I just got a new pamphlet written by a friend, Steve Stuffit, called Radical Brewing (number 10 in the Bristol Radical History pamphlet series). It talks about the history of brewing, and includes a section on the philosophy of nettle picking for brews. There’s even a recipe that I’m going to try.
The pamphlet gives a rundown of the history of brewing, from its origins as a small scale activity that was widely practiced, through the regulation of brewing and the beginnings of its development as big business, to the present day. There is an emphasis on home brewing as asserting one’s rights over the commons, particularly if one isn’t using hops (which although you can find wild or grow yourself tend to be commercially farmed and quite expensive). I recommend it as a good and interesting read. I’ve certainly found it inspiring.
I’ve decided that the next beer I’m going to brew is going to be a variation of the Skull Splitter, in an Old Ale style. This will make for quite a ‘big’ beer, that will be darker in colour and stronger (at around 6.5%), probably about the same colour as Fuller’s ESB. The herbs remain the same, but there’s more malt and chocolate malt will be added to give it a nuttiness that the Skull Splitter didn’t have.
4lbs malt extract syrup
1/2 lb crystal malt
1/8 lb chocolate malt
1 oz mugwort (at start of boil)
1 oz yarrow (1/2 at start of boil, 1/2 at last ten minutes)
1/4 oz crushed juniper berries (last ten minutes)
2 gallons water (UK)
Expected OG: 1.060-1.070
Expected FG: 1.016-1.020
Before the late 19th Century beer was brewed with things other than hops. Beer generally needs a bittering agent to offset the sweetness of the malts use in the process, and this is the job that the hops in modern beers perform.
Before the widespread use of hops, ales were flavoured with gruit (somethimes pronounced groot), which uses one or more of a number of herbs including yarrow, mugwort, bog mytrle (aka sweet gale), juniper berries, wild rosemary, sage and others.
I’ve found an excellent resource on brewing gruit ales, along with recipes here.