Hawthorn and woodruff

If a carpet of bluebells is a sign of ancient woodland then much of East Sussex has very old roots. Remnants of the Andredesleage perhaps! It would be nice to think so. Many of the sunken lanes near us are also thick with bluebells and stitchwort. I’m reminded of Robert Macfarlane’s Old Ways or Rudyard Kipling’s Way Through The Woods; somewhere quite magical. John Lewis-Stemple, in The Running Hare, described Britain’s roadside verges as our greatest unacknowledged nature reserves and at the moment especially I can see why. I seem to be better at spotting coral root and town hall clock now I know what I’m looking for; something I love about study; like putting on a new pair of glasses and realising the detail was there all along.

The green is getting lusher, fuller. More broad leaf plants are appearing on the meadows and verges: Horseradish, dock and sorrel. The oaks are now a yellow lime green. Depending on the sun, at times vibrant and at times quite cold. The ash is not yet out so we’re in for a splash not a soak this summer as the old saying goes. The sweet chestnuts are in full leaf and flower, feeling heavy overhead. Hedges and thickets are now voluptuous and opaque. Since playing Boy Scouts such places have always seemed inviting, enveloping and comforting.

Whereas blackthorn was pure white against bare bones, hawthorn provides a white confetti against a dark sherwood green. This is target number one for this week. It was a busy weekend, with getting to and from the Southampton Marathon taking up most of the time, and so the hawthorn was harvested by torchlight, albeit only from the garden edge.

Woodruff has also piqued my interest. Once a strewing herb, full of coumarin like meadowsweet, I’ve found recipes that include it in Maibowle that I might have to try. I’ve read that the German Waldmeister syrup is used to flavour Berliner Weisse and Chorlton Brewing Co have flavoured a Berliner Weisse with it, which I am keen to try. If the flower yeast proves successful I will add some freshly dried meadowsweet to the secondary. If not I will flavour a pale mild with it. The drying is meant to accentuate the coumarin. My wife collected the woodruff for me and, as the flowers were tiny, small sprigs of leaves and flowers were used.

Both the hawthorn and the woodruff were put into tubes of low gravity malt extract as before.

I’m still shaking the garden apple, wild apple and dandelion from time to time. Some green apple ester aromas are coming off the garden apple tubes, or am I imagining it. It seems convenient that each fruit flower yeast smells of it’s fruit.

The blackthorn and primrose starters were assessed. The one remaining blackthorn flask still smelt strongly of nail varnish, but again, not in an unpleasant way. It was fruity. In future I will step up from the centrifuge tubes into 250ml flasks and then up into 500ml flasks, reducing the air space in the flasks, building a bigger culture and building up it’s tolerance for higher gravity wort. One primrose starter was chucked, smelling of vomit (butyric acid). The other was a bit indistinct, but pleasant, smelling slightly of grapefruit or pineapple. I should have tested the pH as I suspect the primrose had dropped. A bigger, 500ml, starters will also allow an hydrometer reading to be taken.

A base beer was brewed for the blackthorn and primrose starters. A similar recipe to before but with 3% caragold replacing 1.5% caramunich. Northern Brewer, Styrian Goldings and East Kent Goldings were used for the bittering, flavour and aroma hop respectively. For the 19litre batch the target ABV was 6.4%, IBU was 20 and SRM was 7, so a touch paler than before. I made a couple of mistakes on brew day: I sparged down to 1.010 SG to test the efficiency of my mash tun but did not boil long enough to reduce the wort down to the starting gravity; I also forgot to add the honey in the last 5mins. As it was a new jar of Wadhurst honey and honey is meant to have antibacterial properties I added it to the cooled wort. I figure that the worst that can happen is I gain some local honey funk, which isn’t necessarily the end of the world in a wild beer like this! The original gravity was 1.058, the volume was 21.5litres so the ABV will be 6% and the SRM will be 6.

Once aerated, two 5litre batches had the blackthorn and primrose strained starters added separately and 10litres had NBS Belgian Saison Yeast added. A combination yeast was not created because the gorse yeast beer was still fermenting steadily after two weeks (SG 1.030) and smelt of bubblegum. I also don’t think the 250ml starter flasks have enough yeast to split between multiple batches. The combination yeast brew will have to wait until the single flower demijohns have fermented.

I need to read up on how much yeast to repitch from one batch to another of the same volume. I don’t feel ready to start counting yeast cells yet. I’ve read that, with starters, the yeast produced by one batch can be pitched into a following batch ten times the volume. So reversing this logic, I will use a tenth of slurry volume, or a fraction of that if combining multiple wildflower yeasts. Any comments on this?

The 15litre clean batch from last brew, fermented with WLP565, was transferred to a secondary after two weeks. It had a pause after an initial surge, which seems typical of the yeast strain from posts elsewhere. 5litres was transferred onto 500g of stewed, but not sweetened rhubarb. This one should be sour!

After 24 hours the blackthorn is bubbling with a great looking krausen. The rhubarb saison is also bubbling happily as is the gorse batch. Silence from primrose.


Including my friend’s second wedding beer, which is dry hopping on mosaic, I now have seven fermenters on various shelves and worktops. My wife has the patience of a saint.

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