About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Home brew recipes

I'm no expert, but after three years I'm starting to get some really good drinks, so I thought it was time to make some notes on what I've learnt so far. These recipes are records of what I've tried; there are almost certainly improvements and variations that could be made. Each of the recipes is for two gallons of drink, either beer or wine. That's British imperial gallons, which are eight pints or four and half litres. When I can, I use yeast from my previous batch of home brew, taken from the bucket when the liquid is transferred to bottles or demijohns. The quantity isn't very important because the first thing yeast does is to multiply so however much you put in, you'll have a lot more shortly afterwards.

Beer

General recipe and method, for a strength of about 4.5%-5%. Most people don't make beer this way. I do and it works. The resulting beer is fairly light; I believe that boiling the malt would make for a darker beer.
  • 2 x 370 g jars malt extract
  • 350 g white table sugar
  • Bitter flavouring
  • Aromatic flavouring
  • Water
  • Yeast
The flavourings usually need attention first, as it takes time to extract the flavour from them. How I treat them depends on the plant but in general, the more robust bitters require boiling for half an hour or an hour, possibly in two changes of water, whereas the more delicate aromatics are steeped in hot water for half an hour or so, i.e. boiling water is poured over but no further heat is applied.

I don't always bother to sterilize my brewing bucket because the first thing I do after dumping the malt extract and sugar in there is to add boiling water. I pour this down the sides of the bucket so that all parts that come into contact with the brew have been scalded. I then strain in the flavouring water from both aromatics and bitters (more boiling water) before topping up with cold water (and sometimes some hot) to about two gallons, aiming for a nicely warm liquid to add the yeast to, which is the final stage on the first day of brewing.

I leave the brew in the bucket for something between four days and a week or so - long enough to calm down but not long enough to go sour. The next stage is bottling. I do bother to sterilize the bottles as well as the inside and outside of the jug I use, usually with VWP, and then rinse thoroughly afterwards. This is why I make small batches of beer - it's a lot of faff. About half a teaspoonful of sugar goes into each bottle, then the beer, scooped out of the bucket and poured with a jug (I don't need a funnel if I'm careful), then it's capped (this involves a hammer - scary!) and inverted a couple of times to mix. After this, it's just a matter of waiting. How long depends on the ingredients, but about two weeks seems to be enough for most.

I'm told that light can affect the flavour so I start my beer in the kitchen, then move down to the store room once it's in bottles. The store room is quite a bit cooler than the kitchen, which is not particularly warm itself.

Fraoch (heather ale)

2-3 oz heather tips, flowering. Strip off flowers and cover with boiling water. Leave to steep for 1 hour. Boil tips in pan full of water, twice (changing water) for half hour or so each time.

Bay herb ale

A pan full of rosebay willowherb tips (young leaves, including stalks) and a handful of bay leaves. Boil together for half an hour or so.

Hopped ale

Half an ounce of dried hops (foraged), divided in half. One half boiled for half an hour and the other half steeped in hot water for the same time.

Nettle and parsnip ale

NOTE: No malt extract or sugar; all sugar comes from the parsnips. Makes less than a gallon, at probably about 2% abv.
1° fermentation: Approx 6½ lb parsnips, sliced thinly or grated; ½ colander-full of nettle tips; teaspoonful of parsnip seeds
2° fermentation: Approx 12 oz parsnips, grated; one colander-full of nettle tips; teaspoonful of parsnip seeds (nettles and seeds could be included in the first stage. I added them later because I judged that I needed more of these flavours).
Put most of parsnips and seeds (added late at first attempt. May not need so many if all added early) in jamming kettle and cover with water to approx. six pints. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for an hour or so. Spread some parsnip slices in an oven tray and roast (dry) to caramelize. Add these to pan when brown; also use water from pan to rinse any sugars stuck to oven tray. In a separate pan, boil nettles for 10-15 min (these could be added to the big kettle, towards the end of cooking. Prepared separately so I could check the flavours worked). Strain liquid from both pans into bucket (total approx ¾ gallon), and press veg to extract remaining juice, then reheat juice to sterilize. Add yeast and leave for two to three days, until fermentation quietens. Boil and simmer remaining parsnip, as before, with additional nettles and seeds if required. Strain, press and reheat, skimming off scum if needed. When this has cooled, add to fermenting liquid. I decanted into a second bucket so I could stir the liquids together without stirring up yeast from the bottom. Bottle. This made just over 4 litres - nine Grolsch bottles plus 200 ml over.

Wine

General recipe is similar to the beer, except that no malt extract is used, just refined white sugar, and the flavourings are left in the bucket for about 4 days. The liquid is then strained off into demijohns (one gallon bottles) where it is left to ferment and mature for something between three months and a year, depending on ingredients.

Dandelion wine

  • 4-5 pints dandelion flowers. Pick off as much greenery as possible before the flowers fall apart
  • one orange and one lemon, washed and sliced (pips removed)
  • 4 lb sugar

Oak leaf wine

  • 6 pints very young leaves, boiled for an hour or so before adding to bucket
  • 2 kg sugar

Beech leaf wine

  • ~12 pints young leaves, boiled for 45 min before adding to bucket
  • 2 kg sugar

Elderflower champagne

  • 18 flower heads
  • 2 small lemons, washed and sliced (pips removed)
  • 2 lb sugar
Flowers should be removed from the bucket as soon as they start to go brown, even if you're not ready for bottling just yet. Bottle as for beer, with a little extra sugar in each bottle. Use strong bottles, preferably plastic as glass ones can explode, even if they're strong enough for beer. This is good to drink two weeks after bottling, and doesn't last more than a few months.

Blackcurrant wine

  • 6 lb blackcurrants
  • 4 lb sugar
Currants can be mashed with a potato masher in the bucket, before adding all the water.

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