A PASSION for nature and the enjoyment of a good drink have combined for Andy Hamilton who has a new book out called Booze For Free.
He has used his skills as a forager to build up a collection of recipes including beers, wines and cordials based on ingredients you could grow yourself or find in the countryside.
He and his twin brother Dave, who together produced the Selfsufficientish website and the Selfsufficientish Bible, both developed a fascination with nature as boys in their parents’ large Northampton garden.
Andy, 37, said: “We spent most of our time at the bottom of the garden playing Action Men and building dens.” But he also remembers noticing how quickly nature would take over again after they would clear an area and he became interested in the idea of using what was growing wild for food.
One of his first experiments, aged around eight, was nettle soup. “It was disgusting,” he admitted.
Now he realises the problem was probably picking the nettles too late in the year and using the whole nettle rather than just the tips, but he said: “It wasn’t enough to put me off. The idea you could make food and you didn’t even have to buy the ingredients... I fell in love with the idea.”
Years later he tried the home brewing kits with little more success but the interest was sparked and he learned more about the process. He believes anyone who can make a cup of tea or follow a recipe can brew their own drinks and he has a clip on YouTube where he explains in less than a minute how to make beer.
The book includes practical information on making drinks and Andy said he has tried to make it as straight-forward as possible. He goes into the history of making your own, the equipment needed, the ingredients, best practice and gathering ingredients by foraging or growing your own. There is also information on suppliers and useful websites. The book is divided into the seasons so that no matter what the time of year, you can find something in the countryside that you can turn into a drink.
The book also includes a problem-solving section, including exploding bottles.
Andy said that most difficulties that crop up with brewing and wine-making are issues involving bacteria and are down to straight-forward cleanliness at every stage of the process.
Not everything goes to plan though, even for him. His pine needle beer failed to make it into the book as it was not good enough, but he is determined to keep working on the idea. He said: “It wasn’t the greatest beer but I’m not giving up on it.”
His enjoyment in experimenting with the different drinks means he always has plenty in production and available to drink. Bay and rosemary beer, Himalayan balsam champagne, elderberry port, mugwort IPA are among his current batch.
He encourages people to give it a go and says brewing and wine and cider making is easier than many people think. He enjoys foraging for ingredients according to the season. He has a five-plums wine that for him brings back memories of the places where he harvested the different fruits. The main attraction though is drinking it with other people and seeing their reactions. He said: “I really like sharing it with friends, that’s something I really get a kick from.”
Booze For Free is published by Transworld Publishers. Andy and Dave’s website is at www.selfsufficientish.com