Tipping point

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It often feels like September can go two ways; an Indian summer or plunge straight into Autumn. This year the weather seems to be doing a bit of both, changing the mood, as it does. @circleofpines on Instagram quoted Tove Jansson from The Summer Book, better articulating this tipping point:

“It is still summer, but summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin”.

A few flowers are still holding on: water mint, perennial sowthistle, common fleabane and heather are still providing colour. On the flip side there are now plenty of mushrooms and the apples are falling. I started collecting the apples this weekend. I love the peace of this annual ritual for me. There is always a stillness in the air after the buzz of summer, broken only by the occasional robin or blackbird pipping in the tree next to me. There is the smell of dampness, soil and decay in the air and I enjoy the meditative repetitive action: pick apple, inspect, wipe, bag, repeat. The apples will be juiced, I’ll make some cider and make some beer with the lees.

 

The family left me on my lonesome for the weekend, which gave me the space and time to blend and bottle a few of the single flower ferments from the spring and brew a batch for the yeast / trub left behind.

Before blending I took samples from the first seven demijohns, took gravity reading and pH readings before tasting. I tasted at room temperature and then again after they had been in the fridge. The findings were as follows:

 

Originating Flower Gravity pH Tasting Notes
Gorse 1.010 4.6 Clear. Golden. Aroma and taste of honey and slight petrol (like some rieslings). Sweeter than blackthorn. Not much acidic structure.

On second (chilled) tasting, marzipan/coconut-like gorse flowers. A slight astringency.

Primrose 1.005 3.8 Clear. Yellow gold. Flowery. Marzipan. Less zingy than Wild Apple.

Honey like. Less marzipan like.

Blackthorn 1.005 4.8 Clear. Yellow gold. Less distinct.

Most sloe gin-like marzipan character.

Dandelion 1.003 4.5 Clear. Golden. Really nice perfumed floral aroma. (this might be the higher hopping). Zingy hop bitterness.
Wild Apple 1.003 4.2 Clear. Golden. Slightly dirty on first tasting but this might have been in comparison to Dandelion. Pleasant fruity tang.

Fruitier than Garden Apple 2.

Garden Apple 1 1.002 4.6 Clear. Golden. Zingy tang again. Fruity.

Not as sweet as Wild Apple.

Garden Apple 2 1.006 4.0 Slightly cloudy. Sweeter than Garden Apple 1.

Bitterness. Less aroma than first three.

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Overall I was pleased they were drinkable and slightly surprised by the lack of variation. That said there were only three base brews for the seven samples and the recipes were similar. The Nelson Sauvin was the most distinct because of the relatively high rate of hopping. The level of hop bitterness in all three batches had likely inhibited lactic acid production and in future I need to be bolder and braver and reduce the hop level below 10 IBU. I knew it was too high but I wanted to replicate saison recipes that had previously been successful. The multiple sensory tests before the main brew probably also account for the lack of off flavours and funkiness. They are also still fairly young. More savoury brett character might develop over the next six months. There are also another eight single flower based ferments to blend over the coming months.

Following the tasting I decided to leave Garden Apple 2 to further clear and develop over time and to blend equal measures of the other six to combine the floral/marzipan aromas with the fruity zingy hop character, making 21 litres. That left two 375ml bottles of each unblended for comparison and yeast storage and 1000ml of yeast slurry / trub for the next brew. I used 400ml of this slurry in 10l.

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1 litre of yeast slurry and trub from the first six demijohns

Next year I need to try and focus on a lactic acid culture in some of my wild capture starters. I will read up about it but I will probably minimise hop bitterness, exclude oxygen and keep the temperature around 40 deg C.

Standing forgotten on a shelf were four 250ml conical flasks from at least a month ago. Musk mallow had developed a thick gelatinous cap and fluffy mould so was binned. Blackberry 1 was cloudy and had an aroma of spicy fruit. The gravity was 1030 and the pH was 4.8. Blackberry 2 was clear with a thick gelatinous cap. Initially it smelt slightly cheesy but this passed. The gravity was also 1030 and the pH was 4.5. As little alcohol or acidity had been produced I decided to bin both. That left the final flask. The meadowsweet was clear and had the aroma of nectarines. The Gravity was 1008 and the pH was 3.6. The taste was tart, astringent and fruity – definitely a keeper.

For my next brew I decided to take elements of the grain bill from the 8-wired Nelson Sauvin recipe used in batch 3 and the European hops from the Burning Sky recipe used in batch 5, making a few changes to use up the grain I had available. My intention was to use 10 litres for the blended yeast slurry from the first six captures and 5 litres for the meadowsweet yeast capture and, for the final 5 litres, I collected a couple of large handfuls of flowering heather and put them straight in a demijohn. I thought it would be interesting to skip the propagation steps, increase the quantity of flowers, hopefully adding flavour as well as yeast and bacteria.  The base recipe was as follows:

OG:1.056 FG:1.009 ABV:6.0% SRM:6 IBU:17 20L batch

53% Maris Otter malt
24% Pilsner malt
11% wheat malt
2% spelt malt
4% flaked wheat
4% caragold
2% acidulated malt

18g East Kent Golding (5.92% AA) at 60mins
18g East Kent Golding at 15mins
15g each of Saaz, Celeia and East Kent Golding at 0mins

I mashed at 65 deg C for an hour then sparged to 22 litres when the gravity was 1.010. 7 litres evaporated or were absorbed by the hops during the boil and, in a rush, I liquored back to 20 litres without taking gravity readings. When I then checked it was 1.048, so the ABV will be 5.1%, but I’m not going to loose sleep over it. I should have sparged a few more litres before the gravity fell below 1.010. Looking back over my brewing calculator the efficiency was set higher than I would normally set it, so that’s probably why. There was a couple of hours pause between chilling and racking to fermentors. While I would have preferred to avoid this it did allow the cold break to settle really well, allowing clear wort to be siphoned off.

 

So what next? I don’t intend to collect anymore flowers this year. I will continue to blend the beer I have when it is ready, bottle it, propagate the yeast and and report back on that process and the results. If the beers from the blended yeast is successful I will get a barrel and start ageing them – fingers crossed. Over the autumn and winter I would like to give a bit of time to pale ales, bitters, porters and maybe a stronger stock ale and will report back if I think they’re relevant to the blog. Looking ahead I have had some thoughts for next year but I think I will leave that for another blog post in a few months time.

And finally, proof that not every brew is a success. The braggot with saison yeast, strawberries and grains of paradise from a few months ago was a “Braison” failure. 5g of grains of paradise were added rather than 0.5g. I hope it might improve but it reached tipping point…

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August – time out

It’s been a while since I last posted, but summer travels got in the way of beer making. I spent a few days in Suffolk, where I grew up. While there I went on an early morning run in the sunshine around the local lanes. It was Sunday, it was quiet and the sun was shining as I set off at 0630. I covered 19 miles, training for a marathon, so lots of time to think.  Some lanes I knew well and some not so well, even though they were reasonably close to home they were paths less travelled.

I had mixed feelings travelling that route. Some warm rememberances but some sadness at places that had faded: pubs I worked in in my teens now closed; houses where friends had lived now unwelcoming as they have since moved on; and other houses, once proudly maintained, now overgrown and up for auction.

In some ways I am spoilt in Sussex by the natural diversity but the silence of the large Suffolk arable fields, stripped of hedgerows, is a shame. Most notably birdsong but something is missing. That said there were still moments of wonder – there were hares! I love hares but never see them in our corner of Sussex and I don’t know why. On my early morning run one crossed the road in front of me, one sunk down into its form in the field as a I approached and another darted for cover in the yet unharvested wheat. There were also plenty of partridges. Fat hen and mugwort were growing by the roadside, which I find less frequently in Sussex.

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Macfarlane’s The Old Ways and a Shield Bug

Macfarlane’s “The Old Ways” (my holiday reading) starts each chapter with an apparently random list of words and phrases, meaningless at the start of the chapter, but looking back they represent shorthand for the story now understood and flow together. This is much like how points on a map join together to make an integrated path when travelled. Similarly a run from disparate place to place becomes one fluid memory and while running the mind has the time to piece together memories with new ideas providing clarity of thought and deeper understanding.

While in Suffolk I was able to visit Little Earth Project brewery. It was great to meet Tom and inspiring to see what he is doing there. I found their approach a very honest and logical way to brew; wherever possible everything was of its place and, to my mind, if you can, why wouldn’t you brew this way. Any other way is just a collection of things from elsewhere brought together and a bit contrived. The brewery has a borehole for water, solar for heating, local renewable coppiced wood for fuel and a thoughtfully constructed building. The barley and hops are grown locally and organically in their own field and wild ingredients are foraged. Tom explained that the name for the brewery had come from a comment made in an interview he heard with Jester King brewery, that they were trying to create something from their little piece of earth. I think they are achieving it at Little Earth Project with a sustainable, self contained, nuclear brewery. As with the book, the map and running, the brewing ingredients and processes come together to form a meaningful beer.

I tasted a few of the beers at the brewery and took a few bottles home. They have a unique complexity of wild flavours. The flavours gave the beers a distinct identity that I doubt could be replicated by another brewery unlike a “clean” beer that could be reproduced anywhere. Some of the beer sampled straight from the barrel, including a porter on plums and a saison in a Chardonnay barrel tasted great, so I look forward to these reaching the shops once bottled. Of the bottled beers drunk so far the Glebe Organic was fantastic and the Elderflower Hedgerow Sour was great too. If I were to splitting hairs, a little more consistency between bottles would refine the product, but I’m really excited to watch, and drink from, this brewery as it progresses.

 

Back home the buzzard family have fledged and fly together, wheeling weightlessly overhead, free and with effortless grace. I’m noticing more bats but maybe it’s because it’s dusk now when I’m running home. I swear I can hear bats! They sound like a thumb nail being dragged across a comb. The thistles and rosebay willow herb are now downy. Hogsweed and meadowsweet are also now offering up  their seed heads. Black knapweed and birdsfoot trefoil flowers are still holding on. Common Fleabane and Watermint are now plentiful and Lady’s Bedstraw is also growing in small patches in some areas. The heather is now beautiful in the woods and it would be fun to recreate an historic ale with it. I Think I identified some wild Angelica in the woods (might have to make some more bathtub gin!).

 

There’s glut of blackberries. Their evocative scent filled the air as I ran down one narrow path flanked by brambles. I made some fruit leather from them as a new experiment. I followed the River Cottage Hedgerow Handbook recipe. It was beautiful to look at, tasty and so didn’t last long. I also racked a gallon of saison onto 300g of blackberries. A little less fruit than I intended but let’s see.

 

Watermint is also prolific in the woods at the moment.  I would love to use it for something but I’m not sure what beer it would complement. I think I will make a cordial from it and then add to beer at bottling as priming sugar.

 

More brewing, and blending, next time I promise.

My delight on a shining night

I’ve been meaning to collect meadowsweet and yarrow for a week or so. Meadowsweet especially as it’s been around for a while whereas the yarrow has some time yet, I think. With one thing and another it wasn’t until half ten on a Monday night that a slightly exasperated me set out into the woods to collect some. That night turned out to be such a rare treat, emphasised by my lack of expectation. I had never heard a nightjar before but as I walked further into the woods the repetitive cricket-like churring became louder and louder. The bird was in the bracken and I skirted round it passed the stream to where the meadowsweet grows. I didn’t find any yarrow but the meadowsweet, at chest height with a heady fragrance, was easy to feel for in the half light. I snipped flossy heads into sanitised centrifuge tubes. Something strange flew overhead that I still can’t place. It crackled and half roared like dragging a foot over gravel, reminiscent of a flare firing before it pops. It was maybe a bat or a large insect but not one I’m familiar with. I carried on over the hill and looped back round towards home. A juvenile tawny owl called and the soundless silhouette of the owl’s steady wing beat moved across the sky. I returned to the nightjars, which were now louder than before. One rose from the bracken, poised like a kestrel against the last light in the sky, before settling again into the undergrowth. One clapped its wings and moved its position when I got too close. As I headed home the full moon shone bright through traces of clouds and unseen creatures shifted their position, given away by the dry leaf litter.

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That night I made a fresh starter for the elderflower and rose captured yeast with lightly hopped wort and also made a starter for some of the WLP 566 Saison Ale II, saved from last brew day. The dog rose had a moderate film pellicle on it and smelt of roses and perfume. I feel like that is stating the obvious but the dog roses had no significant scent when I picked them and are now two propagation steps removed from the flowers. Do any flower/fruit aromas come from the esters these microbes create? Clearly, I don’t know what I’m talking about and am stabbing in the dark (recently I picked up a satsuma with a mould bloom on it and the orange ester smell was amazing). The elderflower was floral but less distinct. One had a stonking pellicle, wrinkled and holding large bubbles. The other had a thin film.

That night I also racked the “Braison” off the strawberries. I had used 1.2kg of strawberries having read that there are 5g of sugar in 100g of strawberries. This quantity seemed in line with some recipes in Greg Hughes’s “Home Brew Beer”. This would have added 60g of sugar plus 140g of honey making the OG 1.062.  Unfortunately I think the “Braison” is a failure. I knew I had put too much grain of paradise in and the flavour was very phenolic and reminiscent of pencil lead. I will leave it alone for a month and decide then whether to ditch it.

I squeezed in a brew day on Sunday (23 July). I tried to keep it fairly simple with a 20litre batch following the Burning Sky Saison Provision (one of my favourite beers), from Euan Ferguson’s Craft Brew. My recipe was as follows:

OG:1.052 FG:1.009 ABV:5.5% SRM:4 IBU:13 20L batch

85% Pilsner malt
5% wheat malt
5% spelt malt
5% caragold

16g East Kent Golding (5.92% AA) at 60mins
8g East Kent Golding at 15mins
17g each of Saaz, Celeia and Sorachi Ace at 0mins

The mash was held for 60mins at 65 deg C with a water grist ratio of 2.6 l per kg. 0.5g each of calcium carbonate and magnesium sulphate were added to the mash to improve my water profile for a heathy fermentation. pH was 5.5. I did an iodine test at the end of the mash to try something new and the starch was converted. 22l were sparged, which in retrospect was too little as the gravity was 1.020 and I only ended up with 18l at the desired gravity post boil and after liquoring back. This was enough however to fill four demijohns. Rather than chilling in the boiler I transferred to a bucket and chilled in there, which achieved a far better cold break.  I struggled to separate the wort from the trub but I’ve read conflicting report of whether this needs to be done.

The four demijohns had rose captured yeast, elderflower 1 and 2 captures and WLP 566 Belgian Saison Ale II added respectively. The pellicles were really impressive again; wrinkly on the rose and bubbly on elderflower 2. Elderflower 1 had a very thin film.

 

 

Meadows on the Mind

In the last few weeks some of the meadow flowers have really peaked. One field in particular was a wash of colour, photographed by my wife. She identified spotted orchid, black knapweed, greater hawkbit, lesser stitchwort, selfheal, birdsfoot trefoil, yellow rattle, pig nut, yarrow, lesser trefoil and many more. It’s such a special place, breathtaking to see. The grass heads are now abundant and catching my interest. Perhaps they could be another source of yeast captures in future years.

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Since then many of the fields have been topped and the hay collected in, changing the view across the valley dramatically. The fields are now pale and dry, in stark contrast to the mature dark green of the hedges and trees.

Meadowsweet is now thick and heady in the lower damper areas, lining ditches and road verges. In other areas rosebay willow herb is locally abundant, like cascading fountains of pink, at the station and some banks along the roadside. Neither are toxic so possibilities for this project.

Tennis ball sized rabbits are now hopping around the garden, eating all the nice plants and with no fear of us. They’re safe for now. I’ve mentally earmarked them with “grow now, eat later”. We heard a fledgling tawny owl in the woods which caused some confusion; clearly owl-like but not a sound we were familiar with. My wife also heard a nightjar that I will have to listen out for.

The rhubarb saison from batch 1 and saison from batch 2 are both drinking now. I’m happy with both. The rhubarb saison has only a subtle rhubarb flavour but it is there and the pH has dropped to 3.1. The yeast character in batch 2 from the NBS Saison sachet is bolder than the White Labs WLP565.

The elderflowers and dog roses were removed from the centrifuge tubes after a couple of days. At this point they both smelt of the flowers; the rose less distinct than the elderflower. After two weeks these were sniff tested and stepped up to 250ml flasks. Of the rose, those that were sweet and floral were combined into one flask and those that had a touch of tang and funk were combined in another. None were discarded. Of the elderflower: two were perfumed, a bit funky and, like broom, giving of a pea flower aroma; two were flowery and spicy; and two earthy and musty, which were binned.

For the next brew day I wanted to try something different. I needed wort for the broom and rowan harvested yeast and I had a sachet of WLP566 Saison II yeast to use. I had also thought that a braggot fermented on saison yeast could be interesting. While I appreciate building a beer around a name is silly, I thought this combo would be “braison” and if it was second fermented on strawberries, peppered with grains of paradise and aged on rose petals it would be pretty brazen….

The Rowan flask had strong, but not unpleasant aromas of nail varnish. The gravity was 1.016, so had attenuated more than some and the pH was 4.0. This tasted of plums or stone fruit. The broom was less distinct. The gravity had only dropped a bit to 1.030 and the pH was 4.5. I decided not to taste this one because these levels were still high.

To get a saison base and the braggot base from the same batch I parti-gyled 50:50 by volume, adding a bigger dose of honey to the second gyle. My total grain bill, which was a variation on the second Funky Flower base used for blackthorn and primrose, was:

2.8kg Pilsner Malt (70%)
0.6kg Vienna Malt (15%)
0.2kg Wheat Malt (5%)
0.2kg Spelt Malt (5%)
0.2kg CaraGold (5%)

The mash was held at 65 deg C for 1 hour and then I continuously sparged two batches of 10 litres. From further reading, I possibly should have batch sparged taking two separate runnings but I don’t know how much difference this made. I originally intended to add hops at 60min, 15min and 0mins but the boil was extended for 15mins (while I nipped to the shops). Hop additions to each batch were:

7g Northern Brewer (8.4% AA) at 75min
7g East Kent Golding (5.46% AA) at 30min
10g East Kent Golding (5.46%AA) at 0min

In the last 5mins of the boil 250g Sussex Honey was added to the first, Funky Flower, gyle and 900g was added to the second, Braison, gyle with grains of paradise. I intended to add 0.5g but added 5g so this could be very peppery! Assuming 58% of fermentables were in the first half of the mash, the two batches were as follows once the honey was added:

Gyle 1 for Funky Flower
OG:1.061 FG:1.009 ABV:6.7 SRM:6 IBU:17 10L batch

Gyle 2 for Braison
OG:1.063 FG:1.009 ABV:6.9 SRM:5 IBU:18 10L batch

The Funky Flower batch was split into two demijohns with the Broom yeast added to one and the Rowan yeast added to the other. The Braison batch was kept entire and a second fermentation will be conducted on 1.3kg(??) of locally picked strawberries. I will then split this batch, if it is not too dry, adding dried garden rose petals to both and adding some of the dog rose derived yeast to one for added complexity. I don’t think the honey had the sugar concentration I had expected so I will add more to the secondary to account for this – the braggot OG was 1.058.

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I had a busy midweek evening bottling saison, stepping up small flasks and collecting more flowers while listening to the Foo Fighters Glastonbury set. This saison had fermented at snail pace, having been racked into secondary too early, I suspect. White Labs WLP565 has a tendency to stall and I think this happened in the primary, which I should have checked for. This was from the first Funky Flower base, from which the rhubarb saison was made. It is tasting promising however, if a little sweet at 1.016 SG. I would have liked to have added some wild yeast to a portion of this but I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed by demijohns, if I’m honest, and hadn’t planned for this.

After two weeks in small flasks the rose and elderflower were stepped up to 500ml flasks. One rose flask had a fly in it so was binned. The other was floral, perfumed, a bit funky and musky. Both elderflower flasks were similar but stepped up separately, to avoid disappointment. I had forgotten my comments from two weeks ago but, again, they smelt like the broom samples – pea-like. There was also a thin film on them.

At 11pm I went out with the head torch to collect musk mallow from our overgrown garden and bramble flowers from the track. A fox screamed from very close by, making me jump out of my skin. Another called from further down in the valley. The musk mallow had come up wild in a big clump over the last few years and is looking great. The flowers had closed for the night and many grass hoppers and long horn beetles were using them as perches. On the track a fox paused, it’s eyes gleaming in my head torch. The bramble were a little over, and many fruit were forming, but enough fresh flowers remained.

As a side note my sour dough culture is pellicle-tastic. Having forgotten about the starter in the back of the fridge for a month I discovered it had grown a thick pellicle, dark from the whole meal flour I think. I poured away the pellicle and hooch, cleaned it, removed the top layer and fed it and after another 36 hours another, thin, pellicle had grown. I had also forgotten about the sourdough starter on malt extract from a few weeks ago. It too had grown a thick pellicle. I will definitely try brewing with this when I have more time. I could either propagate the bubbling floury mixture or the hooch, once the mixture has settled.

I’m quite keen for some results now. I have 10 demijohns filled from this experiment with no clue whether they’re any good.   At least three should be ready to taste blend and bottle by the next brew day. I’m keen to move on to the next stage.

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Summer is a comin’

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.

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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.

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Mould on a rowan based culture. Binned.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

Dandelion and apple blossom

The Easter weekend provided even more time to wander the footpaths and inspect the hedgerows for plants and flowers of interest. I think I now know the difference between cow parsley, hog weed, hemlock and hemlock water-dropwort – the latter two are poisonous. I spotted Alexanders, lime green, in local abundance in Suffolk. Also heard and then saw a sky lark while there on an early morning run, which was a treat.

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Back in Sussex I tried to find more Alexanders but so far without success. Between my wife’s extant knowledge and our smart phones we spotted a number of flowers, including coral root, red campion, vetch, dog mercury, archangel, townhall clock, herb robert as well as carpets of stitchwort and bluebells, which are almost at their best.

While my wife stopped to photograph a wild orchid, I collected dandelions and wild apple blossom for the next round of yeast collection. Both were in a meadow about a mile from the house and within our valley. I probably don’t want to exceed this distance to achieve the local, “terroir” specific, yeast that I’m aiming for. We spotted a few rowan saplings which would provide an interesting addition to the beer if they flower. I also now know where to find a wild cherry and possibly a damson for next year. They were both down by the river but the blossom had gone over.

One of the highlights this time of year is the nightingale. A few years ago we joked about naming our daughter nightingale if we heard it before she was born. When I came back from the hospital and stood in the driveway at 4am there it was, clear as a bell in the otherwise stillness of the pre-dawn night. Punctual as ever, I heard the nightingale last night for the first time this year. Some phrases of his tune warble, some stutter, some notes are drawn out as if longing for his mate. It’s a truly magical sound and a happy birthday to my daughter.

The apple trees in the garden are very old and I have made cider from them before using the naturally occurring yeast. On that note I tasted a bottle last night. I should call it the forgotten cider. They were 2015 apples, stored/forgotten over winter, fermented and racked to a secondary in early spring 2016 and then forgotten about until they were bottled at the end of last year. It’s not my best, pretty dry, but I like it and the dregs might be propagated to ferment a Saison as a side project.

The wild apple, garden apple and dandelion were collected in the same way as before. Following a recommendation on Milk the Funk Facebook group I will remove the flowers after 24 hours. I have been collecting the flowers in freezer bags rather than carrying many tubes in my pocket, for convenience but also giving the insects a chance to escape. While I’m keeping the types separate, this does give the flowers time to muddle together, preventing each yeast capture from being isolated and unique.

The gorse batch of beer took off at a rate of knots within 24 hours and was spewing out of the airlock most of the week. After seven days it has calmed but is still bubbling persistently.

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One of the flasks of primrose starter doesn’t smell so good. One of the more vigourous blackthorn flasks smells of nail varnish but not unpleasantly. I’ve read this can be caused by fermentation at high temperatures, unhealthy yeast, or brett fermenting in the presence of oxygen. The latter is certainly possible, there was a lot of air in the flask. Unhealthy yeast is possible and I will add yeast nutrient in future. Brewing Reality said that ethyl ethanoate can be found in lambic in high level due to two wild yeast strains. The other blackthorn and primrose smell ok if less distinct.

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The more vigourous blackthorn flask

Manic springtime

I returned home from a week away to balmy temperatures and spring in full swing. Driving back from the airport, the hedgerows were flush with new green leaf, the white of blackthorn and cherry and the yellow of primrose and daffodil. At home brambles on the track were coming thick and fast, the grass was needing a cut, and saplings are coming up in the lawn where the chickens had scraped a bare patch last year. Common dog violet have come up near the house in increasing numbers which are a delight.

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The garden will have to wait as I had brewing to do and mirroring natures activity outside it was a manic rush to get everything done. I completed my first double brew day, which was about 13 hours from start to finish. With only one set of equipment I overlapped the second mash with the first boil. A friend had asked me to brew for his wedding. I brewed a Vienna lager for him a month ago that is lagering in a fridge. This weekend I also brewed a light American pale ale, full of body and hoppiness but only 3.9% ABV in the style of Weird Beard Little Things That Kill. The second beer brew of the day was the base beer for the first set of funky flowers (gorse and catkins), which followed a saison recipe I had used before but with Vienna malt replacing Munich malt and a touch of Cara Munich added. Finally, if two brews in one day wasn’t enough, I bottled the wild portion of the meadowsweet saison that has been slowly bubbling for six months. (Note to self: check the size of the crown caps before you fill the bottles!…)

I had already had a sniff of the wild flower yeasts, which had been stepped up in a starter for two weeks, and decided to use just one of the two gorse flasks and ditch the two catkins. The most promising gorse flask smelt of pear drop, strawberry and coconut. The pH was 2.9. I gingerly tasted a small amount which tasted clean and sweet (not fully attenuated). I swirled and poured the flask contents, still containing gorse flowers, through a muslin into a 5litre demijohn of the base beer.  Next time I might step up the starter again to an intermediate OG rather than jumping from 1.035 to 1.060 (any comments on this?). As there didn’t seem to be much sediment I only inoculated the single batch and fermented the remaining 15litres with White Labs WLP 565 Belgian Saison I. I intend to “dry hop” 5litres of this with a heap of wild flowers in the secondary and see if I can get a secondary fermentation akin to the meadowsweet saison. Maybe I’m wrong on this, and overly confident after my initial successes, but this seems like a less risky way to introduce wild cultures as the fermented beer will protect itself from some beer spoiling nasties.

The second gorse was interesting. Similar to the first but also smelt like hospitals, with a sanitary, alcohol aroma. After swirling I t also reminded me of lambic. There was a big floating platform just below the surface. White, unblemished, and not furry, I’m tempted to say it was a pellicle rather than mould but it didn’t match any of the pictures on Milk the Funk’s excellent site. See photo. Any suggestions? I have strained the flask contents into a jar with some more wort for further inspection in the coming weeks.

The catkin flasks, which had been the most active, smelt of sweat and, as my wife’s experienced nose spotted, the nappy of a teething baby – acid nappy! It “singed the nostrils” as Ron Burgandy would say. Unsurprisingly this was dumped, and with the kitchen stinking I went outside into the cool night air to clear my lungs.

The blackthorn and primrose were ready to step up to conical flasks after two weeks in centrifuge tubes. I was excited about the blackthorn which had fizzed and given off aromas of spicy saison and cherry from the tube a week or so ago. When opened, three of the tubes smelt this way, plus a bit of nail polish. Two of these had a distinctive bubbly pellicle on top. The other three were woodier, earthy but not unpleasant. These were poured into two separate flasks with 250ml of aerated wort at SG 1.035.

The primrose were more neutral smelling. Some had a small beard of mould where the flowers were above the surface, which I removed. When shaken, two smelt earthier and funkier and three smelt sweet. These were added to separate flasks. Another smelling slightly of nappy and another smelling of cabbage were discarded.