Summer Meadow Ale

5 1/2 gallons. Brewed on 10 July, 2012.

Grains

  • 2-row pale malt (Briess organic), 9 lbs.
  • Breiss Victory malt, 1 lb.
  • Great Western Munich, 1 lb.
  • Breiss Caramel 60L, 3/4 lb.
  • Roasted barley, 1/4 lb.

Herbs

  • yarrow, dried tops, 1 packed pint
  • yarrow, dried leaves, 1 packed pint
  • lemon balm, dried leaves, 1 packed pint
  • common mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), dried leaves, 1 packed cup
  • dandelion root, dried and medium-roasted, 1/2 oz.
  • red raspberry, dried leaves, 1 1/2 packed cups
  • wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), fresh leaves, 1 cup

Other sugars

  • pale dried malt extract, 1 1/4 cup (bottling)

Yeast

  • Cooper’s dry ale yeast in warm-water starter

Procedure

The day before brewing, make a 2-gallon infusion with yarrow tops, lemon balm and mountain mint and chill in sanitized bottles. Mash grains in 4 gallons, sparge with 2 1/2 gallons and boil until reduced to 3 gallons (4-5 hours). Add yarrow leaves at the beginning of the boil. Ten minutes before the end of the boil, add dandelion roots. Add the chilled infusion at end of boiling. (If you have a wort chiller, you can instead just add yarrow tops, balm and mint five minutes before the end of the boil, and then obviously only reduce the total volume of the wort to five gallons, shaving a couple hours off the brewing time.)

After 6 days in the primary fermenter, rack to a secondary. Make 1–2 quarts of tea from the raspberry and bergamot leaves and add to the beer at this time. (The goal is to preserve something of the more delicate flavors of these herbs in the finished beer; they could also probably be added at bottling time.)

Results

My idea was to flavor a summer ale with a mix of common meadow plants, all gathered at the time of brewing, and thereby to try and capture the essence of a midsummer meadow. Much to my own surprise, I seem to have succeeded on the first attempt! This is a strong, full-bodied ale, deep copper in color, and only mildly bitter despite all the yarrow: basically a high-gravity brown ale with the sweet, caramelish overtones that go along with that.

Despite my years of herbal brewing this was, believe it or not, the first I’ve ever brewed with mint, but it won’t be the last. Now I can see why the Russians are so fond of mint-flavored beer. I always figured it would taste too much like chewing gum or mouthwash, but nothing could be further than the truth: malt and mint seem made for each other.

If you’re trying to reproduce this, you could substitute peppermint or spearmint for the mountain mint, which is halfway between those two in flavor, and probably twice as minty per volume. So even with only a cup of it, it’s still the most obvious flavor. But it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors, which I notice more strongly the farther down I get into a bottle. The earthy, nutty flavor of the dandelion root (or is it the Victory malt?) slowly emerges, as does the bergamot and the yarrow. I’m not sure I can detect the other herbs, but a friend with particularly acute taste buds told me that, besides the mint, she appreciated an extra layer of smokiness or muskiness—a complicated mix of flavors with “something foxy to it.” It finishes clean, with little aftertaste.

If I were to make this again (I seldom follow the same recipe twice, but hey, it’s possible) I think I’d add the yarrow flowers later on, possibly dry-hopping them in the secondary, because a little more of that camphor aroma would be nice. Note that mountain mint, lemon balm and bergamot all also have antiseptic properties, so yarrow isn’t the only bulwark against infection. And dandelion root helps with the bittering.