Today’s topic is on two important points, what grains did they use in medieval times and how to balance ingredients.
When I started trying to make Gruit I generally chose a low amount of lighter malts. My thought was that it was better to keep that simple so it wasn’t having an overpowering effect on the brew, but I also wanted to create an accurate Gruit. The recipes I’ve found don’t really seem to share any opinion on what to use. In medieval times grains and malts were not as carefully sorted as they were in the coming centuries. Especially if you were a small time Alewife brewing in her home you got by with whatever you were given, which would depend on a myriad of factors like what crops survived that year or what is left over from the dwindling supplies. In general they would not be as careful as we are today which makes following a medieval recipe difficult, cause there was a huge element of make do. This means there really isn’t an accurate Gruit, it could be a number of things to many different people. While there certainly were styles of Gruit it encompasses a large variety of drinks.
Using the lower amount of lighter malts was both a success and a failure. While it did help me identify what effects these new ingredients like yarrow was having, it also didn’t go well with them and allowed these other ingredients to be quite overpowering. It seems for a lighter Gruit much less bittering is needed but also something else added. While I still think a lighter Gruit is possible, a darker one is much easier to balance as it adds flavour of its own. Both these styles present a problem though, too many big flavours mixing together rarely work well.
This is one of the most basic issues you will come across when making your own brews, balance. It can be very hard to know how much is the right amount of any ingredient to use, and you don’t want to mistake a bad balance for ingredients not working together. The best solution to this is start out with a small brew with a reasonably low amount of each ingredient. This should help none be too overpowering and gives you a good place to build off. If one ingredient is too overpowering on its own you will also be able to identify it easier here rather than with an ale with lots of strong flavours.
This can be a time consuming process but it is worth it, there are however some ways around it. As mentioned in my Last article making a tea out of each ingredient will give you an impression of what each will be like in the brew. This will help you identify the flavour it gives there and if they will work well together. Online resources like forums, books on brewing or even talking to other people is also a useful way to see what works together. If you see no one else putting two ingredients together there may be a reason for it, though this shouldn’t always stop you trying. Lastly just trust your senses, you can generally tell when two ingredients simply won’t work, something as simple as how they smell is a good tip and can be trusted most of the time.
I’m definitely getting closer to a good Gruit ale. The last few I’ve made have been more like a proper ale but just not quite good enough that I’d want to make a kit of them. The concept is right it is just about the formula now.