To those of you following my escapades, I am supposed to be living up a tree at the moment. And that is correct…sort of! I am as we speak in a homeless limbo of my Mothers place in Sussex (where I do all my blogging) and a sleeping bag in the middle of the wood. You will be pleased to know that it is coming along very well and progress will be updated here in a few days. I did have a particularly fine pint one afternoon, while working on the Treehouse, so here is the result of my final Urban foray in London and it goes a little something like this:
On the one hand, the stinging nettle is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts. On the other, it is the possibly one of the most annoying, frustrating plants growing today: It is all in the eye of the beholder.
In my toddling days, I learnt to give stingers a wide berth, I also learnt that the application of a split dock leaf was more than ample treatment to combat the throbbing infliction dealt out by this fairly innocent looking plant. As I have grown I have come to appreciate this plant for all its many uses: as a vegetable, a source of twine, a weapon (especially on country walks with friends) and most recently, as an ingredient for turning water into something a little more grown up…beer.
I think in much the same way a bee-keeper learns to endure the stings of his honey makers, I have come to accept that if one is to fool about with nettles for the greater good, the odd raised bump or sting is inevitable and should be accepted with good humour.
A couple of weeks ago I hopped onto to my bike to go and give Battersea Park one final, firm forage (I am now a permanent countryside resident- nice!). This time to gather 100 nettle tops to transform into a top-notch beer. After dropping in at the bank on the Kings Road, I couldn’t help but notice an abundance of hops curling around the metal railings of one of those funny “private” mini parks dotted about plush residential areas. Without any of the neighbours noticing, I managed to rid the tangles of eager hops of all their heads, to be fried in a little butter for lunch.
I have only ever had nettle beer once before, and as much as I like the guy it pains me to say this: his version is not really to my taste. I love my ales as much as the next chap, but the Hugh’s River Cottage “Stinger” is one of the few bottles I have bought and not finished. So, clearly I was nervous about actually being able to drink any of my own batch.
Once in my favourite nettle spot at Battersea park, I donned the marigolds (yellow this time, not pink) and set to work collecting 100 nettle tops which took all of 5 minutes: a small amount of time for a 12 litre brew! I was set on following Roger Phillip’s nettle beer recipe, I had searched the internet to see if it could be bettered- even found one that involved a slice of bread!? If in doubt: follow someone of authority.
- 100 nettle tops (with leaves 4-6)
- 12 litres (2 ½ gallons)
- 1 ½ kg (3lb) sugar
- 50g cream of tartar
- 15g brewers or beer yeast (available from all homebrew shops)
Once you have your nettles, give them a quick wash and place in a big pot with 12 litres of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain the liquid into another pan/bucket and discard the nettles (or make a huge batch of my Stinger Pesto - now that’s thrift!).
Bring the liquid to the boil again and add the sugar and cream of tartar, simmer and stir until dissolved.
Remove from the heat, transfer into your brewing vessel/bucket and allow to cool to blood temperature- this may take some time… then add the yeast and stir well.
There is a lot of debate about the next stage, most recipes say to cover the bucket in muslin and bottle after 24 hours…with my limited knowledge of the mysterious art of brewing, even I know this is foolish: unless you want exploding bottles in the garage or a fizzy firework on opening- in which case you might get a shots worth…go ahead!
What worked best for me was to get out my hydrometer and take a reading every two days, I could also then calculate the alcohol % at the end. I covered the bucket in a pair of my girlfriend’s tights and left it in the cellar for about a week, until the hydrometer reading had dropped from 1.050 to below 1.000 (during which time it went a funny blue/green colour- no idea) This then told me fermentation had finished, bottling could go ahead and explosions would be kept to a minimum (not in the case of the missing tights).
If you can, leave the brew for 1-3 months, it IS ready to drink a week after bottling though! My brew came out at 6.4% (drop in specific gravity=50, 50 x 129= 6.450).
Serve chilled in a jug (the old school pint glass) with a sprig of mint, preferably in a green place at the end of a busy day. Watch out how many you have, it is deceptive stuff, especially if operating heavy machinery like a hammer or drill and working off the ground.
I cannot understand two things: first, why it is called a beer when it tastes more like a wine? Secondly, why people don’t make this more often! It is like the elderflower cordial of the alcohol world, sweet, refreshing and the perfect spring/summer drink.
This will certainly be my regular brew this summer: at a cost of about £3 for 20 pints, it is worth every penny! Do please, PLEASE give this one a go, trust me you will not regret it…