Monday, February 21, 2011

Tart Heather Gruit Recipe

Gruit on the right, cherry-sour-porter on the left.I've always had a luke-warm opinion of gruits (in the general sense gruits are beers that are bittered with herbs other than hops).  In particular the bottle of 13th Centurary Grut Bier I tried came off as a muddled mess of spices and herbs.  I did enjoy an aged-out bottle of Two Druids Gruit a couple years after Heavyweight Brewing folded; more recently I've had a couple interesting samples from Thornbridge Brewery (Merrie), and Williams Brothers (Grozet) both on cask, but none of those was something I wanted more than a few ounces of.

While I was up in Boston for Night of the Funk in November I sampled a lot of weird/unique/intereting beers, but there were only a handful that I would call inspiring.  Cambridge Brewing's 2006 Heather Ale was one of those, it had a nice tartness (from time spent in a Chardonnay barrel with Lactobacillus) and a soft honey/hay aroma from the fresh heather tips (as well as lavender and sweet gale).  CBC does a couple of other gruits, but this is the only one I've tried with a sour character.

I have enough long aged sour beers already aging so I wanted to brew something for quicker consumption, to accomplish that I borrowed a few moves from my Berliner Weisse method.  I did a quick mash with Marris Otter and wheat malt, followed by brief a 15 minute boil (just enough to ensure the wort was sanitary).  I didn't add any herbs to the boil because I'm planning to split the batch, half with lavender and heather, and rest with other flowers (hibiscus, jasmine, and chrysanthemum).  I'll make teas with each of the flowers and then dose the beer(s) to taste, allowing me to fine tune the extraction time and flavor contribution for each one (more on that later). 

With the "plain" wort cooled I pitched a cup of yeast slurry harvested from the 90 Shilling Stout I brewed two weeks earlier along with some of the multi-strain Lacto culture I keep going.  A quarter ounce of boiled/drained oak went into the primary to impart a slightly rustic woodsy character.  Hopefully this beer will have lots of subtle complexity, something I can drink an entire bottle of without waiting years for the herbal flavors to mellow.

Experimental Tart Gruit

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.00
Anticipated OG: 1.044
Anticipated SRM: 5.8
Anticipated IBU: 0.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 15 Minutes

75.0% - 6.00 lbs. Maris Otter
25.0% - 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch I 30 min @ 155
Sacch II 10 min @ 162

0.25 Oz Medium Toast French Oak Cubes

East Coast ECY07 Scottish Heavy
White Labs WLP677 Lactobacillus

Brewed 1/29/11

Collected 5 gallons of wort

Pitched 1.5 cups of surry from Scottish Stout plus a cup of lacto starter. .25 oz of french oak boiled for 3 minutes, then drained and added as well to primary. Primary ~63 Fambient. Good fermentation after 12 hours.

3/5/11 Blended with teas made from flowers. 2.75 gallons bottled with 2.5 cups of strong heather tea (made with ~2 oz of heather flowers steeped for 6 minutes), a 1 tbls of lavender tea (made with 2 tbls of English lavander). 1 5/8 oz of cane sugar added for carbonation.

2 gallons bottled with 1.5 cups of hibiscus tea and 1.5 cups of jasmine tea, both with about 1 oz of flowers.  1 1/8 oz of cane sugar added for carbonation.  FG 1.011

3/30/11 The heather half of the batch turned out well.  Nice balance, good heather flavor, not too sweet.

3/31/11 The jasmine-hibiscus half is really quenching, light, and bright.  The flavors work well together, should be perfect for summertime.


  1. hilarious that you put the oak in primary, i brewed a pretty hefty stout today and was thinking about doing the same for the small beer that is accompanying it.

    my reasoning for it is that i do want the woody notes but i do not want too much of a vanilla flavor to it. ive read that when putting it in primary the yeast metabolizes the vanilla flavor but it wasnt too reliable of a source.

    is this your first time doing this or are we both experimenting?

  2. Yeah, first time I am doing this (not counting the two primary fermentations we have done in barrels). I've wanted to try the technique since I read about it in On Food and Cooking. The sample I pulled was still yeast, so it was hard to tell if I was getting anything from the wood.

  3. This sounds amazing.. I will be busting out this recipe in the near future... Hopefully before it gets too warm outside.

  4. could you link me to the article?

  5. On Food and Cooking? It's a book:

  6. The Brewing Network did a show a couple years back about using oak in different parts of the process. It's really quite informative and I highly recommend checking it out. The guest was Shea Comfort who shared a ton of good info. He even talked about using wine yeasts in beers. I think if you search for "Shea Comfort" on the BN site you'll find it.

  7. where did you get the different lacto strains for your mixed culture?

  8. It was originally a White Labs culture, and then I added a culture a friend gave me for the Gose I brewed (not sure of the original source of that one).

  9. Long time reader, first time comment. I have been brewing standard beers for a few years now, and have a question about yeast usage in sour beers. You talk a lot about using dredges of bottles and using mixed yeasts to ferment the beers. Is there any way to know exactly what you are going to get taste wise with the combinations you use? Or do the sour yests not impart a real large flavor (as opposed to the big flavors, say, a hefeweizen yeast would contribute)?

    I always wondered about that. I, personally, would be a bit concerned about not knowing exactly the outcome when just tossing dredges in there (and, also, the fact that it would be hard to recreate recipes).


  10. Chances are you will get similar sour/funk character to the beer the dregs are from (assuming they are fresh). There is no way to know exactly though, even the same microbes can make very different flavors depending on temperature, time, wort, pitching ratios, oxygen levels, presence of certain acids etc...

    Using the individual strains from Wyeast or White Labs and will give you a bit more control, but it still won’t be 100% replicable (and generally won’t be as good in my experience). Even the best sour beer breweries have to rely on blending to produce consistent products. I heard Jean-Pierre Van Roy, the brewer/blender/owner of Cantillon, say (paraphrasing) that he does not call himself a brew master because he doesn't have that sort of control over his beers.

    For me it adds some excitement since I don’t know exactly what flavors I’ll get in the finished beers. I’ve learned to modify my procedures to get results that I like more consistently, but there are still batches I’m not happy with.

  11. Another first time comment here. Really enjoy checking your blog from time to time. Had to post because I also have a heather ale going that I hope will sour, though on its own. I have been brewing heather ales now and again for a few years, even won an award the only time I entered it in a local comp. Anyway, a few years back I brewed up a batch but I did something different. I added dry heather to the fermenter after initial ferment had come close to terminal gravity. Oddly it started fermenting again. I kegged it when it settled again. It was a bit odd tasting. I had very little exposure to wild/sour beers at the time. Eventually it developed a distinct pineapple aroma and some tartness. I was not really sure I liked it and went to dump it several times... Anyway, eventually I bottled what was left from the keg (maybe a year later) so I could free up the kegs. Over time I would try a bottle and it really grew on me. It became really fantastic, albeit somewhat oxidized from the many aborted dumping attempts... Very tart and complex. Tasty. I attempted to culture the dregs from a bottle but failed. I believe I ended up with mold. Only have one bottle left sadly. So, instead I did a small experiment with a pint of starter, a pinch of yeast and a sprinkle of heather I had in the freezer from my garden. Seemed to be working so I just brewed up a 5 gallon batch. Threw the heather in the fermenter and let it sit a few hours before pitching. Keeping fingers crossed. My guess is that originally I ended up with some strain of brett, this based on Jeff Sparrows Flemish Nouveau recipe in Wild brews. Sorry for the long ramble. Looking forward to hearing how yours turns out.

  12. Interesting, certainly sounds like you had some combo of Brett and maybe some lactic acid bacteria.

    Always hurts to open that last bottle of any batch.

    Hopefully your new batch is just as good!