Making Nettle Beer
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
by Richard Brierley
As a keen forager, I love to make this refreshing alcoholic drink in the spring. I love getting my food and drink from the hedgerows, fields and woodlands, as it connects me with the natural world in a deeper way. It’s quite simple, and you just need some basic equipment, which you might find around the house but if not, can be obtained from a homebrew supplier. I use the homebrew section of Wilko which has everything you need at excellent value. There are a lot of recipes online and they are all a bit different. I tend to find that most of them result in too small a quantity of the final product and I think if you’re going to all that effort you want a reasonable payback. This recipe makes about 16-18 pints.
The main ingredient, unsurprisingly, is stinging nettles. These are best picked from March to mid-May before they start flowering (the flowers are the little green tassels that sprout from below the leaves). You can pick them later after they start to flower but the flavour isn’t so good.
You’ll need a pair of gardening gloves and long trousers if you want to avoid getting stung and you want the top 6-8 leaves of the freshest looking plants. You need a lot, preferably two standard carrier bags stuffed to bursting.
This lot needs to be boiled in about 10-12 litres of water. Not many kitchens have a big enough pot for this, and I use our largest pan and still have to do it in 2 batches. I also add a large grated ginger root at this point as I like the beer with a slightly spicy kick, but this is optional. When it has boiled well for around 10 minutes, it is poured through a large sieve into some sort of bucket.
Now you can use just about any container that’s large enough, but I’d recommend a food grade plastic as this won’t taint the flavour and is easy to clean thoroughly. Ideally, you’d use a proper fermentation bin which you can get from Wilko for a tenner and is designed to allow the fermentation gasses to escape easily.
At this point I add the sugar, 1kg is about right, but if you want a really strong beer you could use up to about 1.2kg. It’s also important to add about 75g cream of tartar (from the home baking aisle of the supermarket), and when it has all cooled to room temperature you sprinkle on a sachet of beer yeast (again Wilko is your friend). It is this that performs the magic of turning all that sugar into alcohol.
The bin/bucket needs to be left somewhere warm, such as the corner of the kitchen, for about 6 days, during which time it’ll develop a thick layer of froth on top, which you shouldn’t disturb as these bubbles are full of carbon dioxide that stops oxygen from getting to the yeast. This is really important, because the presence of oxygen stops the alcohol from being formed.
Once the 6 days are up, the remaining froth can be skimmed off and the beer siphoned off into bottles.
I use glass beer bottles that I have collected, but plastic fizzy pop bottles are fine. It’s a good idea to add another ½ teaspoon of sugar per pint at this point as it will allow a little extra fermentation in the bottle to build up a pressure and give the beer a good fizz. They can then be left to “condition” for about 1 week somewhere warm, and then are ready to drink. It does improve with age but in my experience, it rarely lasts more than a month or so.
It can be a little cloudy (all part of the character) and don’t be put off by the small layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, just pour carefully and leave a little behind in the bottle.
In my opinion, a well-chilled nettle beer is the perfect accompaniment to an early summer barbecue.
Anyway, those ingredients again:
Stinging nettles (2 full carrier bags)
Large grated ginger root (optional)
75g cream of tartar
One sachet of beer yeast.
Richard Brierly is a freelance GP who works in the Eastbourne area.
Richard is married with three sons, and is particularly interested in the natural world; he loves spending time out in the beautiful Sussex countryside.
Richard and his family live in Eastbourne, East Sussex.