As followers of this blog will know there’s little I like more than food that’s cheap, or even better free. Whether it be a ‘Whoops’-labelled sausage bap from the hot counter at ASDA bought on a whim mid weekly-shop* or a jar of Wild Garlic Pesto from spring foraging (see this entry – and take note because it’s coming up to Wild Garlic season soon), if it’s less than full price, I’m ‘in’.
My initial foray into the world of wine-making while still at University was relatively short-lived. I have what a friend often refers to as a ‘Mr Toad’ attitude when it come to new ventures. I get rapidly obsessed and wade into a new project up to my waist often before I’ve really figured out what or how I’m supposed to do it. And this was how it was with wine. It was the days when Boots the Chemist still sold kits and the big branch in Brighton was well-stocked. I bought loads of them as well as all the associated paraphernalia and within a couple of weeks the cupboards in my shared kitchen were groaning under the weight of a row of multicoloured demijohns, their airlocks ‘plipping’ away merrily. Those were impatient times for me and wanting instant gratification the kits that promised wine ready-to-drink in a matter of weeks were just too attractive. I couldn’t even wait that long though and after a staggeringly (literally AND metaphorically) drunk night when Matt and I were guzzling half-ready still-fermenting booze directly out of the demijohns with the syphoning tube, or racking it into pint milk bottles and having ‘downing’ races, (a night which culminated in us trying to take my motorbike up to the Brighton Waitrose car park to ride it around – thank goodness we were so ‘gone’ that we couldn’t even get it off the stand and found it on it’s side in the garden the next morning), I gave up wine-making and moved onto whatever the next pursuit happened to be, before first nursing a blinding headache and apologising to my flatmates about the mess (sick, shattered glass, broken toilet seat etc.).
Five or so years ago I ventured back into the world of home-made alcohol but this time it was beer. Kits again, but with some experimentation (the addition of some chopped ginger to a batch, or crushed toasted coriander seeds were both very successful), but most often kits just as instructed. It seemed that the world of home-brewing had moved on considerably with some brands producing a product that really was as good as something from the pub (Woodford’s Wherry I can’t recommend enough). I got as much pleasure from this renewed hobby when designing the labels as I did from actually drinking the stuff, and there’s little that beats the feeling of having a full barrel of good ale on tap in your garage, especially when the packaging is cool.
But it’s only in the last year that I feel I’m doing things properly, and by that I mean using real ingredients, and even better foraged ones on occasion. It started last spring when, under the excellent instruction of John Wright (using his River Cottage Handbook ‘Booze’) I made some Elderflower ‘champagne’ with, of course, foraged elderflowers. It was delicious, and even better really cold out of a slim flute with a splash of Aperol. It was also quick, satisfying the impatience I mentioned above. As the year progressed, and busy enough with other projects I seemed to be able to curb that impatience and I’ve actually got some long-term wines on the go. Just this week I racked** my Elderberry Wine (foraged ingredients again), Mead (not foraged) and Rose Hip Wine (foraged – and this one was really stunningly good already). I’ve also been infusing (of course not as advanced as wine-making but still hugely satisfying none-the-less and even more so when the ingredients are found in the hedgerows) and bottled my Sloe Vodka, Rose Hip Vodka and Blackberry Whiskey.
Last week in Lewes Waitrose they had rhubarb reduced in price and I used it to make Rhubarb Vodka, so sort-of a combination of foraging and bargain hunting and making, all rolled into one since the bright pink forced stems were super-cheap. Bloody hell I love the colour of it and this one’s pretty fast (most of the others listed above should be left to mature for at least a year whereas this is ready in a couple of months – just in time for summer cocktails). It’s very simple – a 1 litre jar, thin slices of rhubarb (4 stems in all) stacked between layers of white sugar (150g) plus a couple of slices of ginger and then the jar is filled with vodka, shaken a bit, and left for a couple of months.
(from left to right: Elderberry Wine, Mead, Rose Hip Wine, ‘Slider’***, Rhubarb Vodka, Elderflower and Apple Sherry, Blackberry Whiskey, Sloe Vodka, Rose Hip Vodka)
*’weekly shop’ indeed. Who am I kidding, I seem to go to the supermarket every 16 hours or so.
**’racking’ is where you syphon the wine from one demijohn to another leaving the lees**** behind.
***’Slider’ is made by refilling the sloe vodka jar of vodka-soaked sloes with still cider, left for two weeks and then served with glee.
****’the lees’ is the sludge at the bottom of the demijohn that collects as the wine clears.