Is there really such a thing as a gruit IPA? you may be wondering. Well, there is now! The idea here was to be herb-forward in the same way that an IPA is hop-forward, with lots of aromatic bitters and some citrus overtones, and with an IPA-appropriate grist bill. If I did this again, I’d use a lot more lemonbalm, but the amount I used was basically all I could gather from my mother’s herb bed without picking the unsightly lower leaves riddled with cucumber beetle (?) damage, which actually would’ve been fine, I’m sure. (I was tempted to just toss in some Citra hops, but then I wouldn’t have been able to call it a gruit.)
Everything in the gruit blend was gathered here on the mountain with the exception of the chicory root, which was some old mail-ordered stuff I had on hand. Mugwort is best if you can wait until it’s flowering or just about to flower, which it wasn’t when I gathered it, but the leaves still smelled plenty strong. The yarrow heads had just begun to blossom. The sweetfern grows on the powerline right-of-way rather than in the meadow, but close enough. Basically I wanted an ale that tasted the way the meadow smells this time of year, and I’m pleased to say I achieved that. And thanks to the ridiculously hot weather we’ve been having and my lack of a cellar, the bottle-conditioning happened in record time. Which is great, because I’m already bored with the actual IPA I’d made earlier.
A few things to note about the recipe below: As with most herbal beers, IBU calculation is impossible. Also, the herbs added at the end of the boil (0 minutes) were allowed to steep for 15 minutes before I started the immersion chiller. The starter was immense so it began fermenting immediately and had slowed down in three days, so that’s when I added the lemon balm, bottling six days later. My almost brand-new hydrometer appears to be broken already, so the ABV is just BeerSmith’s estimate based on a mash efficiency that’s probably a bit higher than I actually achieve with my primitive sparging set-up.
Back in 2012, I brewed a beer that I simply called Summer Meadow Ale, with some overlap in the gruit blend. Re-reading that post, I seem to have thought pretty highly of mountain mint. I should try that again.
If yarrow is still blooming where you live, go gather some! Just spread it out on newspapers or a table to dry. Stored in a tightly sealed container in a dark, cool place, it will last at least as long as hop pellets. The same goes with mugwort. Sweetfern doesn’t age quite as well, I’ve found — one year, tops. And if you have dandelion or chicory roots you can dig, they are always a good base-note addition to a gruit blend. Dry and roast.