Sweetfern Chamomile Gruit Ale

Sweetfern Chamomile Gruit Ale

I’ve been brewing plenty, but this is my first new experiment worth writing up since last year’s Pennsylvania Native Plant Gruit Beer, where I first tried brewing with sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) in a big way. This time I combined it with some other reliable brewing herbs for a trans-Atlantic gruit.

Brewed on 19 June 2016. Makes 5 1/2 gallons. ABV: 5.9%.

Grains

  • 2-row pale malt, 7 lbs.
  • caramel 90L, 1/2 lb.
  • caramel 60L, 1/2 lb.
  • red wheat malt, 1 lb.
  • Vienna, 1 lb.
  • Dingemans biscuit, 1/2 lb.

Other sugars

  • wildflower honey, 1 lb.
  • light dried malt extract, 1 1/2 c. (bottling) + ~1/2 cup for yeast starter

Herbs

  • dried sweetfern leaves, autumn-gathered, 3 oz. (approx. 2 qts.)
  • dried lemonbalm leaves, 1/4 oz. (approx. 1 pint)
  • dried chamomile flowers, 2 oz.
  • dried (but v. fresh) yarrow tops, 1 1/4 oz. (1 packed cup)
  • juniper berries, crushed, 1 heaping Tbs.

Yeast

  • Safale S-04, 11.5 g.

Procedure

One-step infusion mash @ 150F. Add half of sweetfern (loose, not in a bag) and honey at beginning of boil and the rest ten minutes before the end. Add lemonbalm and 1 oz. of chamomile five minutes before end of boil. Pitch yeast at 70F.

Three days later, bring a gallon of water to a boil. Add yarrow, remaining 1 oz. chamomile and crushed juniper berries, turn off, lid and let steep until it reaches room temperature, then strain and add to fermenter with a minimum of splashing. Bottle after a week to ten days.

Results

This is delicious; what I can I say? I find the chamomile taste to be up-front but not dominant, and most of the other herbs are present as spicy background notes (except for the lemonbalm, which I can’t really detect). There’s a bit of camphor taste from the sweetfern. Probably one of my most well-balanced herbal beers yet, with good head retention and full mouthfeel—a very pleasant, malt-forward, summertime ale. There’s no hint of souring, so either I got lucky or, more likely, this gruit blend possesses sufficient antiseptic properties to keep the beasties at bay. However, I think it would also be a good blend to try with a sour beer.