As much a predictable sign of spring as the sighting of the first robin on your lawn, the yellow flowers that populate that same green patch—the dandelions—are usually far less welcome. They are seen as a weed, an eyesore despite their vibrant color, or simply a plaything for kids who get kicks blowing the puffy seeds into the air.
There isn’t much that people celebrate when it comes to this member of the daisy family.
But dandelion has been a culinary ingredient stretching back centuries. Steeped in tea, served in salads, or roasted, it has also shown up in beer through the ages.
“It’s more herbal than you would imagine, less floral than what you’d get from a lilac or daffodil,” says Mike Thorpe, the owner and brewer for Afterthought Brewing Company in Lombard, Illinois. “There’s an earthy, herbal character with a hint of citrus.”
Thorpe has had an appreciation for dandelion-infused beers going back to his homebrewing days and savoring glasses of Fantôme Pissenlit from Brasserie Fantôme and other dandelion-infused beers. So, when he launched his own brewery last year, the sunbeam-yellow flowers that peeked from his lawn were an inspiration, not an annoyance.
Gathering just the heads, he added them to Saison Meer, his flagship beer. Thorpe is committed to using ingredients that are mostly from the Great Lakes region, including malt from Illinois and Indiana and hops from Michigan. After taking a turn in oak barrels, Saison Meer: Dandelion was first released last year as part of his membership club.
“I had hoped to do a double batch, but when I went back to the yard the next week, they had all turned to puffs,” he says, ruefully.
Afterthought is a true nanobrewery, using just a 1.5-barrel system. For Saison Meer: Dandelion, Thorpe found that the good ratio was six pounds per barrel of the flower and using hop bags to add the ingredient at flameout. He leaves the dandelions in for up to ten minutes before chilling to let them steep a bit.
“With dandelion, even using only the heads, there’s an earthy herbal character with a hint of citrus.”
Next spring, when you’re looking at the yard from your homebrew setup in the garage, don’t get the weed killer, get yourself a basket and start picking dandelions—or better yet, have the kids do it!