Friday, May 21, 2010

Belgian Ale with lemon verbena, yarrow, and grains of paradise

Herbs from top, clockwise: Lemon Verbena, yarrow, grains of paradise.

I picked up a lemon verbena plant from the farmers market recently, and its incredibly perfumey, lemon-oil aroma (Paul calls it baby wipes, but we'll have on disagree on that) had me inspired to try it out in a beer. I have only seen one lemon verbena reference in brewing, made by Ron Jeffries in his blond recipe in Brew Like a Monk. Actually I was thinking that a light pilsner base Belgian ale of not too high gravity would be the perfect base beer for this herb, and maybe I was thinking back to that recipe when I came up with my recipe idea. I also think it's a great idea for a beer to have during the supposedly warm months coming up, although I am starting to wonder if they will ever actually come...

I don't use spices or herbs much in my beers. I tend to really enjoy playing with malt, hops, and different yeast strains, sometimes bacteria and brett too, and I get a little scared of brewing failure when it comes to using other culinary spices. But I have become a much better brewer since my first over-spiced hombrew attempts, so I think I have a better chance of brewing a well-balanced spiced beer than ever before. What I tried to do was keep the spice additions low, and use complimentary spices. The lemon verbena has a high fruity note, so I looked for spices that would hit on some other flavors. I had some wonderful smelling grains of paradise that also have a lemony note, but also a spicy kick that could add a nice finish. And I had some yarrow, this is still the same yarrow that I picked at Brewery Ommegang 3 summers ago and dried for brewing use. It has been kept frozen all that time and smelled pretty much exactly the same as when I dried it: Tea-like, bitter and herbal, with also a funky slightly medicinal note.

I made individual teas of all these botanicals to get a feel for how much to add, and I kept the additions really restrained, at least I think I did, we'll see. I would highly recommend making some spice, herb, or even hop teas next time you are planning a brew to get to know your ingredients better. It can be really enlightening.

Here's the recipe, whose name comes from some funky Mambo music that came on while I was weighing out the grains.

Mambo-Mambo: Spiced Belgian Spring/Summer Ale
Recipe is for 7.1 gallons pre-boil, 5.7 gallons post-boil, all grain
O.G. 1.055 F.G. 1.011 IBU's 21 ABV 5.8%

8.5 lb. Weyermann Pils malt
.5 lb. carafoam malt
.5 lb. turbinado sugar

17 gr. Sterling pellets 7% 60 minutes
14 gr. Sterling pellets 7% 10 minutes
2 gr. grains of paradise, crushed in mortar & pestle, 0 min
2 gr. fresh lemon verbena, finely sliced, 0 min
3 gr. yarrow leaves, dried, 0 min

Mash 4 gallons H20 + 4 gr. calcium chloride + 4 gr. gypsum
Mash at about 150 for 60 minutes, then raise to 160 over 10 minutes.
Sparge with 5 gallons at 170

Collect 7.1 gallons @ 1.041 = 88% efficiency
Boil 90 minutes with sugar at beginning of boil
Wyeast nutrient & whirlfloc at 10 minutes
Spices added at flame out, with a 10 minute rest while hooking up plate chiller
Chilled to 70 and pitched a starter of Wyeast 3787 "Trappist High Gravity" (Westmalle)
Fermentation peaked at 74 at 24 hours. kept at 70 degrees after that.
Racked to keg on 6/6/10. Flavor was good, still a bit sulfury, but I think that will go away in the next week. The most dominant herb is the yarrow, which is funny because it's 1/2 the amount I used in the last batch. The lemon verbena is subtle but there. Should be interesting to see how the flavor develops in the coming weeks/months.

Oh yeah, this yeast really is a rambunctious top-cropper. I didn't use a blow off tube at first and ended up with an incredible mess! I really want to use this yeast more, I have a feeling I will like it a lot more than the "Chimay" strain.


jaymo said...

Is that a heating pad strapped to the side of the carboy in the photo?

Seanywonton said...

Yeah, it's just a regular heating pad hooked up through a thermostat which can be set to heat or cool. It was cold in the back room after high krausen so I dialed it in to 72 and left it there.

Anonymous said...

hmm...i wonder how lemon verbena would work in a (kombucha) homebrew herbal blend. though i have not dabbled in beer homebrewing, i am an avid kombucha brewer, and love incorporating herbs (especially foraged and locally-grown organics) for an extra-personal blend.

i will try it out- the lemon verbena in kombucha- and let you know how it goes! :) thanks for the inspiration!

Seanywonton said...

Kombucha brewing has kind of been on my list of things to do, but I guess I have been procrastinating. I hear it's fairly easy, so I should give it a try soon. Good luck with trying the verbena!

Joe Hamm said...

I will use your recipe ideas in my next batch of beer. I will use the LV and GOP in a light colored Belgium using WLP 550. Thanks for the insight..