There’s a small rack of spices commonly used in beer and coriander is undoubtedly at the top. A classic list of European ales and corresponding American and global versions call for coriander, so you’ve probably tasted coriander in beer whether you realize it or not. Personally, I find it exciting to contemplate today’s spiced beers’ connections to historical brewing practices. After all, the ingredients used and innovations explored by brewers over centuries of practice now brings us some fantastic products!
First, a quick background on coriander itself, and why it works in beer. The seed of a now-regularly used herb (aka cilantro), coriander is also common in a lot of different cuisines: Indian, Middle-Eastern, South Asian, Mexican, Scandinavian, to name a few. The plant’s original territory was Southern Europe and North Africa, and traders easily brought it around the globe with them, lending new flavor to different cuisines. Before hops were regularly available and considered a defining element in beer, coriander and other spices and herbs were routinely added to beer for flavor, balance and even preservation. Indeed, coriander oil (like hop oils) is considered to have certain bacteria-inhibiting properties. This would have been even more important earlier in brewing history before the development of all our wonderful sanitizing chemicals and easy-to-clean metal and plastic equipment.
Coriander seeds have a mellow earthy, lightly lemon-like flavor that comes from a number compounds, notably linalool (floral), pinene (pine) and geraniol (citrusy-floral). If these sound familiar, it’s because they are also big-deal flavor compounds in many hops. When coriander is added to a beer with hops, the two ingredients can play nicely together to amplify these notes while adding a lingering, classic complexity. How classic? The following beers styles typically call for coriander.
Leipzig Goses – A real old-school kettle-sour ale brewed with coriander and salt, originating from the Leipzig region of Germany. Contemporary globally-produced goses may or may not include coriander, but most include salt and all are sour. Cascade Brewing in Portland does a classic take, as does Seattle’s Reuben’s Brews.
Belgian Witbiers – A lightweight, cloudy wheat beer traditionally brewed with coriander and orange peel. Diaspora versions can include other spices and herbs such as lavender, grains of paradise and ginger and may also involve fermentation via wild yeasts. Perennial Brewing’s Funky Wit is such an example, making friends with brettanomyces as well as lactobacillus in the tank with coriander and black peppercorns. Or for a more classically Belgian-styled Wit, try Allagash Brewing’s White or Boulder’s Avery Brewing’s White Rascal, both favorites of mine.
American Wheat Beers – Witbier’s US counterpart, brewed with a variety of different malts depending on brewery. Different percentages of pilsner malt, US pale malt, and other additions are all possible differences. Fruits and other spices are often added. New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat is a well-distributed find, but many small breweries offer a spiced wheat beer come summer months. Check out your local taprooms!
Other Belgian styles – Some Belgian strong ales use coriander, such as Achouffe‘s La Chouffe and Ommegang’s Adoration. These are usually related to witbiers in character, but again, every brewery is different. That’s a beautiful thing.
What’s your favorite beer brewed with coriander? Leave me a note in the comments below!