hist-brewing: Re: "Dry-Hopping" Gruit Herbs; uses of mugwort

Hiram Berry burningb at burningbridges.com
Tue Jul 29 14:53:43 PDT 2003

I hope it's okay to reply to two separate threads; to my syncretic turn of
mind they are related. Recently Scotti asked:

> Today (Monday) the gruits
> arrived and I added 2 oz alehoof and 1/2 oz yarrow by just shaking them
> in on top of the fermenting wort.  I did not stir them in, figuring they'd
> waterlogged and sink in short order.
>      Anybody have any relevant experience indicating what I should
> have done better?

Well, the method I've found to work best for gruited braggots uses what I
guess you would call a variant of dry hopping modified depending on the
particular gruit herb. One racks a newly fermented batch of unhopped,
ungruited ale into a secondary fermenter containing the honey-water and an
open-weave bag of gruit herbs.  Some of the herbs (like your yarrow) have no
trouble having their essences extracted via "dry-gruiting" so they can be
added directly.  Very aromatic herbs (lavender,sage,etc.) ought
preferentially to be done this way.  Others, such as wormwood, are more
completely extracted by making an infusion of the (bagged) herb in the hot
(not boiled, maybe never greater than 170F or so, to preserve the volatiles
in the honey) honey-water as it cools.  Then leave the bag in the secondary
fermenter to get last bit out of it. Explicit bittering herbs (possibly
including hops, mugwort, sassafras root, different tree barks, acorns, rue,
wood shavings etc.) usually need a lot more severe extraction process, ie.
boiling in a small amount of new ale drawn out for this purpose and used as
the hot liquid to make the honey-water, again leaving the gruit bag.

Also, I've found moderate maceration (with a mortar and pestle) of the
gruits to be helpful to extraction -- that's possibly more important for
fresh herbs than dry ones; I don't know whether the drying process
effectively ruptures the cell walls of the plant material or not.  My gut
feel is that it would aid in essence extraction for canonical dry hopping
technique too.

Which gets us back to mugwort.  Earlier, Laura asked:

> Does anyone have info on the use of Mugwort, aka Artemisia vulgaris?
> All I am able to find is in LaPensee (which is very little).

I'm afraid I can only relate either apocryphal or first-hand information on
it.  I've only encountered brief historical passages referring to its
brewing usage, and never seen it listed in the compounding of a classical
gruit mixture.  It seems to have been primarily used as a mulling spice, ie.
simmered in the ale immediately before consumption.  Once I read a claim
that it was employed in common folk usage as a hop substitute, as wormwood
certainly was.   However, I did get interested in using it for gruit several
years ago and subsequently grew several plants to brew.  It does very nicely
as both an aromatic and as a bittering herb.   The trick in using it for
both roles is to infuse half and boil the other half.  A quite palatable
braggot I made a while ago by the method referred to above in my reply to
Scotti used, IIRC for 6 gallons result:

6 pounds barley malt
5 gallons very hard water
ale yeast
6 pounds dark honey
gruit (as fresh herb; probably cut amts in half for dried):
1 oz tarragon (dry hopped only)
3 oz Roman wormwood (infusion+d.h.)
3 oz mugwort (infusion+d.h.)
3 oz mugwort (boil+d.h.)

Caveat: many inexperienced modern palates will be as shocked by these
flavors as they would in eating say, a garden salad consisting of vegetables
in vogue in the fourteenth century.  The reactions I got were: a few really
liked it, a few spit it out and one person was puzzled and adamantly
insisted that it wasn't beer or anything similar.


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