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Gruit bitterness estimates - are there any?

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frankvw

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I'm about to plunge myself headlong into the dark, mysterious world of brewing some ancient gruit ales. It's been nice knowing y'all. :)

Of course jumping in and finding out is a good way to learn, and I will definitely do that, but while I'm still looking at ingredients and recipes, I'd like to make some sort of educated guess as to the bitterness of the concoctions I'm about to unleash unto my unsuspecting palate (once fermentation is complete, of course). However, I'm hampered by the fact that while hops have an alpha acid rating, no such data appears to be available for gruit components.

Specifically, I'm looking at bittering my ales with Yarrow, Mugwort, St. John's Wort and Heather. (Yes, I'm aware that St. John's Wort, and other classic gruit components, may carry health risks when ingested/imbibed in large amounts and/or in combination with certain other compounds and/or medication.) These are all described as "fairly bitter herbs" but how bitter is bitter? Also, how much bitterness is extracted during the boil as a function of boil time and other factors?

Regular brewing software has no provision for any gruit components, so we're off the map and here there be dragons, but is there ANY data at all (either from the vast homebrewing experience collected here or elsewhere) to suggest how much of these herbs to use in comparison to, say, a regular bittering hop of a given AA percentage?

I will of course experiment, but if I had a good starting point the would be very helpful.

Any suggestions appreciated!
 

Miraculix

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The best way is to buy the herbs and to brew a tea with these by boiling them as long as you would boil them in the wort. This gives you a good idea about what to expect and you can experiment with more or less herbs. When you found something you like, brew with the same amount. More infos can be found in the gruit beer thread. Please also share your experiences there!
 
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frankvw

frankvw

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More infos can be found in the gruit beer thread.
Which I just found with the aid of Google (having looked around HBT before I posted the above but failed to find it - duh.) Thanks for mentioning that; I'm going to read up on it right now!
 

Miraculix

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Which I just found with the aid of Google (having looked around HBT before I posted the above but failed to find it - duh.) Thanks for mentioning that; I'm going to read up on it right now!
There is quite some evolvement of knowledge over time in the thread, it gets especially interesting when Susanne mentions her papers, make sure to read them! They are not that long, but very interesting.
 

dmtaylor

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I have used yarrow and mugwort. I believe they might add more tartness than bitterness, or well yarrow might add both. I have always used several herbs in combination though so it is difficult to discern which one is doing what. I suggest chewing on some of the raw herbs to see what they taste like.

Heather I think has virtually no bitterness or flavor unless a lot of it is used. My reference is Fraoch and a couple of other heather beers I have tasted. Honestly I am not even certain what character it brings if any as none of these have probably used enough of it to matter.

Cheers!
 
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frankvw

frankvw

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I have used yarrow and mugwort. I believe they might add more tartness than bitterness, or well yarrow might add both. I have always used several herbs in combination though so it is difficult to discern which one is doing what. I suggest chewing on some of the raw herbs to see what they taste like.
An excellent suggestion! Going to chew the cud tonight. :)
 

Miraculix

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An excellent suggestion! Going to chew the cud tonight. :)
Whatever you do, don't chew on wormwood, trust me on that one :D

Unless you want to taste nothing but bitter for the next hours, then it would be a good idea. So if your spouse can't cook.... Here's the answer if she tries to cook and you have to get through it somehow :D

Chewing is good to get an idea of the general taste, but extraction of bitterness per specific amount of herb is better judged via a tea.
 
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frankvw

frankvw

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Whatever you do, don't chew on wormwood, trust me on that one
Excellent advise. However, I missed it last night, so I beat you to it. Yes, I agree, this was a bad idea. I will have to give my taste buds some time to recover before I continue further experiments.

I now believe I know the meaning of "bitter". I thought I did when I tasted some hop pellets (not sure which variety it was, but probably around 10%AA but I realize I was wrong.

I'll be back later. :)
 

Miraculix

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Excellent advise. However, I missed it last night, so I beat you to it. Yes, I agree, this was a bad idea. I will have to give my taste buds some time to recover before I continue further experiments.

I now believe I know the meaning of "bitter". I thought I did when I tasted some hop pellets (not sure which variety it was, but probably around 10%AA but I realize I was wrong.

I'll be back later. :)
You probably won't be able to imagine it, but I once was in upper Nepal in the Himalayas and had the pleasure to try a tiny tiny tiny bit, like a quarter of a square millimeter, of a root of a local plant which name I forgot, and this was about 100 times worse than wormwood. It touched the tip of my tongue and the taste was there for the next 24 hours :D

Fun times in Sherpaland!
 

BrewMan13

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I've had the most experience with mugwort, but I wouldn't call it bitter per se...it's what I would describe as "herbal" and hay-like. I use 0.5oz in a big stout, and would call that the absolute maximum I'd recommend, even in a big beer.
 

Miraculix

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The problem with generalisation is that it doesn't work. We know this from hops. Compare some saaz and the same amount of ctz. Huuuge difference in taste and especially bitterness ie. alpha acid content.

Even the same hop grown in different regions and/or different years is hugely different to another batch.

The only way is to try. Herbs are also displaying much different characteristics at different seasons, so we really have to check every time. Once we are well experienced, we might be able to judge the herbs by taste and smell but I am certainly not able to do so...
 

LexusChris

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Brewed a few gruits, and never found a way to calibrate bitterness like hops do with AA%. Wormwood is much more bitter than Mugwort, but similar in character. I would stick with Mugwort, as it is more forgiving. Yarrow is awesome, and has a nice lemony dryness. Marsh Rosemary is my favorite, and often very hard to find online.. a nice herbal, minty, woodsy, character. I've also become fond of live sage in beers, for its aromatics and flavor.

My last gruit, was an Old Ale recipe (5.5gal), with 1 oz Mugwort, 1/2 oz fresh sage leaf @ 30 mins of boil left. 1oz Yarrow flowers (dried) and 1/2 oz fresh sage leaf @ 2 mins left. It was awesome!

The gruit before that, was the same Old Ale recipe (5.5 gal), but with 3g Wormwood @ 30 min, 2 oz Yarrow and 22g Marsh Rosemary @ 0 min. Also very good.

Happy experimenting!
--Lexuschris
 

Northern_Brewer

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I now believe I know the meaning of "bitter". I thought I did when I tasted some hop pellets (not sure which variety it was, but probably around 10%AA but I realize I was wrong.
I once tried to infuse vodka with fresh wormwood. That was a mistake, but still nowhere near as bad as testing a drop of hop iso-extract in a 100ml hydrometer sample! Don't do that....

+1 to testing, and be aware that these things can vary dramatically from vintage to vintage. Bog myrtle (Myrica gale, sweet gale) is fabulous in good years - 70g/l of fresh bog myrtle that's been frozen can produce something that's not a million miles away from an APA of say 45 IBU, its oil contains a lot of the same compounds as C hops. But then I harvested from the same patch, on about the same day during the heatwave the next year and there was almost no flavour at all.
 

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