experimental beers with a botanical twist

yarrow

Achillea millefolium. One of the most versatile brewing herbs, useful for bittering, flavoring, and as a preservative. Use fresh or dried, picked if possible early in the blooming period. The flowering tops are the most flavorful part, but the leaves are good, too.

A native of Europe, it’s widely naturalized in the New World as well. Look for it in old meadows and waste areas. I use it often in part because it’s so easy to collect, both in Pennsylvania and in London, where it crops up in the unmowed portions of city parks.

Ground Ivy Gruit Porter

Ground Ivy Gruit Porter

Ground Ivy, AKA alehoof or gill-over-the-ground, is an historically important brewing herb that I’d never fully appreciated until encountering it in its native land.

Belgian Gale Ale

Belgian Gale Ale

Sweet gale or bog myrtle is a classic northern European gruit ingredient.

Fraoch Porter

Fraoch Porter

Fraoch, or heather ale, is a legendary unhopped beer from Scotland, said to date back to Pictish times.

Gruit Ale with Kveik

Gruit Ale with Kveik

One of the herbal beers I typically make, but using the yeast (kveik) from Norwegian farmhouse beer.

Abbey Gruit Ale

Abbey Gruit Ale

One of my typical gruit blends meets White Labs Trappist Ale (aka Monastery) yeast.

Sweetfern Chamomile Gruit Ale

Sweetfern Chamomile Gruit Ale

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.

Meadowsweet, Heather and Gentian Gruit

Meadowsweet, Heather and Gentian Gruit

This was my other stand-out beer of the winter 2014-15 brewing season. The idea was to make a vaguely Neolithic-style ale inspired by archaeological findings in Britain.

Sassafras-Black Birch Beer

Sassafras-Black Birch Beer

Sassafras and black birch (i.e. wintergreen, more or less) are the dominant notes here; the other flavors blend into a citrusy background. This is a refreshing, summery drink, a bit acidic — imagine a cross between unsweetened herb tea and a nice mild ale.

Juniper-Yarrow ESB (Extra Scandinavian Bitter)

Juniper-Yarrow ESB (Extra Scandinavian Bitter)

Is there such a thing as a juniper head (like a hop head)? I think I could become one.

New “ancient ale” from Dogfish Head revives hybrid Scandinavian grog

New “ancient ale” from Dogfish Head revives hybrid Scandinavian grog

Fascinating to see yarrow already in use as a brewing herb 3500 years ago. Here, it’s in combination with several bog plants: sweet gale, meadowsweet, cranberries and lingonberries.

Meadow in a bottle

Meadow in a bottle

Up until that moment, I’d been intending to make some kind of very standard beer style—an IPA or a porter—and simply substitute yarrow for the usual hops.

Summer Meadow Ale

Summer Meadow Ale

My idea was to flavor a summer ale with a mix of common meadow plants, all gathered at the time of brewing, and thereby to try and capture the essence of a midsummer meadow. Much to my own surprise, I seem to have succeeded on the first attempt!