Monday, May 16, 2011

Experimental Beer: Native Plant Gruit Ale

Let me first start out like I used to for all my essays in Middle School.
"Gruit (sometimes grut) is an old-fashioned herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops. Gruit or grut ale may also refer to the beverage produced using gruit." - Wikipedia

I was first interested in these beers after reading one of my native plant books. I now have a hard time going for a ride or hike without stopping to see what plants could be used in beer. The first step was to test these native plants using a tea which I did last Fall. I have picked the best candidates from that tasting plus I used plants and herbs that have been used traditionally in gruits. The most important one to find for the base of the gruit was Douglas Mugwort. It is used as the main bittering component and a traditional herb that is native to San Diego. The plant is pretty distinct looking because of the leaves (There are 2 main varieties of Mugwort and in San Diego we have Artemisia douglasiana)  and is found near wet or dry creek beds.

From my tasting, my other favorite was Yarrow (also a traditional gruit ingredient), I did not find a lot this past year so it will be a minor ingredient. For the aromatics, I really liked Elderberry Flowers (also currently blooming and have a more subtle floral tea aroma/taste) and Pearly Everlasting (currently blooming in San Diego and have a very sweet floral scent, some even think they smell of maple syrup)

So now that I have figured out what herbs and plans to use, I need to know a rough estimate of quantities. The easiest way to do this is to reference other gruit recipes. The website, is by far the best reference for gruit I have found. The site has information on history, ingredients and a great list of recipes. I went through the long list of gruit recipes and came up with the values used in the recipe below.

For the malt bill, the timing of this brew was no accident I planned to use the second runnings from my Scottish Wee Heavy. This beer is going to be a 1 gal bonus batch using the partigyle process. I used the second runnings to collect 2 gallons and then this will be boiled down to the gravity that I want. The Scottish grain bill is appropriate because historically that is where this style was brewed.

Recipe: Native Plant Gruit Ale
O.G.-1.055  F.G.-1.012   IBU-????? 
SRM-??   ABV-5.5% 

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
Wee Heavy Malt Bill (used 2nd Runnings)
12.5 lb Maris Otter (83%)
8 oz Flaked Oats (3%)
8 oz Munich 10L (3%)
8 oz Crystal 55L (3%)
8 oz Honey Malt (3%) 
4 oz Crystal 115L (1.5%) 
4 oz Brown Malt (1.5%)

Hops Bittering Additions:
.2 oz Douglas Mugwort, 60 min
.05 oz Yarrow, 60 min
1 g Pearly Everlasting, Flame-out
2 g Elderberry Flower, Flame-out

50 mL pitch of White Labs WLP028

Brew Day:
Brewed: 03/19/11
Bottled: 04/11/11

San Diego (Alvarado) Tap Water
1 campden tablet for 5 gal.

Mash Details:
Wee Heavy (used 2nd Runnings)
H2O/Grain Ratio: .9 qt/lb
Mash Volume: 3.5 gal
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 154F @ 60min
Strike Temp: 168F
Sparge Volume: 5.5 gal
Sparge Temp/Time: 168F

Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 2 gal

Boil Time: 60min
Post Boil Volume: 1 gal

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.055
Ferment Temp: 66-68F
Length: 10 days
F.G.: 1.012

  • After tasting(coming soon) I will need to adjust bittering quantities
  • Try to work in a more blended gruit by also adding Labrador Tea and some varieties of Sage.
  • I think I will boost the gravity so the beer may age a bit better

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