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Non-hopped, herbal ales

Curious if anyone here are making any non-hopped herbal brews like the historic ones in Sacred & Herbal Healing Beers? I’ve brought it up when I’ve been at my local NB getting supplies and usually just get a confused stare.

I’m new to brewing and oddly started with these herbal beers since I have some herbalist training and am intrigued with the history of these beers.

The two recipes I’ve tried so far are just herbs such as dried nettles, meadowsweet, agrimony, pine tips, dandelion leaf, etc, organic cane sugar, and a standard English or America ale yeast. No hops or grain.

Since I haven’t done any traditional brewing yet, I’m guessing that using a grain instead of the sugar might give a totally different flavor? The beers I’ve tested (most are still aging) seem to have a cidery flavor and I’m wondering if that is because of the sugar I’m using?

Also, the ABV is rather high, 8.27% on this last one I made. I’d actually prefer to keep the ABV in a more normal range but am not sure how to control that.

Anyhow, if anyone has tried beers like these, I’d like to hear about your experiences.

There is quite a bit of information out there, and some breweries are making beers with various herbs instead of hops-I think New Belgium has a Gruit beer in their lips of faith series. I made one with Yarrow and Heather last summer that was quite nice. The old herbed beers were almost always made with grain, maybe some honey because other refined sugars were not generally available until fairly late in history. Using malt will give you a nice malty flavor, depending on what malts and specialty malts you decide to use, and not the cidery flavor you get from sugar. Look at Martyn Cornell’s work for more information;

Thanks for the reply. I’ll try a malt on my next batch since I’d like to get away from the cider flavor. It also looks like I could get the cost down since the organic grains seem to be a lot cheaper than the organic sugar I’m using. And thanks for the link, I keep forgetting to search Gruit and not just herbal beer.

What about those brews you made? Did you like them? I forget that I have a copy of that book, too. I’ve never made anything from those recipes, and I should some day.

Interrobangart, forgive me if I appear to be talking down (I am not, at least not intentially), but do you understand the mashing process? You may want to start with an organic malt extract, which will be closer to what I understand you are already doing with your organic sugar. Going from grain to bottle is not difficult, but it is time-consuming and does require more equipment than what I think you are thinking.

I have been tempted to make a wee heavy, 60 shilling partigyle and use the small beer as a gruit. This would be traditional as hops are not native to Scotland.

I have found that my hopless beers tended to be tart, or you might say “cidery” although I don’t know what the heck that means. I believe this is due to the lack of the preservative nature of hops, and due to the choice of herbs used. Some herbs certainly taste a little tart, especially yarrow in my experience if you used any of that. My advice for any herbal beer is to follow the recipe or develop your own, figure out the amounts or herbs that you think you should use… and then use 1/3 to 1/2 as much as you thought you should. A little herbs goes a very long way. Use less than you think. You’ll be happier that way. And… don’t use wormwood. Just don’t.

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