Home-made nettle beer May ’14 

I’ve been brewing nettle beer (there’s some debate as to whether it’s a beer at all given that it turns out more like a pressé but the yeast, the method and the fizz are good enough reasons to call it that for me), for around 4 years now, and every year it just gets better. It’s so simple, tasty and cheap – I reckon it’s the way of the future for an easy, fun and quick home brew.

And hey, for the more bourgeois among you it goes great with champagne, cava or Prosecco to make a nice little hedgerow ‘cocktail’. Happy days!

Here’s what you’ll need to make it for yourself:

Ingredients

20 litres of boiling water

One large bag of nettle tops

3kg of sugar

100g of cream of tartar

3 lemons

7g of ale yeast (or bread yeast)

Ingredients

Equipment

Large bucket for brewing

Large saucepans to boil water

Large metal serving spoon for stirring

Enough sterilised bottles (plastic of glass) to siphon in to

Siphon

Start the whole process with a little adventure in to the country. For any cook there’s nothing better than getting an acquaintance with your ingredients in the rawest form possible. The nettles are obviously central to the success of this brew so be discerning; gather them early in the summer (you can start in some places from March), take only the tops (don’t uproot them, our winged and six legged friends need them more than you do), and gather them away from foots path (dog urine) or fields edges (pesticides). I get mine from the edge of a meadow next to a free flowing river – believe me all small things make a difference. Gather enough nettles to fill a bin liner or large bag.

Plastic bag of nettles

Back home with your foraged nettles, it’s time to start boiling the 20 litres of water. You need to boil that much to make your nettle infusion. I use whatever comes to hand: pots, pans, kettles, but if you have a large brewing pot you can get all the water boiled at once.

Boiling water

Once you’ve boiled all the water and have added it to your bucket (I use a brewing bucket that has the advantage of the litres measured on the side) put in your washed nettles (I wash them in the bath). Leave them to infuse for at least an hour.

Brewing bucket of nettles infusing

Now you need to strain the liquid, separating the nettles from the infusion. I use a colander with a clean tea towel; muslin is ideal for this too. Strain it into a sterilised, clean bucket or brewing bucket.

Straining the liquid

Now you have a lovely, golden and still warm infusion. Now add the sugar and stir. Then sieve in the cream of tartar and stir.

Adding sugar

Finally add in the lemon or lime juice and stir.

Adding lemon juice

Oh, by the way did I mention that you should stir, stir, stir until all the sugar and ingredients are dissolved?

Stirring

One more thing for this part: let the liquid cool to blood temperature and then add your 7g yeast (ale yeast, bread yeast whatever you have). Leave it to brew (and for the yeast to multiply) for around 7-9 days.

When you’re happy that the brewing process has finished – bubbling has all but ceased and you’ve a healthy layer of ferment on the surface – you can now siphon it off in to your bottles (use recycled wine and plastic bottles – and when you’ve drunk the new contents use them again and again).

Siphoning in to plastic bottle

Make sure the bottles are sterilised – I use Milton (a baby bottle sterilising liquid) and that you use a clean and sterilised siphon. Clean is the name of the game in this stage.

Now fill each bottle, just leaving a couple centimetres at the top below the cork or bottle top.

Siphoning in to wine bottle

Store the bottles upright in a cool dark place and leave for at least two weeks before consuming.

Full bottles

Serve on ice, ice cold and enjoy. You’ll soon taste how the effort was all worth it!

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