Actually there are now two buckets bubbling, since the weekend now two weeks past saw us bottling the batch of gruit ale. This left a birch ale and a birch wine still slowly bubbling. The original post title still sounds better...
Two Buckets Bubbling and Three Bags Full
Three bags full of wool, that is. My dearest housemates found me three bags full of wool. Where did they find such a bounty you ask? Why the same place the Woodsman found me an even bigger bag of wool a few weeks earlier. The TransferSite, of course! This brings my tally of found and gifted bags of raw fiber (alpaca, llama, sheep) up to a ridiculous number. Which means that I really, really must get out my spinning wheel and (re)learn to spin... Though I'm thinking, these three particular bags I may felt. It looks like mediocre quality fiber, short staple though kinky, and not at all cleaned or picked through or washed. I have some really nice spinning wool awaiting me and I rather think that I ought to (re)learn before I set my self too much a Herculean task. That probably not the best metaphor. Psyche-ic task? Didn't jealous mother-Venus set her the three impossible tasks before sh could reuinte with Cupid? And wasn't one of them about a golden fleece? Or is it a different fairy tale, now nameless in my mind, where the heroine must sort the the three mixed types of grains into three piles by morning - and does so with the help of the ants she was once kind to? I recall there being three similarly impossible tasks. At any rate, I think I would be overwhelming myself unhealthily if I expected myself to spin it all just yet. Not to mention I have more yarn that I could weave in a year already. But these three bags, in three different shades, look like they will felt nicely. It is nearly two years since I learned Kyrgzh and Mongolian style felting at Convergence . I keep meaning to make more things... and to play with dyes.... I promise another post on all the possibilities for felting that dance in my head. I fear this post might get too unwieldly-long, even for me, if I go into it all here. At any rate, I think I have enough in these bags for another small rug.
And now for the Buckets Bubbling:
Back when we were tapping the birches, we started three batches of homebrew:
~ a birch sap wine (vaguely) following the recipe in "The Alaska Bootlegger's Bible" by Leon W. Kania - great book, I highly recommend it!- as well as two ales. It's currently waiting, and about due, to be transferred into the carboy the Woodsman is loaning us for its secondary ferment.
~One ale was based on a recipe my mom found on the internet: it used birch sap as the liquid, added honey (we used the honey from my mother's hives last year) for the sugar, and steeped birch twigs in it for flavor and bitter, and ale yeast for the fermentation. It is currently sitting in a bucket in the middle of the kitchen floor going through a secondary ferment and clearing process - as we were racking it (I think that's the right term?), I did fill a single liter gralsh bottle with this brew; so we'll be able to compare it between after only a primary and after having the chance at a secondary ferment.
I'm not going to take one side or the other in what I understand is a sometimes bitter arguement - but since this beverage uses honey as its sugar source, there is an argument to be made that it is not actually an 'ale' - ale yeast and name not withstanding - but rather a type of mead. Either way, I'm looking forward to drinking it! I think I'll probably call it "Bunchberry's Honey Ale" and leave it at that.
~The other ale, which is now bottled and aging in the pantry (its also pictured here), is a birch sap version of a gruit ale. It was made by modifying the recipe found in "Strong Waters"by Scott Mansfield - I also highly highly recommend this book! A gruit is basically a brew that uses herbs to supply the bitters in the place of hops. In the middle ages, before hops became cheap and plentiful and widely available, almost all ales and beers were gruits. Monasteries and brewers and alewives would have their own individual (and probably guarded and secret) recipes. Gruits would be developed for specific purposes - medicinal or psychotropic - using different combinations of herbs. The herbal base of a gruit allows the nutritional qualities - vitamins and trace minerals - and the medicinal qualities of the herbs to come through in the ale. If I remember correctly, the "small ale" that Shakespeare speaks of is a gruit.
The recipe from "Strong Waters" calls for using equal parts of yarrow, saint John's wort, and mugwort. The yarrow I used was last summer's harvest that I had wildcrafted. The other two came from the bulk herb section of our local health food store. I look forward this summer and fall to playing with a few gruits of wildcrafted herbs - I'm thinking specifically about yarrow, coltsfoot, and labrador tea. The recipe calls for water, and we just substituted birch sap, so its natural sugar content was added to the malt syrup. It was a roaring blaze of fermentation for a while there!
When we bottled this one, we poured ourselves a couple pints to try. Its certainly a different taste than your normal, commercial, hopped beer. But I quite liked it. It was a bit um, young-tasting - and you could almost watch the yeast precipitating out of it. After it has settled in the bottles and aged a bit, I'm quite looking forward to it! We'll ration it out across the next 6-12 months, so I can see how the aging changes the flavor.... stay tuned!
It was really satisfying and validating to actually bottle some home brew. A few years ago, I tried my hand at some fruit-based wine making. Let me tell you, brewing is much much easier with running water than in a dry cabin! My attempts then went to either mold or vinegar which was really disheartening, so its good to feel some success this time around. I also find that I really enjoy having the ongoing process and presence and life of things fermenting in the kitchen. It gives the kitchen - already so much the heart and the hearth of the home, and really of my life - this added quality of vitality and aliveness... I look forward to many years of the same!