Nelson S’ in the Funk

The fauna has been more noteworthy than the flora since my last post, as the plants seem focussed on green growth rather than new flowers. Highlights from running have been an early morning barn owl, a handful of handsome and self-assured foxes in their prime and the occasional roe buck. Roe make an exciting change to the herds of fallow that it seems are more numerous than livestock locally. I’ve seen herds of 50 on a number of occasions. We saw a fox cub on the drive for a couple of days. I think there’s been an earth for a couple of years near that spot but we never see the vixen and our chickens are left well alone. Yellow hammers are maging themselves known, darting out of the roadside hedges ahead of me. Their song is part of my soundtrack to a lazy hazy summer evening so it’s a pleasure to see them.


Plant wise, cow parsley dominate the roadsides and buttercups have taken over the meadows. Some hawthorn – May Flower – are still going strong. Getting off the London train to a fresh evening breeze full of their scent reaffirms my love of home. The bluebells are fading and the wild garlic flowers have gone. Nothing worth picking for yeast propagation at the moment. Red campion are now much bigger plants. I wondered about picking cow parsley, the elderflower is just starting to come out and guelder rose might be an option. Also, I’ve seen the first signs of blackberry flowers.

The flasks of wild apple, garden apple and broom and the tubes of woodruff and hawthorn were stepped up in size on the 9th May to 500ml flasks and 250ml flasks respectively. Some hops were added to the malt extract for 20min boil to achieve 10IBU to inhibit some bacteria and see what difference it would make.

Wild apple were both fruity and cidery so were combined. Garden Apple 1 had a pellicle and yeasty, eatery notes. Garden Apple 2 had an aroma of red apple ester. Dandelion was indistinct. After 24 hours the Wild Apple had developed a krausen before the other samples, but two smaller flasks had combined for this and so the yeast probably had a higher cell count. After 72 hours there was some activity from both garden apples but little activity from the dandelion.

Of the hawthorn tubes, two smelled of cheese (maybe isovaleric acid) and were binned, two were clean but indistinct and formed flask labelled Hawthorn 1. Two were fruitier, more cherry-like and went into flask Labelled Hawthorn 2. After 24 hours a krausen had formed on both.

Of the woodruff plastic tubes, two had mould with black spots and were discarded, all smelled strongly of woodruff and all bar one had a pellicle. Two woodruff flasks were made. The stronger pellicles were put into Woodruff 2. After 72 hours there was some activity.

After a week in tubes all the broom smelt of broom, two of the rowan tubes were smelling off, so binned, and the remaining four smelt of flowers. All were bubbling.

I mentioned previously that I was asked to brew for a friends wedding. Had a disaster with the Vienna lager. At some point, probably bottling, it got gusher yeast. Only had it a couple of times before so gutted to get it now. Drinkable but not wedding worthy. The session APA was great so all was not lost and I made some labels for it by carving rubber stamps.

22 May was brew day for the Wild Apple, Garden Apples and the Dandelion. The Wild Apple flask had finished fermenting the quickest, had floculated and cleared. There was a fruity saison-like smell to it. With a pH of 3.4 and a gravity of 1.009 I deemed it safe to taste. It had a light saison taste, slightly tart, dry, cider-like and possibly a touch astringent. Garden Apple 2 had apparently stopped fermenting and floculated but this was easily disturbed. It’s smell was not so clean and a bit funky. The gravity was 1.038 and the pH was 3.9. Garden Apple 1 hadn’t cleared and was still fermenting and there were some signs of a pellicle. The gravity was 1.018 and the pH was 3.1. It had a fruity, spicy aroma and and a clean fruity taste. Dandelion was cloudy and still fermenting. It had a slightly pink film on top (is that bad?!). The gravity was 1.020 and the pH was 3.1. It had a phenolic aroma and a perfumed, floral taste.

For the base beer I though that Nelson Sauvin hops with their fruity, wine-like character would complement the apple yeast aromas. I followed the 8-wired Nelson Sauvin Saison recipe from Euan Ferguson’s book, “Craft Brew”. The level of attenuation predicted in the recipe seems a bit extreme so the finished beer will probably be nearer 6% than 7% and I have reduced the hops to achieve 35IBU so as not to overpower the wild yeast aromas, I hope. I appreciate this level of hopping may inhibit some microbes but I wanted to experiment and produce a range of beers. The recipe was:

OG:1.056     FG:1.010     ABV:6.0     SRM:7     IBU:35     20litre batch

59% Pilsner malt
23% Maris Otter
8% wheat malt
4% flaked wheat
4% Caramalt (15L)
2% acid malt

25g Nelson Sauvin (AA 12.7%) first wort
50g Nelson Sauvin 0mins
25g Motueka 0mins

Mash at 64deg C for 60mins, boil for 60mins

Once cooled and aerated the wort was split into 4 demijohns and the Wild Apple, Garden Apple 1, Garden Apple 2 and Dandelion were added. After 12 hours Garden Apple 1 was very active. After 24 hours all were active and, with the exception of Garden Apple 2, had shot through their air locks.

A total of 8 fermenters are now bubbling!

2 litres of spare wort were used to step up starters. Hawthorn 1 and 2 were both very clear having stopped fermenting quickly. The smell was clean with notes of plum or other stone fruits. They were stepped up from 250ml to 500ml starters with 1.045 gravity wort and 30IBU from the Nelson Sauvin although the previous starter that was not all poured away would have diluted this. Both Woodruff had a thick cap and furry mould so were dumped. They smelt mouldy, mushroomy and dank. I had not been very attentive with these samples and maybe could have removed the first signs of mould. Rowan and broom were stepped up to 250ml with a gravity of 1.040. Of the Rowan three were spicy and earthy and stepped up. One had a black spotted pellicle, smelt of nail polish and, although not furry, was dumped. Of the broom three had aromas of pea, flower, perfume and quite medicinal. These were stepped up to Broom 1. One that was similar but not so clean was dumped. Two had a pellicle and an almond note along with the pea aroma. These were stepped up to Broom 2.

Because I had dumped the woodruff I had two flasks of starter wort remaining. I added a heaped teaspoon of sour dough culture to both to see what would happen as a possible side project. The sourdough culture is 17 months old and called Sven. He’s had one son, Svenson, who lives with a colleague. My colleague. Sourdough cultures don’t have colleagues; that would be anthropomorphic and ridiculous.

Rowan and broom

The flora has shifted on a step since I last wrote. Spring feels less fresh and new but more established. It’s got lighter in the evenings which has allowed for more trail running, which is liberating after a day in the office and helps me train for the Weald Challenge at the end of the month. Hawthorn blossom has taken over the hedgerows and archangel and bugle line many of the paths and verges. The woods are still full of bluebells but they’re starting to hang and not look as perky as they did. We’ve been watching the ash trees, worried about die back. More than half seem to be coming into leaf now so fingers crossed.  The wild garlic is blooming, bursts of brilliant white along the riverbanks.


In the last two weeks the dandelions have quickly changed from golden dishes, to hazy spheres of seeds, to bare posts where the clocks used to be. A friend suggested I make dandelion and burdock. I looked up John Wright’s recipe. It would be interesting to substitute the sugar for a pale mashed wort. There’s no shortage of dandelions but I haven’t found any burdock yet.


The dandelion, wild apple and garden apple test tubes were stepped up to 250ml starters. I used smaller flasks this time to limit the oxygen and I will increase their volume to 500ml after a week. The dandelion samples weren’t a huge success: one smelt faintly of nappies and was binned, one was a bit vegetal and was also binned. The remaining tubes were either pleasant but indistinct or giving off some alcohol notes. These were propagated up into small flasks. Of the garden apple, some were pleasant but indistinct and not used, others were woody and not used, some had a green apple ester (possibly acetaldehyde) and were kept as were others that gave of a artificial red apple aroma (possibly ethyl hexanoate) but in separate flasks. As mentioned previously it’s funny that the yeast gives off aromas reminiscent of the fruit but this may be a coincidence. Of the wild apple, these were less distinct. Some had a sweet biscuity aroma, which were kept, some were fruity and also kept. Others were musty and ditched.


Early signs of activity from the wild apple

The centrifuge tubes of hawthorn and woodruff have been very active. The woodruff smells of coumarin but I assume that’s the leaves rather than the yeast. I left the woodruff in the tubes for most of a week, which was not my intention but I wonder whether the plant matter provides additional surface area for yeast activity, in the same way that beech chips are put into Budweiser. Not much aroma coming off the hawthorn but the bubbles smell clean. I loved Burning Sky’s Saison L’Hiver, which the brewery described as barren. I think I knew what they meant. There was something subtle that I couldn’t place.

There has been plenty of broom for a few weeks so I have collected that. I have been hunting for rowan, and seen it further afield, but held out for some locally. I spotted a tree this week within 1/2 a mile of the house so went back at dusk and collected some. They were cultured as before.

This weekend I took samples of the current demijohns (gorse, blackthorn and primrose), all of which are still bubbling. The gorse has been in the primary fermenter for four weeks. The gravity is 1.020 and the pH is 4.4. The sample was clear and smelt slightly of marzipan. I didn’t taste it as I thought the readings were a bit borderline and it hadn’t finished fermenting. The blackthorn and the primrose have been in primary fermenters for two weeks. The blackthorn was at 1.020 SG and pH of 4.2. It was cloudy and had a clove like phenol aroma. The primrose gravity had barely dropped at 1.050 although there has been reasonable activity in the demijohn. A head of neat small clean bubbles rather than a krausen. The pH was 3.7 so I suspect some LAB activity even though the hop bitterness was reasonably high (20IBU). The sample was cloudy and smelt of gooseberries.


The dilemma I now have is when to rack. I was intending to start propagating a mixed culture every 2-4 weeks once the fermentation had slowed and the gravity was below 1.010. None of the Demijohns have yet reached this point so: I could wait, I could rack them now or I could leave them for six months and blend the finished beers. If I rack them now it may cause the single flower beers to finish even slower but it may favour the faster acting yeast strains in the next batch. For the primrose, where the gravity hasn’t dropped much, I’m tempted to rack early. Little alcohol is being produced but the aroma and acidity is promising so might complement a blend rather than standing on its own two feet. Any comments?