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Herbs in non-hopped beers

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TimT

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Okay, time for a little update. We had a long weekend in Bright with my mother-in-law. It was kind of a work weekend; so long as I have my transcription equipment with me I can do a bit of work just about anywhere. Anyway, on Monday I kind of skipped work for a bit to take a long walk in the new growth forests on the hill above town: there you can find plenty of pine, some fir, and heaps of eucalyptus. From the needles of pine and fir you can make.... pine or fir needle beer! And the best time to do it in is - wow, guess what, early spring! Then the trees sprout fresh tips, and the needles are full of the most vitamin C and other goodies, and you'll be able to get the flavour out for the beer.

I took with me two of those green eco-shopping bags, and filled one up with pine needles, the other up with fir needles. Back down the hill I went, to my mother-in-law's house, whereupon after lunch I stripped the needles from their branches and twigs, and plonked them into separate pots of boiling water.

I kept the water level fairly low, as I wanted it to just boil down to an essence that I could store and take back home. The needles fairly quickly lost their colour in the boiling water, and I just kept on stuffing new needles in the pots to add flavour to the final product. In the meantime I sterilised two jars which I poured the pine and fir essence into. The whole exercise took me about an hour and a half. And created a hell of a lot of mess in the kitchen. Anyway....

I plan to use these essences fairly soon in a brew - probably adding some to the water of a mash, and then adding more towards the end of the boil if the flavour isn't rich enough.

This method obviously isn't ideal. Pine needles should really be collected fresh on the day of the brew and thrown into the pot there and then - branches and all. From previous experiments at extracting fir essence, and making spruce beer last year, the flavour tends to be drawn out of the needles fairly quickly, and is fairly resilient during a boil. That being said, the Baron informs me that a lot of the vitamin C (which probably helps to give the needles a bit of a citrussy flavour, which I noticed in my spruce beer last year) will be lost during the boil. So it's also possible the boil-mash-reboil method I'm going to be using with my pine and fir essences will result in a beer that's less flavoursome than it could be.

Still, I'm really looking forward to playing around with pine needle and fir needle essence!
 

panzerd18

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Sounds interesting. Might taste like a Christmas tree!

What do you think about Caraway seeds?
 

TimT

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I think go for it!

Threw some caraway seeds into an earlier brew which I really wanted to give a type of bready vibe, during secondary fermentation. That beer f*ed up but not because of the seeds; I think there may have been some kind of prior infection in it or something went wrong in the mashing process yielding low fermentable sugars.
 

panzerd18

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This is what I am worried about. In the boil the herbs/spices are sterilized by the heat. But dry hopping it, you can open yourself up to all sorts of critters. I would prefer to dry hop all the stuff that doesn't add bitterness.
 

TimT

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Obviously you can do some things to prevent infection but in the end you just have to crack open the fermenter and do what you want. Whether that includes throwing in some herbs that you have prepared in a tincture of alcohol, or just risking it and throwing them in dry, or whatever, is up to you. I say just go for it; one way to minimise losses if the brew goes bad or the results are otherwise unsatisfactory might be to do it as a mini brew (which most of mine are).
 

panzerd18

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Im probably going to make some teas first with the herbs to get an idea of their flavour profile
 

panzerd18

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Making a list of possible herbs to use.

The main ones seem to be as follows -
  • Bog Myrtle / Sweet Gale
  • Wormwood
  • Yarrow
  • Mugwort
  • Heather
  • Juniper
  • Sage
Others I have found -
  • Rosemary
  • Chamomile
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Caraway seeds
  • Lemon grass
  • Sweet orange peel
 

TimT

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I think the standard gruit base was yarrow, bog myrtle (myrica gale) and wild rosemary. (Crikey, even the names sound great. Bog myrtle! Wild Rosemary!) Not sure about the bog myrtle; I've never tasted myrtle (maybe it gives a kind of citrussy zing to it?), though the yarrow would have given it tea flavours and some bitterness, while the rosemary would have rounded it out with some spiciness and a savoury spiciness. It must have tasted quite, quite different to modern hopped ales.
 

panzerd18

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Seems that Fraoch base is Heather and Bog Myrtle.

http://youtu.be/s1ckmP6m8fo
 

TimT

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Love that video. Weirdo drinks beer for seven minutes while rambling on about it. I've got a heather ale brewing at the moment :)
 

panzerd18

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Nice one.

Heres a song to listen to while drinking your herbal beer!

http://youtu.be/Ke2CTSpWx2U
 

TimT

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Well, today I tasted my Beetroot And Dandelion Beer, which has had just enough time to carb: (Yep: look at that acronym: that's B-A-D Beer, people! And proud of it!) I have only one thing to say about it: brew with dandelion, people!

The earthy taste of the dandelion root worked really well with the darker malt sweetness; the beetroot brought colour and (mostly) fermentable sugars. I chucked some Fuggles in there as well (also for earthiness) but the flavour is pretty unobtrusive. I'm pleased with how this one has turned out.
 

panzerd18

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I'm actually fond of dandelion root tea. It's black and bitter and can be quite strong. Would be nice in a porter or stout I would think.

I wonder how spiced tea would go in herbal beer.
 

TimT

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Yep - a good dark beer herb. There's a couple of recipes for chai beers out there; of course when it comes to 'spiced tea' there's plenty on the market now. Tea is a good brewing herb I reckon, since it can not only bring a desirable bitterness to balance out the malt sugars, it also has those mysterious tannins that are so desirable for wines and (some) beers.

A few days ago I bottled some rhubarb wine, adding green chai tea to the carbing solution. (It had stuff like cloves in it, possibly something vanilla-y as well). Hopefully when that carbs I'll get a nice well-rounded wine :)
 

TimT

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Got a fir needle ale going at the moment, on an English mild base. It's got the working name - 'Mild Firry Kitten' or something like that. I added most of my remaining fir needles and 1/2 cup of fir essence (1/4 to the mash water, 1/4 in the last 10 minutes of boil. I repitched some MJ British Ale yeast that I'd used on a previous ale last night, and the fermentation is just gathering speed now. The smell over the top of the fermenter is a wee bit sharp (unlike the delightful apple esters this one cast up in previous brews). Maybe that'll benefit the final brew, though: the harsh flavours/smells may get carried off, leaving a more mellow flavour in the ale.

I could definitely taste the fir in the wort, though it wasn't too overpowering. I'll be interested to see how it mellows out over the week, and if any more herbal additions (for bittering or flavour) will be needed.
 

TimT

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Bottled my fir needle ale today. It's good! My main regret is that I didn't add more fir, but that's life. It definitely doesn't need hops. The natural malt and yeast flavours combined with the fir makes it satisfying enough already.
 

mosto

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I see you mention chai tea a few posts up. I recently tried HopDog BeerWorks Chai Fighter at their brewery. It's a chai tea-infused Pale Ale. I must admit, I was quite sceptical at first, but it's a really nice beer. I'm not a tea drinker but a quick google shows cardamom as the one of the main ingredients for the spice mix in chai tea, so maybe that would be worth a try.
 

TimT

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Yeah, last(?) year I had a bottle of the Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta IPA - an IPA with added earl grey tea. (Earl Grey tea is basically black tea leaves with added bergamot). Must admit I couldn't taste the tea but not a bad beer anyway.
 

mondestrunken

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Regarding lavender: I was under the impression only a few varieties of lavender were suitable for culinary use due to camphor?
 
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