My first introduction to the world of home brewing was my dad’s concoctions bubbling and burping away in the corner of the living room – a strange soundtrack which accompanied our TV watching. Demijohns of wine were placed in this spot because the warmth of the nearby fire aided the fermentation process. On one occasion it aided it rather too much as red, winey bubbles exploded one evening as we watched Corrie*, peppering the wallpaper with frothy red stains. After this wine making was
banished moved to the bathroom airing cupboard.
Fascinated by the whole idea I decided aged 5 or so to undertake my own brewing. No alcohol was actually involved, just a rag-tag collection of dried fruit which had been lingering in the cupboard from the previous year’s Christmas cake making, various bits of fresh fruit, some sugar and a bucket of water. Oh, and I vaguely remember an enormous wooden spoon. The stirring of this weird mix kept me amused for a while but it never made it to the bottling stage.
Then there was the inevitable tasting of home brew at university. A friend would bring back supplies of pea pod wine from her family’s farm in Shropshire, it was very much like The Good Life** and was potent stuff to fuel a party.
In recent years more successful forays have included the fabulous jewel-coloured damson vodka which was opened with some ceremony on Christmas Eve in front of a roaring fire.
All this brings me to the book Brew It Yourself by the bloggers Two Thirsty Gardeners otherwise known as Nick Moyle and Richard Hood. There was a time when making your own booze was seen as the height of hippyness, all knitted sandals and face-puckering attempts at creating your own alcoholic drinks, but Nick and Richard have made it their mission to bring home brewing to a whole new audience. They’ve taken their two loves – gardening and alcohol – and created a book of over 70 different recipes which shows that home brewing can be fun, quick, inexpensive and tasty.
Well, I loved it, as did Wellyman who kept disappearing off with the book if I put it down for any length of time. It’s well thought out with a good mix of recipes for those who want something quick and easy such as liqueurs which can take minutes to concoct, to those for the more experienced or adventurous brewer such as India pale ale which needs a few hours of your time. Nick and Richard take you through all of the basics you’ll need to get yourself started including how to use a hydrometer to measure the percentage of alcohol – you don’t need this or much other equipment for many of the simpler drinks. The different sections cover wine and mead, cider, beer, ale and lager, sparkling drinks, liqueurs and cocktails. Alongside the recipes are interesting snippets and tips which makes it a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved the design and stylish photography but most of all I thought the writing was engaging and witty.
It was fascinating to discover how drinks that are part of our heritage are made, such as the fabulously named Lambswool traditionally drunk when wassailing. Inspiration from further afield has also been included – there’s Sima a Finnish drink using lemons or rumtopf from Germany among others. And for those who want to dip their toe into home brewing there are suggestions for liqueurs where you can buy the basic alcohol – either whisky, brandy or vodka – and then give it a home spun twist using fruit, herbs and spices. Nick has included a recipe devised by his mum, Julia’s Orange whisky with its star anise and cinnamon, which sounds just perfect for a Christmas present.
And now’s the time to be using up gluts from the allotment and scouring the hedgerows. I do love the sound of the wild bramble brandy and the damson and fennel vodka, then there’s the cherry fortified red wine (you can use shop-bought wine). To be honest they all sound delicious. Not only could you create a variety of home-brewed bottles to impress family and friends with as Christmas presents but the book itself would make a fantastic present (sorry for mentioning the C word).
*Coronation Street otherwise known as Corrie – a soap opera set in Manchester which has never surpassed its peak of Derek with his travelling gnome and car with a huge paperclip on top of it.
** The Good Life – Seventies TV comedy based around Tom and Barbara Good who decide to become self-sufficient in their suburban garden. Felicity Kendal who played Barbara did the seemingly impossible by looking gorgeous in dungarees whilst splattered in mud.
Brew it Yourself is available to buy now. Thank you to Nourish Books for my review copy.