Real Fermenting: Blackberry-Peach Gruit Ale

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Blackberry-Peach Gruit Ale

This recipe is born out of the last attempt at gruit ale, which resulted in a tasty brew, for sure, but which could have had a stronger aroma. This ale is made with blackberries and peaches for their aromatic qualities. It is a hop-free beer, made with unhopped malt syrup as the main sugar source, along with a little honey. I chose to add honey for its aromatic qualities, as well as in anticipation of some astringency from the whole fruit and the bitterness of the herbs. Honey takes a little longer to ferment than the malt syrup, so the fermenting time will be extended to about 2 weeks.

The wonderful organic farmers' market blackberries

I am really trying to make these recipes as easy to follow as possible. You need a real minimum of equipment for this kind of brewing, so I believe the technical stuff can mostly be left by the wayside. It is a barrier to entry. There are three main steps to this brew: the boil, the fruit mash and putting it all together. We'll take those one at a time.

[Quick side note: I usually brew 1 gallon batches, but I had an abundance of rapidly spoiling peaches so I ended up doubling things to yield 2 gallon. The quantities here assume adding 2 gallons of water total, so half things if you only want 1 gallon. I also have a wedding coming up in the summer, which I might take this brew to, if it turns out well.]

The Boil

In the boil, we're basically making a pot of strong, bitter herbal tea. Boil mugwort and St John's wort for 25 minutes, covered, in 3 quarts of water.

2 tbsp dried Mugwort
2 tbsp dried St John's Wort
3 quarts water

Then after 25 minutes of boiling, add the yarrow and malt syrup and honey to the boiling water. Stir the water until the syrup and honey are both completely dissolved. They can burn on the bottom of the pan otherwise. I am using some Californian coastal wildflower honey from the Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies store.

1lb 8oz unhopped malt syrup
8oz honey
2 tbsp dried yarrow

This mixture boils for a further 5 minutes. While your herbs are boiling, you can be preparing the fruit mash.

Mugwort, Yarrow and St John's Wort

The Fruit Mash

This couldn't be simpler. I already had some peaches from my weekly organic produce box, and I scored some awesome blackberries at the farmer's market. You could make this beer with any aromatic soft fruit.

First, wash your fruit and pare off any dodgy-looking bits. Remove any stones or seeds (depending on what fruit you are using). These will add too much tannin (astringent flavor). Mash the fruit until you have no bits larger than half an inch or so. You can use a potato masher, but I just squeezed them with my (clean) hand. Quite satisfying!

The peach mash
The blackberries don't have any parts to trim off, but I sorted through them to pick out any bad looking ones. My bikeride home from the market with them was quite pot-holey, so they got a little smashed up in my basket. 

2lbs Peaches (trimmed weight)
2 pints Blackberries

When the herbs and sugars are finished boiling, it's time to put it all together.

Squeezing the blackberries

Putting it all together

Dump the fruit carefully into your clean primary fermenter. When you pour the boiling tea/sugars into this container you need to be doubly careful! Please don't burn yourself. Strain the water (removing the herbs) as you pour it in. The hot liquid will sanitize the fruit for you. Put the lid on and wait for 5 minutes before adding the remaining 5 quarts of cold water.

The fruit with hot malt/honey/herbal tea (3/4 gallon)
Now you have to wait until this mixture is at room temperature or thereabouts. You can just leave it, covered with the lid, but I would recommend attempting to cool it quicker. You may have a Wort Chiller (a pipe you run cold water through), if you are fancy beer making person. Otherwise, go ahead and set the fermenter in a cold water filled container. I am using the bath in our unused guest bathroom for now. I also put some ice into the water to help cool it even faster.

In about an hour, I was ready to add the yeast and the pectin enzyme. In any whole fruit, you are going to have pectin, which makes your end product cloudy. To help break it down, we add pectin enzyme. The yeast is a standard dry ale yeast called Safale US-05. You can use any dry ale yeast.

1 packet Safale US-05 Dry Ale Yeast
1 tsp pectin enzyme

Whisk the yeast and enzyme in to ensure good distribution and oxygenation. Firmly snap your lid on and fill the airlock with cheap vodka. Your airlock should be bubbling pretty vigorously within a day. Leave the ale for four days.

Secondary Fermenting

[Quick note: This whole recipe is a bit of an experiment. I am learning here. In later batches, I am going to try adding the fruit at the secondary stage (i.e after the ale has been fermenting for a week or so).]

For this batch, I pulled the fruit out today, after it had been in the primary fermenter for 4 days. I siphoned the ale from the primary fermenter into a large pot (I don't have any large enough fermenting vessel other than the primary), through a colander with two layers of cheesecloth laid in it. After a quick wash of the primary, the ale got carefully siphoned back into the primary and re-airlocked.
Siphoning the ale back into the fermenting vessel

And that's where we are now. This will continue fermenting until July 1st (2 weeks after first being made), when I will bottle it (in my new bottles, with luck!).