One rare treat in the world of craft brewing is the fortified ale. A fortified ale is an ale that has a hard liquor, an herbal admixture, or both added to it before kegging or bottling. This kind of ale is mostly seen in the realm of craft brewing or home brewing. In the days before refrigeration technology was much advanced, it was common for barkeeps to mix new ales with older ones, enhance brews with wormwood to increase their potency, and for brewers to create fortified ales as well. Now, the fortified ale is a rare commodity indeed, but one that is rather simple for the home brewer who is equipped to keg his or her beer.
The most effective use of the fortified ale that I have experienced has been that of an herbal tincture. This process can be used to provide both flavor and increased inebriation to any home brewed ale. I have found Anise, Star Anise, Mugwort (both root and leaf), and wormwood to all be effective herbal admixtures for fortifying ales, but it is certainly advisable to use such sparingly, as it is easy to add too much to our brew. You need not fear for loss of the batch in such cases, though. Usually the bitter or acid tastes die out with some aging (6-11 months, depending on the girth of your step-step).
If you plan to create a fortified ale, it is important to realize that if alcohol is used (say, a cheap rum, herbally affected or not) to enhance the inebriatory qualities of your ale, it will be necessary to force carbonate your beverage by the use of a beer keg of some sort. The reason for this is that when the alcohol level of the beer increases with the addition of a hard liquor to the mixture, the yeast that normally causes the carbonation effect is killed. I have found the use of a Cornelius keg to be handy when making fortified ales at home. Common among home brewers, the Cornelius keg offers, at a reasonable price, a great chance to try fortifying one’s own ale while maintaining a proper level of carbonation in the beverage in question.
If you have a home bar, and you are a home brewer, a fortified ale can be a great addition to your selection of seasonal ales. A brandy enhanced amber ale for fall, perhaps? How about a winter stout with the extra zing of mint schnapps? I find that one liter of 80 proof alcohol enhances the five gallon home brew batch quite effectively. I recommend adding to this liter an herbal admixture of some kind to make your fortified ale truly special. If you are brewing for summer, an apricot, cherry, strawberry, or apple infused rum could add that special something you are looking for. The method of fortifying ales with special liquor is one that is seldom practiced among home or craft brewers – a chance to try something unique and different.
Many microbrewers these days are trying all kinds of admixtures for their ales, from Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown (Highly recommended), to Laguinitas with their Brown Suggah (made with molasses, very strong), to New Belgium’s Springboard Ale (fortified with a pinch of wormwood). There are new concoctions coming out every month, it seems, and the atmosphere is ripe in the craft brewing world to bring forth the next level of unique brews: the fortified ale.