Being a lover of FREE things, the idea of making beer out of a common weed sounded pretty cool, but the results have been much better than expected.
We have a long tradition of beer in this country, indeed, historically, beer was the only safe thing to drink.
I love beer, it is one of my favourite drinks so, producing something that I would enjoy was a real challenge.
Step 1: Get the Nettles
First you need to collect nettles.
You need a lot of them. You don't want to decimate an area, stinging nettles are an important plant for wildlife, so leave a good percentage alone.
The lower leaves are not so good, so only pick the top six leaves.
Don't pick any at "dog" height, near paths or alongside busy roads, because they will be "contaminated".
You want nice, fresh, clean nettle tops off young plants, if they have flowered or gone to seed, you are too late. Be careful to pick only stinging nettles, you can check they are stinging nettle by rubbing your hand on them, if they sting, then you probably have the right plant!
Spring is the best time, as they are bursting into growth all young and vigorous.
It takes a long time to pick enough nettles to make a batch of beer.
So after a nice walk in the country I had a cup of Tea and a Fig roll before unpacking the bag with a lot of very compressed nettles.
Step 2: Weigh the Nettles and Decide the Quantities You Are Going to Use.
I sat them on the scales to work out my quantities.
I had 1.7 kilos of nettles
So I reckoned I would use 800g of sugar and 8 litres of water and a couple of lemons.
There are a lot of recipes about, I am a great one for reading them all and then not following one, but stealing bits of each.
This is a STRONG (Alcoholic) beer, there are a lot of much lighter recipies out there with less sugar in them.
Step 3: Prepare the Nettles
I picked over the nettles, picking out any unwanted debris and shooing and insects out, then rinsed to get rid of any "unwanted" residue, with hindsight, I am not entirely sure rinsing was needed. The nettles are boiled and the dark colour of the rinse water suggest a fair bit of "goodness" got rinsed out as well.
Step 4: Make the Mash
Take the stinging nettles and put them in a pan. Now, you need a big pan, but, don't panic, as you put them in and they cook, they mush down to a fraction of the size, so even though there is no way I could fit all the raw nettles into such a small pot, they did eventually all go in.
Bring the pan to the boil and add them in in batches, eventually they all go in.
Leave to simmer for 20mins.
Step 5: Prepare the Yeast, Sugar and Other Ingrediants
Whilst the nettles simmer, prepare your yeast.
To make the beer, I used ordinary freeze dried bakers yeast, to get it started I put a little in some warm water with a few teaspoons of sugar and left it in a warm place to start growing.
If your yeast hasn't got going, wait longer or have another go.
I didn't sterilise, I just used a plate and jug hot out of the dishwasher, this seems to work fine for me, but I guess sterilising would be a good idea.
I weighed out my sugar, I don't use refined sugar, so this was a mixture of all the remains of all the bits of sugar I had, topped up with some organic unrefined castor sugar.
I also got a couple of lemons ready to juice, (roll them first and they juice better)
Step 6: Cooking Over
Having cooked the nettles, you leave them to cool.
They do not have to be cold, but they should be cool enough not to be a scalding hazard.
Using a clean brewing bucket, I poured in my sugar, and lemon juice, I also added some powdered ginger, i guess any herb could go in for flavour.
Then I added in the mash, using a colander with some big spoon either side to stop it falling into the bucket and a potato masher to force the liquid out, and working in several batches, I got as much of the juice into the bucket as possible. The nettles, at first, had a green taste but at this point the renaming fibre had barely any flavour in it at all, hopefully it was all in the beer now.
I topped it up with cool water, let it cool a bit more (to warm room temperature) added the yeast, stuck on the lid and put it in a warm place for 4 days to ferment.
Step 7: Bottleing
You need old empty beer bottles, I like the 500ml size as smaller bottles tend to be a pain to work with.
I am never organised enough to have the number of bottles I need when I need them, so I have a simple strategy for getting them.
I go to the bottle bank and put out a box and a sign taped to the bank asking people to put bottle in the box.
Now you need to clean your bottles. You might also want to remove the old labels,
At this point you will discover that all labels are not the same. A lot of companies are now using plastic labels that don't come off. One of the joys of bottle bank collection is you soon, get to know the good from the bad, and if you have enough available you can "afford" to throw the bad back into the bank.
At this point the beer should be "fermented out" that is to say it should have stopped making new bubbles (or very much slowed down)
Having washed the bottles, I submerge them in sterilising solution, you can use a brewing one or tablets for babies bottles. They then get a rinse.
I prepare my bottles by adding a half a teaspoon of sugar to each, this will ferment after the bottle is sealed and make it fizzy.
The liquid in the brewing bucket is then syphoned off using some plastic tube, I have a fancy brewing tool that keeps the pipe near the bottom, but out of the sediment, our goal is to leave as much sediment behind as we can.
With the bottles filled, I used put crown caps on the bottles, these are easy to do, you just hammer them on with a cheap tool.
Leave the bottles in a warm place for the fermentation to finish off then drink. If you leave it a few days and pour carefully, you can leave the yeast in the bottle, the ginger in mine made it look cloudy whatever you did.
Step 8: Epilogue
After a week of being in the bottle I checked one, it was very very gassy, just turned to a massive jet of foam half the beer was gone by the time it stopped erupting.
This is probably because the brew was still fermenting when I bottled it. So more fermentation happened in the bottle after it was sealed that would be desirable.
The solution is to open the bottle, just a tiny crack and let the gas out really slowly and leave them for a few hours like that before opening a little more to check that there is no more gas, once all the gas is released, just grab the crown tool and whack the caps back down.
I also made some labels for the beer, having had my wife constantly remind me not to put any hemlock in the bag when we were collecting, I thought it would be fun to make labels with hemlock on them and see if people recognised the potential danger of drinking nettle beer by someone who if the put hemlock on the label might have put it in the beer. I am sad to say, no one mentioned it, perhaps they are all too polite. I still had a chuckle.
The end result was nice, it had a really beery taste. It did not have a lot of bitterness, but, that is why hops got introduced to beer and got rid of old country recipes like this from commercial production. It was very drinkable and not at all reminiscent of nettles.