In the vein of making lemonade from lemons, I decided to make our first batch of Mugwort Ale from wild mugwort, Artemesia vulgaris. It is usually referred to as a weed but actually it's a medicinal herb, and it grew in my gardens last year. After pulling the plants by hand I dried the herb and saved it for future use.
I didn't know at the time that something such as homebrewed ale could be made with it. I learned about that by reading the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I used the recipe on page 379.
My husband homebrews beer, so we owned all the equipment and I had his expertise and help with this project. All this cost me was the price of the yeast and using the sweetners I already had on hand. My husband remains skeptical. Neither of us has ever tasted Mugwort Ale so we don't know what it should taste like or what ours will taste like. I'll report in on it again after we sample the finished ale. I love the scent of the fresh plant and it's scent dried, so am hopeful that this will have an interesting and pleasing taste as an ale.
Notes on the Ingredients
The recipe calls for molasses. Something I have learned from experience baking and cooking with molasses is that there is a wide variety of taste differences with different brands and grades of molasses. Even the same brand may offer multiple different grades with varying flavors. Some molasses brands are much too strong for my taste. Which molasses a person uses would affect the flavor of the ale greatly. I used a mild molasses I had on hand in the necessary quantity: Crosby's. Crosby's is a Canadian product which is popular in northern Maine where my grandmother lived. I bought mine there since it is unavailable in Connecticut and I like its taste the best. It is pretty mild and not "rank" as my grandmother would say.
I used light brown sugar as that's what I had on hand in the quantity necessary. The recipe did not specify light or dark brown sugar. Which is selected will affect the taste.
The recipe does not state which kind of yeast to use. My husband knew the type of yeast used would affect the flavor of the ale and he suggested I take Buhner's book with me in hand and ask the shop which would be appropriate. I shopped for our yeast at Maltose Express, a local homebrew store. The owners of the store are also book authors of cookbooks for homebrewing beer: Tess and Mark Szamatulski. One of their books is Clone Brews.
The store clerk phoned Tess Szamatulski to ask her opinion about the yeast. The reply was: an Irish yeast would bring out the flavor of the molasses (and dominate it), an English yeast would bring out the brown sugar flavor (and dominate it) and an American Ale yeast would be mellow and would allow the flavor of the mugwort to dominate.
I selected the American Ale yeast (Wyeast brand) because the point of my making this ale was to use mugwort and to have the taste of mugwort. I didn't want the mugwort flavor to be secondary or concealed.
Here is the ale 12 hours into the process. It is already fermenting as evidenced by the bubbles seen on the surface.
Here are some photos of the ale making process as it unfolded.
light brown sugar
Water with light brown sugar and molasses, dissolved then brought to a boil.
dried mugwort leaves from my garden (Artemesia vulgaris)
Then I stirred the mugwort, boiling in the sweet solution, for a half hour.
My husband warned to keep stirring this so the leaves didn't settle down and burn onto the bottom of the pot and ruin the batch.
I am not outlining all the basic homebrewing processes and methods within this post. We used all the basic procedures for homebrewing including safety measures for disinfecting.
It will ferment for about a week, then it will be bottled with a secondary ferment. It will be ready to drink about ten days after bottling. I'll give a progress report then.
Books mentioned in this post:
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