hist-brewing: Birch, alba vs lenta

Tue Feb 27 12:32:29 PST 2001

Continuing my research into smoking grain for Gotland Drinka using birch.  When I asked about which birch to use for birch beverages, many people posted here about varieties of Batula lenta, which is supposed to have an evergreen or rootbeer character.  So ,I shot of an email to my favorit herb supply shop, years to your health, http://www.years2health.com/ , to ask them about their source and was informed it was Butula alba, or the common northern european birch, also known as the canoe birch or white birch...this is what I obtained the outer  bark of during my trip to missouri.

Sooooooo, my thinking, if I want to create a Nordic or other European beverage such as Gotland Drinka, or other recipes from Adam Larsen calling for birch, it sounds like I want to use Batula alba, since this is the common birch of these northern European countries (grows all the way up to Iceland), and likewise, if I want to make a birch syrup beverage that would have been made in these countries, and be historically accurate, it sounds like the white birch is the one to use.  But, for American beverages, and maybe even if I just want something with more of a wintergreen/rootbeer taste, lenta may be a better option (although, see below, alba also has wintergreen characteristics).   Lenta is an American variety that is not native to Europe.

As far as a discription of the flavor from white birch, all I could find is that an oil obtained from the bark of the common alba is used in the preparation of Russia leather and gives it its peculiar odor.  Mmmmmm leather beer*.  But I cant say I even know what Russia leather is, years to your health said it is used in making tea, and I used it in my beer that took 3rd in the AHA historic club only, so it cant be that bad.

Here is some info from http://www.botanical.com/ :

"The white epidermis of the bark is separable into thin layers, which may be employed as a substitute for oiled paper and applied to various economical uses. It yields oil of Birch Tar, and the peculiar, well-known odour of russia leather is due to the use of this oil in the process of dressing. It likewise imparts durability to leather, and it isowing to its presence that books bound in russia leather are not liable to become mouldy. The production of Birch Tar oil is a Russian industry of considerable importance. It is also distilled in Holland and Germany, but these oils are appreciably different from the Russian oil. It has the property of keeping away insects and preventing gnatbites when smeared on the hands. It is likewise employed in photography. 
When the stem of the tree is wounded, a saccharine juice flows out which is susceptible, with yeast, of vinous fermentation. A beer, wine, spirit and vinegar are prepared from it in some parts of Europe. Birch Wine, concocted from this thin, sugary sap of the tree, collected from incisions made in the trees in March, honey, cloves and lemon peel being added and then the whole fermented with yeast, makes a very pleasant cordial, formerly much appreciated. From 16 to 18 gallons of sap may be drawn from one large tree, and a moderate tapping does no harm."


"Birch Tar oil is almost identical with Wintergreen oil. It is not completely soluble in 95 per cent. acetic acid, nor in aniline, but Turpentine oil dissolves it completely."

Now, I still am not sure what part of the European white birch was used for smoking malts, outer bark, inner bark, wood, spray, sawdust.?  It sounds like the outer barck does contain the oils are similar to wintergreen, so I think I will use it, since I already have it, of course reports will follow.  But, since I wont be brewing for a few months (waiting for my junipers to start to bud) if anyone finds any info out on European use of birch in smoking malt, please let me know.


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