Making Nettle Beer

This was the second time I had tried to make nettle beer. The first time wasn’t that successful. But rather than give up I decided it was worth trying again. Only this time I used a different recipe.

Rather than make a massive batch I decided to make a small ‘tester’ amount – about 2litres (4 pints).

Here’s the recipe I used (I just halved the amounts): 

2lb Nettle tops
8 pints water
1 lemon (juice and rind)
1 lime (juice and rind)
1lb demerara sugar
4oz white sugar
1oz cream of tartar
pinch of brewer’s/wine yeast

As luck would have it, a pound of nettles is more-or-less the same as a carrier bag full! Only pick the very top leaves of the nettle. It really doesn’t take that long. When you see the first forlorn few leaves in the bag you start to think ‘bloody hell, this is going to take ages’. But it really doesn’t. They soon add up. And anyway, it’s coupled with a nice walk in the countryside Just try to remember to pick nettles that are tall and away from the path, just to ensure foxes/badgers/dogs haven’t urinated all over them!

Now, you can give the nettles a rinse to clean them off, but I didn’t bother – you’re going to boil them and that should kill off any nasties. If you have a pot big enough then bring the water to a boil and add the nettles. Let it boil away for about 15 minutes. Since I didn’t have a pot big enough to hold 4 litres of water I did it in two batches. Do be aware that boiling nettles smell bloody awful. I can only put that down to the high acid and iron content. Don’t let the stench put you off.

You need to sterilise your fermentation bucket (I used a plastic tub I bought from Wilkinson’s for a couple of quid). In the fermentation bucket goes all the sugar, the lemon and lime juice and rind (no pith) and cream of tartar. Then strain the boiled nettles and pour the liquid into the fermentation bucket, doing your best to avoid any nettles/mud/bugs going in as well. Give it a good stir.

You now need to let it cool to body temperature. Then you add the yeast. Cover the fermentation vat to stop any muck getting in. I used kitchen towel with an elastic band to keep it on.

This is when the primary fermentation takes place. It will take a day or two for the yeast to start going. It will go all foamy on top of the liquid. Leave it for a week.

When that week is up you need to strain the brew into a demi-john for secondary fermentation and fit an airlock. Try not to get any of the foam from primary fermentation in, nor any of the sludge from the bottom. It will, of course, still be quite cloudy and murky looking. Fit your airlock and leave for another week or so.

When that week is up the fermentation should have slowed down. Count the time in between bubbles going through the airlock. About 1 per minute means it’s quite docile. At this point I added some finings to help clear things up. If you smell the brew you will notice it has an unpleasant smell. Don’t worry about that – it will go. Let the brew stay in the demi-john for another week. This gives the finings chance to get rid of any particles (they may clump together and either sink to the bottom of the jar or float to the top like a sludgy iceberg), and also for the yeast to go to work on the chemicals producing the smell. Nettles have lots of odd things in them that normal beer doesn’t.

And then comes bottling and tasting! When siphoning the beer out of the demi-john and into the bottles be careful, again, not to let any sludge from the bottom get in. It is inevitable that some will, but try to cut down on it as much as you can. Also, do be aware that there may still be some yeast in the brew and so it may continue to ferment in the bottle! As such, you may be best advised to use plastic bottles for the brew – an exploding plastic bottle will cause less damage than an exploding glass one!

A word of warning here. This particular recipe produces a very strong (in taste and alcoholic content) brew. When I tasted it I didn’t like it – just too strong! So I watered it down. I did a ratio of roughly 2/3rds brew to 1/3rd water. This softened the taste and made for a lovely refreshing drink. It’s still strong though! I had two pints and I was drunk. I would guess (not having a hydrometer) that even after watering it down it is still about the 5%-6%abv mark. So be warned!

Let the beer settle in the bottle for a couple of days before tasting. That way any sediment will settle and the bottle will pressurise letting out a satisfying ‘psst!’ when you open them. Enjoy.


1 Comment

  1. Benjy said,

    March 3, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Thanks. 🙂

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