Andy Hamilton is one of the UK’s leading authorities on foraging and home brewing, regularly appearing on radio and TV, including the BBC’s Autumnwatch. He runs the popular website selfsufficientish with his brother Dave and is the author of one of our home brew bibles, the award winning Booze for Free. Andy kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our pressing questions…
You’ve done a lot to resurrect the current interest in foraging and home brewing. How did you first get into self sufficient booze making?
I don’t know if I’m deluded or humble but I never think that I really have too much to do with adding to trends or resurrecting current interests. I just like to write, talk about, and teach the things I enjoy and am pleased if people will listen. It’s what I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. In fact my mum and dad came to visit recently and I asked them about ginger beer making – it would seem that I’ve been a brewer since the age of about 6!
Growing up my mum was a student and my dad brought in less than the average wage. There were 5 of us in all and a dog, so money was fairly tight. It was just a way of life to make things.
As I grew up the sheer alchemy of brewing appealed and I’ve always liked to experiment. It’s kind of developed over the years to what I do now.
Do you have a favourite homemade wine that you regularly return to?
I get asked this a lot and its a very difficult question as I love different wines at different times. It’s kind of like saying what’s your favourite book or song. That’s not to say I don’t have favourites. Just recently I opened a bottle of elderberry and grape made from grapes and elderberries foraged from a spot in Bristol. It was 2 years old and I think it rivaled many of red wines that I tried last time I was in France.
Also I did the Titchmarsh show recently with Jilly Goolden (from The Food and Drink Show) and we tried a parsnip wine and an elderberry/sloe wine. Both were very good and both were arond 3 years old. If you have the patience most wines can become great if left for at least a year.
And any you have vowed to never make again?
Ha, the disasters! Well, I never say never as a recipe can always be tweaked and, as I said above, a wine can always be left for while. I will, however, never make yarrow cordial again. I’m not sure what I was thinking but that has to be one of the worst things I’ve ever made.
We recently made some wine out of pea and bean pods. It’s early days, but it’s not shaping up too good. We’ve noticed that you don’t cover this in your excellent Booze for Free book… is there something we should know?
I was asked to supply a recipe for pea pod wine for a book I contributed to once, so I have to be careful what I say about it. What I will say is that just because you can make wine out of things doesn’t mean to say you should!!
The book does feature a recipe for beer made from sweetcorn stalks, which we’re tempted to try. Where did that idea come from?
I was very interested in the idea that you could grow a beer from scratch and really have booze for free, so I started to look around to find what plants have natural sugars. Corn stalks do – imagine how much sugar gets wasted! It seemed like an excellent idea to turn what would have been a waste product into a beer. It’s quite a labour intensive process though, and much of the corn stalks that you can get your hands on in this country are quite low in sugar, so you need a lot. Best of luck – I’d be very interested in hearing how you get on.
Small commercial breweries and cidermakers are becoming much more commonplace. Are there any pints you’re especially enjoying at the moment?
Yes, there are tons. My next book, Brewing Britain, is about beer so I’ve been traveling the country visiting homebrewers, breweries, pubs, beer festivals and beer lovers looking for the perfect pint. There are some that have really stood out such as Waen Brewery’s Chlli Plum Porter and their Llager, a heavily hopped lager, a beer made from real chocolate from a home brewer in Brighton and Williams bros make a Tayberry Beer that is excellent. Then there are breweries such as Tiny Rebel Brewery, Norwich Brewery, Oakham, Ilkley, Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Arbor Ales and Harviestoun who simply make excellent beer.
Finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to a novice wine or beer maker?
I’d like to offer two if I may. Firstly, always, always sterilise and rinse your equipment thoroughly, and never underestimate the importance of choosing good yeast.