Gruit Beer update

It’s been two weeks total since brewing, so I’ve racked the gruit beer, and decided that it wasn’t quite bitter or spicy enough, so I’m doing the herbal equivalent to dry hopping. I just put an ounce each of Yarrow and Wormwood, along with 1/4 tsp of Coriander into a pint of 100 proof spirits, where it will steep for two weeks, at which point it’ll be added back into the beer. This should extract the essences of the herbs nicely, without any deterioration from boiling, and you can add portions to taste, so I won’t make things too bitter by accident. That sort of control is good in an experimental brew.   Just making a post so I remember every step that went in to the beer when I want to recreate it.

Mead used to be even awesomer.

Talking tonight about how much we’re missing in the modern age of brewing mead:

me: according to Radical Brewing
mead used to be even more awesomer
Chris: O?
me: firstly
the root medhu
means honey, sweet, and drunkenness
Chris: Lol
me: “This buzz is not always simply from alcohol. Many plants with toxic and/or psychoactive components exude them in their nectar, which is then concentrated by the bees into a kind of narcotic honey that Pliney the Elder called meli moenomenon, or ‘mad honey’. Datura, belladonna, cannabis, wild rosemary, rhododendron, and a large number of tropical plants are capable of producing mind-altering honey, and the ethnobotanical connections for many psychoactive honeys are well documented”
Chris: Ooh
me: see also Heather Ales: “It is hard to say whether the mythic status of heather derives from the beautiful carpet of blossoms, the lovely aroma, or the powdery psychoactive fungus – called fog or fogg – that adheres to it. An observer writing about heather honey in 1804 says, ‘I well remember, however, that, for two years that I used it, it almost always rendered me drowsy. Sometimes it composed me to sleep as effectually as a moderate dose of laundanum would have done

Huzzah, part 2.

For several months I’ve been wanting to do a gruit beer, substituting herbs for hops and making a truly old school beer. I’m heading to the brewstore tomorrow to pick up grains, having already bought the herbs at the local shop Nature’s Magic. (Total cost on the herbs is a little under $6, which compares nicely to the cost of hops these days.) My basic idea is something like this(update: final recipe):

  • 3 pounds light or extra light dme
  • 1 pound wheat extract
  • 1 pound honey
  • 8 oz wheat malt
  • 8 oz 2-row malt
  • 8 oz 10L crystal malt
  • 2 oz honey malt
  • 2 oz Yarrow
  • 2 oz Mugwort
  • .5 oz Licorice root

My reasoning is as follows: Many grains were used in ancient brewing, so I’m adding wheat to approximate the mix. Likewise, honey was added to all sorts of fermented goods to be sure they reached the proper strength (this batch should be just shy of 5%). The herbs should be a nice earthy blend, slightly spicy, with bitterness coming from the mugwort – mugwort, or Artemesia vulgaris, is a relative of Wormwood. Both yarrow and mugwort are traditional ingredients in gruit. Note the absence of hops of any kind. Since in ye olden days this would have been casked, I’ll oak it in secondary to recreate that aspect of brewing. All told, it should be a fun, cheap, somewhat historical partial mash. I’ll post the final recipe when it’s final.

Also, should you want to learn more about brewing gruit ales, check out the aptly named gruitale.com, and for a broader look at herbs and spices and a whole lot of other cool stuff, pick up a copy of Radical Brewing. It’s worth it, and it’s 5 stars on Amazon for a reason.

Ancient Brews, Huzzah!

Back in 2005 Discover ran an article about Dogfish Head’s attempt to recreate a 9,000 year old Chinese brew. There’s a reason they’re my favorite brewery. They’re re-releasing it to the unwashed masses in June or July (so I can finally get a taste of it) and have several other interesting brews planned, including sahti. Impressions of the stone age concoction, which Dogfish calls Chateau Jiahu, sound wonderful. Quoth the Beer Babe:

“What’s great about this drink is, in addition to being historically reproduced from molecular evidence (a history geek’s dream brew) it is sweetened with honey, grapes and has a lovely warm taste which resembles wine, or mead. It’s pretty cloudy and smells like sweet grapes, with an amber color and some carbonation that isn’t overwhelming but reminds you that it isn’t wine. I think this would be a good candidate for aging, and I am hankering to have this on a moonlit summer night for some reason.”

It’s a great time to be a drinker.