In a traditional lime lager, zest the limes by hand and then juice them into a large stainless pot. Hand zesting is preferable, to limit the amount of bitter pith that is included in the mix. Heat the zest and juice together, to a minimum of 165°F, for at least 5 minutes. This will pasteurize the mix, eliminating microbial concerns, but it will also help express some essential oils from the zest. Using a nylon mesh bag will allow for separating the solid particulates, leaving a nice clean juice to work with. Cornelius kegs are a common item around the brewery, and they work great for preserving homemade extracts and juices. Since they do not allow light penetration, UV degradation is reduced to minimal levels, and purging with CO2 will prevent advanced oxidation. From these kegs it is possible to dispense the proper amount of favor, whether it be for a single glass, or a whole vessel. If larger quantities are in order, use a dedicated pressure vessel, sized appropriately (a second fermenter).
Some ingredients are much more difficult to process than fruit juices. Juniper berries, licorice root, orange peel, or heather tips are just a few that can clog up pipework or float on top of your brew. Using a mesh bag in the kettle is a great idea, but you may need to weigh down the bags to keep them submerged during boil. An alternative way to approach these items is to make an extract from them, and add the extraction back to the brew. Licorice root is a pronounced flavor, and it can be quite polarizing. If you are looking to balance complexity with approachability, then an extracted titration may be just the ticket.
Soaking dried licorice root, tea leaves, or cocoa nibs in hot water for extended periods can extract flavor, just as it would in the brew kettle. Adjusting the temperature and time will affect the result of any extraction made, so be sure to set a procedure that produces satisfactory results. Typically, hotter temperatures (over 170°F), run the risk of extracting more tannic material and may result in bitterness or astringency. Similarly, longer soaking times may extract chlorophyll or other undesirable compounds. The best advice is to use the lowest temperature and shortest soak that produces acceptable results.
Creating consistency from anything organic is difficult, and beer is no exception. Seasonal ingredients may be even more prone to variance, but with some critical thinking it is possible to homogenize and stabilize these in forms more favorable to longevity. Wholeheartedly embrace single use seasonal options, but do not “get lucky”. Engineer a plan for success, and execute with precision, in order to make that award winning batch a second time around!
After several years of providing hazardous materials training and maintenance for the world's largest brewing facility, JD began home brewing countless varieties of craft beer. Some early success and a detour with industrial scientific research engaged his interests in industrial equipment and complex science, while working at a liquid yeast supplier pointed him specifically towards enzymes. Currently heading Bircus Brewing Company in Ludlow, KY, JD blends contemporary flavors with traditional science and innovative techniques. With over a decade of operational brewing and independent contracting experience across 5 time zones, he has amassed a plethora of knowledge to share with fellow brewers.