I love ales that are complex, well balanced and funky. I also want an ale that is unique to the place where it is brewed; I want it to have a sense of terroir. I also love to explore and forage and this project will allow me to do that. I want to better understand the seasonality of what’s around me and educate myself on the local flora. I also want to become a more accomplished brewer and this is the vehicle for it. By blogging I can force more rigour into my processes by writing, but also share my enthusiasms with others, start a conversation, hopefully benefit from the comments and contributions of others and, I hope, create something special in both the beer and the blog.
I am so lucky to live in East Sussex with my young family: the rolling hills, woods and pasturelands of the Weald is home; small close valleys that isolate us from the busy world just over the next hill, especially when the mists get trapped between the ridges; the pockets of ancient woodland and streams that run through them; the diverse flora and fauna. It’s a truly special place that makes my heart sing and I want this to resonate in my finished ales. I want to feel embedded in this landscape and for the beer to be rooted in it. To create something special needs inspiration and passion, which I find in the environment around me.
Saisons, Belgian and American farmhouse beers, wild, spontaneous and mixed ferment beers are what excite me and I want to see more of them brewed in the UK. There are a few breweries in the UK that excite me, especially Burning Sky, Little Earth Project, Redchurch Urban Farmhouse and Wild Beer Co, but a lot of my inspiration is coming from the traditions still practiced in Belgium and the innovations and evolving style in the USA. Breweries such as Jester King and the online magazines and blogs listed in the bibliography have also been a great source of information. Some great books have also helped shape the idea for this project.
So how can I brew a beer of it’s place? I could brew the beer that works best for my water profile but, unless I get a borehole, my water is not distinctive and comes from a reservoir some distance away. I could possibly source local malts. It would certainly be nice to know the food miles are low, but I’m not convinced it would significantly change the flavour of the beer. At a push I could grow and malt my own barley but it’s another craft in itself and for now I would rather leave that to the experts. I can certainly source local hops, including feral hops that grow in the hedgerows, which are remnants from a time hops were a major crop in East Sussex and why we are left with many oast houses, distinctive of the region. I can also use other herbs, foraged or grown, to flavour the beer. The yeast and other microfauna are wild and all around us, the least understood I think, and has the potential to bring subtle nuance into the beer that couldn’t be created elsewhere.
To take some of the random chance out of wild fermentation by targeting wild microbes that may have a symbiotic relationship with edible flowers and fruit, while still achieving a beer that is of its place.
To source wild yeast and bugs from edible flowers grown within a close proximity of home. To propagate them, evaluate them and, where promising, use them to ferment batches of beer as the sole source of yeast and as a blend with a pure saison strain. A batch of pure saison will also be brewed as a control or reference batch. Where the sole wild flower batch is a success the yeast and microbes will become the base for a mixed wild flower batch.
At some point I would like the blends to be transferred to an oak barrel to age for a year. The following year half would be bottled and the barrel topped up. This process will then continue if successful, solera style.
By using flowers to begin with and by taste testing from vial, to flask, to demijohn, to full sized fermented batch, to barrel I hope that some of the random chance will be taken out of the process.
This year I intend to continue to propagate my blend, find new wild captures and, if promising, add them to the blend. My approach last year worked well for wild captures so I will do more of the same with the same flowers and others that I missed last year. I would like to encourage more bacteria for acidity. I will also try other wild techniques to harness the local microfauna. This year I also want to experiment more with the flavour of wild botanicals; to understand the bitterness, flavour and aroma they can add at the beginning, middle, end of boil and post primary fermentation; wet herbs or dry herbs. Teas, tinctures and gins will help me along the way. I’ve done a bit of experimentation with wild botanicals before so I will build on this, aiming for subtle complementary balance. I also want to be a bit more diverse with ale styles, trying more varied recipes and different traditional Farmhouse brewing techniques.