Sunday, May 4, 2008


I brewed my first beer on Saturday (yesterday). It was a very simple extract beer but instead of hops, I added herbs. Herbal beers are known as Gruit - and so the title of tonight's blog. Herbal beers are way older than hop beers. I am still a bit foggy on why it became a big deal but there were Church proclamations and secular laws passed on using hops instead of herbs in beer. It's pretty interesting history.

But not what I wanted to chat about tonight!

Extract beer is way simple. You buy extract from your local home brew shop. You heat some water and slowly pour the extract in. Then you make sure the water is about 70 degrees and throw in a packet of yeast, also from your home brew store. Put the air lock on and stand back.

Beer ferments a whole lot more vigorously than mead. There are a lot more yummy components in the grains and such than there are in the basically sterile honey. That's why feeding the yeasts in mead is so important. Hungry yeast is stressed yeast. And like a stressed human, a stressed yeast emits all sorts of bad smells. Which end up as bad tastes in your mead.

I plan on doing a few things differently next time. I need to boil the water, then add the herbs and allow to steep. Then add the extract. Then add the yeast. I added the herbs after the extract and I think the water was too cool to pull enough flavors out of the herbs. The wort (unfermented beer) tasted good but the herb flavor was not as I expected. There are some components in the herbs which are supposed to be only soluble in alcohol, so I plan on adding some herbs after the initial fermentation happens.

I added: homegrown mugwort .25 oz.; 1 oz of yarrow leaf and flower; and 1 oz. of stinging nettle. The wort had a herb tea/green flavor. But oddly enough for me, who hates the over the top hop bitterness, I wanted it to be a bit more bitter. But I am going to have to see what happens after some of the sweetness is converted to alcohol.

The beer should only be about 4% to 6% which is a pretty average beer. But way lower than an average mead which are about 12% to 18% most of the time for me.

The scary thing will be bottling the beer and doing the bottle conditioning. That is where you add a touch of sugar and yeast to the still beer and let it ferment in the bottle to add the carbonation. Or create bottle bombs.

It's been a long weekend. As well as making beer, I went to W's birthday party which included a bouncy obstacle course fun house and cake. It was great fun.

I've been neglecting my horse as life has been so busy. I need to somehow arrange my life to have more life in it.

The rock garden continues to do well. I have several large (12 sq in to 24 sq in) places to put something else but haven't gotten inspired to figure out what yet. I keep thinking of something vegetable snacky like a cherry tomato or sugar snap peas. Or both. I love having a mixture of garden plants and flowers. I also love having a garden that gives me a snack when I am in it.

M put an adorable little 6' by 2' garden in the Old Bed. This was the first land that I cleared and planted back in 1994. My husband built a rock wall along the front and created 2 other beds parallel to the house along the driveway. My kitchen window in the house overlooks them. For many years, the beds were full of herbs and some wonderful herbalous flowers like roses.

After the really bad car accident in 2003, I had to make some choices of what I could let go of as I was too badly hurt to do all that I had been doing. Watering my gardens was something I had to give up. I was handwatering about .25 acres of herbs. Most everything died when I quit hauling hose. I refer to this as the wound that refuses to heal. But thanks to M, I am slowly and cautiously starting to garden again.

Her total delight is infectious. Check out her blog - Digging In at the Denver Post.


Jim Downey said...

Another factor in the result you got from adding the herbs to the wort after the extract is that all those nice sugars from the malt had changed the characteristics of the water - made it less able to latch onto the soluble flavors in the herbs. Adding the herbs first to create your infusion doesn't have the same effect - the water will still be happy to dissolve the extract, almost no matter how much flavor it has gotten from the herbs.

Or not. Been 15 years since I last filled a carboy, so maybe I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

For your little 'snacking garden' I can bring out some bhut jolokia, Spike. That'll keep things hoppin'. :)

Jim D.

Spike said...

Yikes. No thanks on the seriously hot pepper, Jim! I used to be sorta a chili-head, but no more. I am now a sedate old lady with a cranky tummy.

I will be blogging about the gruit soon. It's been really interesting. It's very medieval feeling.