hist-brewing:nettle beer

Martyn Cornell atrectus at blueyonder.co.uk
Mon Jun 4 16:30:32 PDT 2001


On nettle beer Jeffry D Luck wrote:

> Ok, another silly question -- why would I ever want to brew with this
> stuff?!?
> 
> -JL
 and Bruce R Gordon replied

>> I dunno. I've never tasted the stuff, but presumably it can't be
>> horrific, else folk would only try it once...


I was lucky enough, about four or five years ago, to have a pint of what
must be one of the very few ever commercially-produced nettle beers. It was
made by one of the Firkin chain of home-brew pubs in London (England) as a
spring one-off to a recipe supplied, as I recall, by the uncle of the
brewer. It was a hopless beer with a green, herby taste, very pleasant once
you accepted it for what it was, but different enough that the bar person
insisted anyone trying it for the first time had an initial small glass to
see if they wanted to go on for more. I would certainly try it again ...

Stephen Harrod Buhner's Sacred and Healing Beers gives 10 pages to nettles
and nettle beer, including five different recipes from other authors, and
points out that the nettle, like its relatives the hop and the hemp, has
been used for medicine, fibre, dye-making and fertiliser, as well as a beer
ingredient and a food. Buhner lists tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis and
osteoporosis among many ailments nettles may help treat. He describes nettle
beer as "one of the sublime herb beers. The taste really is indescribable,
being a blend of a number of flavors, a veritable gustatory extravaganza."

Roger Phillips's Wild Food (Pan Books, 1983, ISBN 0 330 28069 4 for those
who wish to track it down) has another recipe, reckoned to be at least 19th
century. He also writes that a broth of water, nettles, salt, milk and
oatmeal, called Brotchan Neanntog, was a favourite Irish dish "from at least
early Christian times until the cabbage became popular, less than 200 years
ago."

Jeffrey Patton's Additives, Adulterants and Contaminants in Beer (Patton
Publications, 1989, ISBN 1 872 42600 X) mentions a 16th century recipe for
nettle ale "offered as a cure for black jaundice", but unfortunately does
not give any more details.

Wilma Paterson's A Country Cup: Old and New recipes for Drinks of All Kinds
Made from Wild Plants and Herbs (Pelham Books 1980 ISBN 0 7207 1234 3) gives
a recipe for nettle wine (and one for nettle beer that is the same as one of
Buhner's). She calls the nettle "one of the most useful of plants" and says:
"The young leaves, cooked like spinach or made into soups or souffles, are a
most delicious vegetable, and medicinally the nettle is still valued by
country people as a spring tonic, for clearing the skin and as a remedy for
children's bed-wetting."

The sting in nettles is in large part formic acid. If you grab the plant
quickly and firmly enough the stinging hairs are crushed before they can
pierce the skin - the origin of the phrase "time to grasp the nettle ..."

Martyn Cornell


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