It all started with the mass creation of Elderflower Champagne on a re-occupied industrial estate in Lewes. We picked the season's Elderflowers that grew all the way from Brighton to Lewes and made Elderflower champagne. It was an idea that arose from the need to fundraise for a creative project in the Green Futures field at Glastonbury, all made possible by the nature of the space we had access to in Lewes. It was an outdoor space with lots of shelter in the under-storey of the building with an outside tap and Elderflower trees growing out of the walls! There was a recycling centre over the road with an abundance of drink containers we could have for free and a food factory nearby that discarded these big food-grade polythene barrels. We decided to start producing "Elderflower champagne", bottle it, take it to Glastonbury and have it as an offering by donation to help us pull off this project. It worked!!! We've produced more every year since then, perfected the recipe and named the drink "Ebulis', which comes from Sambucas Ebulis - the name of the European Elder and means 'bubbling over with excitement' - the root of the word 'ebullient' in English. Its a naturally carbonated celebration drink that has an excellent effect of stimulating merriment between people!
We have the internet to thank for giving us a recipe that sounded good, it was this one! In a leap of faith we scaled it up to make hundreds of litres in a big barrel we found and sterilised. We took it to Glastonbury and it went down a storm. We made more and tried variations, learning a lot as we went along. Everyone kept loving it and we decided we should set up a brewery, the purpose of which would be to make environmental projects possible...
Around the same time the volunteer management of a local woodland was an ongoing pursuit. We had been organising trips to a remote wood in Nutley, calling it the Acorn Project for the previous two years. It was through these woodland trips and building a log cabin in the heart of this incredible Oak wood that Nick and I became full-time collaborators when the brewery idea suddenly became real just months after this.
We got a call from a friend who was a baker. He was excited about the new job he'd just got at a zero-waste restaurant that had just landed in Brighton, called Silo. We liked the sound of it and jumped at the opportunity to supply some Nettle Beer we'd been fermenting, along with our increasingly popular Elderflower cider drink-to one of their pre-opening events. We brought our drinks in in all the re-usable containers we had.
They loved it, we immediately became friends with all the staff, and the following week we were invited to make all their drinks. We sourced as much as we could from our drinks-making friends locally - Brighton Permaculture Trust, Bartleby's Beer Co-operative, before we could make our own. Within two weeks Silo was open and we had a big chalk drink specials board that looked like this!
We set about our new lives as professional drinks makers. We used a contact we had made with a fruit and veg grocer we met at a car-boot sale to acquire surplus fruit. We managed to get loads of second class/surplus lemons from him straight away.
One of our first triumphs was Pink Lemonade - we were Pressing windfall apples for cider production shortly after Silo had opened in October and we also had some big fresh beetroots from a vegetable garden, so we decided to stick them in the press to make Raw Apple and Beetroot Juice that could go straight on the specials board... Then we came to pulp and juice the Lemons, and we thought, hold on a sec, what happens if we don't hose down the deep purpleness from all this apple pulp before we press these lemons through it? Bright Pink lemon juice happened! Our Pink lemonade cordial was born. We then made our first beer in the restaurant, we discovered the wonders of fermented soft drink cultures, then we invented Nettle Ice Tea!
It all happened within months. Before long we were making all these botanical drinks, (where botanical means: "Of or relating to plants or plant life") :
Medlar drink, Raspberry and Redcurrant cordial, Ebulis – Elderflower Bubbly, Nettle Beer, Gruit Ale, Organic Apple, Pear and other fruit cyders monthly, Raw fruit and veg juices of all flavours fortnightly, Green Tea Kombucha weekly, Fruit water Kefir, Rosehip & apple cordial, Birch-sap nectar of the trees! Quince lemonade cordial, Chocolate Peppermint Lemonade cordial, Lime and Ginger Cordial, Ginger Beer made with a natural Ginger Bug, Oxymel - the words oldest cordial, Cyder vinegar, Mead, Hedgerow wine, Herbal wines, Rhubarb Soda, Beet Kvass and real Ale.
Creating these drinks are what several of us now do full-time for a living. We are botanical brewers and we produce small-batch, hand-made drinks for restaurants, events, as well as selling direct to all who want it and are within the reach of our production network. We are on a mission to revive hands-on brewing culture worldwide and bring people back into beneficial relationship with the kingdom of plants that offers so many solutions to our (individual and planetary) health problems.
This is how we started. Eternal gratitude to the master-chef Douglas McMaster for creating the conditions for us to emerge and raising our profile with the genius cuisine, reputation and restaurant-on-a-mission that is Silo .
Next up – Silo to Preston Barracks, the botanical garden brewery of Brighton!