After a long "off" period, I started brewing again in early 2008. I quickly learned that I was in the midst of a global hops shortage. To compensate for the high price and low availability of hops, I became interested in gruit, a traditional style of beer which uses various dried herbs for bittering and preservation, instead of hops.
Gruit is essentially obsolete, and not a lot of useful information is available regarding specific recipes for use by homebrewers. The typical recommendation is to just experiment, and see what happens. That's all well and good, but what do you do with 5 gallons of failed experiment?
I gave it a try anyway. This is what I came up with.
Epic GruitBrew date: April 13, 2008
Ingredients for a 5 gallon batch:
- 1/2 lb Crystal malt, 120L
- 1/2 lb Chocolate malt, 338L
- 8.5 lb M+F Light dry malt extract
- 1 oz dried Yarrow
- 1 oz dried Mugwort
- 1/2 oz dried Licorice root
- 2g dried Sweet Gale
- 1 tsp Irish Moss (for clarity)
- Wyeast 3787 Trappist Ale Yeast
- Steep grains in 2.5-3 gallons of water, 155F for 30 min.
- Add malt extract
- Boil for 60 minutes total
- add herbs at 30 minutes
- add irish moss at 45 minutes
- add wort chiller at 45 minutes
- I started the Wyeast several days earlier, and it started just fine.
- After 24 hours, there was no activity in the fermenter, so I dumped in a vial of 2nd generation White Labs European Ale Yeast (without a starter)
- Very active after 48 hours
- April 25: Gravity = 1.021, racked to secondary. Tastes herbal, somewhat sour, with an odd bitter aftertaste. If it wasn't supposed to be weird, I'd call it bad.
- May 10: Gravity = 1.021, tastes bad still.
- May 24: Gravity = 1.020/21. Sour, odd bitterness, but somewhat less foul tasting. Racked off.
- June 29: Gravity = 1.020. Sour, but not as much odd herbal bitterness. Not entirely drinkable.
- August 4: Gravity = 1.019. Better yet, less sour. Still oddly herbal, this isn't likely to change.
- September 13: Gravity = 1.012
- November 22: Bottled.
- Jan 13, 2009: This is starting to taste good. Maybe I finally tasted it enough times, but it's drinkable and interesting. I had no hope for a drinkable batch of beer until recently. It might be an experiment worth repeating, but I might want to try something slightly different.
Taste SummaryThis beer has some of the interesting flavor that I'd expect from a sour Belgian beer, but also an odd herbal flavor. No one other than me likes it very much, but I'd be satisfied drinking the whole batch. One commentor compared it to the soda Moxie, which is also known for a serious herbal aftertaste.
I usually keg my beer, but I was confident I wouldn't drink this batch fast enough to bother kegging it. I lost all hope for quite a while, and wondered why I was even bothering to spend the effort putting it into bottles. But now, I enjoy it and I'm glad I saved it.
They generally say that cellaring beer for more than a few months is not useful unless you have a cold cellar or it's high gravity. But this beer definitely improved with age. I would not be surprised if some of the character of the beer came from some bugs other than the yeast getting into it, but it seems they weren't bad bugs in the long run.