Real Fermenting: Hedgerow Pale Ale

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hedgerow Pale Ale

This is the first in a series of unhopped gruit ales I have been researching and planning for the past few months. The inspiration for this brew is the simple availability of certain herbs to our forebears in hedgerows and the margins of forests. The herbs I'm using are Nettle, Horehound, Yarrow, St. John's Wort, Elder (berry and flower). I am aiming to produce an ale that is analogous to an American Pale Ale. It will be around 6% with a medium-high level of bitterness.
Yarrow growing in my brewer's garden

I conducted a taste test of the herbs to get a sense of the flavors they would contribute. My fabulous wife and Ryan of Raw Forest Foods helped out. If you ever want to make a really bitter tea, I can recommend Horehound (1tsp in 1/2 cup hot water). My wife's tasting notes for that tea read "horrible, the worst". Ryan described an "immediate cringe". I am mostly relying on Yarrow for the bitterness that would usually come from the hops, and which is required to balance the sweetness of the malt. Elder in berry and flower form provides a floral note, while Nettle brings some spiciness.

Clockwise from top: Yarrow, Horehound, Nettle and St John's Wort

The Recipe

For 3 gallons:

3lb Dry Malt Extract
1/2lb Caramunich Malt
1/2lb Biscuit Malt
Safale US-05 Dry Ale Yeast
1/2tsp Irish Moss
21g Nettle
20g Yarrow
7g Horehound
20g St John's Wort
20g Elderberry
20g Elderflower

Target OG 1.052
Target FG 1.008
5.8% ABV

All herbs are cut, sifted and dried, unless noted. These are medicinal quality herbs from organic or wildcrafted sources.

Caramunich and Biscuit malts

Boil the Nettle, Yarrow, Horehound and St John's Wort for 20 minutes in 1/2 gallon water. Meanwhile, steep the grains in 1 gallon water at 160F for 30 minutes. Strain the herb water into the steeping water and bring the whole to the boil. Add 3lb DME and 1/2tsp Irish Moss and enough water to make 3 gallons total and bring back to the boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat after those 10 minutes and add the Elderberries. Cool the wort as fast as you can (I used an ice bath, but a wort chiller is best). Finally, vigorously stir up your wort to oxygenate it and add the yeast starter.

This ale will be in the primary fermenter for one week and then in secondary (when I'll add the Elderflower) for one week. I'll bottle it and let it condition in the bottle for several months. Very excited to try this one, but I know from experience that gruit ales benefit massively from a little patience. I expect it to reach a good point after 3 months in the bottle. I hope to get time to make the next in the series (thinking herbal stout) in a couple of weeks.

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