How to brew by Booze for Free’s Andy Hamilton

I’m convinced that human civilisation was founded on beer and started when we first learned how to brew a beer. A far-fetched claim, perhaps, but there’s evidence to back it up. Around 16,000 years ago, our ancestors first started to cultivate grain and is it too much of a leap to suggest we only did this in order to brew a beer?. As, at the same point in our history, the first beers were starting to appear, probably made from that very grain. These beers were developed by the Sumerians, who lived in what is now southern Iraq.

Spruce beer with little cones in front

Photograph Courtesy of Roy Hunt

Such beverages were crude compared to modern standards and, served in vast jugs, they were drunk through reed straws as the beer in the jug was still fermenting.By 10,000BC, the first written ‘words’ were appearing on clay tablets – among them a first recipe for a sort of bread that can also be made into a beer. Thus, one of the first recorded writings in human history was for homebrew.

Although the brewing process has become more sophisticated, the enjoyment derived from sharing a batch of homemade beer with friends remains reassuringly the same thousands of years later.

So why brew your own beer? For many homebrewers, it’s the cost. Back in January, the average cost of a pub pint rose above £3 for the first time. I can brew beer for 40p a pint.

Secondly, I’d say flavour. When I was younger I used to drink supermarket lager and I had long-assumed that lager tasted better than ale and it was (and is) incredibly cheap – you pay more for bottled water.

Now, of course, I cannot believe what I was missing. As soon as I was introduced to the world of beers, ales, porters, bitters, stouts, milds and even properly conditioned lagers, I realised that beer had a range of wonderful flavours and subtleties to rival wine. My quest to make the finest beer has become an obsession.

Thirdly, homebrew is almost certainly better for you and lower in calories than any mass-produced beer or lager on offer. It doesn’t contain any additives and you know exactly what’s gone into it. I find it odd that we British consumers have become so anxious about what we eat that we want to know what field our Sunday roast was born in and who its grandmother was, yet when it comes to beer we don’t have the same considerations.

Lastly, there is great satisfaction to be had from using home-grown or foraged ingredients. They are natural, local and sustainable. And from an environmental perspective, to reuse a barrel or bottle five or more times is far better for the planet than a new bottle for every beer, even if you only consider the carbon dioxide released through distribution. It’s joy all

Making a beer- How to brew


Hops Hops are the flowers of the hop vine; you can find them in the hedgerows from late August to early September. In the wild, the vine will climb trees, reaching 4m (13ft) or more. Commercially, hops are grown up long, sturdy poles and the whole vine is harvested. Hops add bitterness to the wort and aroma to the final beer, which would otherwise be too sweet-tasting. Using hops originally caught on because they inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Yeast Yeast is a micro-organism that is actually a fungus. It feeds on sugar, so when added to a sugar solution, as with making beer, it will multiply and do so until it has eaten all the available sugar, producing alcohol in the process. It will then die off, leaving a sediment.

Malt Malted grains are grains that have been allowed to germinate before the germination is halted with hot air. This turns the grain’s starches into the sugars needed for the fermentation process.

What you need to brew a beer

Getting your homebrew up and running is where most of the costs come in. But with a bit of foraging, it is possible to bring the cost down to practically nothing. The basic equipment you’ll need includes:

1. A plastic fermentation bucket that holds 40 pints (22l), plus a lid. You can buy these from homebrew outlets or health food shops. Or forage a food-grade bucket from a local restaurant – they are often thrown away. 2. A long-handled plastic spoon for stirring. 3. A 40-pint (22l) barrel or strong beer bottles (you’ll need 40 or so). The barrel can cost up to £25 but brown beer bottles can be foraged for free from recycling boxes – ask the owner first – or by asking your local pub for empties. 4. A 2-3m (6½-10ft) length of clear plastic tube is used to siphon the beer into barrel or bottles once it has fully fermented. 5.  A typical brew kit – this one requires you to add 1kg (2lb 2oz) of sugar. 6. Sterilising powder. You can also used crushed campden tablets. 7. Hydrometer – useful for measuring alcohol content but not essential. 8. Measuring cup. 9. Sachets of yeast – these are usually included with a beer kit, see 5. 10. Bottle capper and caps – a simple lever for crimping bottle tops on to your beer bottles. The bottle tops become airtight, meaning you can keep the beer fresh for months or even years. Beer in a barrel will go off within a couple of weeks after being broached.

Sterilise, sterilise, sterilise

Almost every homebrew disaster can be attributed to poor sterilisation. I scrub all my equipment with soap and a cloth, then sterilise it using a powdered bleach (available from homebrew shops). Put a few teaspoons of powder in the fermentation bin and top up with warm water. Leave for up to two hours and then throw in all the equipment you will be using to ensure it’s all sterilised. Rinse everything thoroughly before use.

3 levels of how to brew your own beer …

EASY – how to brew a beer from a kit

A standard kit includes a large tin of malt extract infused with hops and some yeast, and costs around £10. You will need to add your own sugar. Kits around £20 have slightly more malt extract. The difference between the two is seen in the body of the beer – the more refined sugar you add, the thinner the beer.

It is possible to substitute the sugar in the cheaper kit for dried malt extract, available from most homebrew shops. But this seems largely pointless since you would be paying the same as you would for a better kit. I always plump for the £20 kit, as it means you can often choose a beer you like and get brewing straight away. The most recent kit I bought was a St Peters Brewery India Pale Ale and I was extremely pleased with the results.
Method 1. Set 3.6l (6¼pts) of water to boil – always heat more than the recipe suggests, as the water will reduce as it comes to the boil.

2. Sterilise and rinse the fermentation bin and spoon. Stand the tins of malt extract in a washing-up bowl and top up with very hot water. Try to completely submerge the tins. This helps to loosen the malt extract and makes it easier to pour.

3. Pour the malt extract into the bottom of the fermentation bin. Pour over the boiling water and stir quickly yet methodically with a plastic spoon. You need to ensure that all of the malt extract dissolves. If you’re using a cheaper kit, at this stage you will stir in the sugar.

4. Top up with cold water to the desired amount. If you require a stronger beer, top up with less than recommended, or more for a weaker beer.

5. If your kit comes with powdered hops, add it along with yeast once the temperature is lukewarm. Move bin to a warm place for 4-7 days.

6. After this period, ensure that fermentation has ceased. A hydrometer is really useful (see below) but if you don’t have a hydrometer, check that your brew is no longer bubbling.

7. You now need to bottle your beer or put it in a barrel (see above).

MEDIUM – How to brew a Malt extract beer

The next step up from making beer from a kit is known as malt extract brewing. Extract brewing can work out much cheaper than making beer from a kit. It also gives you more freedom to experiment with different malts and hops, thereby giving you more options for the flavours of your brews. I’ve thrown beer-tasting parties with beer made this way and it has always gone down well. At its simplest, malt extract brewing can be just as easy as kit brewing, something I’m sure that kit manufacturers won’t thank me for saying. To make beer, all you need is sugar in the form of malt extract, a bittering agent such as hops, and some yeast. That really is it.

Ingredients 13l (23pt) of water 1kg (2lb 2oz) malt extract 55g (2oz) dried hops 750g (1lb 10lb) sugar or pale dried malt extract Ale yeast

Method 1. Bring half of the water to the boil and pour in the malt extract. Boil this mixture for 30 minutes. Then throw in the hops and boil for a further 30 minutes.

2. Strain the liquor into the fermentation bin and add the sugar or dried extract. Stir thoroughly to ensure that the sugar has fully dissolved.

3. Pour in the rest of the cold water and allow to cool. When the temperature is lukewarm (about 18°C), sprinkle on your yeast.

4. Seal the bin and leave it for a week or until it has fermented (when you have a consistent hydrometer reading over a few days).

5. Place half a teaspoon of sugar into each empty bottle and siphon the liquid into the bottles, ensuring that you don’t siphon in any of the sediment.

6. Leave the bottles for at least 10 days. Then they are ready to drink.

EXPERT – How to brew a beer the All-grain method

Don’t let the word ‘expert’ put you off – once I made beer a few times I started to wonder why I thought it was so hard. In some ways, all-grain brewing is like baking a cake or making a loaf of bread – make sure you get the stages correct and you will get good results. The term ‘all-grain’ basically means all of your sugars that will ferment into beer will come directly from the grain, without taking the short cut of using malt extract. To do so, you will need to undertake a process known as mashing; this means keeping the grains at a specific temperature for long enough for the starches to turn to sugars. You will need a very large boiling pan, however.

Ingredients 20l (35pt) of water (hard if possible) 65g (2oz) Goldings hops 2.25kg (5lb) pale malt 225g (½lb) crushed crystal malt Ale yeast

Method 1. Heat half the water to 75°C and pour into a sterilised picnic cool box. Place the grains into the cool box and put the lid on. Check the temperture, it needs to stay at 65°C, if it dips below then top up with boing water. Leave for an hour. You can use a muslin bag to contain the grains.

2. After an hour, strain the water (wort) into a large pan. Heat another 5l (8¾pt) of water to 75°C and pour this over the grains. Strain this into the boiler. Repeat with the final 5l (8¾pt) of water.

3. Place the hops into a square of muslin cloth and tie up the corners to save mess. Dangle this into the boiler and boil for one hour. Stir occasionally. After an hour, strain into a fermentation bin.

4. Cool as quickly as possible, ideally with a wort chiller (costs about £40-£50). Other cooling options include moving the fermentation bin outside, putting it in the coldest room of the house, or putting it in iced water. When the wort has reached around 21°C, add the yeast.

5. Fit the lid and leave to ferment for between four and 14 days, or until your hydrometer gives a stable reading over a few days.

6. Siphon into beer bottles with half a teaspoon of sugar in them or a beer barrel with four tablespoons of sugar. Leave to condition for at least a week before drinking, preferably 3 weeks.

The Urban forager by Andy Hamilton

Sloes by RoyIt often surprises people when they realise that urban environments can supply a more diverse range of foods than rural areas can. This mass delusion of the bio diverse countryside manifests itself when you see hoards of people flocking to country parks or pulling up on B road lay-bys at the mere mention of wild food on BBC’s Countryfile or Autumnwatch.

Urban foraging vs Countryside

I am not denying that you will get some food from the countryside, when looking for soles or hawthorns for instance the countryside should be your first point of call. Also, it can be simply a good day out with the family if you go foraging together.  What I am suggesting is that, before you do jump in your car or hop on a bus, consider a much more carbon friendly approach to foraging and wild food. That is to nip down to the local park, look on walls down your street and even ask the neighbours if you can help weeding.

Andy Hamilton the Urban forager up an elder tree, foraging by Roy Hunt

Andy Hamilton, the urban forager

Indeed I just have to poke my head out of my living room window on this (the day of writing) a morning in March to see ground ivy which used to be used in brewing in place of hops and can be used in a salad. Ivy leafed toad flax which is a great grazing food as it sets root in on walls and can be eaten as you wander down a street. Some thyme growing in the cracks in my pavement, a window box left over from the previous season giving home to some dandelions, sage, chickweed which can be used in a salad, goosegrass which makes a great detox drink, ribwort plantain that can be used in place of spinach. Finally there is hairy bitter cress which has a great peppery taste and can really jazz up a ham sandwich. Compare these crops to a conventional farmer’s field and you are likely to see just one crop, or if it has just been ploughed perhaps nothing growing at all!

Things are improving with the governments bio-diversity subsidies but the fact still remains that farmland in this country generally consists of huge swathes of mono-crops. Stand up on a vantage point in any county and you are likely to see fields and fields of just one crop such as rape, corn, maize or sugar beet. Even the grass grown for grazing on livestock farms is likely to be planted and therefore only around 3 or 4 varieties will be grown.  Also take into consideration the sheer size of the fields taken up by just one crop.

Urban foraging

Now compare this to the areas plants grow within a city. Cities are not made up of a few fields marked for a few uses they are as diverse as the people who live within them. We have gardens, parks, allotments, golf courses, football pitches and industrial sites all within our city walls.  If you walk around an allotment site or even peer out of your bedroom window to see what everyone is growing you are sure to see a whole host of plants.  This is because thankfully we are all different and so the whole range of tastes are catered for with each garden. When the green thumbs of our isle get into action it is possible to grow plants from all over the world and many gardeners do just that.

Yes, I am oversimplifying things and not mentioning woodlands, country parks, nature reserves, organic farms or even hedgerows around farms. What I am suggesting is that to really learn about wild plants you don’t have to go out and look in the countryside.

In fact a friend of mine who offers paid for forages also and lives on the south east cost, came to Bristol and we walked through an area surrounded by gardens, allotments, a couple of small holdings and a city farm. He was amazed at the number of plants on just two streets. Sure enough the diversity of human activity around this area has a direct correlation with the amount of plants on offer.

This, I think is why I am angered to see gardens being turned into off street parking place, new housing estates appearing on parkland and in place of allotments. Or people selling off parts of their gardens in order to squeeze in a few more houses into areas that already resemble a rabbit warren.  If the government insists that it is helping bio diversity should they not be looking into giving gardeners and allotment owners subsidies as well as to farmers? This could be a step towards preserving some of the plants that could otherwise leave our shores.

Andy Hamilton foraging for urban wild food blackberries

A spot of Urban blackberry foraging

Both the countryside and urban forager too must take a great responsibility to the plants that are around him (or her). Many people that first get bitten by the foraging bug will immediately run out and start tearing up the countryside in the hunger for new tastes. I too was once guilty of this when I found a patch of wild rocket growing by a river not far from my house and I then massacring the whole plant in order to make rocket pesto. It was not until the next year when I saw some wild rocket growing in a place further down river that I remembered this previous patch, I had not allowed any of the plant to go to seed and had deprived it from its sole and rightful purpose in this world, to reproduce. This mistake not only cost the plant’s children their future but it also forced me to walk further for my pesto ingredients than I needed to. This anecdote hopefully illustrates a far greater point, that of conservation.

It is possible to carry on eating wild plants without devastating your local stock. The foragers code suggests that you should leave the plant looking like it did when you first saw it. This means don’t strip all of it’s leaves off, eat all of the flowers pick the whole plant up by the root. In fact it is illegal to dig up the roots of any plant without the land owner’s permission and some rare plants should be left alone totally in order to preserve them.

You must also be very aware that there are some poisonous plants out there, plants that will paralyse you if digested, plants that will cause a slow lingering death and plants that will just make you ill. The old saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, rings true when it comes to foraging and you must always be 110% certain before you eat something that you find.

It is not that difficult to find a forager in your area to get some basic knowledge to get you started, just look out on notice boards, in health food shops and on the internet.  I taught myself using books and the internet.  The wild food section of our book, The Selfsufficientish Bible published by Hodder and Stoughton is set out with the novice in mind giving a brief description of various foods, information on where to look and a few recipes. My othe book Booze for freeOther books that have helped me are the classic Food for free, by Richard Mabey. I would try and source an older version of his book as it is a much better read and goes into more detail than later editions. By far the best Mushrooms guides are by Roger Phillips which have detailed descriptions, edibility advice and great photographs. I seem to collect wild flower guides too which can be found in good secondhand book shops and charity shops ensure that it has the latin names of each plant as many common names can vary.

I found that the more plants I learnt about the easier it became to identify them. I learnt by identifying the plants on my doorstep. I took out my digital camera took a snap and through a process of elimination worked out which each plant was. Over a few years you will be amazed at how many plants you can identify using this method and it can be quite a buzz knowing that you can identify most of the plants in a mile radius from your house.  Happy foraging


Andy Hamilton’s delicous knotweed vodka

At this time of year Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica is growing very quickly – 20cm a day. The top 20cm is the most tender and flavoursome so it’s best to catch it early, before it gets woody. It can still be used at a later stage but you have to peel it.

Glass of Knotweed vodka

Knotweed vodka by Roy Hunt

Knotweed can be found along riverbanks, waste grounds and, frankly, anywhere it chooses. To remove it organically you would have to dig 5m down and burn all the soil. The area I forage for it is huge,about half the size of a football field. It was most likely spread from builders’ waste, as is often the case. Before you know it, a 6ft maze makes it impossible for all around to grow, like a supermarket moving into a small town.

Andy Hamilton with KnotweedGrowing at 20cm a day in April

Knotweed is a controlled substance, so take care when transporting cuttings, and be sure to burn any leftovers to avoid breaking the law.

Knotweed Vodka Ingredients 450g knotweed 750ml vodka 225g sugar Gather knotweed shoots and chop into 3cm pieces, then put into a 1 litre jar. Add the sugar and vodka and seal. Shake well and leave for at least 3 – 4 weeks. Strain back into bottle through muslin/cheesecloth and place in a cool dark place for 3 months.

The discarded knotweed can be eaten and, as it tastes remarkably like rhubarb, works well in a crumble – simply follow the recipe for a rhubarb crumble replacing knotweed for rhubarb, weight for weight.

This article was first published in 2011 on the Observer organic allotment blog

Living with less a course by Andy Hamilton

Living with less

Andy having a wee dram

Rampant consumerism has been targeted as one of the reasons for last year’s riots, we are being sold more and more stuff we don’t need, whilst our abilities to earn money are being taken away and the cost of basic amenities is rising. Something has to change and someone has to help change it, be that change you want to see in the world and join Andy Hamilton bestselling Author of Booze for Free, co-founder of, occasional broadcaster and general skinflint on a truly unique course as he teaches you how to live with less.

The Living with less day course you will be taken round the streets of Bristol and shown how the other half live. We meet in a greasy spoon cafe for a 99p breakfast of burnt toast, cold bacon and overly crispy eggs followed by a ride on the top deck of a bus where we will be regaled by street music played through the modern media of a tiny mobile phone speaker before reaching our destination and workshop HQ, an authentic mobile home on bricks outside a red brick 1930’s terrace house.

The Living with less course will teach the 1% to live like the other 99%. Learn valuable life skills for the city such as how to queue at bank for the whole of your 30 minute lunch break just to be told youcan’t have an extension on your overdraft, how to talk to bailiffs, how to roll a cigarette from an ashtray, enjoying wine from a box, cooking with frozen food and living with disappointment.

There will be a countryside and pursuits element  to the Living with Less course too which will cover how to walk rather than drive, the rubber dingy the new yacht, fishing in canals and which hat to wear at the betting shop.

By the end of the Living with less course you will not feel alienated from most of the world and will learn that most situations can be laughed at.

Andy, having lived on the breadline for the last 13 years is a true hands on expert in living well for less. He brews his own beer and wine, forages and grows his own food, uses cheap cuts of meat, mends his own clothing, favours a bike over a car, adopts a host of energy saving tips in the home and moved into a cheaper house to reduce his mortgage.

Taking bookings now for next April 1st(2013) to secure a place please email

The total course cost for Living with less is £15 million and anything less will be considered a donation. For terms and conditions see small print at the bottom of the page.
















Course does not actually exist and is meant as an April fools joke, however, if you really want to live with less and part with a large sum of money may I suggest donating it to a charity. Such as this one, this one or this one.