What’s the best way to add that fruit flavor back in? Add another level of aroma and a slightly sweet and controlled pop of that flavor, without adding more sugar, or more of the same fruit! The way that these extracts and fresh fruit play together is perfect, with some restraint in the additions, and makes it very easy to nail every facet of a fruit beer without it tasting like a smoothie! It also helps with some of the more subtle fruits that require a TON of fruit flesh before they are evident in the finished fermentation, like mango!
Nut beers and fermentation projects are notoriously hard to work with because of the huge amounts of fats that nuts contain. Have you ever tried to dry hop with peanuts or pecans? Or even add them to a high gravity mead, hoping that the higher amounts of ethanol will make the oil workable? What a mess! It’s possible, but it’s an absolute pain!
What about PB2 for your Peanut Butter Stout? More easily workable, but talk about body! That stuff thickens a beer up to milkshake proportions! Or fresh coconut shavings or flakes? We’ve spoken to craft breweries using as much as 5 pounds coconut per GALLON in their coconut beers!
My point here is that, with quality extracts, you can avoid lots of pain, lots of extra (and in some cases impossible) work, and still get the finished product that you imagined in your head. So next time you want to nail that grapefruit IPA, Chocolate Pecan Porter, or Kiwi-Lime-Vanilla-Raspberry Berliner Weisse, it’s worth giving these a shot!
Thank you all for reading! Please tell us about your experiences with flavors and ingredients below in the comments! Don’t forget to subscribe to us on YouTube at and check out our video on these flavor extracts at BrewChatter TV, and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter! Tell us what you’re brewing and Brew On!