Because of our incredible honey bounty, Steve and I are talking about putting together a wild starter for some kind of authentic gruit-style beer. The starter itself should be easy to kick off – we’ll boil up some grain sugar to sanitize it, let it cool to room temperature, then add a tablespoon of our very raw honey. Should take off in a flash, containing all the natural yeasts and bacteria that hitched a ride from the flowers to the hive. Even the organ that bees store nectar in while foraging, the honey stomach, is loaded with microbes that help ferment nectar into honey. So that part’s simple enough.
The more complicated piece of planning a beer is deciding just what we want it to be. Do we want to use hops or some other bittering agent? Do we want to brew from grain or make it quick with syrups? What style of base beer do we want?
These aren’t as simple to answer as we might want. We’re leaning away from using hops, and instead going with herbal adjuncts, possibly St. John’s Wort, yarrow, or wormwood. This is the soul of the gruit style. Back before hops were all the rage in beer making (and the law), brewers threw in whatever was in season or dried. I’ve brewed experimental batches along these lines in the past and ended up with remarkably odd beers whose intoxicant qualities were quite different from what I’m used to when I crack open a bottle.
In terms of souring, there are a number of techniques brewers employ to cultivate various souring agents, from direct pitching of bug mixtures to installing wooden dowels in their carboys to culture Brettanomyces. Lots of options to think through, but as I do, I keep thinking back to a happy mixture I brewed a few years ago with honey and foraged botanicals. This is mugwort, calendula flowers, and some artemisia variety, and it just made a spectacularly memorable beer.