Today we’re taking you back to nature. Into the forests, wild vegetation, and overgrown bushes right outside your neighborhood, and taking a peek at what’s available to brew new experimental beverages. First, there were gruits. They were ancient herb mixtures, popular before the extensive use of hops, and the predecessors of our modern beers. These traditional beverages used a combination of seemingly lost artifacts like mugwort, sagebursh, yarrow, yerba buena, and many more. The goal of this program is to bring back these lost flavors by inspiring local breweries to participate in their educational tours.
And their nature tours are free and open to the public. You can sign up and join to learn more about these plants through a group hike alongside other brewers, tea makers, artists, photographers, and similarly interested people. My good friend, Eric Whitley, designer and photographer at Brave Antics, had the recent chance to hike the local Mount Sutro trails and came away with refreshing insights. He hiked alongside Phil Cutti, co-founder and president of Headlands Brewery, to scout out ingredients for a new concoction – to create his “drinkable landscape."
“Sutro Stewards manage 61 acres of open space and over-grown trails just south of UCSF Medical Center and Golden Gate Park. Up near Twin Peaks the fog is relentless. Vegetation grows wildly and lush, fed by coastal fog and sunlight, up in the tall hills above San Francisco. Teeming with young eucalyptus trees, smelling of mint, pine, and honey, their dark blue-green, oily leaves surrounding the trails in an aromatic aura, that drifted fresh and wet as we walked the trails.”
“We hiked for about three hours, covering two to three miles of trails, tangled in blackberries and ivy. Our guides pointed out which leaves and berries were poisonous, and what species we could ingest. Consuming vegetation along the trail was really educational and fun, allowing your taste buds to identify distinct flavor profiles and associating the plants with how they exist in nature, something alive and changing. For beer enthusiasts, this was a great opportunity to test your palate, tasting spicy Nasturtium that resembles red poppy flowers, the astringent taste and aroma of yarrow, which at one point was a major brewing ingredient before being replaced by hops. My favorite edibles were sticky monkey flowers, Indian strawberries, and the shimmering miners lettuce, wet with dew, sparkling in the high sunlight atop Sutro."
As a fellow homebrewer and beer aficionado, new ingredients and flavor profiles are the tools to my kit. Why use an acidic fruit or orange/lemon when I can experiment with the unique citrus-scent of the hummingbird sage? How can I blend sweet ciceley’s black licorice character into an existing product? The possibilities are out there.
My take from this? Talk to your local brewer and tell them about Beers Made by Walking – be in San Francisco, Seattle/ Bellingham, Denver, Bend/Eugene/Portland, or Raleigh. Check out which environmental and brewing partners might be interesting and join them for a hike! Offer suggestions, don’t be afraid to reach out to Beers Made by Walking.
To get involved, please visit and support both the Sutro Stewards organization and Beers Made by Walking program and learn more. I’m happy and exited to say that the resulting beers will be served at a special event in October and proceeds from the beer will benefit the Sutro Stewards and their nursery.