Earthhop Gruit Ale

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greater burdock (Arctium lappa)

Jordhumle is an old-time Scandinavian name for yarrow (Achillea millefolium) meaning earth hops. This is a play on the plant’s historical use as a bittering and preservative agent in ales commonly used in communities until the 18th century, when bitter resin in the unripe female flowers of hops (Humuls lupulus) became the preferred ingredient of choice. It’s also a term, among many that are no longer in common use, that can describe any herbs that were used as a substitute for hops up until the point that hops was legislated in as the only legal herbal preservative in beer.

Anyhow, I found this old nickname extremely appropriate to describe my newest gruit style ale, which features the bitter, resinous scented flowering tops of yarrow and the deep, woodsy aromatic and bitter-sweet tasting roots of burock (Arctium lappa). Burdock, the plant that graciously supplies us with burs to get caught in our clothes, bears a 1-3+ foot long taproot which has long been used as an ingredient in strengthening, blood purifying tonic beers taken in the spring to cleanse the body from a monotonous winter diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. The roots, rich in iron, calcium and other minerals, can also be used to improve the function of the liver and revive a sluggish digestive system by stimulating digestion before and after a meal.

Yarrow was an even more popular ingredient in centuries old beer recipes, being added for it’s potent anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.  The leaves and flowering tops can be used medicinally to prevent headaches, clear sinus congestion, sooth sore throats, quell aching teeth, relieve thirst, improve digestion, prevent heavy and painful menstruation, fight viral and bacterial infections, stimulate the recovery of injuries, stop heavy bleeding, disinfect wounds and assist with countless other maladies. The inclusion of yarrow in a recipe was also believed to make the resulting beer more intoxicating, much the same as Labrador-tea (Ledum groenlandicum and spp.) which has narcotic-like effects when taken in large enough doses.

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Dried yarrow flowers and fresh burdock root

I have been wanting to use both of these herbs in a recipe for a long time. I am sure that they could both be featured in their own individual recipes to extenuate their own unique personalities, and that is most definitely going to happen at some point. I am hoping that this recipe will create a slightly bitter ale with a deep aroma of damp moss and rotting logs complimented with a balanced resinous, woodsy and floral flavour.

INGREDIENTS

5 gallons water
3 litres liquid amber barley malt extract
6 ounces fresh or 3 ounces dried burdock root, coarsely sliced.
1 ounce recently dried flowering tops of yarrow
20 grams Cascade hops
1 powered Irish moss tablet (helps with clarity)
15 grams de-bittered ale yeast

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Bring either 1 or 1-5 gallons of water to a boil. Make sure that the pot is only around 50% full in order to accommodate the addition of the next few ingredients.

2. Carefully add the liquid amber barely malt extract to the water. This is going to be an annoying, sticky mess no matter what but be advised to take some precautions. Stir while adding the malt so it doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pan. Try to get as much of it out of the containers as possible. It might even be worth while to remove the pot from the heat until all of the malt is in there and dissolved evenly.

3. Bring the water back up to a boil and add the sliced burdock root chunks and yarrow flowers. The yarrow can be added whole because it limps up quite a bit. Set timer for 30 minutes.

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Freshly added herbs simmering in the boiling malt

4. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the herbs and the malt for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, as the herbs like to float.

5. Once 15 minutes has passed, add the Irish moss tablet and the 20 grams of Cascade hops, sprinkling them slowly into the wort. Stir until the Irish tablet completely dissolves, about 2 or 3 minutes. Hops has a tendency to make the brew foam like crazy, so keep stirring and turning down the heat until you have a consistent simmer. If you full on boil it, the wort is going to throw up all over your stove. Whenever you are not stirring, you can have the lid on the pot to retain heat but with a slight crack. Also, don’t leave the room after the hops is in there. Keep an eye on it for the first 5 minutes especially once it goes in.

6. Once 30 minutes has passed, turn off the heat. Remove the now finished wort into a location where it can sit and cool down, with the lid covering it. I stick in a thermometer to monitor the temperature as it cools. You want the wort down to at least 100 °F (optimally 70-75 °F) before you proceed with the next step.

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If your beer looks like soup, you’re doing it right.

7. Using something like potassium metabisulphite or Diversol, sanitize a carboy or fermenting bucket, funnel, strainer and airlock (make sure that it is fitted to your fermenter).

8. Strain and pour the wort through a funnel into your fermenter. Top up the carboy with water until a total of 4 gallons is reached. I wrote in with a permanent marker the measurements on the outside of my glass carboy, which makes this easy. I suggest you do that too, on whatever you are fermenting in for future reference.

8. Pitch in the 30 grams of de-bittered ale yeast (It is a good idea to let it sit out the night before so it is room temperature when you add it) into your fermenter with a funnel and insert the airlock. Done. Now clean up the huge mess you’ve made and wait 5-7 days until fermentation is complete.

Dreamweapon

Dreamweapon Herbal IPA

 Image of Illustration of VALERIANA officinalis L. 47

Valeriana officinalis

This recipe sort of came out of the blue, featuring some herbal ingredients that I had lying around and were nearing the end of their shelf life. What better way to preserve the health and healing capability of herbs than steeping them into a beer, which can last for months if not years if properly stored? Tinctures work much the same way, except they can last even longer considering they are often made with 30-40 % alc.vol. liquors. If you get the reference in the name I chose for this beer, you are one awesome dude/dudette. If not, I am not going to give you the satisfaction outright and you are going to have to do a little bit of googling around to figure it out.

The name is relevant though, trust me, since I have formulated this one to be the perfect compliment to the end of an evening. Not too forceful, but you are definitely not staying awake for the rest of that movie once you crack one of these buddies open. Featuring chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) blossoms and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root, this wildly and differently flavored India pale ale is bound to cripple your chances of staying up late. Both of these herbs gently tone the central nervous system, relax muscle tension and sooth fried nerves and clouded minds. They both help prepare the body for rest by sedating and calming your entire body. Valerian can even be used throughout the day: it helps to naturally restore your body’s sleep rhythm and therefore will only help you sleep when you ought to be sleeping- at night time. Valerian and chamomile can lessen the severity of, or prevent altogether, muscle spams/cramps that can be associated with a host of normal or abnormal bodily functions.

Ingredients:

4 gallons water
3 liters liquid amber barley malt extract
1 ounce dried chamomile blossoms
25 grams Cascade hops
0.4 ounces chopped and dried valerian root
8 grams de-bittered ale yeast

Liquid amber barley malt

Liquid amber barley malt

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Chamomile blossoms and Cascade hops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directions:

1. Bring one gallon of water to a boil.
2. Add liquid amber barley malt extract, pouring slowly and stirring to prevent burning.
3. Add valerian root, stirring a little to evenly spread it around. Start timer at 25 mins.
4. When there is 10 mins. of the boil remaining, add chamomile blossoms and hops. Stir again to dissolve.
5. Once timer goes off, remove from heat and allow wort to cool in the pot until it is around 60-75 degrees F.
6. Fill sterilized carboy/bucket with 3 more gallons of water and wort, adding the wort slowly along with the water so the two mix together as thorough as possible.
7. Wait until head dissipates and then pitch yeast.
8.  Insert sterilized airlock and wait until fermentation is complete (5-7 days usually)

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Finished wart ready for brewing.

If anyone else reading this is interested in pursuing some experimentation with herbs in brewing, I highly recommend this. It has a pretty comprehensive list of most common and a few unusual herbs/trees that are of were historically used in brewing for various reasons. This is where I got the quantities of the herbs that I used for this beer. Smells pretty good already, so I am pretty confident that the folks at the California Fermention Society know what they are talking about.

Update: Pis en Lit G’root’ Ale

This beer has taken me on a real ride. Yesterday, I transferred the 4 gallon batch of this liver cleansing dandelion and milk thistle ale into my second carboy, attempting to filter out all of the yeast and herb parts that I left in during primary fermentation. This beer has been fermenting for 3 and a half weeks, way longer than a beer that was supposed to be straight forward and take less than 10 days to ferment. I did initially have to pitch the yeast in a second time, for 5 days after initially adding yeast I didn’t see any sign of fermentation. I don’t think this would have impacted the length of the fermentation though, because I have had to do this before and the batch still fermented at the regular expected time.

So, who knows? I don’t. It may have been due to fluctuating temperatures in the basement, or possibly warding off some unwanted bacterial colony that may have attempted dominance of the wort. I tried a little sample of the beer, even though it is not yet carbonated. It is pretty damn strong, I am estimating 8-9% alc.vol. which is way off the charts for the expected 5% alc.vol. The flavor is a little heavy on the malt, but with a the damp woody bitterness of dandelion.

Right now I am just going to wait until the beer stops fermenting during secondary. It might be later this week, or it might keep going for another few weeks. Thought I would free up the first carboy in order to make this beer. Can’t stand to not be brewing, even if it is a brew that is holding me up. Any suggestions/comments as to what I might have done to mess up (but not really) Pis en Lit would be appreciated.

Pis en Lis G’root’ Ale

Common dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) delights our eyes with carpets of stunning yellow composite blooms that invade grassy fields, the edges of roads and other waste places throughout mid to late spring. Despite being labeled as a nuisance and having an impressive assortment of biological and mechanical weapons specifically devised for it’s eradication, dandelions still hold a firm grip on our landscapes as well as our folkflore and traditions.

For example, the common name ‘dandelion’ is derived from the French ‘dent-de-lion’ which means ‘lion’s tooth’ and refers to the jagged, irregularly toothed edges of the leaves. Another French name for this plant is ‘pis en lit’ which means ‘piss the bed’ [an excellent name for a beer!] and refers to the diuretic affect which results from consuming the leaves, flowers and roots. It has been known for centuries that the dandelion is a potent cleaner of the urinary system.

In fact, the roots of dandelions have been used as a powerful and safe medicine since antiquity, additional to cleaning and strengthening the urinary system. Numerous studies and hundreds of years of practice have revealed that the plant is rich in important minerals such as magneseum and iron, and has the capacity to heal and detoxify our liver, gallbladder and bloodstream from accumulated bacteria and other toxins.

Ground milk-thistle seed and dried, chopped dandelion root.

Ground milk-thistle seed and dried, chopped dandelion root.

The bitterness of dandelion also excites and stimulates the production of gastric juices [yum!] and enzymes to be released into the stomach which assist in the proper assimilation and absorbtion of nutrients in our food. In Greece, salads featuring dandelion leaves are traditionally eaten before a heavy meal in order to increase the appetite and prepare the digestive system for the bulk of the meal which has yet to arrive.

I have always regarded the spring as a time of renewal, rebirth and healing. So what better way than the cleanse the body after a long, dark winter that is often accompanied by a monotonous diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables than with a spring tonic beer made with dandelion root? Here here, says I! Spring cleaning is most definitely not exclusive to the household. Part of experiencing the blessings of a new year includes making sure your body is healthy, clean and functioning efficiently.

Ingredients:

4 gallons water
3 litres liquid amber malt extract
2.2 ounces both dried and fresh dandelion root
18 grams ground milk-thistle (Silybum marianum) seed
8 grams de-bittered ale yeast

comments: I could not find any resources which describe the moisture content of dandelion roots. They do weight considerably more when fresh than dried, as would be expected. The original recipe from Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers recommends 4 dried ounces of dandelion root for a 4 gallon batch, which seems like a lot, so I am halving it based on what I have been able to harvest and not wanting to make the taste too strong. I definitely still want to feel the super dirty, earthy bitterness that is unique to dandelion. It is likely that arround 200 individual plants were harvested to compose the 2.2 ounces of roots.

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The boiling wort with dandelion roots.

Instructions:

1. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large pot (preferably one with handles as you are going to be handling it after it is boiled)
2. Once boiling, slowly pour in and stir 3 litres of liquid amber malt extract until it is dissolved in the water.
3. Add 2.2 ounces dandelion root, stirring to evenlydistribute them.
4. Simmer mixture for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. After the 15 minutes has passed, remove pot from heat.
6. Place pot of wort in a place where it can cool to room temperature.
7. When cool enough, carefully pour the wort through a strainer and into a sterilized fermenter, such as a glass carboy.
8. Pour the 18 grams of ground milk-thistle seeds into wort inside the carboy.*
9. Top up the carboy with cool water until it contains a total of 4 gallons.
10. Pitch 8 grams of yeast into fermenter and insert airlock.

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The wort chilling out.

* The seeds of milk-thistle contain active compounds which are alcohol soluable and therefore not effectively extracted by boilding. The compounds in dandelions, however, can be extracted by water. By placing the ground milk-thistle seeds in the carboy during the fermentation process, those alcohol soluable compounds are extracted and remain suspended in the final product. I decided to add milk-thistle to this recipe because, like dandelion, they have potent liver strengthening and detoxifying capabilities and will also hopefully add an interesting bitter flavour of their own. More can be read about the medicinal applications of milk-thistle here.

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Yeast pitched and ready to start fermenting.

Lemon Ginger Beer

Lemon Ginger BeerThis one really turned out unique; a very special winter treat that completely surprised me and turned out quite different from what I initially anticipated. Everyone knows what ginger ale tastes like, I know for me it comprised a large proportion of my liquid intake when I was a young’n. Likewise, with the onset of adulthood (whatever that really is) I turned the bulk of my appreciation of ginger ale to the fermented variety.

This beer tastes pretty much exactly like regular ginger ale, except it is most definitely alchoholic. It was brewed as a 3 gallon batch, and contains 750ml of liquid amber malt extract and 1 pound of brown sugar. Given the ratios involved (1 pound sugar or 1.1 pounds liquid malt extract = 1 gallon 5% alc./vol. beer) and the fact that 750ml of liquid malt extract weights approx. 3 pounds, this batch should be around 5.5-6%.

The little bit of boost provided by the extra concentration of alcohol as well as the spicy, warm flavour and aroma of ginger make this a real winter warmer. It’s really refreshing even though it’s beer. Another interesting aspect to this recipe was the addition of lemon juice. There is no hops what-so-ever involved with this beer, and yet it  is not sickingly sweet or tastes like table syrup. I think this is because the powerful sourness of the lemon juice cuts off the natural sweetness of the malt. This leaves a well balanced sweetness than is not overwhelming.

So, now for the specs: the color is a light yellow-amber, with a numbing soft carbonation (this ought to get better with time). The flavour is neutrally sweet, smooth and thirst quenching with a mild sour aftertaste. The scent is that of a clear cold stream; clementines, and crushed fir needles.

Would I make any improvements next time? Yes: grate or finely chop the ginger in order to get the maximum flavour released from them (I want a ginger flavour so strong it’ll make you cry) and do not leave the ginger chunks in the fermenter unless contained in a muslin bag and weighted down so that they do not float at the surface. The ginger chunks that were left in the beer as it fermented settled just below the surface and a few fostered some mold growth. There wasen’t enough growth to threaten the whole batch of beer and during bottling the patches (which only grew on the surface of the beer where it was exposed to air) were easily avoided. But still… best to avoid that as a possible complication.

Thanks again to Michelle Doherty for assisting with this recipe; this being one occasion among many. You have evidence in writing that half of this batch is yours. So come and get it! Preferably with someone that drives so you can pick it up all at once. Just give them a cut, pretty much anyone will agree to drive you around if they get paid in beer.

paulwesterburg3.5

Winter Herb-Beer Review

Winter Herb-BeerThis beer has been ready for a few weeks now and has successfully carbonated even though the primitive scale that I was using to measure out the dextrose (corn sugar) to mix with the fermented wort was faulty and cryptic to decipher. It took a little bit longer to fully cardbonate but it was definitely a success in that regard. All in all: this is one of the most laid-back and easy drinking beers that I have ever made. Let’s review what’s in it: water (duh), amber malt extract, wild carrot seeds, yarrow flowers, rosemary sprigs and yeast (double duh).

The flavour is light, well balanced and has a hint of cider-like dryness. The head is light but sustaining and if you dump this one into the glass it will remain for the entire duration of your drink. The color is a pale orange/light amber and quite clear (thanks Irish moss!). The aroma is sweet and mellow with a strange musk; possibly due to the yeast giving off wierd flavours because of the addition of unconventional herbal ingredients. The flavour is very pleasant and floral, with some herbal tang and an aftertaste of mild bitterness from the small amount of hops added (50 grams of Cascade).

This is a winner; I really couldn’t have hoped for anything better. I don’t mean to toot my own horn (best expression) by saying all this stuff, but I think after many attempts at herbal wierd beers I am starting to get the hang of what to expect from the unorthodox ingredients that I continually experiment with. I have had some good ones as well as my share of dives; let’s not forget the embarassing folly of the licorice/valerian beer that Rob Nagy and I partnered on which ended up culturing various blue and green moulds instead of fermenting cleanly. Oh well, It probably would have tasted like sickingly sweet sweaty socks anyways since Valerian (the roots of the plant Valeriana officinalis) has a reputation for putting people off. I personally like the flavour, but I’m a wierdo.

May 2013 be filled with more successful homebrews. I think I deserve another.

westerberg4

Cardamom Spiced Mead

DSC_0154Thanks Michelle for being another accomplice on this endeavour. Mead is delicious, wholesome and a time honored drink of heath and vitality. I am really looking forward to trying this one. Cardamom is a warm, sharp spice made from the ground up pods of the plant Elettaria cardamomum which is in the same family as ginger. Try it in your coffee; you will not be dissappointed. We also added cinnamon, just because it’s great.

Ingredients: 2L water, 1/2L amber honey, 1 tbsp. ground cardamom, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, wine yeast.

Instructions: Pour 1 L of water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add honey, stirring until dissolved, and let boil for 10 mins. Add ground spices and stir untill suspended and nearly dissolved and boil for another 5 mins. Allow pot and mead inside to cool to almost room temperature (80-90 degrees F). Siphon into fermenter (in our case, a growler) and add the remaining litre of water. Add wine yeast, and insert airlock.

Mead needs to be in a little bit of a warmer situation than beer in order for the yeast to efficiently ferment the sugars in the honey. Honey is also comparatively devoid of the nutrients that yeast requires for proper health. It is particularly lacking in B12 vitamins and it is recommended that one should add yeast nutrient as a suppliment for the yeast fermenting your mead. I didn’t add any yeat nutrient, and regardless fermentation has begun and seems to be humming along at a regular beat.

Sacred and Herbal Beers estimates that mead made in a 1:3 ration honey to water will take 16-26 days. After which it can be bottled (if you wanted carbonated mead you could add dextrose or a small amount of honey to each bottle) and stored for up to a year, likely longer.