Foraging

It’s been a pretty intense few months getting this business off the ground, but now that our first few beers have been launched, it feels like the right time to give this blog a bit of attention.

I’ve been wanting to write about foraging and how we incorporate wild, local and indigenous ingredients in to our beers for some time now, and as the foraging season begins to slow down, it seems like a good time to reflect on the year and look ahead to 2019.

Looking back, aside from small scale home brew experiments, it never seemed possible to produce the beers I dreamt of, using the wild ingredients that inspired me. This seed of doubt was galvanized when suggestions were dismissed during my first year in professional brewing.

Things changed though. Foraging has become big business in the UK, with top restaurants harnessing the flavour (and back stories) that wild ingredients have to offer. It has been on trend for quite some time and looks to be around for a while longer yet and it is most certainly peaking peoples interest in the beer community.

At the start of 2018, I was lucky enough to join the amazing team at Bello Wild Food and for the first time was foraging for a living. This was an amazing opportunity to use, and expand, the knowledge that I had acquired as a hobby, and bridge the gap to Yonder Brewing & Blending, where we could finally focus on combining foraging and fermentation.
It also means that we no longer have to rely solely on what I can collect alone and the word local, when you have access to a team of foragers which covers the UK, is redefined.
It’s all relative, anyway.

Whilst the additions to our beers will never be 100% foraged, we intend to add a little bit of ‘local’ to each batch. This can include locally farmed ingredients, but also wild captured yeast from in and around the brewery, on the skins of fruit, or via a cool ship.

Our Loop series is the beer that we will use to tell this story well.
Using our house blend of yeast and bacteria, Loop is fermented and aged in oak barrels and available all year round. When it’s time to release a batch, we will taste and blend from this collection of barrels and add fruit, or herbs, or any other seasonal ingredient which is available and at it’s best.
Each time we do this, we will brew up another batch and inoculate it with the last. A bit like the  Solera method used in the production of Sherry. Our house culture will evolve as microbes from each seasonal offering are added to the blend.
It will change entirely, but it will always be Loop, or at least, part of the Loop.

Something we are often asked when people discover that we intend to use foraged ingredients is how we will maintain product consistency, with additions of this nature.
The simple answer is that we don’t intend to. There will always be some consistent aspects, but they’re right, wild food isn’t as reliable as mass produced, factory farmed fodder.

Hopefully this will add to the charm, but it most certainly won’t effect the quality. Flavour is the most important thing to us and each raw ingredient and batch of beer will be tested and tweaked, without the complacency of relying on cloned elements, whose parameters are in someone else’s hands.

Anyway, enough of the rant. Back to the interesting stuff.

We’ve got a few things lined up to end 2018 and welcome in the new year. Although most of the tasty ingredients are dying back for colder months, we’ve been drying and freezing wherever possible. The Loop series will continue (there’s another in tank right now) and we will be working on regular mixed culture saisons which showcase some amazing wild flavours.

Watch this space and thanks for reading!

- Stu

PS. I thought I’d make a quick list of some of the books that I’ve been reading in an attempt to share the inspiration that they have given me.
There are some great books out there which talk passionately about foraging, and some which also perfectly overlap in to fermentation side of things too.

  • Food For Free - Richard Mabey

    This has been the archetypal UK foraging book for decades. First published in 1972, the 40th anniversary hardback edition printed in 2012 features fully revised text and is accompanied by photos which make identification accessible for beginners. The bonus for me is that I also really enjoy Richards writing about nature (see books such as - Beechcombings: The Narrative of Trees & Nature Cure)

  • The Forager Handbook - Miles Irving

    This is such an extensive encyclopedia-like reference book for wild ingredients in the British Isles. Whilst possibly not recommended as a field guide for the beginner it is definitely worth having a copy on the shelf for when you get caught by the foraging bug.

  • The Wildcrafting Brewer: Creating Unique Drinks and Boozy Concoctions from Natures Ingredients - Pascal Baudar

    Alongside a book about nature-inspired gastromony, Pascal Baudar’s Wildcrafting brewer is an excellent example of combining foraging and fermentation. From recipes for herbal meads through to natural sodas, every page is an inspiration.

  • The Homebrewer’s Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to Making Your Own Beer from Scratch - Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleidon & Ryan Tockstein

    Whilst this book from the team at Scratch Brewing is based around ingredients indigenous to the United States, it’s focus on using these to brew incredibly inventive beers is truly inspiring. Plus, there’s always going to be an overlap with things which cam be found in the UK.

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