I'm not sure how widespread a behavior this is, but in certain circles of foragers and wild foodees here in Vermont are folks, like myself, who brew tea this time of year using the drupes from staghorn sumac bushes. Staghorn sumac is not to be mistaken for poison sumac (which would make a terrible tea for obvious reasons), and in fact is not very closely related either. The tea was traditionally made by Native Americans for centuries, is an amber color and has a unique tart taste that earned it the common name "Indian lemonade".
I decided I wanted to try making a beer using the sumac that grows in abundance around here. Originally, I was going to make a sumac extract using vodka. Then I got to digging around for any advice from others who might have decided to try using sumac before and stumbled across Brandon O's thread about brewing graff from apple cider (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f81/graf...-cider-117117/). I decided to take a page from his book and try an experimental brew, so I am now using the term "beer" very loosely.
I followed the general technique Brandon outlined for making graff, but replaced the cider with sumac tea. After some research, I found that the sugar content (on average) for 4 gallons of cider is around 1520 grams (just shy of 6.8 cups of sugar). Sumac is relatively low in sugar, so I sweetened my tea using simple syrup, but not to the full sweetness of cider. Instead, I used enough syrup to add 4 cups worth of sugar to the tea which gave it a sweet and tart flavor that was really nice. From there, I adapted the recipe a little bit (some by choice, and some due to readily available ingredients) and hoped for the best. It went in my primary today,will be bottled in two weeks, and I plan to test one out about 3 weeks after bottling. If all goes well and it isn't a total disaster, I plan of bringing this batch to my brother's wedding on September 13th. I'll follow up and let you all know how it comes out...
Here is my recipe (help me come up with a name for this stuff!):
EXPERIMENTAL SUMAC BREW
Nottingham dry ale yeast
.5 lbs Floor Malted Bohemian Dark Grains
2 oz torrified wheat
4 Gallons sumac tea
About 8 Cups simple syrup (4 cups of sugar content prepared in a 1/1 ratio with water)
1 Gallon water
2.4 lb Amber LME
0.5 oz Czech Saaz Hops (3.2% Alpha)
Steep a 4 gallon batch of strong sumac tea (Remove sumac drupes and add a second round to double steep if necessary). Once the sumacs is removed with a slotted spoon, there should be about 3.25-3.5 gallons of tea remaining.
Add simple syrup, then strain the tea to remove sediment. I found that lining a mesh strainer with a paper towel works well for this, changing for a fresh paper towel whenever the flow slows down. A coffee filter seems to be too fine of a filter and clogs very quickly, making it a slow and painful process, and the paper towel removes all of the major sediment that I wanted to eliminate.
Add filtered tea to kettle and heat to at least 160 degrees for 10 minutes to kill off any bacteria and wild yeast that may be present. Cool using a wort chiller if available. Transfer to primary.
Steep milled grains and torrified wheat in .75 gallons of water @ 155 degrees for 30 mins. Sparge with .25 gallons 170 degree water and throw away grains.
Add LME and bring to a boil. Once boiling starts, add hops and boil for 30 mins. Cool with wort chiller if available. Transfer to primary.
If the tea and wort were not cooled with a wort chiller, wait until they cool down to something close to room temperature before proceeding.
Activate and pitch yeast. Ferment for 2 weeks at 64-68 degrees then keg or bottle. Age for 2-3 weeks.