Herbs

Whichever method you use for extracting the good from the malt, the result is the same: the more the malt, the more the body imparted to the finished drink. And the more the body the drink has, the more it will need some bitter herb added to it to counteract the heaviness and keep the palate clean. The vintner is not troubled in this way. Nothing need be added to grape juice, since it contains both acid and tannin which gives wine a natural astringency—but malt contains neither, and so has to have an astringent flavouring added by the brewer. From the beer-drinker's point of view this is an asset. The acidity of grape-wine may well be counteracted in warm countries by the richness of the food served with it. But with plain fare, and in a cold climate, an acid drink does not always lie easily on the stomach. It is not only the high food-value of stout that makes it a good drink for nursing mothers, but its lack of acidity.

You can use what herb you like, so long as it does what you want in the finished drink. The hop has earned first place as partner to malt, throughout its whole range of strengths and flavours, ever since it was brought to England three centuries ago. It is a good preservative. Its flavour when used in small amounts is delicate, fresh and subtle, while in large quantities its bitterness is never disagreeable. Further, it is a gentle soporific. Sleep follows easily on hopped beer, and an age addicted to tranquillizers should welcome this.

Since no other herb by itself can command all the virtues of hop, experiments with other flavours should not be allowed to displace the hops altogether from your recipe. Spruce oil combines well with hops. It too is a good preservative, but unlike hop, it will tend to clear the head of drowsiness. This, combined with its remarkable cleanness of flavour, makes a drink that will challenge any conventional beer as a refresher. Spruce beer goes back a couple of centuries into English history, and deserves a revival. It is still drunk in Scandinavia, and in Greece even grape-wines are "resinated" as a matter of course, partly to preserve them, partly to give that fresh, resinous tang that is so welcome in a land where flavours are strong, fish plentifully eaten, and much garlic chewed.

Wormwood, the "mugwort" of old country brewers, provided the bitters in beer before the advent of hops. It can still be used to make a good drink, and is most conveniently found in "Heath and Heather's" or those from other suppliers. Here you find a nicely blended mixture including hops and wormwood, and though intended for a non-alcoholic drink, they are all the better used in a more powerful brew. This beer is a fine summertime quencher of thirst, something like a long Vermouth.

Liquorice is used in medicine for soothing rough throats. In beer it gives the illusion of having added body and sweetness, apart from its own peculiar pungency. In fact, it has done no more than coat the tongue. For this reason, those who like a clean taste should avoid liquorice. But it can be useful for taking the edge off a harsh stout, since you cannot (as in winemaking) sweeten a bitter brew with sugar. This will merely renew the fermentation, unless the yeast has been killed by pasteurization, or has already made all the alcohol it can manage. This latter condition is unlikely to be met with in brewing beer, though common enough in winemaking.

Like liquorice, nettle was traditionally used in stouts. An infusion of nettle is faintly salty, like a consomme, and if added to a beer it will certainly need plenty of hops, or the roughness of black malt to give it an "edge" and make it palatable. Salt has the effect of giving "roundness" of flavour, and should in any case be added in small quantities to a brew of beer. But as soon as the salty taste is perceptible, it comes as a disagreeable surprise, and the clean after-taste characteristic of good beer is lost.

The use of old-fashioned flavourings: ginger, dandelion, burdock or sarsaparilla, must be adapted to suit each brewer's taste. Once the principle of balancing bitter against sweet is understood, then there is no reason why these flavours should not make stimulating variations on the original theme of hops.

Making Your Own Wine

Making Your Own Wine

At one time or another you must have sent away for something. A

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