How to Make Herbal Beer: A Spring Bitters Tonic Ale Recipe--Well Balanced, Healthy, Delicious
My husband loves beer in moderation. Personally, I've never been a beer drinker, but I'm just beginning to learn an appreciation for beer and ales made with herbs. What I love about home brewing is that we can make our own, and it's MUCH better than commercially made beer! Plus, when we use herbs to make it, the beer contains the health benefits from all the plant goodness!
This recipe below is for what I am calling "Spring Bitters." Believe it or not, the herbs in this home brew help with digestive upset as well as help purify the body. This herbal ale turned out very well-balanced, and my husband has pronounced that it is the best one yet!
I learned how to make herbal ales and beers from two main places: Stephen Buhner's book, Sacred & Herbal Healing Beers---and also by attending the Herbal Academy of New England's Course on the Craft of Herbal Fermentation. I highly recommend both sources, not only for great recipes and ideas to inspire you, but to also give you a great foundation in using herbs in your ferments.
Here's how to make Spring Bitters herbal ale, and this recipe in particular---super easily!
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Heidi (Full Disclosure Here)
Ingredients for Spring Bitters Herbal Beer
**For the "parts," I used a 1/2 cup measurement---this was to make one gallon of beer.
*** 1 part Mormon Tea (also known as Brigham Tea)---chosen for its exceptionally strong tannins. Another herb that is especially tannic will work too. If you want high levels of tannins to make a dryer ale, you can substitute with meadowsweet or even bilberry. Both of these taste great, too!)
*** 1 part Licorice Root (has a sweet taste)
*** 1 part Nettle (chosen for its tonic supportive effect on the liver and kidneys)
*** 1 part Ginger Root (Love that spice!)
*** 1 part Dandelion Root (Bitter, and it adds to the liver and kidney support of the Nettle)
*** 1 part Mugwort (Mugwort is a traditional herb used to flavor beers, and it is somewhat bitter)
*** 2 part Hops (Relaxing and adds more of the Bitter taste we are used to these days)
Yeast: For this batch, I used Red Star Premier Cuvee', which is a dry wine yeast---this yeast was recommended by the owner of a home brew store I've gotten to know down in town who explained that making herbal beer is similar to making a wine as far as the yeast goes. We'll see how it goes!
Sugar: 1 pound of organic cane sugar and a tablespoon of molasses
Where do I get my herbs?
Some herbs I wild harvest (Mormon Tea). Some I grow (Dandelion Root). And some I must purchase. I buy organic herbs from Starwest Botanicals, as I have found the overall, they have the best price/quality, plus their shipping is FAST.
Tools for Making Herbal Beer
A one gallon carboy (fancy name for jug)
Grolsch bottles for bottling the beer
Mason jar mug with label (Optional, of course! These are just for drinking the brew when it's done, but they are so stinking cute, I thought I'd include them!)
And that's all you need! What's so great about making your own home brew is that once you have your tools, you are really all set! In fact, if I didn't have the fancy yeast, I could just use bread yeast in a pinch. The herbs are easy to forage or purchase organically in bulk, and sugar is readily available these days.
How to Make Spring Bitters Herbal Ale
Step 1) Make your Herbal Tea
Since this brew is made with both leaves and roots/stems, you'll need to treat them differently. You'll need to decoct (slow simmer) your roots/stems for about 30 minutes. These include the Mormon Tea, Licorice Root, Dandelion Root, and Ginger Root).
Once these have decocted long enough, just strain the liquid into the carboy.
The remainder of the herbs (Nettle, Mugwort, and Hops) are infused. You just boil about a quart or a bit more of water and pour over the herbs in a large Mason jar. I used a half gallon jar for this. I let the herbs steep for about 20 minutes, then strained them out and poured the liquid into the carboy.
Step 2) Add Your Sugars:
This is called the wort at this point. Just add the sugar using the funnel into the carboy. Add the molasses (optional) now too. The liquid from the tea will be very hot, so you can put a lid on your carboy and shake it bit, or just let the sugars dissolve on their own. Eventually, they will.
Step 3) Add Additional Water (Cold)
Most brewers will tell you to use filtered water. Frankly, we just use our well water, and nothing bad has ever happened.
It's important to add cold water because your tea will still be hot at this point. The cold water added to just where the carboy begins to curve will cool it down---probably enough to go ahead and pitch your yeast. Be sure to check it though! If it's too hot, it will kill the yeast. I try to shoot for about 70 degrees.
Step 4) Pitch Your Yeast
This is where you just pour in your yeast. A little packet of yeast is really meant for up to 5 gallons of brew, so adding a whole packet to a gallon carboy is definitely overkill. I try to estimate about half a packet. This is plenty!
Step 5) Start Your Ferment
Attach your bung and airlock, and find a nice place for your brew to ferment. I like to leave mine on the counter top in the windowsill. It's fun to watch it bubbling and frothing away! Let it ferment like this for about two weeks. It should be completely still, with no bubbles for at least a day. I'll even sometimes give it a few days longer.
Step 6) Prime Your Bottles
I use 16 ounce Grolsch bottles, ideally. I just add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to each bottle, sometimes just a tad less. This allows for a second fermentation by the yeast and provides the carbonation to the beer.
Step 7) Bottle Up Your Brew!
This is the other fun part! Using your siphon, pump the beer into your bottles. I try to leave about 2 inches of head space. I know this sounds like a lot, but I want to do everything possibly to prevent a possible explosion from the gases building up.
NOTE: This is a serious potential safety factor to keep in mind. Bottles under pressure can explode if they are not the right type or if there is just too much pressure built up. That's why I use the Grolsch bottles. There is an extra thick area of glass around the bottle neck, and the swing top holds down firmly. They are just more on the safer side. I have personally never once had bottles explode, but being aware of that potential danger has made me watchful.
Storage: Keeping safety in mind, find a cool place out of the way of children and pets to store your bottles for another week, minimum.
After that week is up....You have finished home brew! Delicious! Healthy! Inspiring!
Final Thoughts on Creating Your Own Homemade Brew, Especially Herbal Brew
When I first went to the beer store, there were a lot of kits. They were intriguing, but I really wanted to find ways to infuse my brews with herbs. Hence---herbal ales and beers! Luckily, Mr. V., our beer fan, loves these brews.
What do you think about creating your own home brews outside an actual kit? I'll give you a hint: Stephen Buhner's book, Ancient Herbal Healing Beers, has some very good information about making beer in general. So many brewers make it so complicated, and he definitely makes the process of making your own home brew so easy.
Do you do any home brewing? I'd love to know your experiences, opinions, and blends that work!
Hugs, Health, & Self-Reliance---
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and in no manner, stated or implied, is any statement in this article or elsewhere on my website or products meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health issue. Please seek attention from a medical professional for health problems. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.