Drifting into the local spice shop, I closed my eyes to maximize the sensations greeting my olfactory nerves. An exotic blend of herbs lingered in the air, and my mood seemed to lighten with each breath. There was something keenly pleasurable about the experience, one which was addictive in its own innocent way. Rosemary, ginger, and hints of cinnamon commanded my attention. These are good-for-you spices that top the list for aromatherapists and holistic medicine.
Since my life slants to the beer side of the fence, I actively seek out beers that complement a healthy lifestyle. When the country was hell-bent on producing nothing but industrial lagers, the banquet table focused on one-dimensional taste. It was bready and bitter, with no surprises, except for the occasional skunk-in-the-bottle that was released when dad left his Hamm’s in the midday sun.
With the expansion of craft brewing companies throughout the United States, beer has broken out of the corral. Possibilities of style are endless, and they include beers heavily dosed with spices. Herb/Spice and Vegetable beer has its own category in the Great American Beer Festival guidelines, but some artistic brewers use spices to enhance other styles, as well. No doubt, you have encountered spice in Winter Warmers and Christmas Ales, but they are also found in common styles such as Saison, American IPA, and Oatmeal Stout.
Terrapin Beer Company of Athens, Georgia, lights up the mouth with an Oatmeal Stout that bring grandma’s highest talents to mind. Terrapin Cinnamon Roll'd Wake-n-Bake Oatmeal Stout with 9.4% ABV is a phenomenal way to get a little more cinnamon into your diet. Cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar and has a beneficial effect for those with Type 2 Diabetes. Thirty years ago, doctors recommended Oatmeal Stout to lactating mothers, and the addition of cinnamon would have been a bonus. Not so, anymore. But we do know enough to understand that the benefits of cinnamon, along with the relaxed state of social lubrication, can serve to de-stress after a long day.
Ginger has long been soothing to the stomach, while easing the pain of arthritis. Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki-ken Naka-gun, Japan, crafts Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew – not to be confused with the common ginger ales sitting next to bottles of Coke and Pepsi. At 8% ABV, this dark amber gem swings at you with a full ginger punch. Big and bold, it stimulates sweetness on the tongue, enhanced with exotic citrus flavors and nutmeg beneath the blanket of ginger. The smooth, silky mouthfeel gets better with every gulp.
Research has shown that rosemary enhances the ability of the brain to focus. In a recent study, a room misted with rosemary oil helped to increase memory and awareness among test subjects. In addition, it has a natural penchant for fighting bacteria found on the surfaces of foods. Boston Beer Works, a brewpub on Canal Street in Boston, serves RIPA – Rosemary Imperial India Pale Ale, an American IPA at 7.5% ABV. Glowing like a votive candle in the glass, it sheds reddish orange rays of light beneath a behemoth white head. Earthy and grassy, it shows off fresh rosemary flavors beneath layers of caramel malt, citrus fruit, booze, and toast. Bitterness lingers between the veil of hops and herbs.
Sage leads the spice parade for its natural ability to preserve memory and ease the sting of sore throats. Epic Brewing Company of Sale Lake City in Utah blends sage into their Saison Farmhouse Ale, finishing off at 7.5% ABV. Full of fruity esters amidst light malts, oranges and citrus, Utah Sage Saison shines orangy amber, with a polished white surface and dots of lace on the glass. Belgian ale yeast meets Saison yeast for a collectively dry and bright finish on the tongue.
Other spices to watch for include Chile peppers that boost metabolism and saffron for its mood enhancing ability to dissolve mood swings. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware is ready with Midas touch, made with saffron, grapes and honey, a touch of gold in a sea of amber.