My mother has a saying that a weed is just a flower out of place. I never really believed it until I learned how to not only brew nettle ale but stew, fry, sauté and otherwise prepare these delicate and amazingly nutritious plants. Since then I have learned that most plants are not only helpful or beneficial but actually supply many necessities. Dandelions for example make great salad greens (from the leaves), coffee (from the dried and ground roots) and of course wine.
Ever since I first watched River Cottage I have wanted to brew a nettle ale. Both times that I have tried as of yet, however, something has gone dreadfully wrong. Of course, it is not the plant which is to blame but my own lack of consistency and determination. The first time I killed the yeast. The second — and the batch is sitting beside me — I let the batch sit for too long in the vat. Unlike most forms of fermented beverages, nettle ale seems to require a short fermentation period. Hugh Fearnly-Whittingsall, the genius behind River Cottage, suggests only three days or so before bottling, while my mead obviously required almost a fortnight in the vat. I left my batch of nettle ale in the vat for a fortnight and wound up with a sharpish vinegar possessed of a distinct and not un-enjoyable after-taste.
The truly marvellous thing about nettle ale is that the raw material, minus the sugar and citrus of course, grows so fast, furiously, and with a clear desire for world domination that two and half gallons tossed out the back door just does not seem like a waste. This is not to say that I am not dismayed by my failure, but at least there will be another batch brewing within the week and less than a fortnight will pass before it gets tested.
(The second batch, by the way, was fantastic: summery, light, yet distinctively alcoholic! I highly recommend Hugh’s recipe.)