Yarrow, Alecost and Nightmares

Old illustration of yarrow leaves.
Yarrow leaves. SOURCE: Köhler’s Med­i­c­i­nal Plants, 1887, via Biode­v­er­si­ty Library.

I’m all about Harvey’s at the moment. It’s all I wanted to drink in London the other week, and about all I’m interested in drinking now we’re back in Penzance.

Last night, I pulled some­thing of theirs from the back of the stash that, some­how, I’ve nev­er got round to tast­ing before even though we got sev­er­al bot­tles as part of a mixed case last year: Pri­o­ry Ale.

This beer isn’t on sale any­more but think of this as gen­er­al com­men­tary on beer with weird herbs rather than as a review and it might have some use.

It’s 6% – a bit indul­gent for a school night but not mad­ly so – but the kick is in the small print. It was released in 2014 to mark the 750th anniver­sary of the Bat­tle of Lewes and was ‘brewed using ingre­di­ents that were avail­able to the Clu­ni­ac Order at the Pri­o­ry of St. Pan­cras in 1264’. The mash includ­ed bar­ley, oats and wheat and it was boiled with both hops and yarrow. It was then dry-herbed with ale­cost, rose­mary and thyme dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion.

I can’t lie – on read­ing the blurb, my first thought was, ‘Uh-oh.’ Thyme and rose­mary don’t real­ly work in beer, or at least I haven’t yet acquired the taste, mak­ing every­thing a seem bit sick­ly and savoury.

On tast­ing it, my first thought was of med­i­c­i­nal sham­poo, then of cough sweets, which I guess must mean some mem­o­ry of men­thol fir­ing in my brain. Ale­cost is some­times known by the name ‘Mary’s mint’ or vari­a­tions there­on so per­haps that’s what I was pick­ing up? The rose­mary and thyme rose up as the beer went on, over­rid­ing every­thing by the end, like some kind of cot­ton bag you might hang in a wardrobe to give your bon­nets a pleas­ant fra­graunce. Or a leg of lamb.

Most dis­ap­point­ing­ly from my point of view, it lacked that dis­tinc­tive Harvey’s char­ac­ter on which I am hooked.

It was not a relax­ing beer. Being kind, I’d say it was stim­u­lat­ing, but maybe nerve-jan­gling is more hon­est. It put me on edge. ‘I think this is going to give me night­mares,’ I said on turn­ing in.

And do you know, some­thing cer­tain­ly did.

One thought on “Yarrow, Alecost and Nightmares”

  1. Yarrow con­tains thu­june, like worm­wood, which (Im quot­ing myself from AGB) had a rep­u­ta­tion in Scan­di­navia for mak­ing ale more potent. Too much yarrow is claimed to cause dizzi­ness and ring­ing in the ears, “and even mad­ness”. How­ev­er, thu­joene is no longer con­sid­ered to have sim­i­lar effects to THC. But I reck­on you can still blame the yarrow …

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