Creeping Charlie ’14

There isn’t anything quite like enjoying a fresh, deeply aromatic creep in the spring. By ‘creep’ I am referring to ‘creeping Charlie’, one of the many curious, colorful and quirky names given to a plant I most often refer to as ground-ivy, the species Glechoma hederacea. It has enjoyed a long history in beer brewing, dating back centuries in northern Europe where the plant is indigenous. At times, ground-ivy altogether replaced hops in recipes when hops was unavailable or because the individual brewer preferred the flavor and other benefits of ground-ivy. So would it be a stretch to say that our familiar hop could be a substitute for ground-ivy? The plant also imbibes the ale with a great deal of medicinal potency, but I’ll take a look through that when I review this beer in a few weeks time.

Ground-ivy has been documented to help preserve beer, imbibe pleasant bittering flavors and qualities, and also help improve the clarity of the beer. I would like to believe that these claims are true, although the first beer that I made back in 2012 featuring ground-ivy also had hops in it, and so it was not a legitimate recipe where I could solely experience the unique aspects of ground-ivy. The second attempt, which I believe also had some hops in it, ended in disaster last year (2013) when the carboy it was fermenting in exploded. Just couldn’t handle the awesome I suppose. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. Please. This time around, I’ll definitely get to know the beery nature this herb better and will very likely gather some again soon and preserve it to use in recipes throughout the summer, autumn and winter. It’s best harvested when in bloom, and that is pretty much all of May and June, so there is lots of time to make excuses to stake your claim to your share of nature’s bountiful riches.

brewingglechoma

Adding ground-ivy gradually at intervals throughout the boil achieves an even balance of bitterness, flavour and aromatic compounds being distilled into the beer, as well as preserving delicate volatile medicinal compounds but also accessing more heat-tollerant compounds.

Ground-ivy is a thin, wiry herbaceous plant with creeping stems, rounded opposite leaves and light to dark purple tubular flowers which appear in the axils of the leaves in spring. It has a shy but tenacious nature, with a tendency to clamber over surrounding vegetation and spread aggressively, announcing it’s subtleties for those who are curious enough to notice. Lightly shaded woodlands, partly sunny hillsides, open rocky or gravelly areas and cool sunny riversides are all environments suitable for ground-ivy. I don’t encounter this plant everywhere I travel, but where there is some there tends to be a lot. The stems are weak and easily break off at notes or by the roots, which makes gathering them not particularly labor intensive and efficient. I like having it around, it’s useful and somehow strangely alluring.

Ingredients

4 pounds liquid amber barley malt extract
5 ounces freshly gathered flowering shoots of ground-ivy
4 gallons water
0.5 powered Irish moss tablet
8 grams dried ale yeast
16 grams yeast nutrient

Instructions

1. Bring 1 (or 2) gallons of water to a boil.
2. Once boiling, remove from heat and stir in liquid amber barely malt extract until it is thoroughly dissolved. Return to heat and bring back to a boil.
3. Set timer for 30 minutes.
4. Add 1 ounce of freshly harvested ground-ivy, bruised slightly or coarsely chopped, every 10 minutes (30, 20, 10 and 0 mins.) for a total of 4 ounces at the end of the boil.
5. Add half a tablet of Irish moss 15 minutes from the end of the boil. Stir in briefly to help dissolve.
6. Remove from heat after 30 minutes of boiling and allow to cool with ground-ivy still in the wort to at least 100 °F before pouring into fermenter.
7. Fill fermenter partially with cold, clean water. Pour in the wort, straining the spent ground-ivy through a sieve, into the fermenter.
8. Alternate pouring in the cold water and wort until a total of 4 gallons is reached (this is so that the hot water does not shock and crack the glass carboy).  Stir to ensure an even mix.
9. Once the 4 gallons of wort is slightly warm to the touch, pitch dried ale yeast and yeast nutrient.
10. Before adding airlock, place remaining 1 ounce of ground-ivy in a cloth bundle and hang from clean string from the top of the fermenter.
11. Ferment until complete, 7-10 days. Bottle condition for 7-10 days at 16-19 degrees °C for 10-14 days.

* In case you are a home brewer yourself and you may be wondering why I don’t include original gravity readings or any of that slightly more technical and specific information in the recipe and instructions, there are most certainly reasons for this. This is because, number one, I don’t own a hydrometer. Two; there would be no point. The unconventional ingredients that I use wreak havoc on the formulas used to determine this information and therefore cannot be used reliably. For most people, consistency in terms of mathematics is important, but for the herbal brewer, specificities such as this are a fever dream and from my current understand would be almost impossible to determine short of working out new formulas which take into consideration the ways in which different herbs affect the density and gravity of the wort.

3 comments

    1. Hey Julia! Thanks for your comment. I have had this beer turn out well in the past, however this particular time this beer fermented so vigorously that it exploded the 6 gallon glass carboy that it was fermenting in.. likely a defect in the glass itself and not from the pressure inside of the carboy. Therefore I never got to actually sample this beer and review it as intended. A unique flavour though, earthy and floral, not for everyone but definitely worth experimenting with in my opinion.

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      1. I have shared you post with a couple of brewers I know who are really interested in making a batch. We have a bumper crop of charlies this year. If they get it made I will let you know how it turns out.

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