Booze for free!

There may be no such thing as a free lunch but it seems free booze is another matter

I was given this book of recipes that use foraged materials by a chum out of the blue because, whereas he admits he’s lazy, he knows I’ll give the recipes a go and then he’ll be able to share the fruits of my labour. Bless him!

It seems that everybody’s doing it. Foraging. Again. It never ceases to amaze me that foraging can become ‘en vogue’ when to me it makes common sense and people have been doing it for years. Mind you I’m always stunned when people I know won’t touch anything that doesn’t come in a Waitrose wrapper. However, along with the fad for foraging has come a flutter of classic reprints and publications from a generation adopting a fresh approach to old wisdom. And Booze for Free is a welcome addition to my culinary-cum-foraging kitchen bookshelf.

The book describes itself as “the definitive guide to home brewing” from hedgerow and garden, and with more than 100 recipes it pretty much is. Andy’s personable approach is very hands on and practical but never patronising. Usefully the book opens with chapters on the basics of foraging as well as handy gardening tips, before explaining how to make your own wine, sherry, beer, ale, porter, cider, perry, tea and fizzy drinks. Something for every palate.

The book follows each season, which is handy not just for looking things up but also for planning to create your stash of hooch. The book’s light style makes it feel as if it’s been written by a mate, and it’s an easy book to browse through and casually absorb information from. Andy gets quickly to the point of “how to do”, “what works well”, “where to find” and most importantly “how long each process takes”.

The informal approach makes it seem as if the author is having a dialogue with you and that makes the doing less daunting. I feel good about myself already knowing I have sloe gin (freeze the sloes), rhubarb vodka and elderflower bubbly already on the go. These processes are so simple and once achieved provide the confidence to get stuck into making more intricate moonshine, something I’m particularly looking forward to.

The more technical issues of home brewing are eloquently and succinctly described.  There is a comprehensive glossary of brewing terms as well as a guide to home brew suppliers, although as the brilliant and local Bung Ho Brewer’s shop is not included I’ll give you their details: 76 Norman Road, St Leonard’s TN38 0EJ, Tel 01424 437045.

If there’s one thing that niggles me (aside from not including the vermouth recipe mentioned on Radio 4’s The Food Programme) it’s the fact that the book is not illustrated. As a novice, I like to have a good photo or an illustration so that I know what I’m looking for, something that is done so beautifully in Roger Phillips’ Wild Food. However, Hamilton’s informal and informative approach, and the title Booze for Free, make the idea of foraging and brewing enticing and ultimately accessible and I heartily recommend it.

Booze for Free by Andy Hamilton, published by Eden Project Books 2011.

Timberlina aka Tim Redfern, erstwhile gardener, forager (and drinker!) about Rye and sometime mysterious bearded drag lady