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Are Botanical Beers the Next Big Trend?

Are Botanical Beers the Next Big Trend?

Its football season, and Sundays around here typically consist of holding down the couch, eating an assortment of food that any health nut would shudder at and a nice cold brew. In the last 20 years, this beer was probably an ice cold Budweiser or a can that you knew was cold when the mountains turned blue. But more recently, beer enthusiasts have been dabbling in a wide assortment of more exotic brews. Microbreweries, craft breweries and home brewers alike have a thirst for the new and somewhat experimental end products that are created when brewed in small batches under close eye of a brew master. These beers include a wide variety of styles including Ales, Stouts, Porters and Pilsners crafted with exotic hops, seasonal flavors and brew master know how. The end result, in many cases, is a beer that is distinctly unique.

These craft beers have been all the rage in the past few years. But is a new type of beer about to turn the beer world on its head? The newest (or oldest) type of beer that is popping up around the country is botanical beer. Leading this new excursion are Dogfish Head brewery in my home state of Delaware and Forbidden Root, a Chicago Brewery. These breweries have given the term ‘old school’ a brand new meaning by recreating some of the oldest ‘beer’ recipes known to man.


What is Botanical Beer?

Botanical beer is a completely new concept of beer to many people. In short, botanical beer is a re-creation of recipes for beer made long before Reinheitsgebot stated that beer could only be made from water, malt and hops. These beers made the most of local ingredients and were quite frankly a little off the wall compared to the beer that many people drink today. Botanical beer recipes range from recipes used thousands of years ago up until the early 1500s and the ingredients can vary drastically. And the best part - because there is no ‘real’ recipe for botanical beer, brewers have the freedom to be even more creative than they ever have been before.


Inspired by the Ancients

One type of botanical beer, also known as Ancient Ale, is a brewing concept executed by Dogfish Head Brewery. These beers came about when Biomolecular Archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum challenged local brewers to reverse engineer his findings from an excavation of a tumulus, or ancient burial mound, in central Turkey. What he really wanted to know was if a drinkable beverage could be created and actually enjoyed in the same way that it was 2,700 years ago using the same ingredients.

The brew masters at Dogfish Head took on this challenge and were able to concoct a beverage using almost the exact same ingredients that would have been used to make the same drink thousands of years ago. To make this possible, Dr. Patrick McGovern provided them with a list of ingredients that he identified by analyzing the residue found in pieces from the largest-to-date Iron Age drinking set. This residue was broken down by different means to identify the chemical makeup of natural ingredients. These ingredients, which include honey, grapes and barley, point to a drink similar to a combination of mead, beer and wine.  

Ultimately, the brew masters at Dogfish Head were able to craft a beer called Midas Touch, which is flavored with barley, honey, white Muscat grapes and saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. Not only was it historically accurate, but it’s pretty delicious too (and you might even say that it’s fit for a king). Their other Ancient Ales include Chateau Jiahu, which is flavored with hawthorn fruit, sake rice, barley and honey and Theobroma, which is a celebration of chocolate and if flavored with cocoa, honey, chiles and annatto. Beside these three brews, Dogfish Head continues to create Ancient Ales inspired by their findings in drinking sets and residues found all over the world.


Another Twist on Botanical Beer

A beautiful thing about botanical beer is that it leaves room for interpretation. One brewery in Chicago, Forbidden Root, is taking full advantage of that. Inspired by the quest to create a true-brewed root beer, they have evolved into a brewery that has done much more than that. Today, Forbidden Root creates a variety of botanical beers that are truly inspired by the ingredients that nature has to offer. Unlike Dogfish Head Brewery which focuses on recipes that are thousands of years old, Forbidden Root focuses on the history of low-alcohol every day beers that were brewed more currently in Early America and England.

The beers created by Forbidden Root are much closer to the modern day concept of beer with some flavorful twists. But unlike many beers brewed today, Forbidden Root creates their beer around the ingredients instead of creating a beer and then adding flavor. For this reason, finding high quality and exotic ingredients are key. Some of the ingredients they use to create their highly unique beer can most likely be found in your backyard or a field or wooded area nearby. These include bark, stems, blossoms, sap, herbs, spices, leaves, bark, flowers, honey, and roots. Other beers are created around ingredients that are a little more exotic and will take more than a walk in the woods to come across. These ingredients include fresh key lime juice, ginger, honeybush, lemon myrtle, black walnuts, licorice, roasted chestnuts, star anise, Tellicherry peppercorns, Elderflower, Marigold, and Sweet Osmanthus flowers.  

Once brewers at Forbidden Root gather the ingredients for their botanical beer, they start their unique process of brewing (which is a secret process). This process combines the botanicals in a way that creates a beer with a layered harmony of flavors and has a taste that is uniquely its own.

Dogfish Head and Forbidden Root are two of the trailblazers when it comes to botanical beer, but many other smaller breweries are trying their hand at this back to the future style of beer. We can’t wait to see what direction this trend goes in and the exotic and foraged spices that will be used to create these off the wall brews. Only time will tell how many herbs and spices that you would never think of putting in your beer will make their big debut.


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