Flavoured beers in general are very popular today. The subset with spices, anything from ginger to coriander to cinnamon and much more – is legion.
In a recent discussion of porter for the Session, many of the contributions mention flavoured porters, e.g., those with cocoa or coffee, as of particular interest to the taster. The addition of coffee or chocolate is one of the innovations of the craft brewing renaissance. It is now so well-established that it isn’t felt necessary (often) to mention that porter wasn’t flavoured with anything other than malt and hops for hundreds of years.
True, some old writers suggested to add elderberry juice or more nefariously, “drugs” of various kinds to enhance the effect (if not the taste). At least one writer in the mid-1800s advised that “orange powder” was a good thing to add to porter. But in general, these were not used, partly because the laws in Britain forbade such additions in commercial brewing, partly because, or I’d infer, brewers thought the beer didn’t need it. Ginger was used in one or two English brews until the 1950s it seems, so I’d think the law must have changed to permit this, unless the practice was sub rosa.
In Belgium as many beer fans know, the use of spice and other flavourings did survive commercially. Saison beers as well as wit, the Belgian wheat beer style, are sometimes flavoured with some of the spices mentioned and a wide variety of others. Almost always, hops are used too. This harks back to the early days of brewing, either before hops were used at all, or when hops were used variously with a grab bag of other flavourings.
Rochefort Trappist beer apparently uses coriander although to my mind it doesn’t taste of that really, more cumin I would say or sweet gale, somewhat like those Pictish ales some U.K. brewers make. Perhaps it is the seeds that are used, as there is an earthy, musty-like taste vs. orangey as such. The leaves of coriander do not taste the same as the seeds, it may be noted.
The real question is, are flavoured, including spiced, beers worth drinking? I will say straight off I almost never drink a chocolate or coffee porter. They don’t taste right to me. When porter or any beer is well-made, you don’t need anything other than malt and hops (+ sometimes other grains). I make an exception for some spices if used with discretion. Anything orange seems to work well with porter and stout. Ginger too. But it is too often overdone, and the drink is ruined. (The bane of most pumpkin beers). You need a substratum of hop bitterness and flavour and then just a soupçon of the spice.
An old expression says, good wine needs no bush. More prosaically, good beer needs no spice.
Note re image: Image is by Michael Day (Spice Market, Marakech Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Image was sourced here.