Yarrow Ale – A true Ale – By Andy Hamilton

The dictionary definition of ale is often wrong, confusion arises as most places have differing definitions. However, a true Ale is one that had been brewed using something in place of hops in this case the herb yarrow. Yarrow

Yarrow is thought to be one of the oldest used medicinal herbs and traces or references of it can be found littered throughout human history; dating back over 60 000 years. It is little wonder that a yarrow ale has been drunk for years.

Yarrow ale does come with a word of warning as is thought to contain thujone, you might not have heard of thujone but you may have heard of Absinthe. Thujone occurs naturally in wormword and is what gives Absinthe it’s psycadelic effects. I have not had a skinful (large amount) of yarrow beer at the time of writing this but I have had a large amount of Absinthe in the past and I thought I saw a ghost, no one else did and noone else was drinking Absinthe I can only assume it was some kind of haulicination. So I would strongly advise to procede with caution when making Yarrow beer and don’t drink it to access.

Yarrow grows on waste ground, lawns and in parks. Do make 100% certain you know what you are picking if you are foraging for your ingredients; on one of our forages someone presented me with some poisionus hemlock thinking it was yarrow!  Also pick responsibly, I know I am starting to sound like your mother but seriously I want to be able to make this beer all year round and if you go out and pick all the Yarrow to extinction I won’t be able to. Pick just one third of the leaves from any one plant, as a rule the plant should not look that different after you have picked.


  • 3.4kg organic Barley malt extract (10 jars)
  • 2.7 kg Brewing Sugar
  • 1.75 kg Fresh Yarrow leaves
  • 56 litres of water
  • 1 cup of good ale yeast
  • a small jar of honey


Boil the yarrow leaves in the water for thirty minutes in 30 litres of water, you might need to do this in more than one sitting if using more than one pan. Alternatively you could ask about if any friends have a cauldron or a collection of bigger pots and pans.

Place malt extract and sugar in large (60L) steralised fermenting bin, steralised dustbin or as I use a steralised water butt.

Using a muslin cloth or very fine big sieve strain the liquid over the malt extract and sugar; stirring to ensure that it all dissolves into the liquid. Top up to make 56 litres and allow to cool to roughly 18C (65F). If you don’t have a thermometer at this stage put a clean hand in, if it is about as cool as you local swimming pool that should just about be ok. Unlike other beers the yarrow helps to kill off any of the microbes that can affect the brew, this does not mean you should be lackadaisical about hygiene.

Cover with a clean tea towel, old shirt or whatever you can get your hands on. Secure this with some string and make sure that your mates don’t think it is a chair and decide to sit on it as has happened at one of my parties.

Leave for about a week to ten days or longer if in a cooler place or making in the winter – test with a hydrometer if you have one. Siphon the brew into a keg or barrel ensuring that you have poured the whole jar of honey in first. If making a smaller brew then you can siphon into bottles at this stage.

Leave this to mature for a further week to 10 days.

This Ale will cost roughtly £20-£28 depending on where you get your ingredients and will make about 100 pints, that roughly 20p-28p a pint. My hydrometer at first reading suggests that it will brew to 5% alcohol content.