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A Bouquet of Beer

Spring is here with April showers bringing May flowers…and with it, a variety of flowers might just end up in your beer! Flowers can be used as edible garnishes on food and there are several varieties of flowers that brewers use to create distinctive and unique beers.

Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. There are several hundred species but the Hibiscus we know and love is an ornamental flower, bright pink in color (but can also be white, yellow, or red), with large scalloped petals and an elongated pistil sprouting from the center. When we visualize a woman tucking a flower behind her ear in a tropical climate, a hibiscus is likely the flower that comes to mind – case in point, it’s Hawaii’s state flower. The Hibiscus is edible when dried and cultures around the world make tea from its petals. In beer, the flower is also dried and can be added late in the boil stage or as a dry hop additive during secondary fermentation. When all is said and done, the addition of Hibiscus to beer lends delicately tart flavors of fruits, berries and florals, with a touch of acidity and earthiness. In addition, the dried flowers also give the brew a delightful pink hue!

  • Calyces, a barrel-aged golden sour (6.8% ABV) by Buried Acorn Brewing Company in Syracuse, NY.
  • Kim Hibiscus Sour Lager, a Berliner Weisse style beer (4.2% ABV) by SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria, NY.
  • Chilanga, a fruited ale (5.5% ABV) brewed with Hibiscus flowers, Blue Agave nectar and Blueberries by Ellicottville Brewing Company in Ellicottville, NY collaborating with Falling Piano Brewing in Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Sweet Tarts Grapefruit & Hibiscus, a sour ale (4.6% ABV) by Peak Organic Brewing Company in Portland, ME.
  • Crimson Pistil, an IPA (6.2% ABV) by Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, PA.
  • Grandes Lagos, a Mexican-style lager (5.4% ABV) by Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, OH.

Lilacs are deciduous shrubs notorious for producing exorbitantly fragrant clusters of flowers in the springtime. (Fun fact: Lilac bushes are actually part of the olive tree family.) Lilac blooms come in a range of colors expanding from a light lavender to a deep purple, white, light pink, and mauve. Flowers are edible and are used in recipes for lilac shandy, wine, honey and other sweet treats. It should be no surprise that, yes, Lilacs have even made their way into beer.

Rochester, NY is famous for it’s annual Lilac Festival at Highland Park held in May each year. This year, (it’s 124th year to be exact!), the festival is being held over the course of 3 weekends – May 6-8, 12-15, and 19-22. This free-to-enter festival boasts art and gardening exhibits, health and wellness experiences, 5k/10k races, parades, loads of musical entertainment, craft beer and wine tasting expos, plenty of food choices, children’s activities, and much more. It’s completely worth a day trip out to the Flower City.

To boot, Stoneyard Brewing Company in Brockport, NY, a suburb of Rochester, brews their Lilac Wheat (5.2% ABV) every year. Lilac petals, lavender flowers, and lemon peel go into making this exceptionally unique wheat beer. The resulting brew is herbal, floral, light, refreshing, and totally unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before! This beer should hit the shelves before the Lilac Festival, so keep your eyes peeled at your local Wegmans!

Another purple flower used in beer brewing is Lavender. This flowering plant is part of the mint family, Lamiaceae and is expansive across the globe from here in the US to the Canary Islands, across Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, and into Southwestern Asia and India. Lavender is used in culinary dishes, desserts and honey, harvested for extraction of essential oils, and dried for ornamental use. Brewers use the aromatic plant in their brewing as well and because of the intensity of the plant, a little bit goes a long way. Lavender, in large part to it’s herbal and earthy floral notes, is best brewed in combination with a wheat or wit beer, a Saison, or even a hard cider for maximum compliment.

Unfortunately, one of our best-known brews containing Lavender in the Central New York area was White Aphro brewed by Empire Brewing Company, while it was still alive and kicking. Ellicottville Brewing Company did take over several recipes and continues to brew under the Empire namesake, but they have yet to revive the popular beer. That being said, here are a couple of Lavender brews to get your paws on:

  • Pastelle, (6% ABV) a wild ale brewed with raw honey and farm-grown lavender by Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie, NY.
  • Lavender Lemon, (4.6% ABV) by Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany, NY, this is a light cider crafted with 100% NY apples aged with NY Lavender from Lavenlair Farms in Whitehall, NY.

Several other flowers can be found in craft brewing as well, including Chamomile, Rose, Dandelion, Elderflower/Elderberry, and Jasmine. Don’t be afraid to try something new and unique, don’t simply turn up your nose at something that you normally wouldn’t drink. That’s the beauty of the craft beer industry, there are always different concoctions and pairings that your tastebuds would never otherwise get the opportunity to sample.

…And if you’re STILL not convinced to try a beer brewed with flowers, just remember, EVERY beer is actually made with flowers. Hops are flowers! Those little green cones that look like “plants” are in-fact cone-shaped flowers of Humulus lupulus. Inside each of those little conical flowers are lupulin glands that contain resins and essential oils and this is the source of what gives beer it’s bitterness, aroma, flavor and stability.

Cheers to Spring and to all the blooms in our beer!

Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!