Greetings and welcome to the height of summer in the Northland. This week, I’m talking about a huge trend in brewing: infused beers.
Infused beers, sometimes called enhanced, basically starts with a finished beer. The finished beer can be almost any style to which ingredients are added to add and enhance flavors.
This trend has become commonplace in the world of beer, but this was not always the case. Town Hall Brewery out of Minneapolis is widely considered the first brewery to regularly infuse beers starting as early as 2004. Sometimes they have up to six varieties pouring at a time.
I’ll get into some of the coolest infusions I’ve seen soon, but let’s start with some interesting numbers. The size of the brewery, of course, dictates the amounts of extra ingredients needed. At my brewery, typically a fruit like cherries or raspberries will require 1,000 pounds for a full-batch infusion. Blueberries, a fruit that does not yield flavor as easily as others, needs around 1,500 pounds for the 30 keg yield. If you ramp that number up to a larger brewery such as Castle Danger or Bent Paddle, the numbers can get staggeringly high very fast.
This is how we get to the magic of keg infusions, which are really fun. Breweries that keg infuse can get amazing flavors in a one-stop shop. Instead of using thousands of pounds of ingredients for a large batch, brewers can use smaller amounts to infuse a single keg. Typically, 20-30 pounds of many fruits are enough.
Infusing beers is similar to making tea. It’s all about steeping and time. Most breweries customize some kegs with an additional port (opening) that allows the brewer to clean the keg then open it up to add ingredients, seal it and then add beer. Most of the infusions we do are in the 10 days of steeping range. After that time, we then empty the steeping keg into a freshly cleaned keg, and the beer is poured from there.
It’s pretty fun and creative to make infusions. The sky is the limit on flavors and combinations. I use chili peppers often and many different fruits, but other flavors and ingredients. The list goes on and on, including: chocolate, coconut, mint, a wide array of fruits of course — some of the most popular being pineapple, mango, raspberries and guava, but also apples and cranberries, coffee, caramel, … really the list goes on and on.
Dreaming up infusions and how flavors interact with each other is a full-time job, and as I said, a pretty fun one at that. Inspiration comes from everywhere. Sometimes it’s a well-made meal that prompts flavor combinations, or an interesting smoothie my daughter is enjoying and even the famous hot fudge sundae dessert my son has after a meal at Lake Ave Restaurant & Bar.
The best thing about small-batch infusions is the limited amount made and the enjoyment beer lovers have stopping by tap rooms to see what creative concoctions are on. Sampling the small batch keg infusions is especially fun because they won’t be around long, and there’s bound to be something cool to try next.
I’ve had some really great infusions over there years, and here are some of my favorties:
• Chocolate stout with coconut
• Mango IPA
• Blonde ale with cherries and chili peppers
• Wheat beer with raspberries, mint and lime
• Strong stout with raspberries and chocolate
• Brown ale with coffee and caramel
• Amber ale with pineapple watermelon and chili
• German lager with pomegranate salt and pepper
• Hefeweizen with blackberries, blueberries and plums
• Porter with licorice and blood orange
• Gose with cucumber and lemon peel
• Saison with grains of paradise, lemon pepper and rhubarb
• Brown ale with brownie mix, marsh mellow and cocoa
You get the picture. Some ideas are maybe a bit outside the norm, but in general, these beers are interesting and certainly appeal to a segment of the craft beer drinking public.
Enjoy, and please email me your favorite infused beer or suggestions for new combinations.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.