Author Topic: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties  (Read 508 times)

Offline unclebrazzie

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Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« on: September 23, 2015, 01:17:59 PM »
Peepz,

I'm looking to brew a Scottish heather ale of some sort or other. No particular recipe decided on yet, but I know I want to have heather in it.

Problem is: like most brewing herbs, heather is a protected plant in Belgium. That is: Erica tetralix is. Not sure about other subspecies of Erica.
A species which is less prone to moorsland SWAT team interventions is Calluna, which is (I think) also the species being sold in many garden stores as "Heather", if not outright as "Erica". Which it isn't, I know, but many peope don't.

Questions then: I know Calluna is/was often used in brewing, known by its less posh and unscientific name "Ling". Does Ling differ much, flavour-wise, from Erica? Are there any other "heathers" out there which are useful for brewing?
Any first-hand experiences in brewing heather beers? What about the fabled "white powder", supposedly causing wild hallucinations and a possible explanation for the Vikings' legendary berserk rage?

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Offline Black Lion Homebrewery

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Re: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2015, 03:35:10 PM »
I've never done any heather beers so I'm not sure what they taste like. Erica tetralix is known by the common name as cross-leafed heather. There are many species of heath (Erica species), which might explain why some garden stores are selling an Erica species.  I wouldn't think they would be allowed to sell a protected species.  Calluna vulgaris is the common heather or sometimes called ling.  Common heather grows wild in Scotland and is the plant in reference in literature to the fields of heather.   I would think this is the plant most recipes would refer when they call for heather. 

Ergot of grains (caused by Claviceps purpurea) has been attributed to hallucinations in several points in history, including Salem Witch Trials and St. Anthony's Fire.  It could be this fabled white powder could have been either the flour from ergot infected grain or beer brewed from it.  Besides hallucinations it can also have some other serve symptoms (convulsions, paralysis, and gangrene). Ergot poisoning isn't a pretty or pleasant way to die. 

Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2015, 03:47:10 PM »
The problem with trying to hunt down those specific herbs is that you often have to grow them yourselves. That might be more trouble than you want for a single beer. It does appear to be sold around UK nurseries so if you really want it then that's an option for you. Heather grows with an ergot-type fungus on the bottom side of the leaves which is probably the cause of any associated hallucinations. So that's something you'll want to be mindful of when brewing with it.

You might find an erica variety among local botany/gardening clubs in which somebody will be willing to give up some erica tips in the spring for your brewing. They will understand the difference between the plants. Or maybe some brewers in the UK would be willing to help you out.

Otherwise you are probably stuck scouring herbal medicine sites hoping they clearly understand the difference between the two and it won't cost an arm and a leg to get it.

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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2015, 07:22:41 PM »
I've brewed with heather a few times. I make an un-hopped heather ale once in a while with ~6 ounces of dried heather tips in 5 gallons. I get mine from an herbalist. I have never experienced hallucinations or berserker rages associated with my heather ale. It lends a faintly herbal almost black tea like bitterness with a very low level of astringency. I've never used fresh heather though.

If the 'Common Heather' is the one that grows in Scotland I would agree that is probably the one you want.
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Offline unclebrazzie

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Re: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2015, 06:49:58 AM »
I agree that, whilst being historically interesting, having ergot in my beer cannot be the goal at all. :)

I'll speak to a herbalist about this and report back if and when relevance beckons ;)
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Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2015, 03:12:00 PM »
I have never experienced hallucinations or berserker rages associated with my heather ale.

Or you just don't remember...  :o
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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Botany in the Brewery: Heather varieties
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2015, 06:21:16 PM »
I have never experienced hallucinations or berserker rages associated with my heather ale.

Or you just don't remember...  :o

possible, possible. Although I do remember most of my hallucinations and berserker rages, or at least the onset.
"Creativity is the residue of wasted time"
-A Einstein

"errors are [...] the portals of discovery"
- J Joyce