Monday, March 28, 2011

Adding Flowers to a Gruit

Heather tea, took a lot to provide the flavor I wanted.About a month ago I posted the recipe for the base gruit I brewed.  It was a simple recipe, unhopped (obviously) but also without any of the other botanicals you'd expect in a gruit.  I should say that I'm using gruit in the generic sense to mean a beer flavored with something besides hops, and not necessarily the classic combination of bog myrtle, yarrow, and wild rosemary. A few weeks later when the beer had fermented out and was ready to bottle I spent a few hours making teas by steeping the various flowers, as well as tasting, blending, and bottling.

Lavender tea, color almost looks fake.The base beer was alright on its own, but a bit bland.  The Lactobacillus didn't add as much sourness as I was hoping for (especially considering there weren't any hops to inhibit it), but it did add a touch of acidity that helped balance the residual malt sweetness.  Similarly I couldn't taste the oak, but I suspect the tannins it added helped cut through the malt.  The Scottish Heavy yeast strain was pretty clean, but it did leave some earthy/rustic character that really made the beer taste more "historic."

To make the flower teas I used my French press.  With its built in filter it was a good choice, although it was a bit small for the amount of heather I used.  For all of the floral teas I used filtered water right off the boil, with a steep time of about 5 minutes.  Boiling did not seem to extract more desirable compounds than steeping, but that may not hold true if you are using other botanicals (flowers tend to have more delicate aromatics than barks or roots).

Hibiscus tea, the color of the finished beer wasn't that dark (but it is still eye-catching.)After smelling all of the teas I decided to pair heather with lavender for half of the batch.  Heather has a nice hay/meadow aroma and was used in many Scottish beers before hops displaced it.  The place I ordered from sells just the flowers (as opposed to the type sold at homebrew store that still has the stems attached).  It still took two ounces of heather steeped with enough water to extract 2.5 cups of tea.  Lavender is more potent (think potpourri or soap).  I had read that culinary lavender tends to have a more food friendly aroma, but I could only find English lavender (although that is one of the flowers Southampton uses in their excellent Cuvee des Fleurs).  I used just one tablespoon in half a cup of water, and then I only added two tablespoons of the resulting tea.

Jasmine tea, without the tea.For the second half of the batch I wanted to do something a bit more unique. I decided to combine hibiscus and jasmine flowers. Hibiscus is a traditional flavoring in Mexican sweetened waters (agua de Jamaica) and can often be found in a local market.  It has a great fruity, tart, cranberry flavor and imparts a beautiful garnet color (Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel uses it to great effect in Rosée D'hibiscus).  Jasmine has a very delicate floral aroma that is most often used in teas (Avatar IPA from Elysian Brewing Company uses it as well).  I used one ounce of each of these flowers, steeped separately with enough water to get 1.5 cups of extract.

After testing measured amounts of each of the teas on samples of beer I scaled up the ratios.  At that point I only added about 2/3 of the projected amount, giving me room to taste and adjust the blend.  In the end I left the flavors of both blends a little short of the where I wanted, counting on the carbonation in the finished beer to boost the aromas.  If I had been more ambitious I could have used my carb cap to carbonate samples before bottling.  I think this was a great way to take some control using ingredients that were new to me (and that don't have a commonly used amount).  Later this week I'll post reviews for both halves of this batch.


Jeffrey Crane said...

That looks like fun with all those blends.
I was wondering about how much tea were you adding to each bottle?
Are you worried about diluting them too much?
I guess you could add your priming sugar to these teas to help cut down on dilution.
I look forward to hearing your results. I just did a similar gruit, but with all local plants from Southern California (yarrow, everlasting, elderberry flower, and will try some sage and other wild flowers at bottling)

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I was blending into the bottling bucket rather than the individual bottles. Those numbers I was giving were for ~2.75 gallons of beer for the heather/lavender, and 2 gallons for the hibiscus/jasmine.

I tried to make the teas really concentrated so I wouldn't dilute the beer much. In both cases it was less than 10%, so that isn't too bad. It seemed easier to keep the priming sugar separate so I could add the teas to flavor without worrying about over/under carbonation.

Sounds like a fun batch. I’d love to find someone local who knew what wild edibles were around.

-- said...

I recently brewed a heather ale. For a 5 gallon batch I used 8oz of heather tips added during the boil. The beer turned out fantastic. The beer has a flowery, tea-like aroma and flavor that is much different than hops.

lylekarsen said...

Yeah here is your problem- I'm not a chemist but I can tell you based on my yeoman's empiricism that what gives gruit its edge over beer is the effect of using the solvent power of the beer to extract the additional psychoactivity and water just won't do that. They have to be added right near the end of the boil and again once fermentation is halfway complete. We all know that drinking too much alcohol is a dangerous health practice, but for us fellas the thing to remember about hops is that it caries a number of potent phyto-estrogens as well as having a generally soporific/depressant nature, which leads me to believe that moderation in their use is a virtue. Because of these two factors on the con side of beer, I like to bring my gruit herbs to the fore and brew ale only as strong as it takes to create balance in the final flavor profile, usually less than 5%. I find that two of these gruits is very close to too much. Also, I forgot to mention in my last message that in addition to the lovely flavor, ginger has an important role in enhancing the effects of gruit because of its vasodilating properties. Ginger is just a really fantastic plant. I hasten to add that there is a legally prohibited flower which will round out both the flavor and psychoactivity of gruit in a way that I find indispensable.