Brew Outside the Lines

by Northern Brewer

Homebrewers break the boundaries of flavor with spices, herbs, oak and other additions.

One of the greatest joys of making your own beer at home is the freedom it affords you to experiment. There are no limits to what you can (or can’t) do with your beer. You want to toss some chili peppers into the boil? Awesome! You want to let the beer age on rum-soaked raisins and oak chips? Have at it! You’re going to intentionally infect your beer with bacteria, then blend it with a similar brew dry-hopped to heck and back? You better save a few bottles for us!

Due to the small scale of a homebrewery and the lack of—shall we say—oversight that a professional brewer has to deal with, you can make the beer you want when and how you want it. Northern Brewer supports you in your experimentations. You’ll never hear us say: “You want to put what in that beer?!” In fact we have some next-level suggestions for you and your beer, to get you thinking about brewing in a different light.

Homebrewing is like cooking. There are amazing recipes out there and if you follow them to the T the result is a great dish to enjoy. Nothing wrong with that. But a recipe is simply a suggestion. You can change the amount of ingredients or even add unlisted ingredients to a dish to create a whole new culinary experience. It’s the same way with homebrewed beer, beer recipes and beer kits. Once you make the base beer and know how it tastes, many brewers have the urge to see what happens when you tweak the ingredients or play with something completely new in the brew.

That’s why Northern Brewer came up with the Brew Outside the Lines ingredient collections. Our BOTL combinations bring ingredients together in a way that will breathe new life into the standard styles of beer. Here’s a quick look at a few of them:

The Fuzzy Navel is a combination of peach puree and sweet orange peel. This combo adds some citrusy sweetness and a tart edge to an American Wheat, Witbier, or even our AK47 Pale Mild. Add the orange peel at the very end of the boil. Add the peaches to the secondary fermenter for one week. Works best in lighter, paler styles that won’t overpower the fruit, but also great for sour ales.

For those of you who believe that more IS more there’s The Imperializer. This blend includes dark candi syrup and oak chips crafted from retired whisky barrels. The goal – a boost in beer color, gravity, alcohol and intensity. Give your Rye Stout, Imperial Stout or Baltic Porter an extra punch. Add Dark Candi syrup to a Belgian Tripel to make it a Belgian Quadrupel. Turn that Black IPA into an Imperial Bourbon Barrel Black IPA.

Mint Chocolate Chip is the best ice cream flavor ever, so who says it won’t be the best beer flavor ever? Creamy, lightly spicy, and chocolatey; this combination of cocoa nibs, spearmint and lactose is sure to bring vivacity and luxury to your maltiest dark ales.

At this time of year, don’t forget to add some Holiday Cheer! Anise, ginger, cinnamon sticks and sweet orange peel. Try it in strong American or British pale ales. Things to keep in mind when brewing spiced beer: a little goes a long way, spice character fades with time. Scale the spice dose to match the strength of the base beer – a 9% abv Wee Heavy will need more oomph than a 4.5% abv Emma’s Brown Ale.

Of course, these are not the be-all, end-all additions of spices and flavor. They are just combinations we find go well together in certain styles of beer. The amount you use of each ingredient is up to you and the thrill is figuring out the perfect blend and the amazing beer that results. We recently put two such beers on tap at the break room of Northern Brewer World Headquarters in Roseville and held a small roundtable tasting notes session. Here are some of the notes from that day.

Holidazzle Pale Ale

The base beer here is the Northern Brewer Extra Pale Ale, an American-style pale ale. One of our best selling beer kits, XPA is clean, dry, and very hoppy featuring the unmistakable citrus of Cascade hops up front as well as its smooth bittering at the finish. We brewed a batch of this beer with the Holiday Cheer additions – 1 oz Crystallized Ginger, ½ oz sweet orange peel, two “arms” of a star anise, and one cinnamon stick. This melange of flavors complements the beer. The ginger and orange peel work especially well with the already citrusy hops. The ginger also shines through with a small spicy bite alongside the bitterness and carbonation. And the cinnamon, while faint, adds a great woody accent to the overall taste.

Minty Reindeer Slobber

This is the Mint Chocolate Chip twist on our Caribou Slobber Brown Ale. And it’s a real treat! When brewed in its “classic” form, Caribou Slobber is a hop-balanced American brown ale with dense layers of malt, caramel, baking chocolate, and a hint of light-roast coffee. A perfect starting point for the ½ pound of lactose, 1 oz of spearmint and 2 oz of Papua New Guinea cacao nibs that went into the boil. The resulting beer is delightful – delectable enough for dessert, but with enough hop bitterness and roast/chocolate malt backbone for any anytime pint. The addition of the lactose makes for a larger, richer body. But the hop bitterness keeps the beer from being cloying or too sweet. The mint is star of this beer – more herbal than spicy, moderate, not at all like a York Peppermint Patty, more like a mint tea. The beer is round and mouth-filling, finishes with a roasted and tea-like dryness alongside a lingering impression of menthol and cocoa. Forget the milk and cookies! Leave an Imperial pint of Minty Reindeer Slobber and some chocolate-covered pretzels out for your Santa Claus.

As you can see from our notes, when you brew outside the lines you create something unique. Even with the slightest improvisation of ingredients within a recipe, new beers are born, new flavors explored and you get an even deeper appreciation for the brewing process. The world is full of amazing spices, herbs, fruits and other intriguing flavor additives. Use them to your advantage, brew what you want to brew, and keep changing the American beer landscape one batch at a time.

Learn more about our Brew Outside the Lines flavor kits at

Brought to you by Northern Brewer, Minnesota’s and the nation’s leader for ingredients, equipment and knowledge serving the first-time and advanced brewer for nearly two decades. Retail stores in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Northern Brewer


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