In the last couple of weeks a host of new flowers have come up to catch my interest. Elderflower is now dominating the view of hedgerows I pass by train, car and foot. Dog roses are a close second with their feral polkadots of white and pink punctuating the green. The meadows now have many white and red clover flowers as well as birds-foot trefoil (thanks for the guidance @lucyinthewild). In the woodland edges and my overgrown garden common vetch, common orchids and wood avens are pushing through the long grass. Fox gloves have dramatically shot up. Beautiful but also deadly, so I won’t be brewing with them.
Running, by the speed and height at which one travels, provides a different perspective to experiencing a landscape. As described in Thequietfundraiserruns blog, The Weald Challenge provided that intimate acquaintance with the transition between the heathland of Ashdown forest and the woods and pastureland that I call home. The Way to Battle run last year provided a similar deepening of awareness but from the coastal marsh flats surrounding Pevensey inland to the small wooded hills surrounding Battle. Sometimes, by studying that which is different I gain clarity of that which is familiar.
I listened to some slow radio in which Horatio Clare walked in the Welsh Borders. He described the “wonderful toppling May feeling. Half spring, half promise of summer.”
I sometimes see a barn owl working the hedgerow that divides the fields in the valley below us or fluttering over the field edge, left fallow by the road up to the village. It’s flight is slow, delicate, almost butterfly like. I don’t imagine a barn owl has been likened to a cabbage white before.
One of the Rowan flasks developed a multicoloured mould, while this was not promising, the mould was removed to see if the culture was redeemable.
Hawthorn 1 was very clear having fermented quickly. The gravity was 1.012 and the pH was 4.0. It smelt very clean, English ale like, maybe slightly stale, but unfortunately a couple of fruit flies had got in. Hawthorn 2 was very similar, maybe a shade less clear, the gravity was 1.012 again and the pH was 3.9. The taste was clean and fruity. This sample was taken forward to the brew.
The mould grew back on one rowan flask so was dumped. The other was spicy, fruity and flowery. The broom based culture had a perfumed, pea flower aroma. The flask was cloudy and the yeast cake was lumpy. These were stepped up to 500ml flasks with an OG of 1.038 and IBU of 10.
For the latest brew I decided to do something a little different and recreate a pale mild recipe from two years ago, loosely based on Andy Hamilton’s Brewing Britain and flavoured with foraged herbs. Last time I split a 15litre batch three ways and flavoured with spruce tips, nettle and ale hoof in the boil and at flame out. This time I split a 20litre batch four ways with sorrel leaves, meadowsweet buds and woodruff. While these three were fermented with White Labs WLP002 yeast, and should retain some sweetness, the final quarter was used as a base for the hawthorn propagated yeast. I’m intrigued by meadowsweet. I used the flowers last year without drying and they added a floral and medicinal flavour. I heard Lottie Muir, the Cocktail Gardener, on Radio 4 describing the buds. We found them near the house and the marzipan hit was intense. These and the sorrel leaves were added for a final five minute boil after splitting the batch. The coumarin smell in woodruff intensifies as it dries so I added this post primary fermentation. I was worried about airborne mould settling on the woodruff and, without the preservative properties of hops, I decided not to simply “dry hop”. I had read about the traditional German Maibowle so partially dried 28g woodruff for 48 hours then steeped the woodruff in 750ml of reisling (10% ABV) for 24 hours before topping up the demijohn with 500ml of flavoured wine. I expect this beer to be about 4.5%. The flavoured wine, mixed with a little sugar, brandy and sparkling wine was pleasant if a bit unusual. The carbonation released the coumarin flavour. It was intensely hay-like with a deep forest sort of flavour to it (I appreciate that means nothing to anyone other than me…). Woody. Maybe a bit earthy and green.
The base beer recipe is given below:
OG:1.045 FG:1.015 ABV:3.9 SRM:11 IBU:14 20L batch
81% Mild ale malt
10% pale crystal malt 30L
5% biscuit malt
4% flaked barley
22g East Kent Golding (5.46% AA) at 60mins
26g sorrel / 20g meadowsweet buds at 5mins in 5litres
Mash at 69deg C for 60mins. Boil for 60mins
New flower yeast captures were taken from elderflower and dog rose.
I also wanted to capture the heady fragrance of elderflower and so made some cordial. I added 1.7litres of boiling water to 900g of sugar, stirred until dissolved and let it cool for 10minutes while I stripped the elderflowers from 30 heads. These, 3 sliced lemons and 50g of citric acid were added to the sugar syrup, stirred and left for 24hours before straining into sterile bottles. It was so easy to do, with more than enough elderflower growing on the track by the house. The cordial will mainly be drunk as normal, with sparkling water or sparkling wine. I will use some of it to prime beer bottles. 10ml will be equivalent to 6g of sugar.