Viking ale with mugwort

A vision-quest in a mug, an ancient shamanic ceremony in a glass--that's what comes to mind when I think of the ancient ale I'm going to share with you today. The mugwort in this brew is in the same genus as the sagebrush I loved so much as a teenage student of Native American culture, and as a young adult living out west in Yellowstone. They say mugwort may be mildly psychoactive, and may induce lucid dreaming, and that just adds to its allure.

A bundle of sagebrush smudge
for a sweatlodge vision
in a mug of
fermented wort.

Mugwort's use in brewing probably goes back thousands of years. It was widely used as a bittering agent until hops took over. While I love hops, I also feel like so much has been lost, and it's encouraging to see old traditions being revived.  

"Viking ale" has become my favorite thing to brew. Even mead has taken a bit of a back seat lately, as I experiment with ancient ales. It's fun brewing beers with smoked malts, home-propagated kveiks, and as always, locally foraged herbs and conifers. Beer takes longer to brew than mead, so this new direction has definitely increased my total time investment in brewing, but it's a lot of fun brewing outside, and I just like to drink the stuff. 

I first learned about "Viking ales" from Mika Laitinen's book, Viking Age Brew, which is mostly about brewing the Finnish farmhouse ale called sahti. My wife and I loved the sahti I brewed with Mika's recipe, and soon I was trying the Viking ale recipes in the back of the book. The recipe I'll share here is based on Mika's Viking ale recipe, though I think the mash regime is from Papazian. But if you really want the scoop on this type of brewing, get Mika's book and check out his blog at This recipe has also been influenced by Lars Marius Garshol's book Historical Brewing Techniques, so be sure to check that out also if you're into this sort of stuff.

I've tried this basic recipe with a number of herbs and conifers: sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), and I've liked them all. But here I'm going to use mugwort, which is one of my favorites. I harvest mine from the big patch that's overtaking my hops and wildflowers.

Mugwort has a nice herbal flavor--not as medicinal as yarrow, maybe. The plant has a wonderful sage-like aroma, and it goes well with the smoked malt in this recipe. I think it resonates with my life-long love of Native American culture. Maybe a smoked malt mugwort ale is like a sweatlodge in a glass--a vision-quest in a mug.  As far as the psychoactive properties, maybe I don't add enough, but I haven't noticed any clear effects. Maybe I need to try adding more. ;-)

Note: Mugwort is also thought to have abortive properties, so you may want to avoid it if you might be pregnant.


  • 4 pounds Vienna malt
  • 4 pounds Briess Cherrywood Smoked Malt
  • 0.40 oz. dried mugwort
  • Common juniper (Juniperus communis) twigs for lauter tun filter
  • Yeast: I used a yeast I've been propagating that I think can be traced back to Sigmund Gjernes' kveik from Voss. 


Put some juniper twigs in bottom of the mash/lauter tun. Mine is a cooler with a screened outlet. I use the juniper as a filter and it works well to prevent stuck mashes. 

Heat 2 gallons water to 143 deg. Fahrenheit. Add this water to the mash tun to just cover the outlet. Then add malt to the cooler, half at a a time, and add the remaining water to cooler, half at a time. Then let sit for 30 min.

Add 1 gal. water at boiling to bring it up to about 158, and let it sit 45 minutes.

Drain the wort into a kettle and sparge with about 2.0 gal water at 176 to get about 3.75 gal. wort.

I've done these as raw ales, but this last time I did a brief ten minute boil, adding 0.33 tsp Irish moss and the 0.40 oz. dried mugwort at the beginning of the boil.

I cooled the wort to the high 80s, poured it off the rub to get about 3 gallons of finished wort, stirred for 1 min, and pitched 18 g of re-hydrated, home-propagated kviek.

Ferment at 75 deg F for two weeks. Mix in about an ounce of honey per gallon and bottle. 

Enjoy a trip back in time, and maybe some lucid dreams! Happy brewing!

If you have questions or if you try this yourself, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!