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Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation Paperback – September 18, 1998
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Filled with nourishment for the soul, body, and mind, this book is a unique view of the intersection between herbal medicine and fermentation. It will delight anyone interests in herbs, honey, brewing and folktales. Great Book! -- Susan S. Weed, Author of Healing Wise
From the Back Cover
Fermentation and plant use--as medicine, as psychotropics, as teachers, as companions on life's path--are an inescapable part of our exploration of what it means to be human. Thus, this book conflicts with a number of popular beliefs about alcohol, plants, and the nature of material reality. It is, therefore, not politically correct.
. . . The ancient beers, created . . . between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago, were quite different from what we know as beer today. Many were sacred beers, and hundreds contained medicinal herbs.--From the book
The author's beautiful and provocative exploration of the sacredness and folklore of ancient fermentation is revealed through 200 plants and hive products. Includes 120 recipes for ancient and indigenous beers and meads from 31 countries and six continents--and the most complete evaluation of honey ever published.
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This book is truly inspiring to say the least, and it'll surely make you want to try to brew something every time you pick it up. This is hands down the most interesting book I've ever read. It's refreshing to realize how basic fermented beverages can be to produce too!
1) It's probably a good idea to try small doses of such recipes until you know how your body will respond.
2) It's probably a good idea to do further research before you make up your mind on these matters.
Now for a word on substance. This book is written from a very primitivist perspective. The author is upfront about his views in this area, and tries to share them. I didn't feel like the book was overly proselytizing in this area, though I recognize that some fellow reviewers differ here.
Secondly he advocates what one might call "unscientific brewing." I'm a big fan of unscientific brewing. I've brewed in similar ways for nearly two decades. In this way, sense, artistry, and experience are used to produce a beer, mead, etc rather than rigorous measurement and control. For example, I sterilize all my equipment with heat (I don't use chemicals), I don't even own a hydrometer, and and I brew beer using touch and feel rather than time and temperature. In this way, I sacrifice some repeatability for variation and an ability to improvise at each step. Sometimes my recipes flop but since each one is an experiment, I just take note about what failed and go on. I figure this is the way brewing was done for centuries and I don't need to change. My view on this, as a long-time "unscientific brewer" is subtly different than Bruhner's. I think to some extent his writings make light of the careful ways that traditional cultures may have for controlling wort infection and the like, and tends to gloss over the role of deep, long-term experience in what was traditionally an art form much like poetry. These shortcomings may be acceptable given his audience (those just starting out), but it's worth noting up front. All in all, I think this is an important contribution to the area of brewing in this area. I may not agree with him on every point, but more voices help us all move forward.
Thirdly he provides a large number of recipes. These include molasses-based drinks, white sugar-based drinks, fermented fruit-based beverages, and the like. In general these track various other attempts at various beverages that I have seen, and many of his recipes are taken from old sources. These do not fit in well with standard contemporary brewing approaches which frown on sucrose sources and favor fructose instead, but when one is experienced (see paragraph above), one can still take them as inspiration and adapt them to whatever one wants to make (substituting honey for white sugar, for example). At the same time, I have had commercially produced molasses "beers" (i.e. brewed with molasses instead of malted grain) and they are quite pleasant. Consequently I have to assume that most of the recipes would be just fine how they are. I would however note that it is likely that "sugar" in many of the old recipes was the sort of dried cane syrup one can find at Mexican grocers than the white sugar we use today. This area could be fertile ground for future research.
However, whatever faults this book has, it's still a fascinating journey into another world in terms of brewing. I enjoyed it and I see why it was highly recommended to me. It is a solid contribution to this field and I'd highly recommend it to others.
It's 450 pages of editorializing, basic instructions for primitive brewing, and information about the religious and healing use of the herbs and plants used in brewing the meads, ales and beers in the book. Some of the herbs used in some of the recipes can be dangerous, but hopefully anyone messing around herbs knows to check a couple sources for possible side effects. I have a couple herbals I use a lot for just that. The author does have a lot of respect for non-Western cultures and belief systems.
I don't recommend this book for anyone who needs step by step instructions to feel confident about making home brews or anyone who thinks that home brews need expensive equipment. The brews are basic and easy with simple fermentation processes. But for people who want that and history of beer-like drinks used in sacred practices around the world, it's fantastic.
Since I'm a lot more interested in simple beers and wines, it's a book I like a lot. Plus knowing the basic processes of fermentation can help you come up with your own recipes for wines and meads. I think I want to try an Alaskan honey mead using flowers native to Alaska, local honey, and local berries next summer and the recipes in this book are easy enough to adapt I feel fairly confident I can.