Unlike hops, where just the flowers are used you can use the whole of the wood sage plant to brew with – great, no waste and trouble free, you might think – well no! When it comes to brewing the trouble starts with wood sage because beer made with any quantity of the stuff is green, very definitely and very vividly green. If you drunk it right up until Victorian times this wouldn’t have been a problem up until then it would be served in a solid pewter tankard. However, after 1845 the glass tax was lifted and it was to have a massive effect on beer trends. Suddenly, drinkers were not satisfied with anything other than clear pale ale. The wood sage would help clarify the beer but, I guess that is no conciliation when you are confronted with frog-green liquid and told it’s beer.
Trends are again changing and no longer are we obsessed with having clear amber beer. Drinkers are once again happy to drink beer that is unfined, many will favour something natural above something clear and clinical looking- Now could be the time to resurrect beer containing wood sage.Searching around for anyone who still had a go at making wood sage beer I found Old Odense brewed by Nørrebro Bryghus in Denmark which apparently now changes hands for $250 a bottle – so perhaps it would be worth any enterprising brewer having a go!
However, before you do take out a bank loan and set up your own brewery you’d be well to be forewarned. Wood sage contains clerodane diterpenes which are thought to be hepatotoxic, meaning they can cause damage to the liver. These clerodane diterpenes are also present in Salvia divinorum they are the active chemicals that give people who smoke Salvia divinorum hallucinations. I’d worry slightly that you wouldn’t get approval to make such a beer, indeed you may even run up against the authorities for brewing it.
It is also worth noting that the Catholic church, well the monks, used have a great sideline in and gruit (herbal) ales that gave the drinker vivid hallucinations. They would use herbs such as wood sage, bog myrtle and even henbane in their toxic brews. It wasn’t until the rise of the puritans in the 16th century that such practices slowly became outlawed. Instead, beer started to be made with hops, a herb that causes impotence and doziness in men and can help balance oestrogen in women which can have aphrodisiac effects. I’m not really sure what that says about the protestants at that time and I often wonder what our pubs would look like today if they could sell hallucinogenic beer!