When I started telling people I was going to brew a vanilla lavender beer, the feedback fell along gender lines. Women mostly responded, “Sure, I’d drink that.” Men mostly responded, “That sounds pretty disgusting.” Some especially polite dudes said, “Well, I’d try it.” I’m not trying to rehash the can of worms that is the recent debate about the Best Beers for Women and why such lists even exist. But, the idea for this particular flavor combo is definitely rooted in my sensory preferences. On the days when I choose to perfume myself (or, let’s be honest, just don’t feel like showering) it’s been the same thing since 2001: J’Adore and vanilla body spray. My favorite soaps and lotions are often lavender scented. So it’s a combination that’s familiar and comforting to me.
When pondering a beer base, I waffled on the recipe. I’m a fan of vanilla porters, but thought the lavender wouldn’t work as well with a dark beer. A saison sounded promising, but I’ve never made one and wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I’ve never made a blonde either, for that matter, but I thought the ale yeast would give me some flexibility in the temperature realm (which we have difficulty controlling) and the grain would be light enough to let the other flavors come through.
The next challenge was deciding how to add the vanilla and lavender. Reading blogs and forums until my eyes crossed, I almost settled on a vodka infusion/tincture. But in the end, I went with an infused sugar. cane sugar, a vanilla bean, and culinary lavender that I powdered with a spice grinder all went into a bowl to develop for a week.
My initial thought when I opened the lid on the sugar bowl: “I ruined this.” It smelled like potpourri or one of those scented satchels you can get at the drive-thru car wash place. Lavender is pretty potent and it smells a little soapy. But, as with all perceived failures, soldier on until you make something completely beyond redemption!
The full recipe is listed below.
[We were entertaining guests, so I don’t have any photos of the boil, but you know what that looks like…]
Final product is a little cloudy, maybe because of the powdered lavender.
I sampled along the way and it still tasted kind of sweet and soapy. Through the magic of bottle conditioning, the beer is now not very sweet at all, somewhat dry, pretty well carbed, and herbal rather than particularly vanilla or lavender in nature. One of our friends said it actually tasted more like cardamom. So while it may have turned out different than I imagined, it’s probably for the best, because the end result is a pretty good beer. One that dudes might even drink (if I don’t mention what’s in it).
- 10lb 2-row
- .5lb Crystal 10
- .5lb white wheat
- 1 oz Willamette
- 2 oz Crystal
- Wyeast 1056 American Ale
- 2 cups cane sugar
- 1 vanilla bean (open it up and add the bean and seeds to the sugar)
- 1/2 oz lavender (ground to powder and added to the sugar)
- 4 gal water at 152F for 60 min (mash out at 168)
- With 170F water to a pre-boil volume of 6.5gal
- Gravity should be around 1.038
- 60 min - 1 oz Willamette
- 30 min - .5 oz Crystal
- 10 min - .5 oz Crystal, 6 oz vanilla sugar, irish moss
- OG: 1.049 FG: 1.011
- (15 days in primary)
- **Poured off 1/2 gal of blonde for Matty**
- Add 1/4 oz lavender (not powdered), one vanilla bean, and 1oz Crystal hops
- 1/2 packet priming sugar (1 packet for 5 gal batch)
- 1/3 cup of the infused sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract powder