Brewing a Meadowsweet SMASH(erb) Beer

It is brewday! (or, at least it was brewday last Sunday). After obtaining meadowsweet from an online herbal distributor and the base grains from the local homebrew shop, I brewed a quick beer, adding meadowsweet at the beginning of the boil. The process (see below) largely follows the previous experimental brews on this site. This maintains consistency for ease of comparison with other adjunct experiments. For the previous posts on meadowsweet, see:

Meadowsweet in Ancient Sources
Meadowsweet in Archaeology

Previous Meadowsweet Brews
The production of a modern meadowsweet beer is not particularly innovative or unprecedented. Meadowsweet, to some extent, is still used by some modern brewers, mead-ers, and gruit-ers. Ratebeer, for instance, has a lengthy list of meadowsweet fermented beverages (1). Most recently, the legendary brewery of Cantillon even produced a meadowsweet lambic, Reine de Pres – a beer that we can only hope that we will someday try!

A number of other herbal beer and scavenged/organic food blogs regularly experiment with this herb. For instance, Dave Bonta produced a meadowsweet, heather, and gentian gruit. He comments on the pleasant flavor that the meadowsweet provides in combination with other herbs (2). The “Hunter Gatherer Cookbook” made a meadowsweet “champagne” with freshly collected meadowsweet flowers (3). And, the Irish examiner reports a self-harvested meadowsweet cordial as a fun DIY project (4).

With the abundance of evidence for meadowsweet brews in the archaeological record (5), archaeologists, too, have not shied away from reconstructing this type of beer for academic and public outreach purposes. Many even employ ancient brewing techniques, as well. Our friends at “Ancient Ale and Malt” have made several reconstructions using meadowsweet (6). Because they found that meadowsweet inhibited fermentation, they suggest that the flowers are best added as a “dry hop” of sorts. The Dineley’s have written about their experiments with meadowsweet on several occasions and these works are certainly worth reading  (Dineley and Dineley 2000a; 2000b). Similarly, two archaeologists from Ireland report their production of a “prehistoric beer” with the adjuncts meadowsweet and bayberry among others that were added at the end of the mash (7, 8, 9; Quinn and Moore 2007). The brew was apparently a popular success.

For our beer, we are only concerned with the impact of the meadowsweet addition alone: the flavor that it contributes and its effects on the brewing process. To focus on this particular variable, we do not utilize any atypical (for us) brewing techniques or include any additional adjuncts – just water, malted barley, yeast, and meadowsweet. We will employ the same methodology for all upcoming adjunct beers.

 

Brewing

1.5 lb (0.68 kg) 2-row barley
1 oz (28.35 g) dried meadowsweet
1.5 (5.67 l) gallons of water
Omega Lab’s Voss Kveik (2nd gen, harvested from a previous homebrew)

Brew-in-a-bag method (BIAB). Mashed in at 152 F (66.7 C) to bring the water to 150 F (65.6 C). I let the grains mash for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. After removing the bag and letting the wort drain from the grains, I brought the sugary liquid to a boil. I then added the meadowsweet at the very beginning of the 30 minutes boil. Immediately upon the meadowsweet addition, I was struck by an intense, sweet aroma. In fact, the entire room became filled with a smell that was not dissimilar from baking banana bread – altogether, quite enjoyable.

After the boil, I placed the brewpot in an ice water bath to swiftly reduce the temperature. When the wort reached 84 F (28.9 C), it was transferred to a clean and sanitized fermentation jug. The kveik operates well at above-normal temperatures and is, thus, ideal for brews in which temperature control is impossible. After pitching this yeast, I placed the beer in a dark closet to ferment. Fermentation began within hours, as indicated by a thick krausen that stuck around for 4 days. It seems like this dried meadowsweet or its combination with the particular kveik yeast did not affect the fermentation.

Details
OG: 1.032
Wort flavor: The wort still retained some sweetness and was not overly bitter. The meadowsweet seems to have tempered the sugary quality of the liquor, and also offered a pleasant woody, flowery, and hay-like flavor.

Bibliography
Dineley, M. and G. Dineley, 2000a. “From Grain to Ale: Skara Brae, a Case Study.” In Neolithic Orkney in its European Context, edited by A. Ritchie, 196-200. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.

Dineley, M. and G. Dineley, 2000b. “Neolithic Ale: Barley as a Source of Malt Sugars for Fermentation.” In Plants in Neolithic Britain and Beyond. Neolithic Studies Group Seminar Papers 5, edited by A.S. Fairbairn, 137-154. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Quinn, B. and D. Moore, 2007. “Ale, Brewing, and ‘Fulachta Fiadh.” Archaeology Ireland 21(3): 8-11.

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