Tag Archives: Thoroughbrewed

Gruit Gardening

heather

This past Sunday, February 1st, was International Gruit Day. My husband and I have been brewing gruits for a few months now with very interesting results. Since most folks are unaware of what a gruit is, as was I until a few months ago, let me explain.

Gruit is the word for herbs in Old German. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, beginning in the 16th century, ales were brewed with a variety of herbs and spices (singly or as a blend) to add bittering and flavor to their brew. Sometimes hops would be added to these herbal blends, called gruit or groot, but they were not used exclusively until relatively recently. In fact, in England the word beer wasn’t used until ales were brewed exclusively with hops. Prior to that all beer was called ale.

If you read my blog then you know that I’m given to writing about the past, so when I found out about gruit I was very excited. The craze for super hoppy beers the last few years had nearly turned me away from beer. Six hundred years ago the only reason you might find something on par with a double IPA would only be found if there was no other bittering agents around to brew with. Like most foods, textiles, etc., people used what was available to them, and hops weren’t always available everywhere. Scotland is still quite renown for brewing heather ales.

See what happened in Europe during the late Middle Ages was that a lot of brewing was done by monasteries (ever tried a Belgian Trappist beer?). The monks devised secret gruit blends that were lost to posterity when the monasteries were destroyed by the fire and fervor of the reformers. And during these early days ordinary people brewed in their homes and women were the primary home brewers. When they had more ale than they needed, they would sell it. Again, these early home brewers used what was available, herbs from their gardens or those that grew wild, such as yarrow, heather, bog myrtle, wild rosemary, juniper berries, or spruce tips. Laws were made which banned the use of any herbal bittering agents apart from hops. This was in part to help outlaw the beer brewed by monasteries and beer brewed by women.

When we decided to try gruit, we decided to split up the work. My hubby is the primary beer brewer (I usually do the mead, cider, ciser and wine), but I am the primary cook. To get an idea what the various gruit herbs and spices might taste like, I measured out a gram of each in its own individual glass then added an ounce of boiling water to each. I let it steep for ten minutes and then did a tasting. It was an interesting experiment! I found the lovely grassiness of heather and yarrow, the gin aroma of juniper berries, the floral bouquet of elder flowers, and the downright despicable bitterness of wormwood. I used all of the above in my first gruit blend. I, like the monks and wise women before me, am keeping my formula to myself, but I will share this bit of cautionary information – do not use more than two grams of wormwood for five gallons of ale!!!  Since then we have brewed five gruit ales, with different gruit combinations for each brew.

I believe that with the current boom of micro-breweries opening and the hops shortage, we will start to see more brewing with gruits. Since I really like to keep my supply chain as short as possible, I’ve decided to devote much of my yard and garden space to growing gruit herbs this year. I have received my seeds and will be starting them soon. I’ll be growing heather, yarrow, wormwood, blue hyssop, white horehound, sweet woodruff, St. Johnswort, feverfew, and German chamomile. I am hoping that some of these plants will flourish in our acidic soil and hot summers. Perhaps I’ll even have enough to sell down the road.

 

 

 

My 15 Minutes… or More like 12

Earthwise Interview

A few months back while I was doing a kimchi demonstration at the Augusta Veggie Food Truck, a gentleman stopped and introduced himself. He produces a little online show for Augusta Magazine called “Earthwise.”  My new acquaintance, Mark, was interested in setting up an interview with me about some of the stuff I make. So a couple of weeks ago he came to my house with his crew and I did a mead demo in my kitchen. It was a lot of fun to do the show and have Mark and his crew over. So much fun that we are talking about doing further episodes in the future.

One of the things mentioned in the show is the development of our business, Thoroughbrewed. We decided to change the name of the business to reflect the heritage & history of our adopted hometown of Aiken, SC, and also to better reflect the main purpose of what we will be doing. While education is going to be a big part of what we do, we want to offer more locally brewed craft beer choices to the residents of the CSRA in a cozy, relaxed environment. We will also offer home brewing/wine making supplies and classes on various kinds of brewing and food fermentation.  This blog will become part of the Thoroughbrewed web presence as we move forward.

If you are curious about mead making you can see me in action by clicking here. Otherwise you can follow the directions below:

Equipment

1 gallon glass carboy (jug)

cleaning brush

bung or stopper

airlock

hydrometer

5/16″ siphon hose

Sanitizer, such as Star San

racking cane or auto-siphon (optional)

bottle filler (optional)

corker

wine bottles

wine corks

drill whip (optional)

Ingredients (makes 1 gallon of mead)

2 ½ – 3 lbs      Honey

Filtered Water

1                      teabag

1 Tbsp            strong tea

½ tsp               Yeast Nutrient

¼ tsp               Yeast Energizer

¼ tsp               Grape or Wine Tannin

¼ tsp               gypsum (optional)

½ pkg             Mead or Wine Yeast

1                      Campden tablet, crushed (optional)

¼ cup             oak chips/cubes (optional)

 

Method
  1. Wash and sanitize all of your equipment before you get started.
  2. Read yeast instructions and rehydrate or thaw according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Pour honey into glass carboy. If honey has started to crystalize or if it Is flowing too slowly, sit the container of honey in warm water (90° F) for a few minutes.
  4. Add water to carboy and fill to 4 – 5 inches from top.
  5. Add remaining ingredients, except for yeast; put bung on the carboy, cover the hole and shake vigorously until everything is dissolved.
  6. Pitch yeast; attach bung and airlock.
  7. Wrap with a towel or place in a dark room.
  8. Ferment is complete when SG has dropped to 1.000 (about 6-8 weeks). If the mead is not completely clear, rack (siphon) wine off of sediment into a clean and sanitized secondary; reattach airlock.
  9. If you want to stop fermentation before it is finished, you can add the Campden tablet or sit it out in the sunshine for a couple of days.
  10. If you want to add a more sophisticated flavor, add oak chips and taste every day or two until you like the flavor. Since the oak chips have more surface area and can contact more of the mead than an oak barrel, only a few days are needed to add an oaky flavor.
  11. To aid clearing, siphon again in a month and again, if necessary before bottling.

 

Pitfalls to Avoid
  1. Many sources/recipes tell you to boil your must (the unfermented honey-water mixture). DO NOT DO THIS. It is completely unnecessary and can result in fingernail polish remover-like flavors that it takes a very long time to get rid of. Also, boiling the must destroys the subtle floral aromatics of the honey. If the honey is not flowing out of the jar/bottle very well it is alright to warm it, but never boil it.
  2. Many recipes also call for using champagne yeast. The only reason I know to do that would be that champagne yeast is more tolerant of high alcohol levels. While some people might want this, champagne yeast results in a “hot” flavor that is rather unappealing. If you wish to enjoy a good flavor in a relatively short time span, just do a little research (Ken Schramm’s book is an excellent resource!) to figure out what yeasts might work well for what you want. I am a big fan of White Lab’s Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast.

UPDATE: Since this was recorded, we have come to realize that our business plan would not work in Aiken. We have since moved to Chattanooga, where we will revisit the idea once we get ourselves settled a bit. In the meantime, I am trying to find somewhere to teach fermentation and brewing classes.