One of the first places the word 'Basileus' appears in literature is in the Iliad by Homer.
Here it is used to describe many of the Greek leaders and is often interpreted as 'chieftain' or 'prince.' Later Greeks, such as the philosophically-minded Aristotle, often uses the word in contrast to 'tyrannos' or tyrant when discussing proper and improper forms of government. The plant itself was created when the warrior Ocimus was slain and basil grew on the spot, thus leading to part of its scientific name: Ocimum Basilicum.
Originally from the Indian Subcontinent, where it is believed to have medicinal properties, basil was known to the Mediterranean world very early on. It has been discovered in the tombs of Pharaohs, among their mummified remains, and is thought to have been involved somehow in the embalming process. Likely because of this, Greek society also associated basil with mourning and death. It was basilikon phuton or 'the kingly plant.' It would eventually become a term that referred to the kings of the Byzantine Empire.
On the island of Crete, basil was later believed to be a symbol of the devil and was often put in the windowsills of homes to ward off his influence.
It may have been confused with the creature ‘basilisk’ for it is written that basil can help offset the poisonous affects of a bite from a sea dragon. In the medieval period and during the Renaissance, basil was sometimes used in an effort to determine a woman’s chastity. Basil, it was believed, would wilt in the hands of the impure.
Despite all of these negative, and even demonic, associations basil became a staple of Italian cuisine, giving its distinctive herbal bitterness to pastas, lasagnas, and most importantly pesto. Genovese Basil also called Sweet Basil is the most commonly available type of basil in Europe and North America and is what we at the Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project use to flavor our IPA. Another type of basil with which you are probably familiar is Thai Basil. Several other kinds exist including purple, tulsi, rubin, and others but they are not grown or cultivated to great extent.
Fast forward to the explosion of craft beer in the United States and the American IPA stands out easily as the ‘basileus of beers.’ Selling more than any other style of beer by nearly 50%, what could be better for this prince of craft than the princely plant—Basil. Fresh Italian basil has an herbal, earthy quality that accentuates the Columbus, Magnum, Citra, and Centennial hops that go along with our brew. This slightly sweet IPA would pair deliciously with plenty of cuisine Italian or otherwise and is an easy drinker on a hot summer day.
We continue to experiment with the when, how, and how much basil in our brews. Most recently, we added five pounds of fresh basil to the last five minutes of the boil. The oils in basil break down quickly when heated. You want just enough to release them into the brew but not have them precipitate out. Come see what you think when we release our Imperial Basil IPA in the coming weeks.