experimental beers with a botanical twist

Ground Ivy Gruit Ale

ground ivyBrewed on 6 May, 2012.

Grains

  • pale 2-row malt (Briess organic), 8 lbs.
  • Breiss Victory malt, 1 lb.
  • Breiss Caramel 120L, 1/2 lb.
  • Western Munich malt, 1 lb.

Herbs

  • fresh, very young Norway spruce tips, ~2 qts.
  • fresh ground ivy (gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, etc.: Glechoma hederacea) leaves and flowers, 1 packed quart
  • fresh lemonbalm leaves, 1 pint
  • uncrushed juniper berries, 1 oz. (a mistake: should’ve used 1/4–1/2 oz. crushed)
  • coriander seed, 1/2 oz.

Extra sugars

  • wildflower honey, 1 lb.
  • organic corn sugar, 1 c. (bottling)

Yeast

  • Coopers dry ale yeast, 11 g. in 1 qt. warm-water starter

Procedure

Make ~2 gallons of tea with ground ivy, cool, put into sealed and sanitized containers and refrigerate. Use simple infusion mash (~150F) and sparge with 2  1/2 gals. at 180F. Add honey and bring to a boil. Put coriander and juniper into a nylon bag and add during last ten minutes of boil along with remaining herbs. Add tea at beginning of cooling process. Pitch yeast at 80F. Put nylon bag into fermenter and let remain until bottling. Bottle after ten days and age for two weeks.

Results

This was very interesting, but I personally would’ve preferred something bitterer. I’ve never found ground ivy to be anywhere near as bitter as the books say, but it could be the wild stuff I use tastes different from British or cultivated varieties. I was anxious to avoid the turpentine flavors often found in spruce beer, but needn’t have worried — it was virtually unnoticeable. My friend the sustainable brewing expert Chris O’Brien detected a bubblegumish ester, a German wheat beer flavor which he likes (and felt there could’ve been more of). Rachel Rawlins, who assisted in the brewing — and documented it in photos — blogged some detailed tasting notes.

We took our task seriously, beginning with appearance. “Amber”, we agreed. A reddish beer with a small head (at least once the excessive zeal had been tempered). B2 rated the aroma as “spicy”, I went for “medicinal” since, even through the lingering head cold, I detected the faint presence of the memory of the previous brew’s sassafras.

Mouth-taste had us trading words like “citrus”, “bitter”, “leafy” and “aromatic”. B2 noted that it was “not too fizzy”. But it was trying to define the lingering after-taste that proved most challenging.

In the end I went for “resinous”, probably because I knew there was spruce in it. B2 professed to be unable to think of anything. It was, he said, unlike anything he’d ever tasted before. “Well”, I prompted, “is there anything that it reminds you of, however distantly?” He paused for thought. “Concrete.” “Concrete? You think it tastes like concrete? But what does concrete taste like?” “I don’t know. That’s why I said it.”

And now the last mouthful is gone. Goodbye, resinous concrete – a unique and delicious brew.



4 thoughts on “Ground Ivy Gruit Ale”

  • I shall have to tell B2 of the bubblegumish ester. Given his fondness for the revolting stuff I’m surprised he didn’t spot it. But maybe he wasn’t expecting to. It’s interesting how words interact with taste and, presumably, the influence that an extensive experience of “received vocabulary” might have.

  • Do you think this would work by replacing the spruce with some hops to add some bitterness or would the hops obliterate the taste of the herbs you have in there?

    It sounds like an interest recipe. Did you like it enough to brew again?

    • Sure, you could add hops if you want. If I did this one again, I’d either add more spruce — at least double it — or try dry-hopping with in in the secondary, because the taste really didn’t come through. And since I’m not crazy about the taste of hops, I’d probably bitter it with yarrow or sweet gale. As I mentioned above, though the books all say that ground ivy is a bittering agent, I really haven’t found that to be true, and this is at least third time I’ve brewed with it, as far as I can recall. I should point out that I’ve tried to like it because it grows in such profusion where I live.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *