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CONTENTS Introduction: Sugar Beers, Herbal Meads, Odd Sodas, and Funky Wines


1. Rediscovering the Past


2. Homebrewing Essentials


3. In Search of Wild Yeast


4. The Quest for Flavors


5. Methods of Brewing


6. Sugar, Molasses, and Syrup-Based Beers


7. Primitive and Country Wines and Meads


8. Ethnic Drinks and Medicinal Brews


9. Naturally Fermented Sodas


Resources 273 Recipe Index 275 Index 277

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WINTER IN THE FOREST BEER This recipe is ever-changing with the seasons, but it’s a good example of a winter forest beer. It looks very much as if I just took leaves, twigs, and herbs directly from the forest floor itself, but every ingredient, even fall leaves, was carefully chosen and contributes to the flavor profile. My first attempts at creating such beers were a bit so-so, but they have vastly improved over time. Presently, the end result is somewhere between a beer and a cider—a bit sour, like some wild-yeast-fermented Belgium beers, but delicious. I don’t think you could match this recipe with your own local forest, but maybe this will inspire you to experiment with what your wild terroir has to offer.

1 gallon (3.78 L) water 0.2 ounce (6 g) mixed fall leaves (cottonwood, alder, and willow) 0.2 ounce (6 g) forest grass— regular grass growing in the forest 1 ounce (28 g) manzanita berries 0.1 ounce (3 g) California sagebrush 0.2 ounce (6 g) dried mugwort leaves 0.3 ounce (9 g) turkey tail mushrooms 11⁄4 pounds (567 g) dark brown sugar 3 large lemons Commercial beer yeast or wild yeast starter


1. Combine all the ingredients except the lemons and yeast. Cut and squeeze the lemons into the solution. Bring to a boil in a large pot for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to 70°F (21°C), then add the yeast. When I’m using a wild yeast starter, I usually use 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup (120–180 ml) of liquid. 2. Strain into the fermenter. Place the airlock or cover with a paper towel or cloth and let it ferment for 10 days. Start counting when the fermentation is active (this may take 2 to 3 days with a wild yeast starter). 3. Siphon into 16-ounce (500 ml) swing-top beer bottles (you’ll need seven bottles) and prime each one with 1⁄2 teaspoon (2 g) white or brown sugar for carbonation. Close the bottles and store in a place that’s not too hot. The beer will be ready to drink in 3 to 4 weeks. Would you like to explore the smell of the forest after the rain, or the sweet fragrance of its rich soil? Maybe add a small amount of candy cap mushroom or bitter decomposing leaves (willow, alder). I like using turkey tail mushrooms, not just for their bitter flavors but also for their medicinal qualities.

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L AT E - S P R I N G M O U N TA I N B E E R Spring is a wonderful time to explore the local mountains. Once the winter snow melts, everything seems to emerge from a long sleep, rejuvenated and full of young and fresh flavors. From my perspective, it’s all about pine and lemony sour accents. Even the young pine branches often have strong citruslike qualities. I can’t find lemons in these mountains, but unripe manzanita berries are an excellent substitute. It’s a very simple recipe, but a good representation of my local flavors. You can probably do something similar in your area with other unripe berries and local pine, fir, or spruce tips.

11⁄2 gallons (5.7 L) water 0.4 ounce (11 g) dry mugwort 0.1 ounce (3 g) yarrow flower heads 13⁄4 pounds (794 g) brown sugar 2 cups (500 ml) crushed green manzanita berries 1 small pinyon pine branch Wild yeast from unripe pinyon pinecones (or wild yeast starter)

Pinyon pinecones used as yeast starter.


Procedure (see Hot-and-Cold Brewing, page 87)

1. Add all the ingredients to a pot, aside from the pinyon pinecones and branches, and boil for 30 minutes. Cool the solution to 70°F (21°C) and pour it into a fermenting bucket equipped with an airlock. At this point, I add two or three unripe pinecones for yeast and a small pinyon pine branch (cut the needles). Leave the pine ingredients in the buckets until the fermentation is well started, usually 3 to 4 days, but you could leave them longer for more pronounced pine flavors. 2. Once the fermentation is going well, let it ferment for 9 days. Pour it into 16-ounce (500 ml) swing-top beer bottles, and prime each bottle with 1⁄2 teaspoon (2 g) sugar. Close the bottles and store in a place that’s not too hot. The beer will be ready to drink in 3 to 4 weeks.

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S P R I N G C H A PA R R A L B E E R Chaparral is a typical landscape of California and Mexico; I think of it as the land between the desert and the mountains. It’s mostly composed of drought-tolerant plants, which vary quite a bit depending on your location (California is a big state). Locally, I find a lot of cactuses, sages, oak trees, yuccas, yerba santa, California sagebrush, Mexican elder, wild currants, and all kinds of interesting greens when we have some good rain. This beer is a good representation of what can be found in May. The concoction is very floral and fruity due to the elderflowers and the pineapple weed flowers (Matricaria discoidea), which taste like, well, pineapple. It’s a very welcome, refreshing brew during the hot month of June.

1 gallon (3.78 L) water 0.8 ounce (23 g) fresh yerba santa leaves 0.1 ounce (3 g) California sagebrush 1 cup (250 ml) sumac berries (lemonade berries or sugar bush berries) 11⁄4 pounds (567 g) light brown sugar 30 heads Mexican elderflowers 2 sprigs woolly bluecurls flowers (optional) 2 cups (500 ml) pineapple weed flowers Yeast (wild or commercial)


1. Place the water, yerba santa, sagebrush, sumac berries, and sugar into a large pot. Bring to a boil for 30 minutes and remove from the heat. Add the elderflowers, woolly bluecurls flowers, pineapple weed flowers, and yeast. Cover the pot and set aside for 24 hours. 2. Strain the brew into the fermenter (bottle or bucket) and add the yeast. When I’m using a wild yeast starter, I usually use 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup (120–180 ml) of liquid. Position the airlock or cover your fermenter with a paper towel or cheesecloth. Let the beer ferment for 10 days. Start counting when the fermentation is active (this may take 2 to 3 days with a wild yeast starter). 3. Siphon into 16-ounce (500 ml) swing-top bottles and prime each bottle with 1⁄2 teaspoon (2 g) brown sugar for carbonation. Close the bottles and store in a place that’s not too hot. The beer will be ready to drink in around 3 weeks.

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You should be able to find what you need to make beer with what nature offers in your area. Another alternative is to grow a (wild) beer garden with all the necessary plants. It’s a project I’m currently working on with local native plants and some I can’t find locally. These days it’s easy, since I can readily purchase seeds online. If you live in a more temperate climate, you can explore growing your own hops. I have a friend who even manages to grow them locally in Los Angeles. There are countless fermented experiments and flavors you can play with. As I wrote earlier, if you use brown sugar or molasses you are pretty much guaranteed to end up with a drink that tastes somewhere between a beer and a cider. Bitter ingredients tend to move the beverage toward more beer-like flavors, while more neutral or sweeter ones bring it toward a cider taste. Usually I leave white sugar and honey for wines, sodas, and meads, but as usual there are exceptions. Tepache, a refreshing Mexican drink akin to a low-alcohol wine, uses brown sugar. A lot of the fun is in exploring more exotic ingredients such as barks, mushrooms, and wild berries that you can’t always grow in a garden. If you’re not a botanist, herbalist, or experienced forager, you may need to do a bit of study, but it really doesn’t take that much time to get started. Whenever I travel to a location I’m not familiar with, I always spend some time online researching local edible or aromatic plants. I also look for herbalists or foragers living in the area and contact them. We’re really a big family and, more often than not, they’re happy to introduce me to the local flora. I always check a new place for basic bitter plants—yarrow, horehound, Saint-John’s-wort, mugwort, ground ivy, dandelion roots—but if you have an experienced plant person with you, they may introduce you to fantastic new ingredients. If someone was looking for bitter but aromatic brewing herbs in my area, for instance, I would definitely recommend my local yerba santa and California sagebrush. A little tip for choosing plants and other ingredients to make beer is to approach as much as possible the flavors of hops. That’s what most people currently associate with beer. Hops are terribly bitter but also highly aromatic, with zesty citric flavors. It’s hard to beat all those flavors in one plant, but by making a good blend of various ingredients you may have locally, you can create a similar flavor profile. For example, horehound is extremely bitter but otherwise quite bland tasting. You can add lemons or other citrusy ingredients (sour grass, sumac berries, tamarind, unripe berries of various kinds, and so on). Locally, I add a bit of aromatic sage or California sagebrush and voilà!—I end up with a decent brew.


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So take a few hikes, meet local people and share information, post photos on plant identification groups online, and start the methodology for creating a beverage representing an environment. It doesn’t take long to get started. By the way, as I said earlier, you don’t have to break the law for this type of research and experimentation. If you can make beers, wines, or other similar fermented beverages, you can make a lot of friends quickly. By simply showing up with some of my beers and meeting people, I have gained access to perhaps 2,000 acres (800 ha) of private properties representing each of my local bioregions. The property owners let me teach, research, collect, and even re-introduce native plants. In some areas (such as natural preserves), of course, picking or removing plants may be prohibited. Public lands that are administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management and some national forests usually allow you to pick plants or berries for your own use (which can include research), but always check first.

Vermont Forest Beer Every location is unique, and a huge part of the fun of travel is exploring and researching the sites you visit. As you gain more experience and knowledge of plants, the process becomes easier. Still, the basics remain the same: You need a sugar source, yeast, and plants or fruits for flavors. One of my favorite experiences was in Vermont. I was invited to teach a class on the uses of wild edibles at Sterling College and frankly had no idea about the local flora over there. If you think about it, aside from Maine, Vermont is probably the most remote state from Southern California in terms of location as well as climate. On my way to the college for the first time, I remember looking at nature and thinking, “I’m literally in the weeds”—most of the plants and trees I saw were completely unknown to me. Luckily, I arrived 2 days before classes started, and my first order of business was to connect with a local botanist and a couple of plant-savvy landowners. It was a fascinating couple of days. I spent most of my time in the woods with my new friends learning about the local plants, mushrooms, and trees. In the evening I researched the species we found and their potential culinary uses. My goal, with my students, was to create a complete wild food feast at the end of the week using foraged products from their own land. As part of the feast, I also wanted some interesting fermented beverages such as sodas and at least a local forest beer. For my beer, I searched desperately for nice aromatic bitter plants, but in the short time I was there I couldn’t manage to locate any of my favorites


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such as yarrow, mugwort, or horehound. Still, I had a plentiful supply of bitter dandelion roots. At the end of my 2 days, I ended up with the following foraged ingredients: wild sassafras and dandelion roots, yellow birch bark and twigs, white pine, blue spruce, grass, curly dock, and Japanese knotweed. Not much, but it was enough to make an interesting fermentation in the tradition of root beers, thanks to the wild sassafras roots and yellow birch with their licorice-like flavors. Being in Vermont, my (wild) sugar source was quite obvious: maple syrup! And I was extremely lucky, because one of the projects they have each year at the college is to collect and make maple syrup using traditional methods. So I had the best-quality syrup to play with. The recipe was super simple. First, we boiled the yellow birch twigs and bark for 4 to 5 hours, to extract as much flavor as possible. We started with around 21⁄2 gallons (9.5 L) of water; after all that boiling, we ended up with around 11⁄2 gallons (5.6 L). The next step was to add around four decentsized sassafras roots, a couple of dandelion roots, a handful of Japanese knotweed stalks, and some curly dock leaves (lemony flavors), plus 1 cup (250 ml) of beautiful grass and around 11⁄4 pounds (560 g) of maple syrup. All those ingredients were then boiled for an additional 40 minutes.

Fermenting Vermont beer.

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The wildcrafting brewer  
The wildcrafting brewer