To me, herbal ale homebrewing conjures up images of a hipster with a man bun tinkering away in his home kitchen laboratory. He sniffs at delicate green herbs and tastes worts with care and refinement. He pours carefully from carboy to bottle, and shares generously with his skinny jean wearing friends.
Happily, brewing herbal ale is for anyone who is interested in reaping the benefits of plants in their beverages. You don’t have to be a hipster, a drunkard, or a pinky-in-the-air connoisseur to learn the craft. (Dear hipster friends, I love you and I’m not really making fun of you!) Though I warn you, you just might develop a kitchen laboratory by the time you’re done. 😉
This post contains affiliate links. I received a free copy of the Herbal Academy’s Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review.
One stereotype that homebrewing usually isn’t associated with is the alcohol-obsessed, “give-me-more-beer,” drunken and foolish brand that we are all too familiar with. Generally speaking, the people you find foraging for edible weeds and thoughtfully crafting them into a fermented beverage are not the same people looking for Bud Light and hot girls at a party. In fact, most folks who are specifically interested in herbal homebrewing are interested in the nutritional and medicinal properties of the drink.
Most of us recognize that many herbs are wonderfully beneficial ingredients in home cooking and home remedies. According to the Herbal Academy Herbal Fermentation Course, fermenting herbs also means making them more bio-available to your body. So quite literally, creating an herbal ale means creating a powerhouse for nutrition and health.
Foraging has become one of my passions over the last several years. Although I still consider myself a novice, I get quite the thrill out of hunting for wild food. Fermenting has also become a favorite pastime– so the idea of putting the two of them together? It’s almost more excitement than this 30-something mama can take at one time. 😉
Note: The Herbal Academy prefers to use the term beer instead of ale. The course instructor feels that “ale” has nose-in-the-air connotations, but beer, by contrast, speaks of community and every-day accessibility. I’m using the term “ale” in this post because that’s what it technically is called when brewing with herbs, but I’m all for community too.
So here I am, experimenting with adventures in herbal home brewing. I want to share the basic process with you, but please know that I’m new at this, and I’m learning right along with you.
- Find tasty, edible herbs or plants. You can purchase bulk herbs online, or you can hunt for them yourself in the wild. Just be sure to know your plants and follow basic foraging safety and ethics. A quality guide to wild edibles is a must when you are learning to identify plants.
- Make an herbal tea. This can be done via an infusion (pouring boiling water over the herbs and letting them steep) or a decoction (simmering the herbs in water for a longer period of time). The method depends on which herb you have chosen. The tea should be made in a non-reactive container. I’m using (you guessed it!) two half-gallon mason jars.
- Add sugar. You need about a pound of sugar to make a gallon of ale. (Don’t worry, all that sugar will be eaten up during fermentation.) The type of sugar you use will affect the end flavor of the ale. Generally, you can use malt extract, brown sugar, white sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses, honey, maple syrup, or straight molasses.
- Add the yeast. Different yeasts will behave differently, so it’s a good idea to read the instructions on the package!
- Install an airlock and let it ferment. I use Fermentools airlocks– and I love them because they work with mason jars! Alternatively, you can opt for a traditional fermenting vessel and accompanying airlock. Your ale should ferment until it stops bubbling and the ale is clear- and maybe a few days past that. (Make sure the fermentation is complete so you don’t create a potential explosive inside the bottle later on!)
- Bottle the ale & perform a second ferment. Using clean bottles, put 1/2 tsp of sugar in the bottom of each 12 oz bottle to start a second ferment. Pour in the ale through a funnel and cap the bottles.
- Let the second ferment complete & monitor bottles. Let the ale sit at room temperature in the bottles for another week or two to create carbonation. During this time, watch to make sure there is no increasing air space in the bottle. If you see this, it’s an indication of increasing pressure, and you may have a potential bomb on your hands! However, this can be avoided by making sure the first fermentation was complete before bottling.
- Enjoy! Move to the fridge, and/or keep in cool storage for up to year. If you keep your ale at room temperature, do so in a sheltered location to avoid the possibility of a a sudden temperature change that could re-introduce the danger of explosion.
For full instructions, helpful videos, answers to FAQs and a more experienced teacher than me, consider purchasing the Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy! You’ll also get units on herbal mead, herbal kombucha and water kefir, and lacto-fermentation of fruits and vegetables- starring herbs, of course! I am having an absolute blast with the course and recommend it to anyone interesting in playing with herbalism and fermentation.
I’ll be sure to come back and update/write more posts as I learn more! Stay tuned. 🙂