Gotlandsdricka – Review

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Juniperus virginiana

There is now absolutely no doubt in my mind as to why this is one of the most famous of old European beer recipes. The adaptive recipe that I followed to produce my own take on this profoundly flavored and legendary beer noted that the finished beer would take about a month to fully carbonate in the bottles. Despite this obvious instruction, I couldn’t help but sample this beer early, and to be honest it was carbonated enough. There wasn’t much of a head, but I’m sure this will improve over time. I also wanted to know if this was going to turn out to be another one of my sweeter recipes (which isn’t bad but on many occasions I was hoping for something bitter) or whether I had indeed added a sufficient amount of non-hop ingredients to sufficiently bitter and flavor the beer.

Turns out I was well rewarded for my impatience, more than rewarded in fact. The 1.3 pounds of freshly harvested juniper (from less than 1.5km away I might add), boiled and then steeped in the fermenting wort have imparted an enormous and completely crazy flavor profile. I’ll try to do my best to describe it.. but you had better swing by and grab yourself a bottle or two to truly appreciated it.

The aroma of this specialty herbal dark ale invigorates with sweet evergreen resins, turpentines and hits of wintergreen, peat and oranges. The flavor is lush with fragrant citrus, accompanied by the almost overwhelming and entirely unique coniferous complexity of juniper. It is overall pleasantly bitter with a lingering, tannin-rich and menthol-like aftertaste.

Considering the purity of this recipe (there are no other ingredients other than malt extract and yeast) this beverage can also be considered a medicinal tonic, as the amounts of juniper distilled into this beer are strong enough to effectively transmit its therapeutic properties. I would consider this recipe an effective digestive stimulant, urinary tract-antiseptic and astringent. Juniper possess potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that cleanse the urinary system and also rid the intestines and colon of undesirable bacteria. The astringency aids in digestion by stimulating the liver and gall-bladder to produce digestive enzymes and also reduces inflammation and swelling.

You can bet that I am going to be re-visiting this recipe. I was having an internal conflict about what I thought my favorite home brew recipes were in my previous post involving the making of Gotlandsdricka but I’m convinced that this recipe trumps them all. Something cleansing, woodsy, wild and untamable. A few bottles are definitely going to be aged for the cold months to come, inevitably, in the future. Might be fun to hop this buddy up and try to convert it into an IPA, but I love it de-hopped, just over-the-top pure juniper; savory and delightfully rich. I wouldn’t change a thing to this base-line recipe.

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Winter Sprucer – Review

Winter SprucerThis recipe matured a whole lot faster than I expected. Once again, my lack of patience got the best of me and I couldn’t help but sneak a peak of my winter sprucer, which was bottled on the 4th of December, although I’m sure it will develop further character with a little bit of aging. To begin with, I’m pretty impressed. I got buffeted by some staggering levels of delicious from this one. The flavor is sufficiently bittered, but not to excess, with a light maltiness shining through. The aroma is rich in bright, tropical scents akin to pineapple and orange with a floral chamomile undertone. The initial flavor is a nice balance of light chamomile and malt, the aftertaste being dominated by a wonderfully potent and lingering flavor of roasted toffee accompanied by the essence of the deep winter woods; conifer boughs and sweet resin. As with all of my alcoholic experiments, I have not idea what the alcohol percentage is because I can’t use a hydrometer (All of my hippie ingredients throw off the measurements which are required to determine the gravity readings)

I am really proud of this recipe, and will most certainly use spruce tips again in future recipes, perhaps with an even greater volume being made in a single go. Together with the Earth hop gruit ale, I am pretty confident to say that these have been my best beers to date. With my Gotlandsdricka currently finishing it’s fermentation, I have high hopes that it will turn out to be another winner. As diverse as the craft beer in scene is Ontario, I’ve got to say that I think there is fundamental fault that has resulted in a shriveled variety of ingredients in beer. Although some recipes incorporate herbs other than hops, the majority of beers that are mass produced are made with the same 4 ingredients, occasionally one or two others. By ‘thinking outside the hops’, the experience of a beer can explode with potential and include the widest range of bittering, preserving and flavoring ingredients. But that’s just little ol’ me talking.

4.5westerberg

Creeping Charlie ’13

Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea or creeping-Charlie

I can’t believe I didn’t post the first trial run of this highly anticipated recipe that Robert and myself conjured up last summer. You can’t possibly understand how upset I am with myself over this. I really liked that beer and was really looking forward to making it and trying it out. ‘Creeping Charlie’, or simply ‘Creep’, was made with pale and dark liquid malt extract, Cascade hops and a whole bunch of freshly harvested ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which is a thin, sprawling perennial herb in the mint family with fragrant, kidney shaped leaves and small purple tubular flowers emerging in late spring and early summer. It was ‘heady’, bold, more well-balanced than bitter, and strange. So, it’s the kind of stuff I like.

Ground-ivy, also known as creeping Charlie by some gardeners, is an easily overlooked plant native to temperate and northern Europe (invasive in North America) that has a rich history as a hop-substitute in traditional beer recipes. It was deliberately added to batches to add it’s own slightly minty, floral bitterness and to make the beer more ‘heady’ due to the saponins (chemicals that produce suds) contained in the plant that boil into the wort. Unfortunately, the use of ground-ivy practically vanished after it was replaced by hops as the standard bittering and preservative herb in the late 1800’s via the German Beer Purity Act which expanded later to include all of Europe.

The exact amounts of ingredients added to the first recipe have been lost due to my terrible book keeping skills, that thankfully since last year, have improved considerably. So this time around, I actually decided to do the responsible thing and carefully measure out everything that I could and write it down. Brilliant.

Just making some delicious beery soup.

Just making some delicious beery soup.

INGREDIENTS

– 5 gallons water
– 4 litres pale liquid amber barley malt extract
– 40 grams mystery hops (possibly Cascade) for bittering
– 10 grams Fuggle hops for bittering and flavour
– 30 grams Perle hops for flavour and aroma
This is my favourite ingredient: a large paper LCBO bag loosely stuffed about halfway with the dried, uncut trailing flowering stems of ground-ivy. Understand how much that is? Good, let’s proceed.
– 13 grams Nottingham English ale yeast
– 1 Irish moss tablet


PROCEDURE

For the sake of not being incredibly redundant, I am going to keep this procedure short and sweet, as they say. If you would like more of a how-to / common mistakes / details guide to making beer in your kitchen, please consult my past 2 or 3 posts where I discuss the specifics of doing this properly and not like someone that’s going to wreck their whole kitchen and spoil their beer. Thanks friends!

Bring water to a boil. Add malt extract, about 85% of the ground-ivy, and maybe-Cascade hops. Set timer to 60 minutes and stir ingredients in until a boil has returned. After 30 minutes has passed, add the Fuggle hops and stir them in a bit. After 50 minutes have passed, add the Irish moss tablet, the rest of the ground-ivy and the Perle hops. Stir until the tablet dissolves, about 3-5 minutes. One the timer stops, remove the wort from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, strain into your fermenter and top up the water level until 5 gallons is reached. Stir to mix, pitch yeast and insert airlock.

I really enjoyed the infamous Creeper 2012. It was a very interesting experiment and I leaned a lot about the flavour profile, aroma and texture that it infuses into the beer. It was more of a sweeter, porter / weak Belgian ale hybrid that was a bit all over the place. Oh, that’s right! We also added brown sugar to the recipe. I remember that now. That is what gave it the sweetness common to candied ales which are made with caramelized sugar. So yeah, it was pretty wacky and unpredictable. Probably fooled around a little to much, but whatever. It’s whatever it was and I enjoyed drinking it, especially after it ages for around 6 months to a year. It chilled out a bit. But the allure of an American Pale Ale that’s quite malty, but also refreshingly bitter, citrusy, and possesses that dark, floral bitter-mint spice of creeping Charlie. Here’s take two.

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.

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.

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