For most of us, comestible hibiscus is synonymous with agua de Jamaica, a deep magenta-colored tea sweetened with sugar and spices and ladled from jugs across the counter at neighborhood taquerias. Semi-tart and deeply refreshing, it’s often perfumed with cinnamon and star anise and cut with lime juice—perfect for washing down a pair of tacos al pastor or a shot of mezcal.
But recently the tiny dried maroon petals have meandered from the taqueria into another familiar beverage. Incorporated into beer, hibiscus imparts acidity, finesse and a pretty, pink hue. “I like it because it adds tartness but also a nice floral spiciness,” says Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, who was influenced by Dieu du Ciel’s Rosée D’Hibiscus, one of the first and most influential hibiscus beers. “It’s almost like a tea in that it’s herbaceous but with this high acidity that does cool things to beer.”
Strumke has used the dried flowers in brews like A Saison Darkly and Sensory Series V.1, a collaboration saison with the Baltimore band Lower Dens. He steeps whole dried flowers in tea and adds the liquid to the unfermented beer. His most recent fling with it is called Gose Gone Wild—Tijuana, a tart ale upgraded with hibiscus, lime and Mayan sea salt.
Though most commonly incorporated into saisons and goses, hibiscus shows up in other styles, too. Boston’s Night Shift brews an IPA called JoJo with hibiscus while The Veil Brewing in Richmond, Va. has a hibiscus-grapefruit Session IPA called #ladybroz. Stone recently made a one-off Belgian Strong Ale called Hibiscusicity and Queens’ SingleCut brew a tart lager with it called Kim.
Besides floral notes and a gentle sharpness—the upshot of the flower’s naturally high level of organic acids—the most glaring quality hibiscus adds to beer is its striking pinkish hue. It can be reminiscent of a richly colored rosé or agua de Jamaica itself, and it’s one of the primary reasons brewers love it.
“Of course the first impression is ‘Oh look, it’s pink!’ Which is fun,” says Graham MacDonald of DC’s Handsome Beer Co. who makes a dry-hopped saison with hibiscus called Kind Regards. MacDonald’s brewery also makes ales with other flowers like chamomile and jasmine but says that hibiscus gives a unique cranberry-cherry-like flavor that plays well with assertive hopping.
“It works with the softer, fruitier notes of Mosaic which have some citrus and cherry aromas.” Plus, he says, “Served in a wine glass, it’s by far the prettiest beer at the bar.”
Five Hibiscus Beers to Try
Stillwater Gose Gone Wild—Tijuana
This remix of a remix—the original recipe comes from Stillwater’s Gose Gone Wild, a cheeky take on Westbrook’s flagship Gose—is fortified with hibiscus and lime as well as blackberries, smoked agave and Mayan sea salt.
- ABV: 4.8 percent
Grassroots Convivial Suaréz
This saison with hibiscus and lemon is from Vermont’s Grassroots Brewing, a precursor to the famed Hill Farmstead. Its name derives from former Hill Farmstead brewer, Dan Suarez, who now runs his own Suarez Family Brewery in the Hudson Valley.
- ABV: 6 percent
Boulevard Hibiscus Gose
Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing uses hibiscus in their early summer seasonal Gose—brewed with coriander and salt—to impart a tangy finish.
- ABV: 4.2 percent
North Peak Mellow
Northern Michigan is famous for its cherries. This beer from Traverse City’s North Peak incorporates those bright, earthy flavors with a whisper of tartness from hibiscus for a refreshing but surprisingly strong fruited ale.
- ABV: 7 percent
Handsome Beer Kind Regards
DC’s roving gypsy brewers dry-hop this saison with Mosaic hops and dried hibiscus for notes of cranberries, tropical fruits and flowers.
- ABV: 6 percent