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:
20 litres of boiling water
One large bag of nettle tops
3kg of sugar
100g of cream of tartar
7g of ale yeast (or bread yeast)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finally add in the lemon or lime juice and stir.
Oh, by the way did I mention that you should stir, stir, stir until all the sugar and ingredients are dissolved?
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).
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.
Store the bottles upright in a cool dark place and leave for at least two weeks before consuming.
Serve on ice, ice cold and enjoy. You’ll soon taste how the effort was all worth it!