By Tony Forder
Last month Dogfish Head released another beer in their Ancient Ale series. This one greatly intrigued me, firstly because of its name, Tree Thieves, and secondly because it was a Gruit-style ale.
Trees are close to me*. My nickname Limetree which I gave to my website has the word tree in it. Gruit Ales and I also have something of a history – I researched and wrote about these medieval herbal beers back in the Oughts and instigated Two Druids Gruit Ale at Tom Baker's Heavyweight Brewing Co. in NJ.
The folks at Dogfish Head were nice enough to send me a sample of Tree Thieves, but I needn't have worried. My neighbors had returned from a visit to Delaware with a couple of bottles which we shared on New Year's Eve. A delicious 6.5% brew, it was dark, slightly smokey, with caramel, honey and herbal notes. I definitely detected mugwort.
Dogfish Head leader Sam Calagione once again collaborated with his Ancient Ale co-conspirator Dr. Pat McGovern for this ale. This time brewer and molecular archeologist teamed up with the Weihenstephan Research Center for Brewing and Food Quality in Munich to reproduce a fermented beverage ancient Celts crafted in southwest Germany. Brewers at Dogfish Head's Milton, DE brewery, replicated ancient techniques by using superheated rocks for the brewing; the beer was flavored with botanicals and honey and fermented with yeast "thieved" from tree deemed sacred by the Celts, oak and ash as well as mistletoe. The name Tree Thieves is also a nod to the scientific name for mistletoe, Phoradendron, meaning “thief of trees.”
Said Dr. Pat, “Tree Thieves, the tenth in the series, has similar origins to our first and most awarded brew, Midas Touch. Both are extreme fermented beverages — combining barley, wheat, honey and native herbs — that ultimately derive from Indo-European cultures of the Neolithic period, some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago."