Sunday, 25 November 2012

Ale Hoof - Brewing ale without hops

Glechoma hederacea or Ground Ivy or Ale Hoof - It has a long association with ale making... its name is a bit of a clue. Used before the hop became the de facto flavouring of choice for brewers. It has a slightly minty or nettle aroma. It grows abundantly and can be harvested in the early summer when the leaves are growing freely and are fresh.

Presented with a large bag of freshly picked Alehoof I wanted to make a beer using this as a replacement to the standard hops.

For a 25Litre batch of beer:

1) Select the top freshest leaves from the plants, leaving all woody parts and limp leaves behind. Pull all the leaves off the stems and collect enough to fill a 4 litre jug (just fill with the leaves - not pressed).

2) Prepare a basic pale ale brew but still using hops for the bittering stage, I wanted a measurable level of bitterness - but you could use the alehoof for this stage as well. I did not add any aroma hops.

3) At the end of the boiling stage I switched off the heat and added my jug full of alehoof leaves for a  hot soak lasting 20 minutes.

4) Cool and transfer to fermentor, leaving the leaves behind in the boiler.

5) Allow to ferment as normal.

Once fermentation was complete, I tried the alehoof:

The ale had cleared as normal, it had a slightly nettle / hedgerow aroma to it, but not unpleasant. The taste was again, slightly nettle with a minty edge, but a very pleasant woody, fruity bitterness. It has an interesting bitter side to it that calls you back to try more. The ale was then served at the Veralum Arms in St Albans as a one off special.

Overall I was very pleased with the AleHoof and it is certainly a brew I would want to try again next summer.

Cock Ale - Brewing a Chicken Beer

I have long been interested in the historical brew known as Cock Ale. It seems an interesting concept to brew with meat and the challenge to make something with such high infection risks.

A Google search for Cock Ale certainly throws up a good many results and the basic recipe crops up many times:

Take eight Gallons of Ale; take a Cock and boil him well; then take four pounds of Raisins of the Sun well stoned, two or three Nutmegs, three or four flakes of Mace, half a pound of Dates; beat these all in a Mortar, and put to them two quarts of the best Sack; and when the Ale hath done working, put these in, and stop it close six or seven days, and then bottle it, and a month after you may drink it.

Recordings of the style go back over 500 years, however I suspect it fell out of favour as commercial brewing grew in the 18th and 19th centuries and brewing at home declined.

So.. based on the recipe above and a little research, plus a few tweaks to try and reduce infection risk here is my process to make a 25litre batch of cock ale:

1) Take a whole roast chicken, eat the best meat in a sandwich while you brew your Cock Ale:

2) Using the remains of the chicken carcase, including all the meat and bones but with the skin removed and any obviously fatty parts, put the whole lot in a plastic bag. Now whack the bag with a mallet to break down the bones.

3) Once you have broken down the carcase put it all in a mixing bowl, add a whole bottle of dry white wine and a bag full of raisins. Cover and place in a fridge to soak. After a day or so skim any fat from the surface.

4) While that's soaking - make up a batch of ale - a basic pale ale, lightly hopped will do. You can use an extract kit or go full mash.

5) After adding yeast, wait a day for the fermentation to really get going. At this stage I added some sugar in order to up the ABV and help ward off any infection dangers at a later stage. I calculated an OG of 1065. Now while the fermentation is in full flow, tip in all the wine but catch the fruit and carcase in a muslin bag, tie it up and then drop into the fermenting beer.

6) Leave the beer to ferment and soak up the chicken flavours for another few days or until the fermentation slows and your nerve runs out. - Pull out the bag and discard.

7) Now leave the fermentation a little longer to settle out and finish up, I actually racked to a secondary fermentor to take the beer off the sediment.

Trying the beer at various stages it is actually quite pleasant, the sugar makes for a more barley wine style, but there is a mild 'meaty' taste with the fruit adding a nice sweetness. Chicken is a fairly bland meat anyway, so you are not going to get much coming through, but there is a definite change to the mouthfeel. I was worried I might lose any kind of head on the beer, but so far its been fine, that is probably down to removing the skin, and skimming the fat from the wine.

Two weeks later and the beer is still fine, the sweetness has reduced, but so far no signs of infection and the official tasting team have so far had no known side effects.

I doubt I would ever do this commercially, but it was definitely worth making if only for the look of horror on peoples faces when you tell them ... but they love to try it, if only so they can say:
"I've had a Cock Ale!"