“People who live where the bird comes from say that there exists a cinnamon bird which brings the cinnamon from some unknown localities, and builds its nest out of it; it builds on high trees on the slender top branches. They say that the inhabitants attach leaden weights to the tips of their arrows and therewith bring down the nests, and from the intertexture collect the cinnamon sticks.”
–The History of Animals by Aristotle, written 350 B.C.E.
We’ve come a long way in our knowledge of where cinnamon comes from since the days of the father of logic. We now know that true cinnamon is the inner bark of an evergreen tree that grows in Sri Lanka. This variety is called Ceylon cinnamon and is more expensive than the variety more commonly sold in the United States, Cassia cinnamon. History.com tells us that “Cassia cinnamon is primarily produced in Indonesia and has the stronger smell and flavor of the two varieties. This cheaper variety is what we usually buy in grocery stores to sprinkle on our apple pies or French toast.”
The two types are easiest to tell apart when they are in stick form; Cassia cinnamon sticks look like a single rolled scroll, while Ceylon sticks appear slightly lighter in color and more like a multi-layered, papery cigar. Both types of cinnamon are commonly sold as sticks, powder, bark, and oil.
What is the history of cinnamon in brewing and in beer?
Before hops were produced agriculturally as agents for brewing, beer was flavored and bittered with a variety of herbs, roots, flowers and spices sourced from a brewer’s local region. This un-hopped “beer” is officially called gruit, and cinnamon was often among the concoction of bittering and flavoring agents used instead of hops in this beverage.
Among the many home-brewing resources that publish gruit recipes for curious modern folk, All About Beer contends that cinnamon was among the lesser-used hop alternatives. Rosemary, bog myrtle, and yarrow were the “most common gruit botanicals during the Middle Ages,” but over 45 additional plants, spices, and herbs have been mentioned in historical gruit recipes.
Today, especially in the United States, cinnamon is probably most commonly found as an adjunct ingredient in pumpkin ales, Christmas/holiday ales, or Imperial stouts, but you’ll also find it in the creations of especially imaginative brewers. For this tasting I’ve accumulated some of these regular players in the cinnamon game as well as a couple beers examples that use cinnamon in unexpected ways.
How is cinnamon added in the brewing process?
There are a number of ways to add cinnamon to beer. You could simply dry-hop … or dry-cinnamon-stick your beer:
A more involved method, and perhaps more controlled method is to make a cinnamon “tea,” which extracts the cinnamon flavor and sweetness without extracting any bitterness or tannins. This involves bringing water containing whole cinnamon sticks up to a slow boil, then turning off the flame so that the cinnamon sticks steep in the hot water. Once ready, you can add this tea to the already fermented beer that will impart pure cinnamon flavor and aroma.
For this study, I tasted six different beers that included cinnamon in the recipe, and I’ve applied the very official, very widely-known MC’s Cinnamon Rating Scale to each one. I’ve created a scale similar to my spiciness scale from last year’s chili pepper beer study, 1 being the least cinnamon-y and 6 being the most cinnamon-y. I’ve ordered them in this way as well, so read on to see the scale in action.
Lupita & the 3 Kings, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria (10% ABV)
This ruby-brown quad brewed with cherries, candied pineapple, orange peel & cinnamon. Aromas of cherry, banana and raisin this creamy and boozy cherry bomb had a subtle cinnamon finish that seemed to increase with each sip as a tingle on the tongue.
Cinnamon: Level 1/6
Or Xata, The Bruery (7.1 %ABV)
A blonde ale brewed with rice, this is The Bruery’s take on the classic Latin American horchata drink with cinnamon and vanilla added. A clear golden yellow, this effervescent beer was very sweet with a cinnamon finish and a slightly drying mouthfeel.
Cinnamon: Level 2/6
Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter, Moody Tongue (7% ABV)
This beer smelled like a rich chocolate cake with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Light and roasty caramel liquid with a raisin finish, this beer is surprisingly light-bodied, sweet, and smooth with a cinnamon flavor that is prevalent throughout.
Cinnamon: Level 3/6
Xocoveza, Stone Brewing (8.1% ABV)
Stone’s take on Mexican hot chocolate, this black as night mocha stout is brewed with cocoa, coffee, peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Very cinnamon-forward, this beer smells and taste dark-chocolatey and pleasantly spicy. This beer is just. Plain. Delicious. AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT!
Cinnamon: Level 3/6
Christmas Bomb!, Prairie Artisan Ales (11% ABV)
This Imperial stout has coffee, chocolate, vanilla beans, ancho chili peppers, and cinnamon. Rich and super chocolately, this sweet stout has a delightful, warming finish.
Cinnamon: Level 3/6
Cinnamon Girl, Horse Thief Hollow (9.8 %ABV)
Bourbon, cinnamon, vanilla, and chocolate come together in what I imagine a cinnamon chocolate milk might taste like. It is by far the most cinnamon-forward of the bunch, and I think it would make an excellent dessert replacement at the end of any meal, forever.
Cinnamon: Level 6/6
Have you had an especially cinnamon-forward beer lately? Do you have a fail proof method for brewing with cinnamon? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading.