Herbs, fruit and vegetables are a ready-made larder for backyard brewing – with the right recipe, they can easily, and cheaply, be turned into a tasty tipple, says Adrienne Wild
If you grow your own fruit and vegetables you will no doubt have made jams and chutneys galore – and probably given a lot to friends and family.
So what are you going to do with the glut this year?
The best advice is to make all manner of tipples, from soft drinks to herbal teas and wine, and join the latest grow-your-own trend – drinking your garden!
The quickest drink to make is a berry cordial, which can be knocked up in minutes by boiling the mashed fruits with sugar or honey to taste.
After straining the liquid, the summer flavours can be bottled and used throughout the winter. Any number of fruits, herbs and veg can be blitzed into a healthy smoothie. My family favourites include apple and cucumber with mint, and carrot and beetroot with a coriander- leaf garnish.
We also make herbal teas, or tisanes, and find lemon verbena particularly refreshing. Mint makes a good digestif.
Making wine is a skill that you will find worth mastering, and whether you decide to create the classic parsnip wine or a modern fuchsia-coloured beetroot booze, the general rule for making alcohol is the same.
Soak your chosen produce in hot water and sugar, add yeast and leave.
Then, after about a week, and depending on what you’re concocting, you’ll need to strain the mixture through a muslin into a plastic fermentation barrel with a fitted lid and then, in the case of wine, a demijohn with rubber bung and airlock. The brew really needs to be kept at a steady temperature, ideally an airing cupboard, to keep the process going.
Only when the bubbles stop and when the liquid clears – which usually takes around 3-4 weeks – is it ready to siphon into bottles.Vegetable wines take at least one year to develop their full flavour, aroma and most of their qualities, but are often better after two, so patience is definitely a virtue.
Vegetable wines take at least one year to develop their full flavour, aroma and most of their qualities, but are often better after two, so patience is definitely a virtue.
Do a bit of research and you’ll discover recipes that will turn apples into cider within three months.
Getting hold of a good, tried-and-tested recipe is the key to success – plus, of course, cleanliness.
Bacteria will ruin drinks, so it’s essential to sterilise all equipment using Milton liquid – used for sterilising babies’ bottles – and boiling water. For the best seasonal flavours, you can rely on blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries for making a delicious red wine with fruity flavours – and, of course, grapes, which make exceptional wines.
Start a batch now and you could be sampling it by Christmas – but if your wine is still a little cloudy by New Year, do not panic, it should clear by itself given a little more time.
A standard wine recipe uses around 2kg of mashed fruit and makes around 4.5ltr.
You’ll find that most wine-makers often use dried fruit in their recipes to add character and fullness to them – plus to improve fermentation.
Experience seems to show that making wines from root crops, which are naturally sweet but have no acid, also requires the addition of orange or lemon juice and even a measure of strong tea to get things going but the general advice is to wait until after the first straining, otherwise it can lead to very cloudy wine.
To be a brilliant backyard bartender, you will need to experiment if you are to achieve balanced drinks that friends and neighbours will want to sample again.
Start with non-alcoholic mocktails using fresh fruit juices and soda, and add flavour with tasty garden-infused syrups made from a handful of herbs, such as thyme or rosemary.
Once you’ve mastered a good flavour, use the syrups to give vodka a twist, or if you’re still learning, simply bruise a few basil leaves to supercharge a G&T.
Hedgerows, as well as allotments, can provide enough ingredients to make special festive drinks.
Sloe gin is easy to make, simply gather ripe sloes from wild blackthorn trees – the best time to harvest is when you can pop the berries easily between your finger and thumb. Wash the sloes and put them in the freezer overnight, doing this will help to split the skins, allowing them to release their natural sweetness.
Rumtopf is another good choice as it uses up the excess fruit harvests. Put a little bit of everything in season in a layer in the bottom of a Kilner jar and cover with a mixture of one part sugar dissolved into three parts white rum.
Add layers of more fruit as it comes into season, keeping it well immersed in the rum mixture, and store in a cool, dark place for at least six weeks. Remember, it takes time to learn the alchemy to turn surplus fruit and veg into alcohol – but beware the hobby, if not the drink, can become addictive!