Brewing With Sage, An Ancient Tradition

Sage ale was one of the primary ales brewed throughout the Middle Ages, says Stephen Harrod Buhner in Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers.

Emily Hutto Apr 19, 2014 - 3 min read

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“[Sage] was considered highly medicinal and wholesome.” In the book, Buhner includes three recipes for sage ale: an eighteenth century sage ale brewed with lemon juice, a hopped nineteenth century version brewed with molasses and rye, and a modern take on this style, brewed with licorice root and brown sugar. It’s inferred from the book, and evident in today’s craft beer marketplace, that brewers are experimenting with this classic beer ingredient.

Epic Brewing's Utah Sage Saison smells like traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The recipe starts with a balanced malt base of 2-Row, Marris Otter, Pilsner, Wheat, and Rye malt. “We add barley flakes for body and boil for our standard amount of time for most brews, 90 minutes,” says Epic Brewer Kim Collins in Denver, Colorado. “During the boil, we use high alpha acid hops that kick off lemony-citrus notes,” she continues. Five minutes before the end of the boil, fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage are added in a mesh bag. Finally, Utah Sage Saison is fermented with Belgian yeast, which brings a refreshing quality to this earthy saison.

Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery brewed Wild Sage Ale as part of the Province Ale Company project. The beer is brewed with mostly pale malts and 25 percent rye in the mash, baking powder, candied aged hops, and dried, wild grown sage. “[Sage] was a regular component in old European gruits and was favored by the English for use in ale in the 17th and 18th centuries. The baking powder was added in the mash along with the pale and rye malts, to purportedly counteract the ‘weight’ of the heavy doughy rye malt,” says the Dogfish Head website. See more details on how this beer was brewed.

The Triple White Sage Ale from Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena, California, resembles a strong golden ale—but darker and fuller-bodied—brewed with fresh brewer-picked sage. It has a rounded malty, but not sweet, flavor. This beer changes your whole idea of what you thought beer could be, says Christina Perozzi in the book The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer, calling this Belgian-style Tripel an “icon beer,” defined as “the best of the beer world.”

In Bend, Oregon, Deschutes Brewery makes a brew with rubbed sage added at the end of fermentation, as opposed to brewing with the herb. The beer, The Sage Pumpkin, is a mildly hoppy pumpkin ale that’s available in the fall.

In Minneapolis, Indeed Brewing makes the Sage Coach, a Belgian strong ale brewed with European pilsner malt, oats, French Strisselspalt hops, and rubbed sage.

Fresh sage will soon be in season! How are you going to use it in your next homebrew?