Yarrow & Calendula Honey Mead

Calendula officinalis

T’is the season! Maybe. Is there even a season for mead? It feels like that season should be right because this is when I felt like making another batch of mead. I really enjoyed making growler sized batches in the past. It’s less of a committment and lets you save money and ingredients while experimenting.  Or split up a larg batch by fermenting in many indivdual fermenters and adding different ingredients. Whatever you want! Mead is really versatile, and I have never made a bad batch except-but-not-really my first, which was a duo-project: a juniper mead that I thought was brilliant but apparently to some it tasted like olive oil. I don’t get it either.

Yarrow is a great ingredient for mead, as fellow BFB-er Jesse Black has demonstrated in a previous post describing his own yarrow mead recipe. It’s bitterness and astringency neutralize sweetness and the floral, terpentine and cedar or sage-like aromatics add wonderful personality and flavour. Yarrow is also powerfully medicinal; disinfecting, reducing swelling, irritation, inflammation or pain and detoxifying the blood and urinary system. Calendula petals were added to impart a strong golden or orange color to the finished mead, as well as slightly thicken and add silkiness to the texture.

INGREDIENTS: (for 2 litre batch)

– 2 litres water- half pound of honey
– 0.4 ounces dried and fresh yarrow leaves
– 1/4 cup dried calendula petals, lightly packed
– 0.5 grams champagne yeast
– 2 grams yeast nutrient

INSTRUCTIONS:

Bring 1 litre or so of water a boil. Once boiling steadily, gradually add honey and continue to stir until dissolved. Add half the yarrow leaves (approximately 0.2 ounces) and stir until throughly moist. Cover only slightly and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Pour calendula pedals and the remaining yarrow into growler or other suitable fermentation vessel. Pour hot honey wort into growler, while straining out the boiled yarrow. Wait 5-10 minutes to allow the fresh yarrow and calendula petals to steep in the hot mead before topping up with another 1 litre of cold or room temperature water. Place cap or lid on growler/fermenter until room temperature; approximately 3-4 hours. Once cool enough or only slightly warm to the touch, remove cap/lid and add yeast nutrient and champagne yeast. Give one last stir and plug in the air lock: only straining out the herbs when it is time for bottling.

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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.

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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