Monday, March 22, 2010

Nettles: Metheglin

I had a quart of nettles leftover from that last round of foraging. What to do with them? As so often happens, my thoughts turned to alcohol...

You can make beer with nettles. In fact, it's been used as a flavoring for centuries, if not thousands of years. In ages past it was used in place of hops in Gruits, and in all kinds of teas and tinctures. More recently, H.F.W. over at River Cottage in England has revived interest with a recipe for Nettle Beer, that really is more of a "Country Wine" than a beer. I thought about making it, but ultimately decided against. I already had something ready to go. And I wanted something for St. Patty's, which was rapidly approaching.


I would make a Nettle-Spice Metheglin.

"What the hell is a Metheglin?", I hear the Interwebs scream. Metheglin is simply the traditional word for spiced mead. Traditionally, people would put all kinds of things into mead as a folk cure. One, because the honey and alcohol made it taste better and two, the alcohol and steeping allows extraction of various compounds that aren't soluble in water. Also, in medieval times, your local water probably had a lot to do with why you were sick in the first place and did not usually end up as a chief ingredient in any effective 'cures'. So we get the word Metheglin, from the Welsh for 'Healing Liquor'. The astute among you will have noticed that "Metheglin" sounds a lot like "Medicine". Well there you go. Now drink your metheglin! Is good for you.

I had a spare half-gallon growler of mead from last Fall's Purple Daze Melomel. You can see the growler in the back of the big carboy. The main batch is still sitting pretty there on the fruit, by the way. Seven months and counting. It's going to be so good. In 2013.

So step one was to make an infusion to blend in with the mead.

Into a pot with a quart of water went:
  • 1 quart of Nettles, blanched (about 3 quarts raw Nettles).
Boiled it for 45 minutes. Then added the spices.
  • Peel of one Satsuma, all white pith removed
  • Peel of one Meyer Lemon, pith removed
  • two coins Galangal
  • two coins Ginger
  • one nutmeg, quartered
  • one cardamom pod, smacked with the flat of a knife
  • two dozen allspice berries
  • one kaffir lime leaf
  • 1/4 oz hops. Sterling. In a tea ball, because they were pellets and I didn't want them getting everywhere.
Boil for another 15 minutes. Then strain and cool.

This was a lot of uncharted territory. I wasn't quite sure what the nettles would taste like, or which spices would dominate. So I got to blending. For blending you'll want:
  • spare honey to back sweeten if necessary
  • the zest-less lemon and satsuma
  • acid blend, and sulfites/sorbates if you're going for long term storage. I wasn't.
  • A good blending vessel.
Here's my setup.

You can see I carefully decanted the mead into a pitcher. The nettle mixture is on the left, looking like swamp water. Then it just became a matter of blending. A little of this, a little of that. The mead was on the sweet side, so no backsweetening was necessary. A little bit of the citrus juices really brightened it up. I used most of the nettle extract. Subtlety is nice in theory, but if you can't taste the spice it's not a spiced beer/mead. Let the spiced speak, but not shout.

Then it was just a matter of bottling. I figured that some yeast got in from the mead, and sure enough, a week by the heating register and it was 'petillant'. Which is, easily, my least favorite word in all of brewing. But a little carbonation helps in spiced meads, if lifts aromas up to the nose.

So what did it taste like? Quite good, I think. Nettles taste like spinach when just cooked, but boil them for an hour and they change dramatically. The best I can describe it as is arrowroot. Kind of bready and sweet. Weird. The citrus and spices worked out well. Nutmeg goes great with nettles. As expected, the cardamom is there, shouting above the din. One is certainly enough. The ginger and galangal were subtle, but in the background.

Unfortunately, the spice infusion was very turbid. And the resulting mead was a bit cloudy. Tasted fine, but was a bit unappealing visually. (Though I was actually hoping it would turn bright green!) As a result it didn't place when I sent a couple bottles up to the Cascade Brewers Cup.

Nevertheless, it did take Honorable Mention in the Mead Best of Show Round, out of over 60 meads. The crowd loved it too. Well, those lucky few that got to taste the last two bottles anyway. Honestly, a week or two would have settled it out.

Oh well. Next time...


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