Tag Archives: beer

I Like to Gruit Gruit (recipe and tasting notes)

Super-quick history lesson: gruit is unhopped beer, and nearly all beer used to be unhopped. Hops became the standard brewing herb for a complicated mess of reasons involving religion, taxes, public health, the rise of commercial vs home brewing, and more taxes. Hops are also very easy to grow in mass quantities and are both pleasingly bitter and antiseptic, a handy one-plant equivalent to the herbal mix that does the same thing in gruit. So there you go.

So why make gruit when you can get hops? BECAUSE IT TASTES AWESOME. It is delicious in its own right. This stuff wasn’t the default state of beer for hundreds of years for nothing.

Here’s my recipe. It’s very, VERY flexible and pretty much any part of it can be tweaked to your taste.

I Like to Gruit Gruit

6lbs DME. That’s it. The type is entirely up to you, I used half pils, half wheat. Make a gruit porter or something. Do it.
1/2 tsp grains of paradise – 20 min
2 oz. yarrow flowers, leaves, stems (fresh) – 10 min
6 oz. mugwort (dried) – 10 min
8 oz. mint leaves, stems, maybe some bugs (fresh) – add at flameout for about 3-5 minutes steeping.
Champagne yeast, why the hell not.

Still got a 60 minute boil here, get your 3 gallons going and do what comes naturally. You can spend some of the time picking bugs off the mint or you can say screw it. Once the boil’s done you get to strain a frankly alarming amount of yard waste out of your wort (and have a fascinatingly bitter and herbal brandywort), top it off with cold water to 5 gal, cool and pitch yeast.

When you bottle it a month later, it might look a little something like this.


Liquid sun, my friends. The yarrow gives it a little extra yellow tint. @#$%$ beautiful.

Tasting notes: Yes, you need all that mint if you want to be able to taste it in the finished product. Mint will boil off, ferment off, and age out. You could probably use twice the mint. As it is, it’s a mild harmonious note in a slightly woody, complicated herbal bitterness. The champagne yeast is better at fermenting sucrose and fructose (fruit sugar) than maltose (barley sugar) so it leaves some sweetness in the beer and makes for a fairly low alcohol content. This is a real farmhouse brew, easy to drink a lot of and still be fine to get useful stuff done. I got pretty much what I was aiming for with this one and I LOVE it.

If you want some more recipes, gruitale.com has some. They are by no means a complete or definitive list. The herbal mix in a gruit is a lot like chili recipes: variable and exquisitely attuned to the cook’s personal taste. Mess around a little. Heed the ape: it’s your bucket, and you can put whatever you want in it.

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Cyser Stout

I’ve been slacking on posting, not brewing: summer brought in a rad heather ale for which I’ve completely lost the recipe, two different batches of plum wine more or less based on the September 23rd Massacre. One of the two carboys of that batch contains 32 lbs of plums and 14 lbs of sugar. #@!$%!# phenomenal.

More recently I’ve gotten this cyser-stout thing in the bucket. I don’t know if this is a thing that people do and I just wasn’t able to find any record of it, or if it’s just a freestyle clusterfuck from beginning to end, but I’ve been wanting to make a hybrid cider-beer for a couple of years now. I’ve had some really excellent hopped ciders but I wanted more of a roasted-apple flavor, so I rigged up a modestly hoppy stout recipe. This recipe is exceptionally well-suited to a partial malt technique; it’s got the fermentables of a full 5-gal batch but keeping the liquid volume down is crucial to leave room for the 3 gallons of cider.

Here’s the stout recipe:

9 lb DME light
1 lb caramel malt
1 lb carafa/black
2oz Warrior hops (60 min)
1 oz Amarillo hops (15 min)
1 oz Cascade/Chinook/Centennial (your choice) (5 min)

Do the usual with mashing and sparging the black/carafa, then top up to about 2.5 gallons for the boil and, again, conduct yourself in the appropriate and accustomed manner for 60 minutes. Rejoice. Strain the wort into your fermenter, save a few tablespoons for a brandywort, and the stout portion of your cyser stout is complete. Alternately, you can top it off with cold water and make a totally acceptable basic stout with the yeast of your choice.

If, on the other hand, you want to kick out the same jam I did, you top it off with 3 gallons of no-preservative cider, cool, and pitch. I’m lucky enough to live pretty close to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula–these same orchards grow heirloom apples for some of Washington’s best damn cideries and what do you know, they’ll sell that stuff to anybody who walks up. (Thanks Annaka!) Trader Joes also sells an excellent preservative-free spiced cider. I used two gallons of orchard cider and one TJ. I wish I could remember what yeasts I used, but the specifics escape me at this point: a packet of dry ale yeast and a packet of dry wine yeast. Not champagne yeast. Use whatever you like best, this recipe’s all over the place anyway. I trust you.

Let me know how it turns out if you try this. It’s been fermenting for a couple of weeks and probably still has another to go before bottling day. The airlock smells amazing.

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Firhti Bottling Day and Tasting Notes

The moment of truth for this fir beer experiment! Will it be godawful or great?


…whatever, I’m just going to kill the suspense right off and say that I love this beer. Flat out love it. As of bottling day it’s an unqualified success; we’ll see how bottle conditioning goes but Pseudomalainen is not giving me much motivation to let it sit around. I would like you to take a moment to look at my firhti.  LOOK AT IT. IT’S BEAUTIFUL.


As a little bit of a digression, I just popped champagne yeast into the wort without having much idea about the difference that would make. Do, then research: it’s the Way of the Ape. There seems to have been a shift in the conventional wisdom on how champagne yeast and beer work out. As of a couple of years ago, there was a very rough consensus that using champagne yeast would make for an unpalatably dry beer, and that its primary use in beermaking was as a secondary fermentation to keep really big beers chugging along on their way to 12-15% ABV. More recently, I’ve seen more people saying that champagne yeast ferments the hell out of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, but isn’t as good at digesting maltose (one of the primary sugars in malt, thus in wort), and therefore giving a kinda paradoxical result–sweeter beer.

I can now weigh in on this. Champagne yeast DOES make a sweeter beer. This firhti has a very gentle sweetness and a similarly gentle tartness, which is likely a combination of the rye, the champagne yeast’s influence, and the resiny tang of the fir. The fir itself is not overpowering–funny thing is, it’s not even especially prominent! Mostly it shows up as a resinous note in the finish and a freshly herbal, long-lasting aftertaste. There’s also a really nice edge of funk. Ingestion testing* suggests something in the neighborhood of 6% ABV (the ape has no actual idea, as her hydrometer is still in its original packaging and will stay there like a naughty puppy).

I seem to have stumbled upon a very well-balanced recipe with this first attempt and gotten lucky with environmental conditions for fermenting (i.e. the weather has hovered around 60-65F of its own free will this whole time). I’m in love with the funk and the resin in the same place. THIS IS A GOOD BEER.

Anybody with access to a fir tree should consider rigging up a batch of this. I think you’ll like it too.





* Ingestion testing is about as scientific as it sounds. In short: I had one.

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Pseudomalainen Firhti (recipe)

Finally, my firhti! I’ve been planning this fir beer for ages and it’s fermenting right now. A bit of background on the name: “suomalainen” is Finn for “Finnish”, pronounced “soo-muh-lye-nen”. I’m messing with sahti, one of the mighty god-kings of low-tech, low-equipment, freestyle shackbrew here, and it behooves me to be a little humble about that.

This is probably the most simple recipe I have ever used. No hops at all. Barely a boil. No chiller. Here it is.

Pseudomalainen Firhti (3-4 gal batch)

6 lbs pilsner DME

1 lb rye malt

About a pound of fir tips and twigs (to filter grain, and also to go in the brewpot)

Yeast (various recipes call for anything from bread yeast to champagne yeast. I went with Red Star Champagne)

Steep the rye in a gallon of water for one hour at 170 (the lowest my oven will go). Layer a bed of fir pieces into your strainer, and strain the mash through that. Squish. Sparge with another hot gallon. Squish again. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR STRAINER. LEAVE THAT JUNK IN THERE.

Go get more fir if you need to. Drop the rest of the fir into your brewpot, top off a bit so most of the fir is in the water–within reason, given the size of your pot and the amount of fir you have. Heat it up to 150-170, a nice steamy sub-boil. The wort will turn a pea-soup yellow and smell like Christmas. Keep it about that warm for 10 or 15 minutes.

Get out your strainer with the rye and the fir needles and decant the wort from your brewpot through that grainbed into your fermenter. You’re basically doing an extra sparge with your wort. Squish. Done!

I didn’t chill my wort at all, I just left the carboy on the counter with a plate over the mouth until the next morning, when I pitched the yeast. I see bubbles as of an hour ago: success!

Thoughts: I wanted my first firhti to be pure fir so I could find out how the flavor worked in isolation. It’s nice, but pretty resinous and a bit acrid–future batches of this will contain a few things to round out the flavor. Since this is an experiment in seeing what sahti would taste like if it had grown up in the Pacific Northwest instead of Finland, I’m thinking mint and hops. I have Saaz and Cascade vines in the backyard; I think Saaz would be a better match.

Since this recipe also has no preservatives (such as hops) other than the alcohol, and since it’s not going to be a high-hooch brew, it’s got to be drunk young. I anticipate that a fair bit of it will go sour before I finish drinking it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out.

Look at this junk. LOOK. I’m so proud of it.

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Bottling day and tasting notes: Molasses Stout

Standard bottling process, you know how it goes. Sanitize everything, shoo the Morale Octopus off the fermenter, and get busy.

I’m really happy with the Molasses Stout, but you know what I need about a ton more of? MOLASSES. I thought I was overdoing it, but I didn’t even scratch the surface of overdoing it. I may have barely begun to simply do it, and overdoing it will require a tanker truck.

Tasting notes:

Really, really good. I love this beer. Hoppier than expected, but less spicy and less molasses-y. Good balance, will probably be especially super after a few months in the bottle mellow the hops out. There’s a little bit of barleywine-type raisin fruitiness. It’s also pretty strong. As usual I have no idea what the gravity or ABV are, but a test glass suggests that this batch is comfortably in the imperial range.

Recipe notes:

I would happily make this beer again, unaltered. But for a gingerbread molasses stout of the sort I originally intended, the recipe needs about half the hops–and twice the molasses, lactose, and spice mix (leaving juniper at original amount). 8 oz of lactose and nearly a gallon of molasses for a 5-gal batch. That sounds absolutely ridiculous. I’m going to do it anyway–but probably as a 1-gal test run first.

Here’s a look at the actual beer, just after bottling. Looking forward to seeing what kind of head it ends up with once it’s done.

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Brew day: Molasses Stout (and brandywort chaser)

It’s all over but the cleaning now. Have a look at this fabulous wort. It’s a swampy dark hell just like it should be. Dig:

I’ve adjusted the original recipe post to reflect a few changes I made while picking up ingredients and actually assembling the brew. Biggest changes are a rather mammoth addition of molasses and the addition of juniper and grains of paradise. It’s a molasses imperial stout, I figured, there’s no point in trifling around with that. Not blackstrap anymore, though; the store didn’t have any.

But I have a present for you, even though it’s past Christmas. Another recipe for a truly fine thing I’m calling a Brandywort.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the fine beverage called a Hot Scotchie, which is toasty mash runoff with a bit of Scotch in. I like this version even better: a brandywort is cooled wort, sweet and malty and ripe with hop flavor and any other adjuncts you’ve added along the ride, topped off with a dollop of brandy. Brandy and hops are a natural match, as it turns out. I’ll have to experiment with that later. Take this stuff in small glasses, it’s strong.

Brandywort Recipe

1 oz wort (squish some out of your strainer)
1 tbsp of brandy, more or less to taste

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Molasses stout recipe

Not dead! Anybody who sells anything knows this is a very mixed blessing time of year and my shop’s been keeping me pretty busy. Good busy, but! It means the beer bucket’s been empty and that makes me get antsy.

Barleywine’s been rescheduled for early in the new year so it’ll have plenty of time to age. Super Star Destroyer Sahti is definitely happening–the trick is finding a damn juniper tree, believe it or not. I want to do it up in proper old-school Finn style with the mash poured then sparged over fresh foliage. AND THEN SAUNA AND PICKLES, HELL YEAH

Anyway, the bucket wants something nice in it so tomorrow’s brew day. The weather’s in the low forties with north winds and steady rain. I’m reaching out in desperation for a thick, dark, strong ale, so imperial stout it is. Spiced imperial stout. With molasses. In short, gingerbread stout. Here’s the recipe I’ll be using, hodgepodged from a few different impstouts and the absolutely perfect recipe for gingerbread cookies on the back of the Grandma’s Molasses jar:

Great Matriarch Molasses Stout (Grandma and her black strap. Had to be done.)

6 lbs Amber DME
1/2 lb 60-L Crystal Malt
1/2 lb black patent
1/2  lbs roasted barley
48 fl oz molasses, unsulphured. That’s a lot and that’s the point.
4 oz lactose
2 oz Perle hops (60 minutes)
1 oz Willamette hops (10 minutes)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon (60 minutes)
1 oz juniper berries, crushed (60)
1/2 tsp grains of paradise, crushed (60)
1/2 tsp allspice (60)
1 tbsp ground ginger (10 minutes)–substitute 2 oz chopped fresh

Wyeast #1084 Irish Ale yeast

Mash grain in 1 gallon for an hour–160F or so. Sparge with another hot gallon. Sparge again to roughly 2 1/2 gallons and boil. Pop in the lactose and adjust spice to taste just before flameout. Prep yeast, cool wort, pitch it and rejoice. Bottle in a few weeks.

Should be fairly sweet, with strong spice and molasses flavors. I’ve been wanting my own molasses stout since the Pumpkin Beer Festival and we’ll see how this one turns out. Pics tomorrow!

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Zugzug, beer done

The Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin is safely in bottles now. FIRST: PICTURES!

Here’s a quick recipe post-mortem.

Mouth experience:

  • Definite squashy/pumpkin flavor. Total success there. Huzzah!
  • Pleasantly spicy. Hops blend in with spice. May settle down during bottle-conditioning…more spice required? Probably more ginger.
  • Moderate breadiness. I like the yeast choice. No tartness.
  • Minimal sweetness. As usual, I underestimated how much malt/adjunct would be required. I need to tape a sign over the stove that reads DROWN THE YEASTS IN THEIR OWN URINE. That’ll put me in the proper spirit.

Recipe experience:

  • Keep yeast. Use more malt in general, especially dextrin and Crystal. Try Maris Otter next time?
  • Use kabocha, rather than pumpkin, for even more pronounced pumpkin flavor.
  • Don’t forget the ginger in the boil, geez.

And that’s pretty much that! This was my first recipe built from scratch, and I thank everybody who biffed their batches before me so I knew what not to do. If you like a pumpkin ale that has pronounced spice-bread flavor without tasting like dessert, stick with the original recipe. For a sweeter pumpkin-bread ale, you’ll want to tweak it with some of the suggestions above. Either way, IT’S PUMPKIN and that’s the important thing.

(incidentally, a note to Seattle-area folks. Sound Homebrew Supply is a sweet new joint and it’s about time a homebrew shop opened in the Georgetown/Sodo area given how many craft breweries, like Two Beers, Georgetown Brewing, Schooner Exact, Epic Ales, etc etc, are there already. I have no doubt they’ll do fine. They certainly don’t need me to boost their signal and they haven’t recompensed me in any way for this, but I did stop in yesterday and they were super-cool. It’s early days still and smells a bit of new carpet. 🙂 Check out the solid array of specialty grains. I want to see them stick around so I can keep having a brewshop so ridiculously close to home.)

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Bottling day! Herbal Brown

This was a deliberate freestyle mess from the very beginning, and after three weeks in the fermenter I finally bottled it up and had a chance to taste it. It’s good! Dryer than I expected (this keeps happening…I need to quit babystepping with my malt and just get a drum of it) and pleasantly herb-y. Unfortunately I can’t really post a full recipe, since I made so many side-trips, but here’s an approximation:

All-In Herbal Brown Ale

First: boil two gallons of water. Turn off the burner and dump in anywhere from a few pinches to a few ounces of these things, dry or fresh, mixed to your taste:

Sage, mint (any kind), lavender, citrus peel (any), chopped ginger root, apple peel/apple slices

Put a lid on it and let it cool off while you do everything else. Put it in the fridge if you have room. Just leave the herbs in to steep, they don’t mind. I used one to two ounces of everything and my brew was about as strong as a normal cup of herbal tea. An herbier brew will make an herbier beer: freestyle.

Take an unremarkable 5-gallon recipe for brown ale. Any will do, subtle differences will not be important by the time you’re done. Use a quarter of the hops called for. Proceed as normal, and chill wort.

Plop the chilled wort into your fermenter. Strain the herbal mix in. Top up to 5 gal if necessary, and pitch your yeast. Bottle in 2-3 weeks and rejoice!

So that’s what just came out of the carboy this morning. Tried it with lunch and it’s really good with spicy food. Also with sharp cheese–it cuts the spice and the milkfat really well and the herbs perk up your mouth. I’m going to give it a couple of weeks to bottle-condition and then rig up a peppery beef stew to go with it.

Here’s some action shots, including a moody noir close-up of the priming sugar waking the yeast back up:

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Annual Pumpkin Brew

I realized yesterday about an hour before my favorite brewshop closed that I had exactly one month until Halloween, and if I wanted to bottle a celebratory pumpkin beer in time for the holiday I’d better get it in the bucket NOW NOW NOW. (or then then then, but you get me.)

I’d thought about making a pumpkin stout, because Elysian Brewing‘s Dark o’ the Moon is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever consumed (and if you’re not going to try the rest of theirs at the Pumpkin Beer Festival Oct. 8 and 9, you’re seriously missing out on one of the best parts of autumn in Seattle). But I don’t think I can equal that one yet, and I’ve been loving me some  brown ales lately, so I hodge-podged together a recipe for a spiced pumpkin brown. I’m aiming for a pumpkin-bread feeling. Here’s the recipe I used:

The Most Serene Republic of Pumpkin

Before brew day: obtain a nice fat medium-size pumpkin, 10-15 pounds. This pumpkin will be the backbone of your beer, so choose one with a gracious and friendly bearing.

2 lb Vienna Malt
½ lb Crystal 60L malt
½ lb Cara-Pils malt
6 lbs roasted pumpkin chunks

6 lbs amber DME (60 minutes)
2 c molasses (60 minutes)
1 oz Mt. Hood hops (60 minutes)
1 tbsp cinnamon (60 minutes)
an arbitrary quantity of additional pumpkin chunks (60 minutes)

1/2 oz Saaz hops (5 minutes)
Nutmeg, coriander seeds, allspice, 1 tbs each (5 minutes)
1 oz fresh ginger, grated (5 minutes)
You want some orange peel? Add an ounce of orange peel here. (5 minutes)

Lallemand Windsor yeast (British-style. Use what you like best.)

Wash, gut, and chunk pumpkin. Roast pumpkin chunks in oven at 375 for 60 minutes.
Mash grain and 6lbs of pumpkin in 1 ½ gallons hot water at 170F for 45 minutes.
Sparge with 2 gallons hot water. Squish for maximum yield. Delight in sweet scent and warm amber color.
Boil 55 minutes with malt extract, molasses, cinnamon, Mt. Hood hops, and another pound or two of pumpkin chunks.
Add Saaz hops and late-addition spices, and boil 5 minutes.

THIS IS A PUMPKIN BEER WITH PUMPKIN IN IT so go ahead and drop the rest of the chunks into your sanitized fermenter.
Cool wort, strain into fermenter. Could be sludgy; be patient. Squish wort out of sludge. Top up to 5 gallons. Add yeast.
After a week, or when the fermentation slacks off, rack your exquisitely pumpkin-y ale off the sludge of the exquisite pumpkin that helped you make it, and let it finish up in a secondary fermenter for another week or two.

Prime and bottle! Enjoy.

It’s doing the first crazed fermentation right now. Wort tasting and airlock-sniffing suggest that I could probably afford to tone down the hops a bit, and maybe bump up the Crystal and dextrin (cara-pils) malts to a full pound each, but it’s not even a day in yet and there’s lots for the yeast to do. Also, I forgot the ginger. Oh well! I’ll update on its progress in a week or two when it goes into bottles or a secondary fermenter.

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