experimental beers with a botanical twist

Appalachian Gruit Stout

Appalachian Malting log from the side of a grain sackBrewed on 27 October 2018 in Plummer’s Hollow.

I got back from the UK in mid-September — just in time to gather some sweetfern leaves before they started to turn color. They’re not as strong at this time of year, but I compensated by taking some of the twigs as well. (These are shrubs that respond fine to pruning.) I must give a hat-tip to the power company for replacing one of the ridge-top poles two years ago. The sweetfern in the cleared area around the pole, with the surrounding scrub oaks removed, has really taken off.

The take-away message here for other brewers in the eastern US and Canada looking for sweetfern is to search powerline rights-of-way through oak-heath forests.

As for the mugwort, the one patch I use at the top of our old meadow was just beginning to go to seed, so again, I caught it just in time. I’m finding more and more little patches of it hidden among the goldenrod, whose foliage and habits are similar enough to provide pretty good cover.

So yeah, pretty good terroir for this gruit, considering that the base malt is locally grown (and organic). I’ve had good luck with sweetfern and mugwort as hop substitutes in the past, but I’ve the procedure this time was different: adding them near the end of boil and transferring them to the primary, then racking off after five days so they didn’t become too strong. I aged it in the secondary until the 21st of November so it’s just beginning to mature in the bottles now, but the preliminary indications are good. (Also, I drank a bit of it flat at bottling. As you do.)

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5 gal 60 min 0.0 IBUs 35.8 SRM 1.076 1.009 8.9 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale 2-Row - US 8 lbs 61.78
Caramel/Crystal 60 - US 8 oz 3.86
Chocolate Malt - US 8 oz 3.86
Victory Malt - US 8 oz 3.86
Vienna - US 8 oz 3.86
De-Bittered Black - BE 4 oz 1.93
Red Wheat - US 4 oz 1.93
Roasted Barley - UK 4 oz 1.93
Brown Sugar - US 2.2 lbs 16.99

Miscs

Name Amount min Type
mugwort leaves and tops, fall-harvested, dried 2.00 oz 0 min Primary Other
sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) leaves and twigs, fall-harvested, dried 2.00 oz 0 min Primary Other
chamomile flowers, dried 1.00 oz 0 min Primary Other
sweet orange peel, dried 1.00 oz 0 min Primary Other

Yeast

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

Notes

Using herbs from the back forty (sweetfern and mugwort) and locally grown base malt from Appalachian Malting in Portage, PA. No hops are needed for sanitation or bittering. Sweetfern imparts a spruce-lish, camphor type of flavor, and also seems to have strong anti-microbial properties (as does mugwort). The results were delicious, considering the relatively few herbs in this gruit blend, although the orange peel and chamomile were a bit overwhelmed. If I make this again, I might save them for the secondary. Nevertheless, a good showcase for sweetfern, backed up by the solid, hop-like character of mugwort. It proves to me that you don't have to only harvest sweetfern at its peak in July to make good beer with it.


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