The completion of this recipe marks the beginning of a new era for me in terms of my gradual evolution as a home brewer; bit of an eccentric home brewer at that. There are a few different techniques and ingredients featured in Achille’s Heal Gruit ale that I have read extensively about but never put into practice until now. The first major change that was made was my switch from using almost exclusively liquid malt extract (LME) to experimenting with dry malt extract (DME),. I’ve got to say that I welcome this change and will very likely continue to use DME from now on. I find it significantly less messy and you don’t need as much of it because LME contains roughly 10% water and so is slightly less concentrated than the DME which has all of the water removed from it. Furthermore, I made the switch from amber malt to pale malt, although this was made not necessarily out of preference but because I was attempting to replicate a different style in this beer: something with a very light malt profile and much more hop character and bitterness. This, I believe, I most definitely achieved.
The second major change that I attempted to make with this beer (and sort of succeeded in accomplishing) was to bring the flavor, aroma and bittering properties of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) to the forefront in this recipe. I have featured the freshly dried flowering stalks of yarrow in other beer recipes that I have done in the past but never has it been added in such quantity or at such strategic points durning the boiling of the wort and while fermenting. In order to refresh yourself regarding that or in case you missed reading about the materials & methods all together you can check that out right here which explains the making of Achille’s Heal Gruit Ale. That post also contains a briefing on the medicinal properties of the herb as well as a little bit as to it’s history in the use of brewing before hops became the overwhelmingly popular choice. However, I think that there could have been more yarrow in this beer, as the unique bitterness and floral-resinous flavor and aroma are detectable but not quite as dominant as I would prefer. In future recipes I will likely either lessen or change the varieties of hops used or increase the amount of yarrow added; probably a little bit of both.
Despite that lack of satisfyingly prominent yarrow, I really like this beer, and I have been trying to make a nice ‘hopper’ for quite some time now. It seems that I was just not adding an adequate amount of hops to my recipes and perhaps not the right varieties either, in order to achieve my desired style. The amber-straw color is perfect, I could not possibly ask for more in that regard. It also turned out quite clear which is always a welcomed surprise, although I am not particularly bothered by a few stray debris floating around in my glass it’s nice to not have to deal with that on occasion. The head lingers for quite some time without you having to dump the beer in the glass, which is a feature that I enjoy as well. The carbonation is also quite lively, so no complains there either. The aroma is damp and woodsy but also light with faint notes of apricots and apples. The flavor is strikingly bitter and full of hints of pungent resin and flowering herbs. The bitterness is dry and flat and lingers as a pleasant numbness on the tongue and in the back of the mouth.
I’m definitely not going to get tired of drinking Achille’s Heal although that doesn’t mean that I’m not excited about the potential direction and momentum that this recipe has in store. You’ll probably hear me talking about the second version of this recipe before the end of the year, guaranteed. I would lay bets on it right now if you’re feeling lucky. However I do have quite a few equally exciting experiments in store that I may choose to get into first since they may or may not be required to be made at a particular time of the year and so with that in mind I must make haste. Before I depart to take part (I rhymed) in some other plant related activities I am going to close this first recipe/review beer combo article of Outside the Hops with the reincarnation and moralization of an icon. Due mostly to a lake of any better idea for a rating system symbol I am going to bring back the Paul Westerberg rating system as seen first and only on Beers for Breakfast. I for one cannot escape the charm of the comedic irony at play here and feel the need to continue the legacy. In case you do not understand the reference and have found yourself scared and confused, just Google The Replacements and it should all become clear in around 5-10 minutes, depending on how good of a problem solver you are. 3.5 heads out of 5.