Adding ingredients while maintaining sanitation

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Nick Z

Well-Known Member
Nov 23, 2019
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I've been searching the forums and can't seem to find a definitive answer so I figured I would ask for opinions.

In some cases I would like to add spices like vanilla beans, whole allspice, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, etc.

My concern is about introducing contamination. I could soak the stuff in Starsan but I'm afraid that will screw up their flavor and introduce starsan where it doesn't belong.

I could boil things but I'm concerned about leaching away the flavors (especially of vanilla beans and citrus zest) or boiling off the oils and aromatics.

I also don't know whether I should add it in primary or secondary. My impulse is to add it in primary while the fermentation is going great guns. The theory being that if there is a large population of yeast in there they might not leave room for undesired microbes.

I have similar concerns about using oak chips. Those I suppose I could boil but am concerned again about extracting too much flavor.

Basically the question is: How do I add stuff to concoctions without contaminating it?

If I'm adding stuff in the primary, I put it in right at the start, and use campden tablets on the whole mess. Just as a precaution. Then pitch the next day.

If I'm adding stuff in the secondary, I generally don't worry much, because there's enough alcohol that it's safe against most things. I haven't had it bite me yet, even adding pounds of fruit. (Probably going to have my next batch turn into vinegar for saying that...)

But if you're really concerned, you can soak it in a small quantity of vodka, and dump that in with the stuff; That's enough alcohol to kill almost anything, and anything you extracted would end up in the mead.
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One method is to make a tincture with vodka. Use separate small jars of vodka and add vanilla bean, lemon zest or other flavoring additives. Let the items sit in the jars for a week or two. Then get a syringe that measures in ml and do taste trial with a measured amount of your beverage.
But I've thrown lemon zest and cinnamon sticks and in mead and cider without making a vodka tincture without any issues. I soak barrel chips in a good whiskey for a few weeks before using.
Its real easy to over oak beverages, so you need to reserve some un-oaked for blending, or if you are making beer, be prepared to brew more of the same to blend in if you get too much oak.
While cider definitely can get spoiled, fully fermented cider is typically high enough abv and low enough pH to have some resilience when not exposed to oxygen. Just rinse the stuff, dump it in, and put the airlock back on.

Or make a vodka tincture if you want to play mad scientist. Which is a 10000% legitimate feeling. You could rebrand that into being artisan and testing blends to taste, as well.
Thank you for the replies. I was thinking about putting spices and such in secondary and not primary, just as you folks suggested. I assume the alcohol will extract the flavors better than the mixture in primary.
What about oak chips? Do you boil those first or just toss them in? I don't know whether those got into primary or secondary. I've heard it's easy to overdo oak.

I threw a single Cascade hop pellet into the primary of a one gallon batch. I'll be racking it soon and the guy at the brew shop said the frozen pellets in foil packaging he had shouldn't present a contamination issue.
It is easy to overdo oak. You can just drop the cubes in secondary. I do 2 oz med toast in 5 gallons for 5 to 10 days depending upon the flavor I am looking for. I guess about a quarter ounce per gallon. Check it after 5 days and each day after until you hit the flavor you like.
With wood chips (I like using applewood, cherrywood, sometimes maple chips) I wrap them in tinfoil and cook them in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Lightly toasts them to help bring out flavors and sterilizes them as well.