Sunday, May 09, 2010

Nettle/dandelion beer


She's crazy, I tell ya,

Beer from NETTLES? And I've heard of dandelion wine, but BEER? From the GREENS?

I did it. Today, because I was fascinated with the idea that in other times, other cultures, people (especially women) brewed beer from ingredients other than malted barley and hops, I brewed a beer from stinging nettles. And dandelions.

Of course, dandelions are in no short supply. And on my 40 acres, I have a couple reliable sources of stinging nettles, one of them being a flower bed right outside the house. Why nettles choose to grow there I do not know.

I did add a few non-locally harvested ingredients, among them lemons and ginger root. I also added some lime basil, because I had it, and because I thought it would add a good flavor.

Nettles, dandelion leaves, dandelion root, ginger root, and lemon zest were boiled for about half an hour, or until the leaves barely retained any leaf structure. Meanwhile, two pounds of brown sugar (that's one whole bag), and cream of tartar and the juice from the lemons (4 of them) were mixed together. When the whole mess was done boiling, I strained the liquid into the pot with the sugar and stuff, and let the sugar dissolve before pouring it into the fermenter (the 5 gallon glass carboy in the top picture). After a couple of hours, when it had cooled to slightly warm to the touch, I added the yeast.

The yeast is a story of its own. You can buy bread yeast in any store, and it might work for brewing beer, but if you want the kind of yeast that works best for brewing beer, you generally have to buy it from home brew supply stores. Being short of cash and not wanting to drive 100 miles to a brew store last week, I made an appeal over Facebook to see if anyone in my area was keeping any yeast cultures and could spare some. To my great surprise, a local Facebook friend and musician, whom I had only just recently met in real life in a chance encounter in line at the grocery store, contacted another friend of his, who had a packet of yeast to spare. Say what you will about social media, but I have gotten to know a few people locally through Facebook whom otherwise I would not have met.

A few hours later, carbon dioxide is happily bubbling through the air lock, a sign that fermentation is well on its way. We'll see how this experiment tastes in a few days. I don't expect it to be like any beer I've tasted before, and that is part of the fun of this whole project! I like that I didn't spend about 30 bucks on a pre-assembled beer kit. This is far more adventurous.


Floridacracker said...

Okay, I never would have thought of that recipe.
Definitely curious to hear how it turns out.

Deb said...

So far so good. When I lift the airlock off and take a whiff it smells ok. I imagine the fermentation will settle down in a day or two, then I'll bottle it.

elise said...

I'm wondering, in other times and cultures why people brewed beer. Was it just for the enjoyment of it or was it one of the few options for drinking something safe and that kept well? Just curious, do you know?

Jayne said...

Oh my! Can't wait to hear how it tastes!

Deb said...

Elise- Thank you for asking! I probably should have mentioned that my inspiration for making this brew came mostly from Stephen Harrod Buhner's book, "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers". I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in herbalism, brewing, and anthropology. In it he observes that the art of brewing is not something that started in one place; most cultures, from the Equator to the Arctic Circle, practiced some form of fermentation of beverages. Much of it was done in conjunction with ceremonies, and the enjoyment/transcendent experience was definitely a reason for it. Nothing like our drinking culture of today.

Jayne- I will keep you posted! As of today, the third day after brewing, gas is still bubbling through the airlock at a good rate, so it's not ready for bottling, which is a good thing...I need to wash some bottles!

Unknown said...

I just finished my first batch of dandelion beer and it has met with universal approval, including from a Colorado beer buff who knows what IPA means without having to look it up. Its light, slightly sharp, a little floral with just the right amount of bitter.

Next steps.
1. make another batch to check that I got it right
2. filter it into the bottles, it is a bit too sedimented for my liking
3. Make a second batch with ground cherries (they grow like weeds here) as well.
4. Make a batch with lavender instead of the ground cherries.