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%.
- 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.
- wildflower honey, 1 lb.
- light dried malt extract, 1 1/2 c. (bottling) + ~1/2 cup for yeast starter
- 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.
- Safale S-04, 11.5 g.
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.
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.