HERBAL BREWS & LIBATIONS: Creating homemade herbal brews and libations is easier than you think! There is nothing better than a cool glass of herbal home brew. It is so satisfying to drink an herb-infused beverage made by hand, especially when most of the herbs have been foraged in the area around your home and have amazing health benefits. For those into sustainability, preparedness, or survivalism, herbal home brewing is a great hobby to start learning now. Home brews are a great way to use natural resources to create a medicinal and delicious beverage.
HERBAL BREWS: BEER: beer is defined as, “an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt and flavored with hops”. Since herbal beer does not contain hops, it’s technically not a beer. The correct term for an herbal beer is a “gruit,” which is an herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops.
Craft breweries are everywhere today, and making beer is appreciated as a true artisan craft. Aside from the actual enjoyment of drinking beer, the pure bliss that comes from creating and brewing herbal beer is magical. The joy of making beer doesn’t just stop at bottling. The exhilaration that comes from sharing the creation with family and friends is fun, and it fills the room with a vibe that is created by connecting through this ancient beverage. Herbal beers are more flavorful, delicious, and complex than commercial beers, and can be healing or medicinal depending on the herbs used. Since one of the reasons to make herbal beer is to reduce the chemical content, organic ingredients are recommended. Herbs are more delicate than hops and don’t need to be boiled as long in order to extract the bitterness and flavor. Herbs that taste great in a beer recipe include cardamom, cinnamon, elderberry, fenugreek, ginger, grains of paradise, hibiscus, honeybush, juniper, peppercorns, and sassafras.
Herbal beers can be made with:
• Demerara Sugar: breaks down a little more slowly than white or golden sugar and gives the yeast more to work on. Muscovado sugar contains natural molasses and can be used when a deeper flavor is desired.
• Malt Syrup: the concentrated form of unfermented brewery wort that contributes the sugars necessary for fermentation.
• Molasses: gives a particular flavor to the beer and has added health benefits. Lighter molasses adds subtle complexity and darker molasses are richer and full-flavored.
• Brewing Yeast: Young’s Yeast in a Tub is the easiest to use and can be stored in the refrigerator. Yeast needs both warmth and a sugar source to work its magic, and too much heat will kill it. Storing it in the fridge keeps it alive but dormant.
• Nutrients: are often mentioned in the older recipes, and some nutrient may be required because yeast needs citric acid to respire. Floating a piece of toast on the brew will work, or if a brew consistently fails, a squeeze of lemon juice may do the trick.
Humans have been brewing beer for millennia, and in that time, we have incorporated countless ingredients into our ferments. From bright, citrusy witbiers to rich herbal gruits, there’s a flavor profile to suit most any taste, and many of the ingredients to achieve it can be found in the home apothecary or kitchen spice rack. The rules of combining herbs for a beer are similar to herbal tea mixing. The herbs chosen should compliment the base beer’s characteristics and not overpower them. It is suggested that no more than 1 gallon of a new recipe be made to test the taste and flavor. Herbs are excellent for aged beer as the bitterness is more stable, and the bitterness from hops declines as the beer is aged.
Herb berries such as blueberry, blackberry, cherry, elderberry, juniper, and raspberry add a fruitiness help balance the maltiness of the brew, and the aerial parts impart herbal notes and often a volatile top note.
Herb flowers and leaves such as agrimony, Thai basil, borage, chamomile, elderflower, elecampane, heather, hibiscus, honey bush, lavender, lemon balm, meadowsweet, mint, nettles, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme, wood betony, and yarrow add a light and flowery flavor to the brew and offer medicinal benefits.
Herb pods and seeds such as cacao, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fenugreek, grains of paradise, nutmeg, peppercorns, rosehips, and vanilla offer complex, resiny, woody, and sometimes intense flavor to the brew.
Herb stems and twigs such as birch, Eastern red cedar, fir, pine, redwood, rhubarb, and spruce produce a refreshing and resiny flavor and were used historically as an American beer flavoring.
Herb roots such as dandelion root, ginger root, licorice root, mugwort root, orris root, and sassafras root give a depth of flavor and either sweetness or bitterness.
DEEP ROOTS GRUIT RECIPE: Taken from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog:
Yields 5 gallons: Estimated Original Gravity: 1.070:
• 9 pounds domestic 2-row malt
• 3 pounds: 12-ounce Munich light
• 1 pounds: 8-ounce kiln amber malt
• 8-ounces special B malt
• 4-ounces chocolate malt
• 4-ounces pale chocolate malt
• 1-ounce carafa I
• 1-ounce organic fuggle hops
• 2-ounces wild harvested chaga mushroom pieces, reserved
• 2-ounces organic herbal coffee of choice, reserved
• 1-ounce organic mugwort, reserved
• 1-ounce organic yarrow leaf and flower
• 1/2 teaspoon organic Irish moss
• 1 package Organic Imperial Yeast Tartan (A31) or other Scottish yeast
• Reusable hop bags, or several large cotton muslin bags
Timeline for Herbal Additions to the Boil:
• 1-ounce organic fuggle hops
• 1-ounce chaga mushroom pieces
• 1-ounce organic herbal coffee
• 1/2-ounce organic mugwort
• 1/2 teaspoon organic Irish moss
Flame out / 0 minutes:
• 1-ounce chaga mushroom pieces
• 1-ounce organic herbal coffee
• 1-ounce organic yarrow
• ½-ounce organic mugwort
• Mill all grain.
• Collect and heat roughly 5.25 gallons of water, filter if necessary.
• Heat water and target a mash temperature of 154°F.
• Slowly add crushed grain to hot water, stirring well to prevent clumping.
• Rest mash for 60 minutes.
• While mash rests, measure herbal additions and prepare to add to the boil.
• Sparge mash until six and a half gallons of wort has been collected.
• Bring wort to a boil. Watch carefully to avoid a boil over.
• Add hops and set a timer for 40 minutes.
• When timer goes off, add 20-minute additions & set timer for 10 minutes.
• When timer goes off, add 10-minute addition and set timer for 10 minutes.
• When timer goes off, kill boil and add flame out additions.
• Steep for 20 minutes.
• Chill wort to 68°F.
• Collect in sanitized fermentation vessel.
• Pitch yeast.
HERBAL BREWS: COCKTAILS: there are nearly endless combinations for herbal cocktails based on what is available and on hand, and which flavors are appealing. Many traditional cocktail recipes call for simple syrup, which is a 50/50 ratio of white sugar and water stirred together over low heat until they form a sweet syrup. An herbal element can be added to the syrup by tossing in a handful of fresh or dried leaves, flowers, or buds, removing from heat, covering, and letting steep for 15 to 20 minutes before straining. For a healthier version, consider replacing half of the white sugar with local raw honey, creating a ½ part sugar, ½ part honey, and 1 part water. Be careful to not overheat the syrup as many of the beneficial compounds in raw honey are lost at higher temperatures. To cut out the white sugar altogether, make a simple herb-infused raw honey. Herbal honeys are delicious added to cocktails, tea, sparkling water, salad dressings, desserts, and many other recipes.
BITTERS: Bitters are used by herbalists and bartenders because of their wonderfully stimulating effect on the digestive system, and the way they add depth and complexity to a cocktail. Bitters are a traditional ingredient in old-fashions, Manhattans, and Mai Tais. Bitters help with the metabolism of alcohol by breaking down the by-products of fermentation. Many bitter-tasting herbs support every stage of digestive function, including stimulating the release of saliva, digestive enzymes, stomach acid, and bile, increasing nutrient absorption, peristalsis, and the removal of metabolic waste. Mushrooms also have a bitter flavor, and the molecules that give them their bitter taste interact with the cellular receptors in the digestive tract. Examples of bitter herbs and mushrooms include burdock root, dandelion root, gentian root, licorice root, orange peel, Reishi, and turkey tail mushroom.
Bitters are surprisingly easy to make at home, and often call for common ingredients. Wild Child Herb Shop creates a delicious cocktail bitter recipe using an old ancestral folk method passed down through the generations.
DARK & STORMY MUSHROOM BITTERS: By the Herbal Academy: “This blend is a mushroom-based and traditional digestive bitter tonic. Taken with meals, the combination of bitter taste and warming aromatics can help to revitalize digestive function, while the spicy, chocolatey taste of this blend is especially welcome in the cooler months of autumn and winter. Note that the small amount used as a pre-meal digestive tonic is just a fraction of the dose needed to maximize the immunomodulant benefits of these mushrooms, but it’s a fun and tasty way to get your digestive juices flowing!”
• 1-ounce Reishi fruiting body dual extract tincture
• ½-ounce Turkey Tail fruiting body dual extract tincture
• ½-ounce Condonopsis root tincture
• ¼-ounce Damiana leaf tincture
• 1/8-ounce Cardamom seed tincture
• 1/8-ounce Ginger rhizome tincture or glycerite
• Combine all extracts in a sanitized 2-ounce dark dropper bottle.
• Shake well! Label and date for storage.
• Use 15-30 drops in a little water before meals.
• Use up to 1/8-ounce, 2-3 times daily for additional support.
• Also makes a great addition to sparkling water, cocktails, or mocktails!
TINCTURES: a concentrated alcohol infusion made by steeping an herb, spice, fruit, flower, or vegetable in high proof alcohol. Tinctures are powerful modifiers, and impart a concentrated single note flavor, so use them sparingly. A drop or two of a tincture is usually sufficient to add flavor to a cocktail. Tinctures can be mixed into cocktails, floated on top, or used in a spray to give a heightened aroma to the drinking experience. Cocktails, mocktails, teas, and spritzers offer a creative and delicious way to consume tinctures, especially if masking the taste behind something sweet, citrusy, or herbaceous is desired. Add a dropperful or two to a cocktail or create a custom blend with 1 part tincture and 1 part honey. Store the blend in the fridge and add to drinks when desired.
Tinctures are made by simply infusing a spice, herb, peel, fruit, flower, or other flavoring into a high proof neutral spirit such as vodka or grain alcohol. Herbs that are a delicious addition to cocktail tinctures include basil, mint, thyme, and lemon verbena.
MUDDLING: popular among bartenders, this technique smashes fruit or herbs in the bottom of the cocktail glass to release the juices and aromatics. When muddling fruit, it is ok to be fairly aggressive and really smash them up. When muddling herbs, however, use a lighter touch. The goal is not to smash the herbs, but rather to gently release the aromatic properties into the drink. This is a wonderful technique to utilize in the herbal kitchen, and to enhance even the simplest sparkling water or cocktail recipe.
Fresh herbs and flowers that are excellent for muddling include cilantro, lavender, rosemary, and tarragon.
HERBAL BREWS: MEAD: Mead, in its most basic form of honey and water fermented with yeast, has a long history. Greek tradition holds that it was a drink enjoyed by Zeus and lesser gods, and it played a hugely important role among ancient Druids, with many a chant and hymn composed in its honor. In Ethiopia, it has been produced since antiquity, and continues to play a pivotal role in sustaining community ties, particularly in rural areas.
Part of the appeal of this intoxicating beverage is its effect. The ancients discovered quickly that under the influence of ethanol, the alcohol produced by the interaction of yeasts and sugars, their anxieties disappeared, their fears receded, ideas came more easily, and lovers became more loving when they drank the magic juice.
Meads have more complexity than simple sugar or juice-based wines. They also tend to have a warmer, richer mouthfeel, and more body. Honey isn’t quite as easily fermented as fructose from fruit juices or sucrose from cane sugar, so they’ll generally do better with a bit of yeast nutrient added. A few raisins also add the necessary nutrients and helps keep mead from stalling out before it has finished fermenting.
HERBAL MEAD: basic ingredients for making mead and a few optional ingredients:
• Water: Use filtered or distilled water to make mead.
• Sugar: Yeast needs food in order to produce alcohol, and several types of sugar can serve this purpose. Brown turbinado sugar is the best option because it ferments cleanly, and has a caramel-like flavor.
• Local Raw Honey: The essential ingredient in mead.
• Herbs: Herbs have traditionally been added to mead to add both flavor and health-supporting value. A mead made with herbs is called a “metheglin.” An especially well-loved brewing herb is meadowsweet, used from at least medieval times until the present. Other herbs can also be used, including lemon balm, hibiscus, ginger, hops, vanilla, rose, dandelion, and rosemary.
• Fruit: Use fresh and ripe fruit in season to get the best flavor and quality possible.
• Yeast: Any yeast fed by sugar content will lead to fermentation. A strain used to produce sweet mead is ideal.
The following ingredients aren’t absolutely required for simple mead brewing. They can be helpful to have on hand, and can be purchased a brewing supply store:
• Campden Tablets: small tablets of a sulfite used to sterilize ingredients in mead that the fermentation process can’t metabolize. These tablets will kill bacteria and wild yeast, so they are added to recipes before yeast. A second tablet can be added to stabilize the fermentation before bottling.
• Yeast Nutrient: a powder that can be added to the fermentation to provide yeast the essential vitamins and minerals not naturally present in fruit, sugar, and honey.
• Tannin: If you make mead with fruits or herbs that already are astringent, such as blackberries or lemon balm, tannin is not needed. However, adding a pinch of the powder to brews that aren’t already astringent will help balance the flavor.
• Acid blend: a powder used to balance flavor and add crispness to very sweet mead.
HERBAL MEAD: EQUIPMENT: can be purchased at a brewing supplier:
• Large stainless-steel stockpot with 2 or 3-gallon capacity
• A digital scale
• Cheesecloth or thin muslin cloth
• Muslin drawstring bag
• Strainers: Large and small sizes, with fine stainless-steel mesh
• Long-handled metal spoon
• Sanitizing solution
• Canning jars
• 2-gallon, food-grade bucket with a rubber-lined hole to fit the airlock
• 1-gallon glass jar with a lid that can accommodate the airlock
• Racking cane and tip
• Siphon hose with a clamp
• Glass bottles
• Bottlecaps or wine corks
HERBAL BREWS: MEAD: BASIC STEPS:
• Prepare a sweet liquid.
• Add yeast and stir frequently and well.
• Allow to ferment.
VANILLA & MEADOWSWEET MEAD:
• 14 cups water
• 4 pounds honey
• 2 vanilla beans
• 2 ounces meadowsweet leaf and flower
• 2 Campden tablets
• 1 teaspoon acid blend
• 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
• A pinch of tannin
Ingredients for the Yeast Starter:
• 2 ¼ tablespoons honey
• 1 cup boiling water
• 1 packet dry champagne or sweet mead yeast
• 1/8 teaspoon yeast nutrient
• Sanitize a 2-gallon bucket, lid, airlock and spoon.
• In a stockpot, bring water to a boil and stir in honey until dissolved.
• Remove from heat.
• Add meadowsweet, let cool, then pour into the bucket.
• Split vanilla pods and scrape the seeds.
• Add them and the empty pods to the honey-water mix.
• Crush 1 Campden tablet and stir into the honey-water mix.
• Add the lid and attach the airlock, then let sit for a day.
• Prepare the yeast starter by adding honey to boiling water in a canning jar.
• Cool to room temperature, then add yeast and yeast nutrient.
• Cover the jar with plastic wrap, secure with a rubber band, then shake.
• Over the next half-day, the starter will become frothy and yeasty looking.
• After 24 hours, add yeast starter, tannin, and yeast nutrient.
• Stir vigorously and put the lid back on.
• Repeat this step with a sterilized spoon for the next week.
• Within a day, the brew has started to ferment, and bubbles will appear.
• In a week, sanitize a gallon jar, lid, airlock, cheesecloth, funnel, and spoon.
• Remove vanilla pods with the spoon.
• Line the funnel with cheesecloth, then slowly pour the mead into the jar.
• Change the cheesecloth to remove the meadowsweet.
• Close the lid tightly.
• Let the mead sit in a cool, dark, dry area for at least 4 weeks.
• Crush a Campden tablet into the jar, stir, and let sit for at least 24 hours.
• Siphon the mead into sanitized bottles, cap, and label them.
• Don’t forget to include the date!
HERBAL BREWS: WINE: While we often think of wine coming from grapes, fruit and flower wines can be just as satisfying. Wine has been around for as long as humans have documented history. The ancient Egyptians were the first to document in great detail the technology and technique of winemaking, a process that seems to have been mastered as early as 5,000 years ago. The cultivation of grapes began long before that, and excavations in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan have unearthed pips from cultivated grapevines carbon-dated at 8,000 B.C.E. Traditionally, wine played more than just a social role. From the writings of Pliny to Zhang Ji, to the Eclectics, we find ample evidence that wine was an essential medicine. Medicinal wine has been used for millennia in Chinese medicine as agents for “promoting people’s health and corporeity, and enriching people’s restorative culture”. For over 2,000 years, wine was the primary antiseptic used for bathing wounds, purifying water, and cleaning surgical tools. Ayurvedic and Muslim physicians noted its affinity for supporting digestion and assimilation, calming anxiety, and easing depression.
HERBAL BREWS: MEDICINAL WINES: a staple of home herbal practitioners, medicinal wines are a tasty alcoholic concoction that gets even the most stubborn client to take their medicine.
• 3 quarts water
• 3 pounds sugar
• 1-quart dandelion petals
• 3 oranges juice and zest
• 1 lemon juice and zest
• 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
• 1 packet wine yeast
• Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan.
• Stir to dissolve the sugar and cool to lukewarm.
• Place the dandelion petals, citrus juice and zest into a fermentation vessel.
• Add the yeast nutrient and pour the lukewarm sugar water over the top.
• Dissolve the packet of wine yeast in lukewarm water.
• Allow it to stand for 5 minutes to rehydrate and then pour it into the wine.
• Top off with a bit of extra water to fill the carboy.
• Leave at least an inch of headspace.
• Cap with an airlock and ferment for about 3 weeks.
• Siphon the wine into a clean container, leaving the yeast sediment behind.
• Allow the wine to ferment in secondary for at least 6 to 8 weeks.
• Check the water lock periodically to ensure that the water hasn't evaporated.
• Siphon the dandelion wine into a clean container.
• Leave the sediment behind, to prepare for bottling.
• Bottle the dandelion wine in corked wine bottles for longer storage.
• Allow the wine to age in the bottle at least 6 months or more.
• During aging, the wine should be kept in a cool place.