Lost and Found Beer – Authored by Josh Jayne
One of the wonderful things about beer is that it’s so diverse. Aside from the dozens of styles laid out in the BJCP guidelines, there are just as many historic, extinct and, esoteric styles out there to explore.
Here are a few examples that you may want to experiment with.
Purl or wormwood ale is an English beer. It was originally made by infusing ale with the tops of the wormwood plant (think Absinthe). Other pungent or bitter herbs such as orange peel or senna might also be used.
By the middle of the 19th century, wormwood had been forgotten and the recipe was to mull ale instead with gin, sugar and spices such as ginger. The drink ceased to be popular by the end of the 19th century, being replaced by regular beer, especially by the good old English Bitter. If you were to recreate this style, maybe try using a simple English ale recipe with English yeast and experiment with the herbs or gin in place of hops.
Dampfbier is an all but extinct German style ale. It translates to “steam beer” but, it’s a different animal from the California Common. The “steam” was actually the aggressive krausen. It’s built upon a barley malt recipe however, they would use a traditional Hefeweizen yeast. This counter intuitive approach combines the clove and banana aspects of wheat beer with notes of plum and dark fruit. Maybe try a traditional German Alt recipe with a Hefeweizen yeast strain. This would make a fun experiment doing a split batch with two different yeasts like Wyeast 1007 and 3069.
Just make an Altbier and throw in a slice of Münster cheese. Actually, don’t unless you want to throw up. The real deal is a very counter intuitive but refreshing German oddity. Think 60% Pils malt, 40% wheat as the base, 25 IBU’s worth of Nobel hops, use a German Kölsch or Alt yeast. The twist is getting it to a Gose level of tartness. This was achieved by adding acid malt at the last 30 minutes of the mash. I like the sound of this. Kölsch like refreshing-ness meets Gose like refreshing-ness. You could also just add a few drops of lactic acid post fermentation instead of the acid malt if you were concerned that the relatively high IBU’s wouldn’t get the effect you wanted. That little trick can be used with other styles too. As my divorce attorney says, “it’s only cheating if you get caught”.
Switching gears. Tej is a traditional Ethiopian mead or honey wine (depending on who you ask). This concoction is pretty simple, just honey, water and for a modern interpretation, champagne yeast. The twist however, is to add local Ethiopian shrub called “Gesho” as a battering agent. Some recipes I’ve looked at use different parts of the plant but the most common part seemed to be the roots. They sometimes even refer to it as “gesho hop root”. A quick Amazon search found that you can in fact buy this stuff. Would be fun to find it in an ethnic food store however. The fermentation process for this is long (it is mead after all) but traditionally it is consumed as early as 2 months to 12 months from production. Would be interesting to blend Tej with another finished beer. Dog Fish Head did a blend of Tej with and imperial stout for their “Bitches Brew” that turned out pretty well.
I want to keep researching obscure beer styles and I will share the results with you. Some styles that I ran into just did not sound good at all. Some were made out of necessity or lack of ingredients and have faded into history for good reason. That said, there might be a style on the verge of extinction looking to claw it’s way out of the primordial mash and make a comeback. Ten years ago you’d be hard pressed to find a Gose or Berliner anywhere but not, they are all over the place. Thank goodness!