Fermenting Fun: Winter Sprucer 2.0

Spruce has been a plant I have long wanted to explore in herbal brewing, and back in November of last year I finally tried it out. Winter Sprucer the 1st turned out well (extremely well for a first try actually) but was not as authentically ‘sprucy’ as I had hoped and so I decided to give it another shot, this time complimenting the spruce with some well chosen conventional hop varieties. Continue reading “Fermenting Fun: Winter Sprucer 2.0”

Achille’s Heal Gruit Ale: Tasting Notes

The completion of this recipe marks the beginning of a new era for me in terms of my gradual evolution as a home brewer;  bit of an eccentric home brewer at that. There are a few different techniques and ingredients featured in Achille’s Heal Gruit ale that I have read extensively about but never put into practice until now. The first major change that was made was my switch from using almost exclusively liquid malt extract (LME) to experimenting with dry malt extract (DME),. I’ve got to say that I welcome this change and will very likely continue to use DME from now on. I find it significantly less messy and you don’t need as much of it because LME contains roughly 10% water and so is slightly less concentrated than the DME which has all of the water removed from it. Furthermore, I made the switch from amber malt to pale malt, although this was made not necessarily out of preference but because I was attempting to replicate a different style in this beer: something with a very light malt profile and much more hop character and bitterness. This, I believe, I most definitely achieved. Continue reading “Achille’s Heal Gruit Ale: Tasting Notes”

Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is probably one of my favorite native perennial medicinal herbs. It was one of the first plants that I learned to identify with confidence, and it is a common sight in many parts of the northern hemisphere, found virtually right across the top of our world. One of the chief medicinal applications of yarrow has been to both as a topical disinfectant and to stop profuse bleeding when wounded. It’s these compounded characteristics of the plant which earned it its genus name Achillea. Achilles is a warrior in Greek mythology who was believed to have treated the injuries his soldiers sustained in battle by applying a poultice of crushed yarrow leaves.

Indigenous peoples, where ever they have access to this plant, developed surprisingly similar medicinal and therapeutic traditions for yarrow, many of which have been proven by modern science including it’s ability to increase perspiration and thin the blood. Folk medicinal proclaims yarrow to be almost something of a cure-all, and many of this proposed medicinal attributes I can personally vouch for either directly or indirectly including it’s effectiveness for soothing sore throats, relieving nasal congestion, easing headaches and discouraging/relieving symptoms of indigestion and nausea. Continue reading “Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale”

Easy-Pleasy Fermented Pickles

3 days ago I made a spur of the moment decision, around 9 o’clock in the evening, to try my hand at making some fermented pickles. The idea has been swirling around my mind for quite a while, and I realized that there is no better time to start doing something then right now in the present moment. So, following my own advice (which is something that I desperately need to do more often) I decided to go for it and give it a shot.

I thought that it was going to take me hours, as I have pretty much no experience canning (until I initiated this experiment of course) but have read about it and heard others praise it for a long while. In the process, I realized rather quickly that is was simpler than I ever could have imagined. I quickly looked up a basic recipe which you can view right here although I modified it heavily. I treated it more as a guideline and collection of suggestions (which I suppose is a plausible definition of a recipe, no?) than an actual step-by-step procedure, mainly because I had different sized jars and a varied range of ingredients that I wanted to experiment with.

Continue reading “Easy-Pleasy Fermented Pickles”

Creeping Charlie ’14

There isn’t anything quite like enjoying a fresh, deeply aromatic creep in the spring. By ‘creep’ I am referring to ‘creeping Charlie’, one of the many curious, colorful and quirky names given to a plant I most often refer to as ground-ivy, the species Glechoma hederacea. It has enjoyed a long history in beer brewing, dating back centuries in northern Europe where the plant is indigenous. At times, ground-ivy altogether replaced hops in recipes when hops was unavailable or because the individual brewer preferred the flavor and other benefits of ground-ivy. So would it be a stretch to say that our familiar hop could be a substitute for ground-ivy? The plant also imbibes the ale with a great deal of medicinal potency, but I’ll take a look through that when I review this beer in a few weeks time.

Ground-ivy has been documented to help preserve beer, imbibe pleasant bittering flavors and qualities, and also help improve the clarity of the beer. I would like to believe that these claims are true, although the first beer that I made back in 2012 featuring ground-ivy also had hops in it, and so it was not a legitimate recipe where I could solely experience the unique aspects of ground-ivy. The second attempt, which I believe also had some hops in it, ended in disaster last year (2013) when the carboy it was fermenting in exploded. Just couldn’t handle the awesome I suppose. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. Please. This time around, I’ll definitely get to know the beery nature this herb better and will very likely gather some again soon and preserve it to use in recipes throughout the summer, autumn and winter. It’s best harvested when in bloom, and that is pretty much all of May and June, so there is lots of time to make excuses to stake your claim to your share of nature’s bountiful riches.

Adding ground-ivy gradually at intervals throughout the boil achieves an even balance of bitterness, flavour and aromatic compounds being distilled into the beer, as well as preserving delicate volatile medicinal compounds but also accessing more heat-tollerant compounds.

Ground-ivy is a thin, wiry herbaceous plant with creeping stems, rounded opposite leaves and light to dark purple tubular flowers which appear in the axils of the leaves in spring. It has a shy but tenacious nature, with a tendency to clamber over surrounding vegetation and spread aggressively, announcing it’s subtleties for those who are curious enough to notice. Lightly shaded woodlands, partly sunny hillsides, open rocky or gravelly areas and cool sunny riversides are all environments suitable for ground-ivy. I don’t encounter this plant everywhere I travel, but where there is some there tends to be a lot. The stems are weak and easily break off at notes or by the roots, which makes gathering them not particularly labor intensive and efficient. I like having it around, it’s useful and somehow strangely alluring.


4 pounds liquid amber barley malt extract
5 ounces freshly gathered flowering shoots of ground-ivy
4 gallons water
0.5 powered Irish moss tablet
8 grams dried ale yeast
16 grams yeast nutrient


1. Bring 1 (or 2) gallons of water to a boil.
2. Once boiling, remove from heat and stir in liquid amber barely malt extract until it is thoroughly dissolved. Return to heat and bring back to a boil.
3. Set timer for 30 minutes.
4. Add 1 ounce of freshly harvested ground-ivy, bruised slightly or coarsely chopped, every 10 minutes (30, 20, 10 and 0 mins.) for a total of 4 ounces at the end of the boil.
5. Add half a tablet of Irish moss 15 minutes from the end of the boil. Stir in briefly to help dissolve.
6. Remove from heat after 30 minutes of boiling and allow to cool with ground-ivy still in the wort to at least 100 °F before pouring into fermenter.
7. Fill fermenter partially with cold, clean water. Pour in the wort, straining the spent ground-ivy through a sieve, into the fermenter.
8. Alternate pouring in the cold water and wort until a total of 4 gallons is reached (this is so that the hot water does not shock and crack the glass carboy).  Stir to ensure an even mix.
9. Once the 4 gallons of wort is slightly warm to the touch, pitch dried ale yeast and yeast nutrient.
10. Before adding airlock, place remaining 1 ounce of ground-ivy in a cloth bundle and hang from clean string from the top of the fermenter.
11. Ferment until complete, 7-10 days. Bottle condition for 7-10 days at 16-19 degrees °C for 10-14 days.

* In case you are a home brewer yourself and you may be wondering why I don’t include original gravity readings or any of that slightly more technical and specific information in the recipe and instructions, there are most certainly reasons for this. This is because, number one, I don’t own a hydrometer. Two; there would be no point. The unconventional ingredients that I use wreak havoc on the formulas used to determine this information and therefore cannot be used reliably. For most people, consistency in terms of mathematics is important, but for the herbal brewer, specificities such as this are a fever dream and from my current understand would be almost impossible to determine short of working out new formulas which take into consideration the ways in which different herbs affect the density and gravity of the wort.