Fermentation Friday – Crazy Brewing

Posted on 06.28.08 12:00AM under All-Grain, Brewing, Fermentation Friday, Partigyle, Stories

Fermentation Friday is the new homebrewer blogging community blogging day, the last Friday of each month. That’s today. Today’s topic is roughly “what’s the craziest brew day thing you ever did?” It’s hosted by CNYBrew.

For a while I was into making beer without hops and with other herbs instead. Not that I made a lot of beers this way, but I thought a lot about it. It’s a really cool idea that could pan out once I get up the guts to do it more often. It’s hard to risk a batch of beer on an outlandish experiment. Especially when your first foray into the concept goes awry.

The first time I made my Imperial IPA, I did it with two mashes. I needed that much grain to get my target gravity. I just took about three gallons of each mash for the IIPA wort. That left me with extra wort that I needed to do something with. I had a little bag of wormwood, and I thought I’d make a beer with it. Wormwood’s supposed to be “highly inebriating” according to Stephen Buhner, and that sounded good to me at the time. But some things must come at a cost, it seems.

I put a little wormwood into the boiling wort. Maybe a quarter ounce? I don’t exactly recall, but it was not much for a couple of gallons. I boiled it for maybe twenty minutes, and that was that. The gravity was pretty moderate, in the 40’s.

A word of caution, wormwood is extremely bitter, and not in a good way. This is the kind of bitter that strikes you with a harsh oily feeling that can best be described by me at this point as yucky. If you’re wondering what I mean, just take a tiny bit of wormwood and put it in your mouth. That’s what it tastes like. Even in the beer. Except the flavor and feeling are spread around your mouth by the liquid, as opposed to localized at the site of wormwood contact.

I can pretty much drink any beer, especially if I made it. Flat sweet Belgian? No problem! Cooked corn flavored IPA? OK! A stout with 1.8% ABV? Sure! But wormwood beer? NO WAY!! I could not drink it. To this day, there remain about ten of these beers in my beer fridge, on the bottom shelf, out of sight, waiting for the day that I am desperate enough for beer to drink them. I don’t think that day will ever come. I might just drink a shot of Purell before I try these Absinthe Beers again.

Now, there is a way to use wormwood productively in beer. New Belgium has a beer with a bit of wormwood in it. It is drinkable. It isn’t my favorite, perhaps because I could vaguely taste the wretched bitter laceration of wormwood in the background. But it is possible to make a beer with wormwood in it that you can drink. I just didn’t manage to do it. And I don’t plan on trying again any time soon.

Read Comments

  1. Posted by bryon on 06.29.08 4:59 PM

    I never really got the whole thing with Absinthe… It’s really nasty stuff… But I guess it was worth a try making some brew out of it…

  2. Posted by BobbyO on 06.29.08 8:09 PM

    I eat a lot of sushi, and I worry about intestinal parasites. The traditional use for wormwood extract, or essential oil, is for treating digestive worms (worm-wood, get it?) So, a couple of times a year, I will subject myself to a 5-day, 3x/day course of wormwood extract diluted in water. 15 drops per 8-ounce glass… and even at that low concentration, it’s horrible, bitter stuff. The active ingredient, thujone, is supposed to hit the same receptors in your brain as cannibus, but I never got any buzz from it. Van Gogh cut off his ear while supposedly under the influence of absinthe. You have to be intrigued by an intoxicant that can do that to you.

  3. Posted by Keith Brainard on 06.29.08 9:24 PM

    I’ve never had the real Absinthe, but it was the allegedly intoxicating effects of wormwood that led me to this experiment gone wrong. Haven’t cut off any ears yet, though.