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Booze for Free is a book that I bought some time ago from The Book People. It is also available from Amazon at the time of writing at £7.19 for Hardcover or £4.68 on kindle.
It is quite a chunky little book coming in at around 330 pages.
My husband and I are quite keen home brewers/drink makers and have a number of books on the subject. What appealed to me about this book particularly is the 'free' part, that is that there would be some focus on how to successfully forage - something I know shamefully little about even though I am surrounded by some lovely countryside.
The book is separated into 3 parts - The Basics, The Recipes and lastly Further Information.
There is an introduction by Hamilton where he talks about how he got passionate about home brewing .
The Basics section goes for 80 pages and talks about the origins of beer and winemaking. He goes into some detail about the equipment that you woill require as well as 'best practice', that is how to adequately sterilse, pack and store your booze. This vcan seem a bit expensive and intimidating to start with so you really do have to think about whether this is a hobby that you can see yourself continuing with. He touches on foraging as regards safety tips and where the law stands on it. He finishes the section by probiding some basic tips on growing your own. Where this varys from some other books that I have seen is that as a self-sufficiency guru, he likes to focus on things like seed collecting which is not something that I really knew a lot about before.
The recipes section begins with separate chapters for cider making, beer making and wine making. Here he describes the basic ingredients, methods and variations for each of the techniques so that these can be built on later.
From here on in, the recipes are separated into seasons so that you can find drinks to prepare all year round. I will describe some from each section so that you can get a flavour of them.
Spring: Cherry wine, cherry brandy/gin, Dandelion wine, Elderflower cordial, Gorseflower wine, Japanese knotweed ale, 2 nettle ale recipes, pine needle cordial
Summer: Blackberry wine, blackberry cordial. Crème de cassis , elderberry port, Chilli vodka, lavender mead, crème de menthe, sumac lemonade, mulberry liqueur.
Autumn: Acorn coffee, spiced apple wine, Dandelion and burdock (cordial, boozy and ale), damson gin/vodka/rum/wine/cordial, dandelion coffee,pumpkin beer, simple hop beer and wine.
Winter: bay and rosemary ale, rhubarb vodka, rosemary ale, sloe wine/gin, parsnip sherry and wine.
As you can see from the recipes I have described - Hamilton is of the impression that you can make booze out of pretty much anything. The best compliment that I can pay to this book as it has really expanded our horizons as to what kind of drinks we have been making. Typically we had made wine, beer and cider with a few variations but these had largely been from flavourings that you can buy from homebrew suppliers. However, getting this book has coincided with us starting to grow our own produce and obtaining our own allotment so we have been able to experiment a bit.
It has changed the way I look for ingredients to make into drink. Normally I probably would have only tried to make drink if I had a surplus of soft fruits. However last year I was able to make some drink from things like dandelion and nettles which we had in abundance on the allotment. I have found the recipes that we have done to be in general quite successful , although I have had quite a bit of a hand from my husband who is more experienced with making these types of things than me. We had a bit of a glut of blackberries from our allotment so I made a couple of drinks from these.
As we will be growing new things year on year on the allotment I am looking forward to experimenting with this book further. In particular, next year I am looking to make some of the spirits - crème de cassis and crème de menthe as these can be expensive and not altogether easy to source. Knowing that I have a book that will be useful for years to come is quite nice.
I am still a little wary when it comes to foraging as I am convinced I will end up accidentally picking up something poisonous and this book does not give a massive amount of detail about how to identify some of the more unusual plants. As such, you might want to invest in a separate foraging book or at least one of those books that helps you to identify plants. Also, there is a bit of an absence of information about how long the drinks will store for once made. This is less of a worry with alcoholic drinks, but I know from other books that I have on drinks that non alcoholic drinks such as cordial have a relatively short life when bottled, even when put in the fridge. The last thing you want is to make something (and a lot of hard work goes into the prep for a lot of these recipes), save it for a special occasion and then be greeted with growths of mould floating on top of all your hard work.
As you can probably see from my list of recipes, there is a real variety in the stuff that can be made. Whilst it does have a good amount of recipes of standard ones, I do like the fact that it is quite adventurous. Who would have thought that you can make something out of that perennial pest Japanese knotwood? What is good about the variety within is that it means that you have something that will appeal to both beginners to help them master the processes involved, and also for more experienced brewers who want to do something more unusual. Everything that I have made has turned out well which obviously gives me a bit of confidence when it comes to experimenting further.
One thing that did make me laugh was a couple of very unusual ones at the very end of the book - one entitled Holy Water and one called Prison Beer. The first made out of marmite, the second orange juice and bread!
In conclusion, if you have an interest in homebrewing or are thinking of starting, I would highly recommend this book. The techniques are clear and non-intimidating and the variety of recipes is vast and should inspire you to go further with your brewing than you perhaps thought possible.
With the Chancellor adding another couple of pence to the price of a pint, those who enjoy a tipple might well think of making their own booze. For those who decide to go for it, Andy Hamilton's 'Booze for Free' is a highly useful read. Far more than a practical guide to how to brew at home, this book offers countless inspiring recipes using free or inexpensive ingredients to make beers, spirits, ciders and cordials (and more) in much less time than one might expect. Follow these tried and tested recipes, presented with clarity, and you'll have beer within two weeks; if you can't wait that long, you might prefer to try your luck with horseradish vodka which will be ready in a couple of days.
This book should get even the most jaded drinker out of the armchair and into the countryside. Hamilton provides plenty of tips for would be foragers, highlighting the wealth of treasures in our hedgerows, woods and fields. As well as outlining the uses of these various plants and giving advice on how to prepare and use them, Hamilton provides plenty of historical and botanical detail which makes this an on trend genre busting read. For me the only thing missing was some illustrations that might give me a better idea of how to recognise some of the more unusual plants.
'Booze for Free' embraces a lifestyle, or at least an attitude, that is becoming more common; Hamilton writes wonderfully about the countryside and he imparts much of the pleasure that can be derived from sourcing the ingredients and making something yourself. He throws in a few drinking tales and lots of personal experience of using these recipes.
So far I've tried and tasted only recipes for teas and cordials but if they results are as successful, then graduating to beer making is certainly something to look forward to. While you do need to prepare yourself with the right equipment (there's nothing hugely specialist or expensive to find) before you start, these projects are accessible manageable even for people with little or no experience of brewing and certainly less complicated than some of those homebrew packs sold in the shops. Our rosemary infused wine will be ready soon and I'm awaiting feedback on the lavender cordial I recommended to friends who are in the process of setting up their own lavender farm. Homemade crème de menthe is ear-marked for a forthcoming party and eagerly anticipated. I'm not convinced about all of the suggested recipes - despite being a Marmite aficionado I can't find any enthusiasm for marmite wine - but overall this is an eclectic and exciting selection.
What is so great about this book is that the recipes can stand adaptation. Andy Hamilton's ideas really fire the imagination and his enthusiasm is infectious. These recipes are easy to adapt and variations are given for many of the recipes. Besides, once you know the basic techniques for getting the best from the ingredients, you can experiment with your own flavour combinations.
Tips on growing your own produce for use in these drinks are an invaluable inclusion and are given with Hamilton's usual clarity and brevity without leaving any annoying unanswered questions. There's no assumption that readers are fully versed in the art of brewing. There's a comprehensive resource listing places around the country where brewing supplies and equipment can be purchased and a glossary of brewing terms that beats any I've read in more specialist tomes.
'Booze for Free' is one of those books you can pick up and dip into randomly; you can enjoy it without necessarily intending to make any of the recipes yourself but I'd challenge anyone not to be persuaded by Hamilton's enthusiasm. It's required reading for home brewers and it would make a great gift for anyone interested in sustainable living and nature.
Some of Hamilton's recipes have appeared in the Guardian but it's great to have this really comprehensive collection in one volume. It really is one of the most exciting and inspiring non-fiction reads I've found in ages.
With thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
Around two-and-a-half years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to buy my first house. I'm sure anyone who has bought a property can recognise the feelings I went through as I saw house after house in my budget, each one flawed for some reason or another but because this was an entirely new experience, each one still seemed magical to me and I fell in love with a couple. I was on a tight budget, as most people are buying their first home, so went in for a couple of repossessions whilst we waited for the sale to go through on our family property, of which I was the part-owner after investing in some renovations. Unfortunately, paperwork got in the way and I lost out on both properties - I was devastated.
But one day my mother sent me a link to yet another property on Rightmove. I wasn't that sold on it on appearances but I booked a viewing and trotted along after work one day to see it, not getting my hopes up after so much disappointment. I fell in love - and was promptly told that it was already under offer. I was devastated again, but now more so, and thought that my dream house was gone forever. Until I had a call from the estate agent three miserable days later, telling me the existing bidder had backed out, and the owners wanted a fast sale. Was I still interested?
To cut the rest of this story short, I became the proud owner of this house that I fell in love with. Now, one of the reasons I fell in love with it was that it had a garden which was both tiny and also decked entirely with wooden steps and balconies, with containers built in for minimal plants. I was not a gardener. My mother loves gardening. Flowers, spuds, anything. She's great with them. I never cared. To me it was all boring. Until I became a bit "foodie", and this turned into a growing obsession with healthy, great tasting raw ingredients. So suddenly I had the perfect home with it's massively work-free garden and I realised....I wanted to grow my own food. Whoops.
So I went to stay with mum and googled local allotments, found a society, rang them up for a chat and got on the waiting list. Then I started a tomato plant or two at home, forgot about the allotment (I was told there was a massive waiting list and convinced myself it would never happen) and managed to grow some very nice cherry tomatoes, three bulbs of garlic and a courgette plant that flourished before being eaten over night by snails and their evil friends. I carried on working long hours, being a workaholic and tried not to think about it too much.
Last year, about February, I had a missed call and a voicemail - again, long story short, I was offered an allotment spot. Having genuinely forgotten about my application, I was overjoyed. The allotment, however, was overgrown! At the same time my mother, with whom I'm very close, started to think about moving to where I'd been taken by work, as we're the only family each other has. So last year was a big transitional phase, but towards the end of the year I'd completed my first summer as an amateur allotment gardener, and my mother had finally made her own property move to live near me - and in time for Christmas. So I decided to spoil her rotten at Christmas and indulge her in her passion of gardening, as she now has a massive garden that needs entirely reworking and was getting frustrated having moved just before winter and thus being unable to do little about it. One of the things I bought her was a hardback book, Booze For Free, by Andy Hamilton, as she used to brew her own beverages when she was younger, as did my grandfather. So, after that hefty intro (sorry!), here's the review, as I couldn't resist a read myself...
Booze For Free is currently available for £6.99 on Amazon new. ISBN code is 978-1905811700. When I received the book I was delighted with the quality of the production; the hardback book hasa lovely, smooth cover with quirky cartoony illustrations in the style made popular by River Cottage and Jamie Oliver. It claims to be "the definitive guide to home-brewing, hedgerow and garden, wines, sherries and liquers, beers, ales and porters, ciders and also cordials, teas and other soft drinks". Perfect for what I was looking for as a gift.
Andy Hamilton actually filmed an intro for the book on it's Amazon product page, if you're curious. He dedicates the book to "all those people I have enjoyed a drink with, and to those I have yet to enjoy a drink with". He wrote this book in 2011, and is a founder of the Bristol Brewing Circle and co-creator of selfsufficientish.com as well as writer of a wild drinks column for guardian.co.uk. In short, he is an expert on living off naturally growing food, has consulted on TV productions and basically just damn well knows his stuff! He is also co-author of The Self-Sufficientish Bible.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
I had high hopes for this book, and effectively it is a recipe book, but with the nature of homebrewing being that recipe take months if not years to produce, this is a review about the book, the quality and variation of the recipes that I perceive, and the writing style rather than the recipes - not least because it's still too early to grow the things I want to use to make the drinks listed!
But it's the first sunny day in spring, birds are cheeping outside my window, I've just planted a herb garden and I thought I would pour a glass of wine and share my experience of this book with you lovely people, as I have found it to be a charming read.
First we have 'The Basics'. This is Part One of the book. Here, Hamilton explains a "short history of booze", then elaborates on how to produce your own; he covers equipment, terminology, some interesting old laws referring to foraging, the best methods to produce your own beverages ad notes on ingredients and growing your own food.
Then, we move on to the "good stuff" - the recipes. First of all this is broken down into the making of ciders, then beers, then wines and the into seasonal groupings, which makes the book a handy reference as you can drop into the season that you are currently experiencing, rather than find a recipe and realise that you can't even contemplate starting your brew for six months, let alone tasting it.
There is also a section on problem solving, before Part Three - Further Information. This is a really useful section which includes a directory of equipment suppliers, suggested further reading and websites, glossary of terminology for both brewing and gardening, before acknowledgements and the index.
DID I ENJOY IT?
I have to say, I really did enjoy this book. First of all, it made a lovely, quirky gift, is beautifully produced and presented and looked lovely both wrapped up and when on the shelf.
Secondly, Hamilton writes very well. He is not pretentious, nor does he let himself go off on technical tangents or come across as condescending - despite his clearly extensive knowledge of his subject matter, he writes with the reader in mind. He is also witty, and his prose is littered with amusing and informative asides about old laws, the history of the subject, the perils of insects and pretty much every aspect will often inspire his humour to come through his writing style.
He also lays out the recipes clearly and easily, referencing the establishing technical chapters regularly so you always feel that each of the recipes (even to me, a home-brewing virgin) is achievable. He is thorough on establishing the health, safety and hygiene requirements of producing your own home-brews and although each recipe is approached thoroughly, they are simple enough to be short and concise without seeming dull - and he makes it clear that as your life as a home brewer progresses you will change recipes and invent your own as your personal tastes dictate.
Hamilton also stresses safety on a regular basis - the importance of not producing something for consumption unless you are absolutely certain of it's variation, species and edible status.
ARE THE RECIPES ANY GOOD?
As I said above, I can't say that I have produced one of these recipes yet although I intend to try many. I also intend to make all of mine with home-grown produce, so I can't just go and cheat by raiding the imported veg from Tesco!
Among the most enticing for me are; Lavender Cordial, Blackberry Wine, Chilli Vodka, Pumpkin Beer, Hazelnut Milk, Five Plum Wine and Horseradish Vodka.
As you may have noticed with Hazlenut Milk, not all recipes in this book are alcoholic, although the majority are.
I found that the recipes were, as mentioned before, organised conveniently by season and represented a great mix of the traditional and the more adventurous - but none are presented without a thorough explanation of techniques and ingredients, so they all seem achievable if you can source the plant on which the beverage is based.
SO, IN CONCLUSION?
I love this book! It's charming, it's funny, it harks back to times when people would brew their own beverages, take kids off for walks to pick blackberries and for me is a great reminder of childhood - but now with a boozy twist! It's inspired me to grow food not just for cooking but for brewing and I think that when I have perfected some recipes, however long that will take, the recipes will give me a great starting point for most things I can grow, and hopefully product great gifts for the people I love.
Thoroughly recommended, and even if you never put it to practise, it's still an informative, funny and down to earth read. Five stars for me.