hist-brewing: gruit and unhopped ales

adam larsen euphonic at flash.net
Wed May 10 12:35:30 PDT 2000

    I t has come to my attention that several brewers in and associated
with this list's readership have raised the  issue  of  sourness and
other unwanted flavors associated with un hopped ales.  Because my early
attempts at producing such ales was afflicted with such unwanted
attributes i feel the need to briefly discuss my observations regarding
the flavoring and preservation of  unhopped ales.
    First and foremost, one should differentiate any ingredients placed
into an unhopped ale in terms of  which of  the following  criteria they
fulfill:  Safety,  antiseptic, bittering, flavoring or aromatics.
    First off, safety is an issue.  Several ingredients should never be
used in any beverage regardless of historical accuracy.  While i am not
in a position to make a definitive list i would state that the following
herbs be excluded from one's brew: thorn apple, datura and pyracantha.
I would recommend that one research any obscure herb before consuming
it.  If you have any doubts error on the side of caution and don't use
it at all.
    The main benefit of  using hops in ales is that they are without
question an excellent preservative.  However, numerous other herbs can
provide bittering qualities as good or better then hops.  I have
discovered the hard way that when composes a gruit or any form of
unhopped ale careful attention must be given to the selection of  an
anti septic agent.  While the readership may be aware of  a great many
such herbs i know of  only a few that i have direct experience with.
Specifically, i can recommends horehound, alehoof, aloe, bog bean,
carduus and century.  Of  these , i have had best success with bog bean
and alehoof.  Horehound and aloe juice are good anti septics but it
impart harsh tastes that is best mask with other flavors.
Wood shavings, as described in previous posts, provide excellent antic
septic qualities.  However,  shavings can easily dominate the ale making
for an overly astringent and tannic tasting drink. This problem can be
overcome via the use of  other flavoring/bittering herbs in conjunction
with a high mash temperatures and high residual sugars.
    Bittering can often be provided by the same herbs used for their
anti septic qualities.  Carduus and Century  are fine bittering elements
but they produce poor results when they are not included with a more
robust anti septic.
    Flavoring and aromatic herbs are legion.  Any useful description
requires that they be incorporated in such a manner that they compliment
or mask the other elements  comprising the flavor profile of  the ale in
question.  If  any one wishes to know specific examples found outside of
the recipes i post just drop me a line and i'll let you know if i can

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