June ramblings

A lot’s changed around me between May and June. The apple blossom and hawthorn had it’s day as did a number of yellow flowers that punctuate the rich green of late spring: archangel, broom, buttercup and what I think is garden rocket. The blues, pinks and purples of bugle, vetch, woody nightshade, speedwell, herb robert red campions and common spotted orchid appeared and were then upstaged by the whites of elderflower, dog and field rose, bramble and various umbellifers. The skies and views of the landscape were pretty special too. Distant thunderstorms provided light-shows at sunset in an otherwise cloudless sky. I sat and watched the mist creeping up the valley as the sun went down. Initially forming small pools, revealing depressions in the flood plain that usually go unnoticed, then silently enveloping each contour.

The fauna has been more overt than usual. Curious fox cubs have been beating the bounds. A lone roe deer spent the afternoon in the two meadows satelliting the house. Two cuckoos chased each other through the tree tops. Mindful from last year, I have been listening out for the nightjar. We heard it one evening and slipped out into the woods around 10pm and heard them churring and saw their kestrel-like shape darting between the trees and circling the clearing. I also paused on the track when a small blob-shaped shadow moved on the track in front of me. It turned out to be a young badger, which carried on past me within a few meters with no apparent awareness I was there. Another day, in the early evening, two young badgers chased each other across the track in front of us. The barn owl has also made a couple of rare appearances, patrolling the meadow boundaries and hedge-lines.

Simon from Beer Boars invited me along to chat about my project to the group. It was a great way for me to gather my thoughts and summarise what I’ve been doing and what I’m trying to do. Up in Hackney Wick we tasted 10 of my beers including some single flower ferments, blended ales and ales from the yeast blend. I asked them to fill in short feedback forms and a really appreciated the comments made by the tasting panel.

My urban yeast hunt from Brick Lane continues with Kill the Cat. The first samples weren’t hugely successful with a lot of mould and aromas I described as sweaty, bin-like, cabbage-like, nasty B-O, meaty….. some were more promising and kept. The sensory testing notes can be found here. The proportion of dirty samples was certainly higher than at home. Maybe the urban environment is just dirtier.

I stepped the more promising tubes up to 250ml with unhopped acidified wort pH 4.3 and left for several weeks….. and nothing happened; the gravity in all four samples stayed at 1.030 – very odd. Maybe the acid inhibited the yeast? All smelt sweet and pleasant. The sensory testing notes are here. The pH had dropped in two, including the dandelion which had what looked like a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and I decided to give them a second chance with 500ml hopped unacidified wort. They are now fermenting. In retrospect I should have used unhopped wort because I’ve probably inhibited the bacteria that was promising. I also should have used 250ml starters again because the yeast hadn’t propagated in the previous step. I possibly should have given the others a second chance also and then maybe revived those promising saison-like aromas.

In the meantime I went back to Brick Lane and took more samples, this time with hopped wort. I collected field rose, red clover, mallow, elderflower and bramble and allowed to ferment for two weeks. These were more promising and the notes can be found here. The kept samples were stepped up to 250ml with hopped wort. All started fermenting quickly.

It may be relevant that the bramble was next to the roadside, so picked up more dust and grime. I have a little theory, completely lacking in any fact, that hop use in the 15th and 16th centuries might have coincided with the growing dirtiness of towns and hops were most effective at keeping ales clean while also tasting nice – i.e. it was hygiene and necessity that drove the hop takeover rather than tastes and style preferences. If there are any historians out there, feel free to put me back in my box. Maybe a study comparing hop usage to urbanisation and lack of sanitation across europe would be interesting.

Back to my own funky flowers, I tested and propagated wood sorrel, violet and primrose. The notes are here. Three were propagated up to 500ml with unhopped wort. I don’t think it’s conclusive whether the water bath encouraged acidity or not. New flowers have recently been collected. These were elderflower, bramble and field rose and were placed into centrifuge tubes with unhopped wort.

I’m tentatively optimistic about the 1950s Yorkshire yeast. Of the two initial samples, one did nothing but the other fermented quickly with a big krausen and floculated well leaving good clarity. The final gravity was 1.006, a pH of 4.1 and a fruity smell and taste. I’ve stepped this up to 500ml and have also started a third sample. Both are fermenting well. What I don’t know is how to prove these are the 1950s brewing yeast and not just a contamination.


My brewing time has been taken up by my cousin’s wedding beer. The last three brew days have been two trial brews and a double brew for the wedding. The trial beers were good. One was a hoppy pale ale under 4%. The other is a strongish Yorkshire bitter at 5%. I had thought it might be nice to use the resurrected Yorkshire yeast for the Yorkshire bitter but timing didn’t work out. I’ll have to brew something for the family post wedding. I have something in mind.

Finally I went on a foraging course with Sarah from Wild Feast . We spent four hours exploring the meadows, hedgerows and woods of Sussex. I love the different perspective one gets when exploring at a different pace. In this case we slowed it right down and I appreciated just how much more there is to see. I learnt a lot from Sarah: identified plants I didn’t know; gained confidence with plants I sort of knew; discovered flavours from plants I knew but didn’t appreciate; and learnt ways to use them I hadn’t considered. Sarah brought some food, liquors and infusions she had prepared, which gave me ideas of how complementary favours could be transferred to beer. I really enjoyed the experience at it was a pleasure to meet Sarah. Hopefully I will brew up some foraged recipes in the coming months.

Spring awakening

To recap, back in November I went to the London BrewCon and took part in the MegaBlend. For this Brewlab took away participants’ wild cultures, house cultures and bottle dregs, screened them, propagated the blend and distributed it around the world. My wild flower yeast blend 1 and 2 went into this.  They did this all free of charge so it was an amazing effort by them. Last weekend I made my first brew with the culture and Emma Inch, a journalist and home brewer who had taken an interest in the project, came round to see what I was doing. The brew day was a week later than planned because of snow, which meant that the ingredients arrived too late and we were snowed in.

The brew day was a bit chaotic. I’m learning I’m not as good at multitasking as I would like. I attempted two overlapping brews – starting the second mash once the first was complete – and, with talking to Emma at the same time, my timings and attention to detail were a bit off. In the end the first brew went fine, the second was salvaged and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. It was really nice to meet Emma though and I look forward to reading her article.

For the MegaBlend culture I wanted to brew a pale farmhouse ale with some complex fermentables from unmalted grains and some extra body and mouth feel from rolled oats. Call it misplaced nostalgia but I also wanted a varied grain bill to add some preindustrial complexity and a sense of making do with what was available. The recipe is below:

OG:1.055 ABV:6.6% SRM: 7 IBU: 8

67% Maris Otter
10% Wheat Malt
10% Spelt Malt
8% Flaked Oats
5% Flaked Wheat

Mixed Bushel of Hops Heritage hops at 60mins and flame out
60min mash at 69deg C

I intended to add a little Epsom Salts and Precipitated Chalk to aid fermentation, as both magnesium and calcium are low in our moderately soft water, but I forgot… I also added 10 minutes on to the boil because the Protofloc went in late…

I had made a starter for the MegaBlend to ensure it was vigorous. Alison from Brewlab had told us it was big enough for 20 litres so cell count should have been fine. Because of the snow delay the starter had a week in the fridge following a week fermentation but it quickly became active again once I took it out. The aromatics coming off the starter were really appealing: there was an acetic acidity and depth of funk. Possibly wrongly, I didn’t pour away the starter liquid, mainly because the yeast was still active in suspension and also because the aromatics were so good.

Within 24 hours the airlock was very active and I opened the window to keep the room temperature below 20 deg C. After a few days the airlock had slowed to a regular bubble.

For my second brew I wanted a wort of similar colour, strength and character to top off the Flanders red. I had also become interested in stock ales from reading Country House Brewing in England by Pamela Sambrook and drinking Burning Sky’s Stock Ale. I intended to draw off 15 litres of wort and use 5 litres low hopped for the Flanders Red and 10 litres high hopped for the stock ale. I took far too little wort and so, post boil, ended up with 5.5 litres of stock ale and 3 litres to top up the Flanders red. I realised I had residual sugar in the mash so remashed and made a 5.5 litre batch of bitter. The mash had been left dry for at least an hour so I don’t know whether this will affect it. I think there was still residual sugar in the mash also. I clearly need to do some homework on brewing strong beers and parti-gyling. I started with the intention of brewing an entire ale and ended up parti-gyling. I realise I was winging it, messed up the volumes but I think the character and strength of the stock ale, flanders red top-up and bitter should be fine. I imagine the malt for country house brewing would be a bit less uniform than what we have today so I’ve used a mixture of Maris Otter, Chevalier (a heritage variety) and crisp amber malt to provide a varied complexity to the taste.

  • Flanders red top up OG:1.073 ABV:8% SRM: 24 IBU: 11
  • Stock ale OG:1.078 ABV:8.5% SRM: 23 IBU: 70
  • Bitter OG:1.040 ABV:4.0% SRM: 17 IBU: 45

39% Maris Otter
39% Chevalier
11% Crisp amber malt (25L)
5.5% crystal malt (30L)
5.5% medium crystal malt (75L)

60min mash at 67deg C.

Stock ale hops:

  • 50:50 East Kent Goldings and Mixed Bushel of Hops Heritage hops at 60mins (49 IBU)
  • Mixed Heritage hops at 30mins (18 IBU)
  • Mixed Heritage hops at Flame out

Flanders red top-up hops:

  • Mixed Bushel of Hops Heritage hops at 60mins (11 IBU)


  • 50:50 East Kent Goldings and Mixed Heritage hops at 60mins (29 IBU)
  • Mixed Heritage hops at 30mins (22 IBU)
  • Mixed Heritage hops at Flame out

I took samples of the Flanders red before topping up. The batch fermented on commercial yeast was racked when I made the Oud Bruin. It tasted fine but not quite happy in its skin yet. It wasn’t very smooth and hadn’t developed much acidity. Hopefully the addition of fresh fermentables from the top up will feed the bacteria as well as the yeast.  The batch fermented on my wild flower Blend 2 was a lot smoother. Still a bit sweet and young so I hope it becomes more savoury with age. It took a couple of days for these to start fermenting. As is consistently the case, the wild yeast ferments slower and for longer, and this is still the case compared to the Roeselare Blend.

I also recently bottled Blend 3 and the reuse of Blend 1. A portion of Blend 3 has been kept back for blending with Blend 1 and 2. Blend 3 had a gravity of 1.004 and a pH of 4.3 with a spicy, Turkish delight taste. Blend 1 reuse had a gravity of 1.003 and pH of 4.4. The taste still had some body, which was surprising for the gravity, and the taste was clean but tangy.

Tasting notes…. Blend 2 has a strong nail varnish aroma, which is probably beyond pleasant. I will leave it a few months and see if it improves in the bottle. Elderflower has a floral aroma, a biscuity taste and creamy mouth feel. I particularly liked this one. Dog rose had a softer floral aroma than elderflower, a slightly darker colour and a taste reminiscent of Turkish delight.  Heather ale was pale gold, tasted of flower honey with a tangy finish. The head quickly diminished.

I am concerned about the oxidation from blending and head space. Blend 2 has definitely suffered because of this and Blend 3 might be affected. While I’ve enjoyed drinking Blend 1, the single flower ferments have a cleaner, less creamy taste to them. This year I will only Blend if the ales will benefit from balancing out. I will still Blend the yeast though.

The first flowers are now out with a scattering of snowdrops and clumps of primrose. It feels like spring is breaking through. The birds are more active and the dawn chorus streams through the window in the mornings now. I might revisit primrose after using them last year. I read somewhere that veg near to the ground has more lactobacillus present. I’m wondering whether the same is true with flowers and will try and encourage a sour culture from them soon.

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.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.

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.


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.

Blackthorn and primrose


After a wet week it was another glorious, sunny weekend with many spring flowers coming into bloom. A trip across the South Downs on Saturday showed the county at its best, with the sunlight and shadow highlighting the soft contours. With 4 weeks to go to the Southampton Marathon, a 20 mile run first thing Sunday morning took me half the way to Pevensey Bay and much of the route was lined with a riot of primrose, wood anemones, milk maids / cuckoo flower and lesser celandine. There were also a few early dandelions that, with any luck, will be fermenting in April!

The activity in the test tubes had slowed earlier in the week, after about 10 days, so it was time for the sniff test and to step them up to 250ml in conical flasks. Most of the gorse flowers, which had fermented less vigorously, smelled of coconut from the flowers and a little of pear drops. They were promising and so kept. One smelled of cabbage and was binned. A starter wort of 1035 SG was prepared, cooled and aerated. The three that smelled most similar were poured into one flask and the two that were a bit weird were placed in another.

The catkins, which fermented more vigorously were less promising. Three smelt of nappy / dustbin so were binned. The remaining three were a bit weird and earthy but not necessarily bad so they have a stay of execution until the next round of judging, at which point it might be me that gets killed off by drinking them. This could be a short running blog in that case!

To keep things sanitised I rinsed the conical flasks with boiling water, rinsed all equipment with no rinse sanitiser (which again I rinsed off!?). Following a tip from Ales of the Riverward I also used a spirit lamp to try and keep the air clean. I was making sour dough earlier in the day so there was plenty of other microbes floating around. As an aside, Wild Beer Co have made a tasty beer from sour dough culture so that might be another project to mimic in the future.

The next pair of flowers were also collected this weekend. What I think is wild cherry has been lining many of the roadsides in the last few weeks. If I could find it near the house, away from the road and positively identify that it is wild cherry I would have used it. Maybe next year. I was, however, in no doubt about spotting primrose and blackthorn. I learnt a good bit of country lore from my wife, “blackthorn is flower before leaf and hawthorn’s leaf before flower”. They were bagged up, insects given some time to vacate, and placed in tubes as before. The spirit burner was used to try and keep the air clean and the starter wort was 1025 SG.

First bubbles

It’s finally daylight again for my early morning runs so it’s nice to have a better view of the countryside around me. I can see flowers in the hedgerows now and my mind is filled with brewing possibilities. Primrose and wood anemone were flowering and I think I saw the first milkmaids. I think primrose is the only one that’s edible. Wood anemones are part of the buttercup family, which are generally toxic. I was also reminded of where I picked meadowsweet for last year’s saison. There was a dense fog at the bottom of the valley, submerging it as if an ice-age had returned. It really brought the contours to life. What is normally another indistinct hill in the landscape was now a sharply defined spur enveloped by cloud. The dawn chorus is now at the same time as the run, so another seasonal treat.

The test tubes are looking promising. The catkins are certainly more active but they’re bigger and dustier so no surprise really. Bubbles are forming on the surface and the catkins have trapped submerged bubbles. Some of the tubes are cloudier. There is a bit of sediment at the bottom of the tubes. I gave them another shake and one tube hissed pleasingly.