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
This is the next brewing project. Based on a mixture of my Yarrow Pale Ale and adapted from the recipe on Gruit Ale. I’ve not included the smoked malt from the original recipe, as although I like smoked beer it is an acquired taste (someone once likened it to having heavily smoked bacon steeped in beer).
Ingredients for 2 UK gallons:
3 lbs Malt Extract (3 essential jars)
4 ozs crystal malt
1/2 oz dried yarrow (plus 1/4 oz for ‘finishing’)
1/2 oz dried mugwort
2.5g juniper berries
2 UK gallons (9 litres) water
Method as for the Yarrow Pale Ale, with Juniper and an extra 1/4 oz dried yarrow added to the last ten minutes of the boil.
The recipe laid out in full with process and details on colour.
Skull Splitter boiling
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.
I’ve been looking at mugwort as the next potential brewing herb. Like yarrow, mugwort, also known as common wormwood contains thujone (the active ingredient of absinthe) and was one of the herbs used to make ales or gruits before the widespread use of hops became common in the late 19th Century . Apparently the thujone can work transdermally (like dandelion this means that the effects can be derived from skin contact in picking – Koreans wear silk gloves to protect against passing out while harvesting). Traditionally mugwort was used to aid fatigue, and as protection from evil spirits and wild animals. It also has a use for lucid dreaming in some cultures.I have no idea what it tastes like, but I’m going to use it to make an ale along the lines of my Yarrow Pale Ale.
A note of caution: pregnant women should not consume mugwort in quantity (or at all) as it causes uterine contractions.