It seems enriching beer is a hot topic in the craft beer and homebrew scene at the moment. What may have started off as a joke topic on the hit TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is an idea many of us beer drinkers can get behind – the idea that beer can be made better!
While beer in its simplest form is already a delightful beverage, the art of enriching beer takes the brewing experience to new heights, tantalizing the senses with complex flavors, aromas, and textures.
Enriching beer is an endeavor that embraces creativity, experimentation, and a deep understanding of the brewing process. It involves exploring various techniques, additional ingredients, and brewing styles to craft beers that transcend the ordinary, pushing the boundaries of flavor and craftsmanship.
From enhancing aroma and flavor profiles to experimenting with unique ingredients, this post explores various techniques and strategies to elevate the quality and enjoyment of beer.
What’s the Deal with “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and Enriched Beer?
It may seem strange that a beer blog like this one should be so focused on a TV comedy show, but if you have ever tried Googling enriched beer you will probably know exactly where I’m coming from.
In “The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation” episode of this incredibly popular (and funny!) comedy, the two bar owners Charlie and Dennis discover that a rival bar is serving enriched beer. Although neither of the clueless duo has any idea what enriching beer involves, they are both amazed.
Although the “enriched beer” in the episode is obviously a joke regarding accusations aimed at North Korea about enriching uranium and their rivalry with the West, it does raise questions such as: what is enriched beer, can beer even be enriched, and should we even be enriching beer?
What Is Enriched Beer?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines enrichment as “the act of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.” You could argue that beer itself is an enriched version of water, which has had malts or grains, hops, and yeast added to make it something better.
At its most basic, enriched beer is a special type of beer that has undergone levels of enhancement in the beer’s development to improve its taste. Craft beer can often be enhanced during or after the brewing process with the aim of achieving better flavors, more taste, more aroma, or even higher levels of clarity.
When we talk about enriching food or beverages the word fortify is also often used, with fortified foods having extra vitamins or minerals added. Cereals can be enriched, bread can be enriched, and even plain old milk can be enriched, often adding more calcium for health benefits.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages such as fortified wines or fortified beers, it often means making them stronger rather than adding flavor or taste. Fortified wines may go through a process of distillation to boost the alcohol content while a fortified beer will often use a liquor or spirit to boost the ABV.
One protein-enriched beer which can also be thought of as fortified is Barbell Brew, a high-protein beer developed by MuscleFood, a UK-based company, that is popular among beer lovers who are more conscious about their health and fitness.
Barbell Brew contains 21.8 grams of protein, which is 95 percent more than your average beer; it’s also got 33 percent fewer calories and 85 percent fewer carbs, according to its manufacturer. It’s gluten-free, too, but it’ll still get you slightly sloshed with an ABV of 3.6%.
Examples of Enriched Beer
Here are a few examples of enriched beer:
- Fruit-infused beer: Some brewers add fruits, such as berries, citrus, or tropical fruits, during fermentation or aging to impart their flavors and aromas to the beer. This process can result in fruit beers or fruit-flavored variations of traditional beer styles.
- Barrel-aged beer: Beer aged in barrels, typically oak barrels that previously held spirits like bourbon or wine, can develop unique flavors and complexities from the interaction with the wood and residual spirits. This aging process adds depth and character to the beer.
- Spice or herb-infused beer: Brewers may incorporate spices or herbs into the brewing process to create beers with distinct flavor profiles. Examples include pumpkin beers with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or Belgian-style beers with coriander and orange peel.
- Sour or wild fermentation: Some breweries intentionally introduce bacteria or wild yeasts during fermentation to create sour or funky flavors. This technique is commonly used in sour beers such as lambics, gueuze, or Berliner Weisse.
- Specialty malt or adjuncts: Brewers can enrich the beer by using specialty malts or adjuncts (non-barley grains). These additions can contribute flavors such as chocolate, caramel, or roasted notes, or enhance the beer’s body and mouthfeel.
- Fortified beer: Similar to fortified wines, fortified beer refers to the addition of distilled spirits, such as brandy or whiskey, to the beer. This process increases the alcohol content and can impart additional flavors and complexity.
It’s important to note that while enrichment can enhance the beer’s characteristics, it ultimately depends on personal taste preferences. Different breweries experiment with various techniques and ingredients, leading to a wide range of enriched beer styles and flavors available in the market.
How is Beer Enriched During the Brewing Process?
Enriching a beer during brewing can be done by any home brewer or larger-scale breweries.
Most commonly performed during the fermentation process, enrichment of beer normally adds the extra ingredients to the wort before fermentation commences.
Adding ingredients while the beer ferments can significantly change, and hopefully improve or enrich, the flavor of the beer.
Specialty malts play a pivotal role in enriching beer by adding layers of depth and complexity to its flavor and aroma profiles. These malted grains are created through various malting and roasting techniques, resulting in a range of unique characteristics.
Caramel malts, for example, lend a rich, sweet, and toasty flavor to beers, with notes of caramel, toffee, and burnt sugar. They contribute a deep amber-to-brown color, making them ideal for beers such as amber ales, brown ales, and Scottish ales.
Chocolate malts offer a robust and smooth flavor, reminiscent of dark chocolate and coffee. These malts bring about a dark brown to black hue and are commonly used in stouts, porters, and other dark beer styles, providing a bittersweet or roasted flavor profile.
Roasted malts, including black patent and roasted barley, add intense roasted flavors and contribute to the deep color of beers like robust porters, Irish stouts, and some Belgian ales. They impart notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and even hints of charred or smoky undertones.
Different levels of malt toasting and roasting can further enhance the beer’s complexity. For instance, a lightly toasted biscuit malt can introduce a subtle nuttiness and bread-like aroma, while a heavily toasted or roasted malt can offer a more pronounced charred or burnt quality.
Hops, the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant, are integral to the brewing process, contributing both bitterness and aroma to beer. Exploring different hop varieties allows brewers to unlock a vast array of flavors and aromas, leading to the enrichment of beer profiles.
Cascade hops, known for their citrusy and floral characteristics, offer notes of grapefruit, lemon, and pine. They are frequently used in American pale ales and IPAs, providing a refreshing and vibrant hop presence.
Noble hops, such as Hallertau, Tettnanger, and Saaz, originate from traditional European growing regions and contribute delicate floral and earthy aromas. These hops are commonly found in classic German and Czech lager styles, adding a refined and subtle hop character.
Newer hop varieties, like Citra, Amarillo, and Mosaic, have gained popularity for their tropical, fruity, and dank aromas. These hops often feature prominently in modern hop-forward styles, such as hazy IPAs and juicy pale ales, providing bursts of citrus, stone fruit, and resinous notes.
Beer experts can employ different hopping techniques at various stages of the brewing process to control the bitterness and aroma intensity. Bittering hops, added early in the boil, contribute to the beer’s bitter flavor. Flavoring hops, added toward the middle of the boil, impart hop flavor without overwhelming bitterness. Aroma hops, added near the end of the boil or during dry hopping, lend vibrant aromatics to the enriched beer.
Hops can also help to stabilize the foam in an enriched beer.
The art of enriching beer involves venturing beyond traditional beer ingredients and embracing experimentation with unconventional additions. Brewers are constantly pushing the boundaries by incorporating a wide range of ingredients to create unique and memorable brews.
Fruits offer an opportunity to infuse beer with natural sweetness, acidity, and vibrant flavors. Citrus species of fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits bring zesty and refreshing notes to beers, while berries and tropical fruits like raspberries, mangoes, and passion fruit contribute their sweet flavors. Examples include fruit-infused wheat beers, fruited sours, and fruit-forward IPAs.
Spices and herbs provide a delightful array of aromas and flavors, allowing brewers to create complex and intriguing beer profiles. Ingredients such as coriander, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and even chili peppers can be used in moderation to add a subtle or pronounced spice character. Belgian witbiers, winter warmers, and pumpkin ales are just a few examples of beer styles where spices play a significant role.
Moreover, experimenting with ingredients beyond the typical brewing realm can yield remarkable results. Coffee beans and cocoa nibs, for instance, contribute their distinct flavors and aromas to darker beers, such as coffee stouts and chocolate porters. Herbs like lavender, rosemary, or sage can add a herbal and floral dimension to certain beer styles, providing a unique sensory experience.
When using experimental ingredients, balance is key. Brewers must ensure that the added flavors and aromas harmonize with the base beer style and do not overpower or clash with other components. By carefully selecting and combining ingredients, brewers can create beers that defy expectations, tantalizing the taste buds and offering a truly memorable drinking experience.
Barrel Ageing To Enrich a Beer
Barrel aging is a time-honored technique that imparts exceptional flavors, aromas, and textures to beer. The process involves aging beer in barrels, typically made of oak but also including bourbon, wine, or other spirit barrels. During this maturation period, the beer interacts with the wood, absorbing unique characteristics and developing complexity.
Oak barrels provide a range of flavors, such as vanilla, coconut, and toffee, which can complement a variety of beer styles. The porous nature of the wood allows the beer to slowly oxidize, resulting in softer, rounder flavors and enhanced mouthfeel. Additionally, barrels that previously contained spirits like bourbon or wine contribute their own distinctive nuances, such as hints of caramel, oak, or fruity notes.
Barrel aging is particularly well-suited for robust beer styles, such as barleywines, imperial stouts, and sour beers. The extended aging period allows the flavors to meld and mature, creating a smooth and sophisticated drinking experience. Sour beers, in particular, benefit from the microorganisms present in the barrels, which introduce complex sour, funky, and tart characteristics.
Enrichment of Beer Flavors After the Brew Process
Another form of beer enrichment is to add flavorings or additional ingredients to the finished beer to improve the taste and flavor.
It’s not uncommon to see posters of Corona beer with a wedge of lime stuck in the neck of the bottle. Putting citrus fruit slices into beers is a trend that has been used to improve or complement beer flavors for many years. Just think Blue Moon and its customary slices of fruit such as orange, or the wheat beers of Europe with a traditional slice of lemon.
Citrus fruits can blend well with the bittering features of the hops in beer. Hops may already have a citrus flavor like lemon, orange, or grapefruit which is enhanced when enriching a beer with actual fruit. When living in countries where getting hoppy beers was almost impossible, I found adding grapefruit juice to a beer gave it that hoppy bitter taste.
Beer salts work well with the savory tastes of crisp lagers. Ready-made beer salts or homemade ones can impart a flavor of citrus and savory as favored by the Mexican tradition of serving salt and lime in beer. Think of it as a Margarita without tequila.
To make homemade beer salts you grind equal portions of salt and lime powder which balance each other out and give your beer a distinct flavor.
Shandy is a popular way of drinking beer and could be argued to be an enriched beer, as it makes the drink more refreshing and takes away some of the beer flavors for those not overly keen on actual beer.
Typical soda beverages used to enrich beer include 7up, Ginger Ale, Mountain Dew, Sprite, and, in Germany, even Coca-Cola. The results can be pretty impressive as they add flavor without any of the loss of carbonation that may occur when using still fruit juices.
Bitters are an alcoholic flavored liquid, with the classic example being Angostura bitters, a mixture of aromatic tree bark and spices. They normally come in bottles with a dropper attached as you only need to add a little to enrich all types of beer. They can add complexity to pilsners, light beers, or wheat beers when they can be lacking in certain bitter flavors.
Syrup is a sugar-flavored liquid that can also have additional fruit flavors in a concentrated form. A favorite in the traditional pubs of England, especially with female patrons, is lime syrup or cordial which gives a hint of citrus along with a blast of sweetness. Moderation is the key when enriching with syrups, however, as they can be extremely sweet and sticky.
Rather than adding actual fruit, many people prefer to enrich their beers with fruit juices. Apple and grapefruit juices are two of the juices most commonly used to enrich beers but lemon juice can be extremely popular too. A juice blend with beer can be relatively simple too, although remember the still juice will take away some of the fizzy features of beer.
Adding liquors to a beer is a great way of enriching its flavor or fortifying the beer. The best liquors such as Schnapps, Vermouths, or Kahlua can add complexity and depth to many beers. Fruit-based liquors like Cassis or Triple Sec can add sweetness and fruitiness along with an extra kick of alcohol.
Enriched Beer: Final Thoughts
Although many beer lovers would argue ‘If a beer ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it’, I’m a firm believer that almost everything can be improved on. When trying out tested recipes in my homebrewing, I always like to see if there’s any way I can enrich the beer during the brewing process.
Extra hop varietals can often boost a beer’s flavor off the chart. Adding fruits to a beer can make them so much more drinkable in the summer months. Have you tried a blackberry IPA yet?
Whether you’re a seasoned brewer seeking to create unique and memorable beers or a beer enthusiast eager to expand your palate, embrace the art of enriching beer. Join this captivating journey as we celebrate the endless possibilities of flavor, aroma, and craftsmanship that make beer a truly remarkable beverage.
Cheers to the enriching adventure that awaits!