experimental beers with a botanical twist

Sweetfern Chamomile Gruit Ale

I’ve been brewing plenty, but this is my first new experiment worth writing up since last year’s Pennsylvania Native Plant Gruit Beer, where I first tried brewing with sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) in a big way. This time I combined it with some other reliable brewing herbs for a trans-Atlantic gruit.

Brewed on 19 June 2016. Makes 5 1/2 gallons. ABV: 5.9%. (Scroll down for the BeerXML version of the the recipe.)

Grains

  • 2-row pale malt, 7 lbs.
  • caramel 90L, 1/2 lb.
  • caramel 60L, 1/2 lb.
  • red wheat malt, 1 lb.
  • Vienna, 1 lb.
  • Dingemans biscuit, 1/2 lb.

Other sugars

  • wildflower honey, 1 lb.
  • light dried malt extract, 1 1/2 c. (bottling) + ~1/2 cup for yeast starter

Herbs

  • dried sweetfern leaves, autumn-gathered, 3 oz. (approx. 2 qts.)
  • dried lemonbalm leaves, 1/4 oz. (approx. 1 pint)
  • dried chamomile flowers, 2 oz.
  • dried (but v. fresh) yarrow tops, 1 1/4 oz. (1 packed cup)
  • juniper berries, crushed, 1 heaping Tbs.

Yeast

  • Safale S-04, 11.5 g.

Procedure

One-step infusion mash @ 150F. Add half of sweetfern (loose, not in a bag) and honey at beginning of boil and the rest ten minutes before the end. Add lemonbalm and 1 oz. of chamomile five minutes before end of boil. Pitch yeast at 70F.

Three days later, bring a gallon of water to a boil. Add yarrow, remaining 1 oz. chamomile and crushed juniper berries, turn off, lid and let steep until it reaches room temperature, then strain and add to fermenter with a minimum of splashing. Bottle after a week to ten days.

Results

This is delicious; what I can I say? I find the chamomile taste to be up-front but not dominant, and most of the other herbs are present as spicy background notes (except for the lemonbalm, which I can’t really detect). There’s a bit of camphor taste from the sweetfern. Probably one of my most well-balanced herbal beers yet, with good head retention and full mouthfeel—a very pleasant, malt-forward, summertime ale. There’s no hint of souring, so either I got lucky or, more likely, this gruit blend possesses sufficient antiseptic properties to keep the beasties at bay. However, I think it would also be a good blend to try with a sour beer.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5.5 gal 60 min 0.0 IBUs 10.9 SRM 1.057 1.011 6.0 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale 2-Row - US 7 lbs 60.87
Red Wheat - US 1 lbs 8.7
Vienna - US 1 lbs 8.7
Biscuit Malt - BE 8 oz 4.35
Caramel/Crystal 60 - US 8 oz 4.35
Caramel/Crystal 90 - US 8 oz 4.35
Honey - US 1 lbs 8.7

Miscs

Name Amount min Type
sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) leaves, dried 3.00 oz 0 min Boil Other
chamomile flowers, dried 1.00 oz 0 min Boil Other
lemonbalm leaves, dried 0.50 oz 0 min Boil Other
yarrow tops, dried 1.25 oz 0 min Secondary Other
chamomile flowers, dried 1.00 oz 0 min Secondary Other
juniper berries, crushed 0.50 oz 0 min Secondary Other

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Fermentis Safale S-04 75% 64°F - 69°F

Notes

The chamomile taste is up-front but not dominant, and most of the other herbs are present as spicy background notes. Thereメs a bit of camphor taste from the sweetfern. Probably one of my most well-balanced herbal beers yet, with good head retention and full mouthfeelラa very pleasant, malt-forward, summertime ale.
Add half of sweetfern (loose, not in a bag) and honey at beginning of boil and the rest ten minutes before the end. Add lemonbalm and 1 oz. of chamomile five minutes before end of boil.


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