Pennsylvania Native Plant Gruit Beer

sweetfern photo by Fungus Guy

This isn’t my first attempt at an all-native gruit blend, but the last time I did it, I cheated a little and included some Myrica gale (bog myrtle, sweetgale) that was probably European in origin. M. gale is an excellent preservative as well as a bittering agent and has been used in beer for millennia, but this time I wanted to see if I could get away with only Comptonia peregrina in that role. It seems to have worked, though two weeks after bottling I do detect a slight bit of sourness, so probably C. peregrina is not as effective at countering unwanted microbial activity.

Brewed on 17 October 2015. Makes three gallons.

Grains

  • Briess organic 2-row pale malt, 4 lbs.
  • Briess caramel 120L, 1/2 lb.
  • Briess Munich 10L, 1/2 lb.
  • Muntons chocolate malt, 1/2 lb.

Other sugars

  • light brown sugar, 1 lb.
  • Razz’s shagbark hickory syrup, 8 oz.

Herbs

  • dried sweetfern leaves, autumn-gathered, 1 qt.
  • sassafras roots, 4 small (about 24″ total length)
  • wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) rhizome bark (from about 48″ of rhizomes)
  • aniseroot or sweet cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis) roots, 6 large
  • dried calamus (sweet flag) root, 1/4 c.
  • dried black birch root bark, 1/4 c.
  • dried spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries, 20

Yeast

  • Safale S-04, 11.5 g.

Procedure

Make two gallons of sassafras tea, steeped for at least two hours. Set aside.

One-step infusion mash. Bring 1 1/2 gals. water to 170F and add malt for 155F mash. Heat sassafras tea to 170F and sparge with it. Add brown sugar at beginning of boil. Put sweetfern in one muslin bag and all the other herbs in another. Add both bags to wort after boiling for 20 minutes, and boil for another 20 minutes. Chill to 75F and add to fermenter along with both bags. Pitch yeast dry; no starter needed. Bottle after ten days, boiling shagbark hickory syrup in one pint of water for priming sugar.

Results

A malt-forward, porter-like beer with a nicely balanced blend of root-beerish flavors; no one flavor dominates. If I make this again, I’ll probably increase the amount of sassafras—and add it to the bag in the fermenter as well. There’s a bit of residual sweetness from the shagbark hickory syrup, which acts as a good counter to the hint of sourness mentioned above. I can also detect some of the smoked flavor from the syrup. (Next time I’ll substitute maple syrup for variety’s sake.)

We have several dozen sweetfern bushes in the powerline right-of-way on our property, and while it’s said to be stronger if gathered in June or July, the nice thing about gathering it in September is that you can strip the plants without worrying about damaging them (they’re deciduous). I also gathered all the other herbs on our mountain, except for the calamus which was mail-ordered (though I do have a local source which I’ve taken advantage of in the past). Aniseroot and wild sarsaparilla are each abundant enough that I don’t worry about hurting their populations by occasional gathering, though I’m careful not to do it all at one spot. In the past, I’ve favored the imported Hemidesmus indicus for sarsaparilla flavor, not realizing that the trick to using Aralia nudicaulis is to reach down and get the rhizome; there’s no flavor in the knobby stem/root sprout above that.

I considered using teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), and even went so far as to make a tea from the leaves following the generally recommended method of letting an infusion sit at room temperature to ferment for several days, but ultimately decided that I’d get enough wintergreen flavor from the black birch. One of my beer’s best critics has been known to complain that too much wintergreen in a beer is reminiscent of toothpaste.

Brewing with red raspberries: two approaches

raspberrries and currants floating at the top of the beer in a glass carboy

Red raspberries are one of the best fruits for homebrewing, and I’m lucky enough to have a dependable source of them in a peculiarly brew-worthy form. My friend L. grows a fall crop in her garden and every year makes a raspberry liqueur with sugar and vodka. Several months later, after she drains it off, she passes the vodka-preserved berries on to me. Here are two things I’ve done with them, each very successful. (I preferred the second, but the first was also popular with everyone who tried it.)

1. Red Raspberry Imperial Mugwort Stout

Brewed on 21 November 2014. A five-gallon batch.

Grains

  • Briess Organic 2-row pale malt, 10 lbs.
  • Briess chocolate malt, 3/4 lb.
  • Briess roasted barley, 1/2 lb.
  • Briess caramel 60L, 1/2 lb.
  • Dingemans Debittered Black Malt, 1/2 lb.
  • Dingemans Special B, 1/2 lb.
  • oat flakes, 1 lb.

Other sugars and fruit

  • wildflower honey, 2 lbs.
  • light dried malt extract for starter, 1/2 c.
  • light dried malt extract for bottling, 1 1/2 c.
  • vodka-preserved red raspberries*, 2 qts.

Herbs

  • dried mugwort tops, 1 qt.
  • dried dandelion root, roasted, 2 oz.
  • dried calamus (sweet flag) root, 1/2 oz.
  • dried Indian sarsaparilla root, 1/2 tsp.

Yeast

  • Safale S-04, 23 g. (2 pkg.)

Procedure

The day before brewing, make two gallons of tea with the dried mugwort (bring to boil, simmer for half and hour, lid and cool, refrigerate in sanitized jars).

Make a yeast starter with 1/2 c. DME boiled in 1 qt. water and cooled.

Use a two-step infusion: Bring three gallons of water to 140F and dough in for initial temperature of 125F, hold for 15 minutes, bring additional 1 1/2 gals. to 200F and add to mash for final temperature of 154F. Sparge, etc.

Add the honey and half the dandelion root at the beginning of the boil. Put the remaining dandelion, the calamus and the sarsaparilla root into a muslin bag and add it a few minutes before the end of the boil — and transfer it into the fermenter. Add the cold mugwort tea as part of the rapid-cooling process.

After two weeks, rack into secondary fermenter on top of raspberries. Age one month then bottle, and condition at least another month.

Results

This was… different, but in a good way, I think. There was just enough sourness in it to evoke framboise, with an additional chocolateyness.

2. Raspberry-Black Currrant Wheat Beer

Brewed on 6 September 2015. A five-gallon batch.

Grains

  • pale 2-row pale malt, 4 lbs.
  • white wheat malt, 6 lbs.
  • red wheat malt, 1 lb.
  • Munich malt, 1 lb.

Fruit and sugar

  • vodka-preserved red raspberries*, 3 qts.
  • black currants (frozen and thawed), 3 c.
  • corn sugar for priming, 3/4 c.

Hops

  • Fuggles pellets, 1 oz.
  • Hallertau pellets, 1/2 oz.

Yeast

  • Safale S-04, 11.5 g.

Procedure

I have a copper coil for rapid wort chilling now, so no more cold tea! The yeast starter for this one is just a quart of boiled (or distilled) water.

A simple one-step infusion at 150F with mash-out at 170F. The Fuggles go in at the beginning of the one-hour boil and the Hallertau at 20 minutes before the end.

After six days, rack into the secondary on top of raspberries and currants. Age three weeks then bottle. Ready to drink in two weeks, but gets better with age.

Results

Yes, I used only hops, no herbs: my most standard brew in many years! But fruit-wheat beers are great; why mess with success? The idea here was to put the fruit front and center, and it worked. This is a delicious beer, nicely balanced with just the right amount of fruity acidity. The currants contributed perhaps most of all to the color, which was such a pretty shade of orangish red I took pictures. I wrote in my notes: “Make this again and don’t change anything.” Except that next time I’ll make it in the spring so it will be ready to drink in hot weather.
__________
*As noted in the intro, the red raspberries I get are left over from making raspberry liqueur. They still have plenty of taste, however. If I were using fresh raspberries, I’d freeze and thaw them before adding them to the beer, but would probably keep the quantity about the same.

Alcoholic root beer, Prohibition-style

people in a 1920s speakeasy

Brewed on 9 September 2015.

When I think of Prohibition-style brewing, I think of mad-scientist-type experiments with any fermentables you can get your hands on. This beer turned out so well, I’ve been forced to re-examine two of my fundamental assumptions about homebrewing: that brew made only with cane sugar—no malt—isn’t true beer, and that small batches don’t offer enough buffering against infection for an unhopped beer.

Makes one gallon (U.S.).

Sugars

  • light brown sugar, 1 pint
  • jaggery, 1/4 cup (priming)

Herbs

  • gentian root, 1/4 tsp.
  • fresh sassafras root bark, 1 T
  • dried black birch root bark, 1 1/2 T
  • dried spikenard root, 1 T
  • dried calamus (sweet flag) root, 1 t
  • dried Indian sarsaparilla root, 1 T
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Yeast

  • Safale S-04, 7 g.

Procedure

Bring a gallon of water to a boil, add all of the above herbs, simmer for 20 minutes, lid the pot and let it steep for two hours. Remove one quart of the liquid to another pot, add the brown sugar, boil it for ten minutes, then add it back in. Put brew pot into an ice bath and cool down to 70°F. Pour into sanitized 1-gallon fermenter, straining through a cheese cloth. Add dry yeast and insert fermentation lock. Bottle after two weeks.

Results

The above is a simplified form of my actual procedure. I’d set out to make regular root beer, then decided it was a bit too bitter because of the gentian (which I’d added in imitation of Moxie), so I decided to bring it up to room temperature, add a lot more yeast and ferment it out. The result: a light, refreshing, warming beverage with a very well-balanced flavor profile. Does it taste like root beer? Not really; there’s nothing caramelly about it. More like a spiced pilsner, which really shocked me. American homebrewing wisdom since the 1970s has held that too much cane sugar in a beer spoils it by rendering it too cidery, though some brewers have become less dogmatic in recent years under the influence of Belgian brewing, in which sugars of various kinds are added with great enthusiasm. Still, how is it that something with neither malt nor hops can still taste like beer? A revelation.

I do love malt, though, so my next step was to try making a three-gallon batch (so I wouldn’t drink it up so fast), go all-native on the herbs, and deploy a porter-like grain bill. That’s still conditioning, but preliminary results have been good. Stay tuned.

UPDATE (25 July) A bottle saved for nine months hasn’t gone off at all — there’s no hint of souring. I’d attribute that mostly to the preservative powers of gentian root.

“Video Poetry by Dave Bonta” at +the Institute [for Experimental Arts]

Ινστιτούτο [Πειραματικών Τεχνών]
It’s always fun to see what other people consider my best works. The blog from the folks who put on the annual videopoetry festival in Athens, Ινστιτούτο [Πειραματικών Τεχνών], has just shared an interesting selection of my videopoems, including one with found text from old TV commercials, one for a poem by Emily Dickinson and another for a poem by Amy Miller, and a couple of tongue-in-cheek videopoems in the vein of Dickinson’s “I’m nobody. Who are you?” Check it out.

Rachel Barenblat on the power and importance of blogging

cover of "Waiting to Unfold" by Rachel BarenblatSometimes I get depressed by the behavior of my fellow U.S. poets: our obsession with hierarchy and prestige, our endless preening, our myopic focus on print publication, our willingness to perpetuate a system of gatekeepers in a world of nearly universal access (at least in the global north) to abundant free content abounding with self-publishing tools; the disconnect between our generally progressive social/political values and our stodgy conservatism when it comes to the form and content of poetry itself. Then I see things like this brief summary of the power of blogging from my friend R’ Rachel Barenblat, and I remember that there are in fact lots of good poets who are writing the poems they need to write and forging their own paths. Rachel has published two full-length collections drawn largely from her popular (and not poetry-centered) blog and has another on the way, not to mention several chapbooks. More importantly, she has a readership, and it’s not just other poets (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And she’s figured out a way to make poetry, blogging, and motherhood support rather than conflict with her career. I admire the hell out of that.
Velveteen Rabbi: On being a blogging rabbi

Translating Vallejo

Cesar Vallejo in 1929In some ways it’s less intimidating to translate the great and famous than the under-translated and little-known, because you know that your versions aren’t going to be the only ones out there by a long shot, so monolingual readers will be better equipped to take them with the requisite grain of salt. Anyway, here are my best efforts at five favorite Vallejo poems: “Pain without explanation: five poems by César Vallejo.” It’s the latest post in an ongoing series at Via Negativa called Poetry from the Other Americas, in which I’ve been joined by Natalie d’Arbeloff, Jean Morris, and Dale Favier so far, with other translators signalling an interest in contributing as well. It’s one of the most exciting collaborations I’ve been involved in for some time, and it’s also breathing new life into Via Negativa as a group blog, with poets responding to the translations and to each other in such a manner that I’ve upgraded the description of the site: “Via Negativa is a unique experiment in daily, poetic conversation with the living and the dead.” I hope that isn’t too grandiloquent! (After consultation with Luisa, we agreed it would be best to keep “purveyors of fine poetry since 2003” as the main description.)

In other Via Negativa news, we’ve updated and expanded the Recommend Sites page, which the stats suggest does attract a steady trickle of visitors. As I wrote at the bottom of the page, despite the near-disappearance of blogrolls, for a site like Via Negativa where most posts are original creative work rather than commentary and therefore contain few outgoing links, it’s as important as ever to maintain a list of some of our favorite places on the web—especially those that aren’t as well-known as they should be. But for the first time we’ve expanded it beyond just a blogroll to include other daily poetry sites and a small but diverse list of favorite online magazines. (There would be a lot more literary magazines in this latter category if I didn’t get so irritated by the way most of them continue to ape the look and reading experience of print journals.)

A note to email subscribers

email avalancheMy apologies to everyone who signed up for an email subscription to this site and is accustomed to getting maybe a dozen emails a year. As you’ve no doubt just been surprised and/or irritated to discover, I’ve begun archiving my Facebook links and Twitter posts in a bid to gain more control over my social media content. I was so proud of myself for getting that set up correctly, all siloed off from the main index page, I completely forgot that I’ve been encouraging people to subscribe to everything by email with a sidebar widget. But then when I did remember last night, I was thinking I probably only had three or four subscribers anyway. Imagine my surprise to see that there were 37!

My guess is that most of you signed up for the brewing-related posts. If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to unsubscribe from the emails and add the RSS feed for the brewing category to your favorite feed reader. (Beer geeks all do feed readers, right?) If there’s enough interest, however, I would be willing to set up an email newsletter via Feedburner or Mailchimp for the brewing posts. Please leave a comment (or, you know, email) if you’d be interested in that.

Firefly flashes: the latest adventures of a chronically unmotivated writer

I was sitting outside enjoying the fine, early-summer weather the night before last when I spotted a solitary light flashing in the treetops like a small, lost satellite: the first firefly. I watched as it drifted slowly through the darkness, advertizing its presence to an otherwise empty yard. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t posted an update here about my literary accomplishments, such as they are, for a very long time. Oops.

Often what happens, I think, is that I brag about a publication on Facebook and/or Twitter, then later on think that I’ve written about it here when in fact I haven’t. That was certainly the case with the inclusion of one of my poems in an art gallery exhibition at the University of Southern Maine, Secrets of the Sea, and the accompanying chapbook, Poems For Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea. The Lewiston-Auburn College Atrium Art Gallery did not post a copy of the chapbook to their website, for some reason, but they did send PDFs (as well as the printed version) to all the contributors. Since it was produced to distribute for free, I can’t see why they’d object to my sharing it here: Poems for Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea [PDF].

Of the other poets in that collection, I was most pleased to be sharing space with Elizabeth Bradfield, an excellent poet whose strong grasp of science and natural history shines through her work. Bradfield is the publisher of Broadsided Press, which pairs artists and poets for monthly, free-to-print-and-distribute broadsides, “putting literature and art on the streets”—a great model. For their annual haiku year-in-review broadside in January, Bradfield asked poets to submit via open postings to Twitter. At last, a barrier to entry so low that even a writer as monumentally lazy as me couldn’t think of a reason not to submit! And as luck would have it, two of my haiku made the cut. Check it out.

Fired up by that success, I submitted to two other publications I admire, and was honored to have my pieces selected for both. “Leave-taking,” a videopoem, appeared in Issue 2 of Gnarled Oak, an online magazine founded last year by the Austin, Texas-based writer James Brush. And one of my Pepys erasure haiku was Autumn Sky Poetry Daily‘s poem for March 19. One of the unique features of that magazine is the inclusion of a note from the editor, Pennsylvania poet Christine Klocek-Lim, after each poem, explaining what she likes about it. For mine, she wrote:

Haiku is one of the most difficult forms of poetry to write because you have very little time to speak. This poem succeeds with that task, and has the added little delight of originating from within another source of words. Erasure poetry is very cool.

Last November, I was honored to have one of my videopoems screened at Videobardo, the long-running videopoetry festival in Buenos Aires, as part of a selection curated by the Canadian videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. Here’s the text of his presentation. I was honored that he chose my video to illustrate what has become a very popular trend in videopoetry: working with a pre-existing text.

In this videopoem, the image of a nest of snakes provides a constrained visual metaphor for each reference to “they” “these” and “them” in Salinas’ reading: “these wild and dishevelled ones” “they beg” “they can’t go on living” “help them” etc. One lasting impression that differentiates a “pure” videopoem from any other “poetry video” is that you will always associate the text you read (or hear) with the image(s) and the soundtrack it was created with. After viewing this work, how can we not help but associate this poem by Pedro Salinas with a nest of garden snakes?

Do read the rest. It’s really very flattering indeed.

Another videopoet I admire, Australian artist and musician Marie Craven, remixed one of my videopoems to very good effect. I wrote about both videos in a post at Via Negativa: “Native land.”

Last but not least, I contributed a short essay to a new German website, Poetryfilmkanal: “The Discovery of Fire: One Poet’s Journey into Poetry-Film.” Believe it or not, I was trying to express myself as clearly as I could. (There’s a reason why I mostly stick to poetry.) The website administrators have plans to release annual print and PDF versions of the magazine portion of the website, so my deathless prose about videopoetry and poetry film may find its way into dead-tree media as well.

I think that’s everything; my apologies to anyone I may have overlooked. It’s not that I don’t enjoy placing poems and videos hither and yon, it’s just that I derive most of my satisfaction as a writer from my daily posts at Via Negativa. I’m still beavering away on Pepys Diary erasures, and have yet to miss a single entry. (Last night, I had the quality problem of trying to decide which of three separate erasure poems found in that day’s diary entry was the best.) And I’m excited about a new series at VN called Poetry from the Other Americas, which is giving my translation muscles a much-needed workout. As for fireflies and their lonely writer’s lamps, I just remember that classic haiku of Buson’s:

All this study—
it’s coming out your ass,
oh firefly!

Meadowsweet, Heather and Gentian Gruit

Filipendula ulmaria

Brewed on 25 February 2015. A five-gallon batch.

Grains

  • Briess Organic pale 2-row pale malt, 8 1/2 lbs.
  • Briess Victory malt, 2 lbs.
  • Dingemans Special B malt, 1 lb.
  • Dingemans aromatic malt, 1 lb.
  • Muntons crystal dark malt, 1/2 lb.

Other sugars

  • wildflower honey, 2 lbs.
  • light dried malt extract for bottling, 1 1/4 cups

Herbs

  • gentian root, 1 1/2 tsp.
  • dried meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flowers from Mountain Rose Herbs, 2 oz.
  • heather tips from Brewer’s Best (dried but very fresh-looking), 2 oz.
  • old dried yarrow leaf and tops, 1 oz.

Yeast

  • Nottingham dried ale yeast, two 11.5 g. packages in 1-qt. starter with 1/2 c. dried malt extract
  • Safale S-04, 11.5 g.

Procedure

Infusion mash in 13 quarts of water at 155°F. The yarrow and gentian root, intended for bittering, went in loose at one hour before the end of the boil, and the meadowsweet and heather went in 50 minutes later, also loose.

I used a glass carboy for the primary and there was no activity in the airlock 27 hours after pitching, so I grabbed a packet of S-04 from the fridge and added the yeast straight. Several hours later, it finally began to work. I bottled two weeks after that.

Results

This was my other stand-out beer of the winter 2014-15 brewing season, along with the Fugwort Stout. The idea was to make a vaguely Neolithic-style ale inspired by archaeological findings in Britain, similar to the Highland Heather Ale brewed at a seminar on the anthropology and archaeology of brewing, whose recipe was “based on molecular archaeological data and pollen analysis from pottery jar fragments found specifically at several archaeological sites in Scotland.” Experimental archaeologist Merryn Dineley has shown that meadowsweet possesses strong preservative qualities, which may explain its apparently widespread use in Neolithic and Bronze Age brewing in Britain. It also imparts a very strong, floral taste to the beer, and became closely associated with mead (whence the name in Anglo-Saxon, medowyrt or “mead-wort,” according to beer historian Martyn Cornell in Amber, Gold and Black). It was however not mentioned as being added to ale in any of the early modern sources, so possibly it’s one of the few herbs that never made it into gruit blends—though since those recipes were closely guarded secrets, who really knows? Which is why it amuses me to call this a gruit; that’s no more unlikely than producing an authentic Neolithic beer, after all. In any case, I’ve come to feel that the use of modern, single-strain yeasts makes such a radical change to the flavor that any attempt to re-create a pre-modern beer that doesn’t take account of that—by using a blend of semi-domesticated yeasts and bacteria from a Belgian brewery, for example—can only be the vaguest of approximations.

A previous experiment with a meadowsweet-heather ale in 2013 confirmed for me that the two herbs go well together and are sufficiently antiseptic to keep the beer from going sour… and that meadowsweet is delicious, incredibly floral and fresh. In that beer, too, I used a bit of gentian root to provide a bass note of bitterness, in part because I don’t have any Myrica gale (which is increasingly hard to get, and crappy in quality when I can get it), in part because I love the taste of gentian, and in part because it, too, seems to have been used in ale from very ancient times. The one mistake I made with that beer was in adding too much meadowsweet, even dry-hopping some of it, which added a sediment that never settled out. (Chewy beer!) Delicious but a little overwhelming. I was over-compensating for the age of the herb, which the guy at my local homebrew shop had sold me at discount because it had been sitting on the shelf for so long. Apparently it has a very long shelf-life!

This time, in a similar vein, I threw in some very old yarrow, partly just to use it up because I hate to waste anything. It didn’t add much to the flavor profile. With the malt blend, I was going for a brown color and a blend of toasty, nutty, and heavy caramel flavors. (One would presumably use more smoked malts in a proper Neolithic re-creation.) My friend Rachel raved about this beer—and believe me, she’d let me know if she didn’t like it. She’s back in the UK now, and has just ordered a couple of bottles of a limited-edition, meadowsweet-flavored “Stone Age ale” from Innis & Gunn. It will be interesting to hear how it compares. Their ballyhooed use of hot rocks is intriguing, but I suspect I can get just as much carameliness from malts and from my habit of burning a bit of the honey on the bottom of the brew pot when I dump it in.

Calluna vulgaris or common heather is an Old-World plant, and I’m not sure any of our native North American Ericaceae would have the same properties. There are, however, native meadowsweets and gentians one could experiment with. I think that’s my next step.

Fugwort Stout (A.K.A. Muggle Stout)

mugwort

Brewed on 3 February 2015. A five-gallon batch.

Grains

  • Briess Organic pale 2-row pale malt, 8 lbs.
  • unmalted roasted barley, 3/4 lbs.
  • rolled oats, 1 lb.
  • Briess chocolate malt, 1/2 lb.
  • Briess caramel 80°L malt, 1/2 lb.
  • Dingemans debittered black malt, 1/2 lb.
  • Muntons crystal dark malt, 1/2 lb.

Other sugars

  • some very old, rock-hard dried malt extract, approx. 1 pint
    (next time I’ll probably just use a pound or two of honey)
  • light dried malt extract for bottling, 1 1/4 cups

Herbs

  • Fuggles hops (pellets), 1 oz.
  • dried mugwort tops and leaves, 1 packed pint

Yeast

  • Nottingham dried ale yeast, two 11.5 g. packages in 1-qt. starter with 1/2 c. dried malt extract

Procedure

Two-step infusion mash at 130°F and 155°F. I added the hops an hour, and the mugwort ten minutes, before the end of the boil, all of it loose (not in bags). I bottled two weeks later and it was ready to drink by the middle of March.

Results

This was one of my two most successful experiments of the winter brewing season, and the first I’ve used hops in fifteen years. I wanted to make it basically because the portmanteaus amused me, but as it happened, mugwort and Fuggles hops go together in more ways than just linguistically. Mugwort is an extremely dependable brewing herb with a unique, pleasant-yet-also-bittering taste, which means that like hops it can work fine all by itself. What I was aiming for here was a malt-forward, sweetish stout with an earthy, exotic flair, and much to my surprise, that’s exactly what I got. I’m told that in Harry Potter land, muggles are squares who don’t believe in magic. That’s fine—I don’t believe in magic, either. Brewing is a science… and an art. (Says the guy who still can’t be bothered to measure specific gravity.)

I finally acquired an immersion wort chiller this past Christmas, so my process now is a lot less time-consuming (no more preparation of two gallons of chilled tea and lots of little ice bottles) and more energy-efficient (no more boiling down all afternoon just to make room for the addition of said chilled tea).

A note about mugwort

I was reminded by a discussion at a Pennsylvania native plants Facebook group this past week that Artemisia vulgaris is invasive in many parts of North America and can be a really pernicious weed. I had to abandon a vegetable garden once because a friend had given us some cuttings for companion planting—she thought it was wormwood—and it took over. So if you want to brew with it, either get it from an herb supplier, find places where you can gather it in the wild (which is what I do), or plant it in a container. Gather the tops just before they flower in the fall, or the leaves anytime, and dry before use—or be prepared for a lot of very mucilaginous goo in your brewpot. Here’s Maude Grieve on the medicinal properties. (“Until recent years, it was still used in some parts of the country to flavour the table beer brewed by cottagers.” Love that! I’m going to start referring to myself as a cottager. I do live in a cottage, after all.)