How to make cheap wine taste like chateauneuf du pape

ineyard and andy hamilton

Make us a drink Andy

Before I get nasty emails from French lawyers (Like I did off the Champagne lawyers for elderflower champagne),  the only way you can actually make Chateauneuf du pape is to grow grapes in the Chateauneuf du pape commune. Cheap wine will always be cheap wine, but you can make cheap wine staste better.

This technique will help lift a wine, not a mid-range wine, that should taste ok by itself, but a cheap wine. A wine that might even taste better coming up than it did going down. The sort of wine you may have drunk at a teenager or in your early twenties as it was the cheapest and strongest thing you could get your hands on. The sort of wine that you might now turn your nose up at, unless you have already had a few glasses.

If you need to impress but are skint, or if you are simply tight with your money then please read on.

How to make cheap wine taste expensive

The main thing to make cheap wine taste expensive is to give it a story when we think that something is going to be delicious our mouth will react and we will start to salivate. In that saliva is a chemical that coats our tounges and will actually make things taste superior. Presentation is also key, as a little experiment pour the same wine into two containers, a crystal wine glass, and a jam jar. Give it to your partner, mum, friend, dog and then get them to decided which one is the tastier wine.  I assure you that most (apart from collies who love a good jarred wine), will favour the wine in a glass.

The setting can also make a difference if you have every gone into a pub or an off-licence in search of the Greek Lager, that French plonk or that obscure spirit and have been offered something that you swear isn’t the same then you are not alone. A recent study suggests that subtle changes in light, the music playing and of course your mood will all affect how the wine tastes.

Do please hunt out my youtube channel where you will find a bunch of other booze experiments. Such as how to how to make buckfast,  how to make foraged gin, how to make edible shot glasses or stay right here to find the best tip to make perfect sloe gin and other liqueurs.

I’ve also been experimenting with barrel aging and can simulate barrel aging in days rather than years. This means I can make whisky in 10 days, rioca in weeks and Olde Jenever in a week. Should I share the secret?

The fine line between beer enthusiast and beer extremist

The fine line between beer enthusiast and beer extremist

The fine line between beer enthusiast and beer extremist

If it’s not a perfect pint I’m not drinking it

A beer enthusiast is just that, someone who get excited about the topic and the drink. They are people who love every aspect of it. They seek out new beers, perhaps even brew their own. They could be knowledgeable but they don’t have to be and they are, in general, comfortable about what they know. They are happy to share that knowledge with anyone who might be interested and can be great company.

The extremist is a different beast. They could very well be looking at the beer you have in your hand and making all sorts of assumptions about it (and you). They might be telling their extremist faction all about how you served beer, that you paid for, in the wrong glass. They might even be tweeting it. #wrongglasstwat They could even tell you that your choice in beer is simply wrong. I’m sure that they keep a list of all the beers that you supposed to drink or the breweries that are acceptable. Anything that sits outside this remit is wrong.

Both enthusiasts and extremists might know about the alpha acid levels in certain types of hops, or even be able to tell you the level of beta acids. They could even break it down further and tell you each of the members of the alpha acid class of compound and how they affect the taste of your beer. The difference between the two is that the extremist will want to lord this knowledge over you and will perhaps even scoff if you don’t know what humolone is. The enthusiast will gladly tell you.

The evolution of the beer extremist

I’m not entirely sure where the evolution of the two begins. Perhaps it’s something to do with insecurity? Perhaps, when you have tried the best beers in the right glasses you expect everyone to want to try the same. Perhaps there were just not enough hugs growing up. There also the idea that the more someone learns, the more closed minded they can be. This is apparently because they are fixed on confirming what they believe to be absolute. I’m not sure about this and am keeping an open mind. Mind you sometimes perhaps sometimes, some people, can just be obnoxious.

In the beer world I have experienced mostly beer enthusiasts and a small handful of extremists. The very nature of the topic means that you can just have a beer and forget what you were disagreeing about.

It is easy to become an extremist, but next time you look over and see someone drinking out of a can at a party, or pouring a pilsner into an nonic glass don’t pity them or mock them. Instead rejoice as they too are enjoying beer, the stuff you like. Unless of course you want to start and extremist faction?

Pub Facts – Half truths from the pub

What are Pub facts?

Andy Hamilton telling a pub fact

It’s true I tell ya!

Over the course of writing Brewing Britain and throughout my drinking career I have heard many a tall tale, always told most earnestly and always told at least two or three pints into the evening. I’ve started to call these tales pub facts, they sit on that line between total crap and the truth. This is the start of my collection of some of my favourites and I hope that by immortalizing them as the written word these tales and facts will stay alive for a lot longer.

The Animal kingdom – Pub Facts

This pub fact always starts about a friend of a friend and he or she notices that their pet Boa constrictor has been not been eating any food for the last week or so. Slightly concerned they both visit the vet who reassuringly says that the snake is showing no signs of ill health and that as a precautionary method they should keep an eye on it and report back if there is no change.

Being a pampered snake it is allowed to go where it likes in the house and is not kept confined. Just like a beloved pet dog the snake normally sleeps at the bottom of the owners bed. After a further week the snake is still not eating and to add to the strange behaviour it has started to sleep like a human, head on a pillow and outstretched on the bed beside its dutiful owner.

This time an old and wise snake expert who lives down the road is called upon. He solemnly listens to the snake owner as he tells him how the snake has now gone three weeks without eating and is lying prostrate on the bed. Looking alarmed and animated the old and wise expert tells the owner that he must get that snake out of the house immediately as his life is in great danger.

The wise expert explains how the snake is measuring himself up against the owner to ensure that he is long enough to ingest him. Content that he is he is making room inside his belly by starving himself as soon as there is enough empty space, probably in the next day or two the snake will turn on the person that has nurtured him for all of these years and the owner will be slowly digested!

The next day the snake is put down and the owner has a lucky escape.

Andy Hamilton rubbing his chin

Are you sure that’s true

Human Achievement – Pub facts

There is always someone who has done something better, bigger or more impressive than you or I. This collection of stories takes that a stage further and explores the far reaches of human achievement some of the stories question the very fundamentals of what it is to be human.

Food for free

Prahlad Jani is an 85 year old man living in India. Whilst his age is impressive it’s certainly not something of extraordinary merit. What is that seemingly unremarkable Hindu holy man has managed to go without food for the last 70 years. On top of that he says he can walk for hundreds of miles without feeling in the least bit tired.

Instead he had trained himself to get all of his energy from the sun hitting the back of his throat. He needs only open his mouth for 20 minutes a day facing the sun and he is fully sated.

A few years ago NASA got wind of this and were of course very interested. This could make a huge difference to space travel, imagine if astronauts didn’t have to eat anything. Think of the possibilities, we could live on other planets and not have to worry about growing food, we could use the stars to feed ourselves. Under the guise of a press conference, allowing the worlds media to also be present to keep everything under wraps, NASA persuaded Jani to be put under lock and key for two weeks without any food or water in order to run a series of experiments on him. He agreed and after two weeks without any nourishment he said, ‘I am strong and healthy, because it is the way God wants me to be.’ He put his ability to go without food down to a religious experience he had at age 11, when he decided to devote his life to the Hindu goddess Amba. In return Amba feeds Mr Jani with an invisible ‘elixir’ that gives him everything he needs.

NASA could only conclude that this man was an evolutionary mutant. He was the next step in human being, something we could become. They also concluded that he was lying about his age and that this man was over 200 years old. They are currently looking for astronaughts from around the Indian sub continent.

Half my lies are true – Dennis Hamilton, 1823-2004

Man who hasn’t slept

There is a pig farmer living in Vietnam called Thai Ngoc who in 1973 came down with a fever. He never truly recovered from the fever as it robbed him of the ability to get a decent bit of shut eye and as such for the last 40 odd years (and they have been odd), Thai hasn’t slept a jot of sleep. He has tried everything from sleeping pills, mediation to drinking until blackout. Nothing works.

If you or I went for longer than a couple of nights without sleep we would start hallucinate and possibly start losing our mind too. Thai seems to suffer no ill affect from his lack of slumber, both physically and mentally. Indeed, he can even carry bags of rice weighing the same weight as a grown man two miles every day.

The 256 year old man

Anyone who has ever studied Tai Chi will be away of the benefits. Greater relaxation, higher levels of fitness and suppleness but your £5 a session down the local village hall could be adding years onto your life, 200 years to be precise. A fella called Mr. Li Qing Yun who was born right back in 1677 and lived through the reign of nine Emperors until 1933 would testify to that. He also put down his longevity to a drink of “wolfberry juice” that he had every day. Also known as gogi berries these berries do indeed contain a whole host of good stuff for lowering cholesterol, removing toxins and helping to maintain good functioning of the organs.

Perhaps mine should be a pint of gogi berry juice next!

Let me know in the comments below if you liked these pub facts as I have a load more!

Turin Day three

One Andy Hamilton, one cup

One Andy Hamilton, one cup

Turin Day three

We two are now three and we have so far managed to just about re-film what we have shot yesterday in the rain, meaning that much of yesterday was a write off. Such is the nature of this stuff.

What has changed is the feel of the city, the grey bleak curtain of weather that cloaked the city in its misery has lifted to reveal the old men that are the Alps. They rise above any man made structure, rubbing out time and structure in their wake. The wall that was our spirits captor yesterday has now become a small ribbon placed at the base of natures majesty. Indeed, it is perhaps even more than that the wall has become our navigation marker on the walk back to our apartment, we perhaps even welcome it.

Good to see an old friend, but this is always the case. I’d like to be philosophical about it and say that as I grow older I appreciate friends more. But I believe I always have, there is something to be said about how the as you reach the third and then fourth decade in this existence that you appreciate just hanging out. In normal life, especially if you don’t really have any work colleges, when do you actually just hang out. Speaking shit and just really doing nothing. Everything becomes pre-arranged, diarised becomes a word that you use. So, it’s good to just hang out.

It’s nearly 10pm and the day’s work is not over yet, we are off out with Owen to drink and to film it. Now, is this what I want to do for a living, drinking with mates. I guess it beats working….

A little taster of the Turin/vermouth doucumentary

Ok, its really early days and not everything has been filmed that we need, but here is a tiny 10 second outake of the documentary. The person on the left is Owen.

Turin day one

man with balloons

Feel the vibe

Over Easter week I produced (and starred in) a documentary about Vermouth. It is in the editing stage but here is the start to the four diary accounts I kept during that time.

There is a feel to mainland Europe, its freedom, its culture its influence. It spreads down from Germany in the north and influences as far south as Morocco and North Africa in the South and it stretches across to Israel in the east, its influence can be felt across much of Eastern and Northern Europe yet it bypasses Britain. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, apartment living maybe, wide tree lined boulevards littered with cafes and cigarette machines; yet its none of those. It’s in the air, its in the blood and the bones of its inhabitants. It has a character that differs from the rest of the world, yet is part of that too. I can try and weave a sentence or two to grasp it and I’ll never get to the core, a mystique a magic a feeling or if I was so inclined a vibe.

And here I sit in the heat of a spring night, the vibrancy of a European city all around, wine opened and being drank on the table and a week ahead of more of the same. I feel at home and alien to it, the dichotomy of my makeup fighting amongst itself.

This is Turin, much like Toulouse or Antwerp at first glance and this is all I’ve had. A few streets, the taxi journey from the Airport, excited exchanges between two languages. Yet the beauty of the alps are on the doorstep, the tall magnificent old men. They hold 10,000 years or more of human happiness, of awe, beauty, amongst them live the spirit of generation, of cultures that have fought changed, come back to where they started.

Perhaps this is what Britain can never have, perhaps the line of these markers of the last Ice age, the last of mans great struggles with his own mortal right to this beings existence.. That’s what’s missing. A shared joy, a knowledge of something larger than our consciousness.

Unethical Alcohol?

Brewing Britain - Quest for the perfect pint

One of my unethical books

If you have never read this blog before nor come across my work then, for the sake of transpancy, I have to disclose that I have a vested interested in all things booze related before I go on. I’m a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and all three of my published works from the first cult classic, The Selfsufficientish Bible, the best selling Booze For Free to latest critically acclaimed (and soon to be best selling) beery exploit Brewing Britain. So indirectly, I have proudly earned a living from alcohol for the last few years.

I say proudly as I am proud to earn a living from alcohol as, I think alcohol can be wonderful for us humans. Alcohol has  been with us since our species evolved, possibly longer as some primates enjoy and drink and it acutally can do us a lot of good. This is why it winds me up when alcohol gets  called unethical in the press.  Take the recent Comic Relief scandal for example; they have had their wrists slapped for investing money in unethical businesses and what were these unethical businesses?  Well, the arms trade, ok fair enough,

fidel castro

Castro with an ethical cigar

tobacco yes again that is unethical and lastly alcohol, what you talking about Willis! To bunch alcohol up there with tobacco and the arms trade is like bunching Hitler and Kim Jong Un with Castro. Ok, so Castro might have made some enemies, just as alcohol has with some religions. But you know, he certainly isn’t a power crazed tyrant (well in this writers opinion anyway)!

I’m not saying that there are not people out there who’s lives haven’t been devastated by alcohol. Of course there are alcoholics, but of all the people I have met who have a drink problem I know many, many, many, many more who can have a few drinks and who don’t find it a problem. It seems unfair to alcohol to say that its unethical because of these few people.

If we look at government statistics around 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK who are problem drinkers.  Seems a lot until you break that down, the vast majority of these are people who, “feel need to share a bottle of wine every night” . What this figure also fails to say is that it’s not necessarily booze that is the problem but the reason that people hit the bottle harder than perhaps they should. Such as high levels of social deprivation, joblessness and other social factors. Therefore we could argue that austerity cuts are far more unethical and bad for our health than alcohol. Making the chancelor a can of Special Brew!

Still, it’s far less complex to point the finger at alcohol. But imagine if back in the 1980’s we demonised glue because of the glue sniffers, bemoaning people for investing in glue, perhaps getting anti glue movements. Protesters could give out nails, drawing pints (tin tacks) and string to stop people using glue to stick things. Protests would form outside DIY stores and stationers. We don’t because that would be preposterous and so is demonising alcohol as alcohol in general is a force for good.

I’ve been to parties with very little alcohol, parties full of quiet introverted people keeping to their corners, rubbish parties. Take the same people and add beer, after a pint or two I’ve seen the lines between these ranks dissolve and I’ve seen people smiling and having a good time. Alcohol, has helped the akward since time began. Alcohol too can be good for us, it has used to aid digestion for centuries and there are studies suggesting that red wine helps reduce harmful oxidixed fats known as malonaldehydes, (or MDA) it also reduces the signs of aging. I can’t say that I’ve read a study that says guns and fags (cigarettes) are good for you health nor does a gun fight help the social akward, unless killing people gives them the peace they prefer!


An unethical pear

Unethical beer might be a fair target after all it does give you a beer belly, well no it doesn’t. Beer is fat free, cholesterol free and low in Carbs according to this article.  A pint will have around 7g of carbs and a pear around 26g. Are pears unethical then?

We have to question what  it really is that alcohol has done wrong? You know I can’t really fathom it and so I’m off to find a group of like minded people to stand outside B &Q with placards that say, “down with glue”, or “stick it to the sticky stuff” as, if alcohol is so bloody terrible, then perhaps glue is our enemy too? Perhaps Castro will join me.

Beer and babies a match made in heaven?

beer in a baby chair

Congratualtions its a beer!

I will admit that there are a few obvious reasons why beer and babies might not necessarily be the match made in heaven that I am about to suggest. Firstly, all that beer or wine hanging around can easily be drank both by parent and child. Rather than just mutter some sort of recognition to that fact under my breath I feel I should at least nod to responsible drinking and the virtues of the word “no” in response to a child wishing to make their way through your stash. I should also state that it’s illegal to give booze to the under 5’s. Of course I’m also not that I’m suggesting your next bit of family time for the over 5’s involves Peppa Pig drinking games or that you call your next brew a child friendly Iggle Piggle pale ale to consume only “in the beer garden”. No, I’m simply suggesting that there are some transferable skills that the good brewer will develop.

Firstly, cleanliness almost to the point of obsession. Anyone who has rendered a day’s work and a big pile of money into vinegar will almost certainly have learned the hard way that bacteria can really mess things up. As of course too will anyone who has a baby that has caught a stomach bug. The brewer will not only know which methods of sterilization work the best for them and which products to use but they will have them in quantity. Star san, for example, is approved by the FDA and is great for sterilizing bottles and Milton here in the UK can be used on beer bottles as well as baby bottles.

That said, your child is not the same as a batch of beer (breaking news) and will not only cope pretty well with a bit of dirt but they may even thrive on it. Just be sure not to let your child play with a raw chicken or let them lick the toilet bowl and I’m sure they will be ok.

Beer wasn’t brewed in a day, it takes patience to make a decent beer. A brew day is called

Sleeping like a baby

sleeping like a baby

so as it does take about a day to make an all grain beer. That’s quite a bit of dedication. What you don’t always hear about babies is that at first you might get it wrong and your baby will tell you so. You have to be patient to sit through a marathon 4am windy/colic session. It is extremely rewarding being a parent but you do have to be patient to be able to sit through the worst and appreciate the best.

A good brewer will have a great eye for detail and will know that doing something slightly different like treating the water, tweaking the hop schedule, using a different yeast or brewing at different temperatures can often make the most amazing difference. As too can doing things a bit different with your child; many things that we take for granted are totally new to them. Saying hello in as many different voices as possible seems to keep my baby fascinated for hours!

The eye for details carry onto the fermenting stage too if you want to brew good beer. In the first few weeks of my son’s life too I had 3 batches of beer brewing. This means I wanted to keep the house at 20°c-22°c (68 to 72 °F). And what’s the ideal temperature for a newborn? 18-20°c. Funnily enough my beer ferments in the room at will also become the nursery when my son gets his own room, which means I am already adapted at keeping that room at the ideal temperature whatever the weather.

But brewers also have a last very valuable skill, they know how to love one of their own creations. None of us would continue to brew if we didn’t love what we made, that’s not to say that we don’t some just love the process. But watching your beer or baby being enjoyed by friends and family. Seeing the joy he/she or it brings to them (not to mention yourself) is a great feeling and when you remind yourself that it would not be possible without your input then it can be all the more fulfilling.


Sloe Gin and the Shameful history of Britain

Sloes by Roy


Imagine the first ever sloe gin ever made and you might picture a chocolate box Tudor Britain. Perhaps a pastoral scene an adorable old lady returning home with a wicker shopping basket full to bursting of sloes, carving off a sugar from a sugar-loaf and mixing it all with a spot of gin in a massive earthenware pot whilst her herbs dry and carefree children play amongst the fallen leaves.  It’s the sort of image that sells Britain to the world, a charming timeless autumnal event.

However, looking at sloe gin’s history it may not be the twee, country drink it first appears to be. The existence of every ingredient in sloe gin involves some of the most shameful aspects of British History.

There is good reason that it is difficult to find a source that mentions sloe gin before late into the 18th Century as the three principal ingredients were not in abundance until Britain started to flex its muscles both internally and abroad. Gin itself took off in a big way in the UK during the early part of the 18th Century after the government did two things, they put a heavy-duty on imported spirits and allowed unlicensed gin production. This helped start the so-called “Gin Craze”, famed in Hogarth’s Gin alley hogarthGin Alley engraving. Londoners on average were supposedly drinking up to 14 gallons of gin a year, that’s the equivalent to 10 shots a day for every man, woman and child! More often than not this gin would have been very low-grade home distilled stuff. I’ve tried various “moonshines” made in a similar way and all could have done with something to temper the hint of paint stripper.

I’m sure the more discerning gin drinkers would have been looking for something to disguise the taste and there was one chief ingredient in abundance. At the time the slave trade was in full swing and Britain was forcing Africans to work on plantations in the West Indies in order to produce cheaper and cheaper sugar. This meant that sugar consumption increased fivefold from 1710 to 1770. Thanks to the slave trade the price came down and this once rare commodity could even be used by the lowly farmers wife in her tea.

It wasn’t just the sugar that would have been in abundance but the last principal ingredient of sloe gin, sloes! During the 18th century Britain had seen 500 years of inclosure (enclosure) acts. But is wasn’t until 1750-1860, when Britain had an ever-increasing population to feed that thousands of people were kicked off common land so that the ruling elite could profit from it (sound familiar?)

The land that was being enclosed was previously open fields and so thousands of bushes were needed to mark the edges of fields.  Preferably too bushes with an inbuilt defence namely, hawthorn and blackthorn. Of course the fruit of the blackthorn is the sloe this meant all of a sudden there was an abundance of the tart little fruits.

Next time you sit back and drink a glass of sloe gin try to think of the golden age of Britain remember that it would never have got here if it were not for the toil and displacement of countless slaves and the taking away of the homes and livelihoods of our country folk. Essentially sloe gin stands for all that is wrong with England rather than all that is right.

We can’t change our shameful past but we can make a conscious effort to treat the people of the world and the countryside a little better. We can give money to the Woodland trust to ensure that Blackthorn is planted not to keep the common folk off the land but to help our native wildlife, we can buy Fairtrade sugar and ensure a better life for the modern sugar cane farmers and we can even buy organic gin supporting a better practice of farming. In short we can ensure that our modern sloe gin is the product of a better world and not an exploitative one.

Straight Glasses help curb binge drinking, apparently

Drinking out of a straight and a curved glass

Drinking out of a straight and a curved glass

Dr Angela Atwood et al* recently published a paper that suggests binge drinking can be influenced by drinking from long straight glasses rather than round glasses. In the study participants were given a glass of lager either in a half or pint round glass or a half or pint straight glasses and a control group were given a lemonade in either glass. Somehow they managed to twist the arms of 160 (I presume) students aged 18-40 to take part in this experiment. According to the Mail and Bristol University the results suggest that Glass shape influences how quickly we drink alcohol.

Participants were 60% slower to consume an alcoholic beverage from a straight glass compared to a curved glass. This effect was only observed for a full glass and not a half-full glass, and was not observed for a non-alcoholic beverage

It’s a worthy study, although you wouldn’t think that if you read the comments on the Daily mail website! When I think about my own binge drinking antics I have observed that there are often other more influencing factors at work. To stay with the idea of glasses then my experiences in Germany spring to mind. Each region serves their beer in different sized and shaped glasses and when I was in Cologne, for instance, my lager was served in a small straight sided glass holding 200ml (just less than a third of a pint). It was very difficult to binge drink with glasses this size, what’s more most of the drinking was happening in a relaxed atmosphere sitting down in bars and restaurants. Everyone around me was drinking moderately and so there seemed no urgency to drink quickly.  Hamburg on other hand was a whole different matter, on the Raperbarn (famous Hamburg street) beer was being served in pint glasses and people were drinking on the streets, on public transport and in local parks. The atmosphere was electric and the booze was cheap. In this atmosphere it was almost impossible not to get drunk as a lord.

From this experience the glass was indeed part of the problem but not just the shape, the size and the atmosphere in which it was served in too.Perhaps the decline of pub culture and the rise of cafe culture in this country will see us making more of a change in our drinking habits than just the glasses we drink from.


* For those non Latin speakers “et al” simply means and all, its academic speak when there is more than one person on the paper but they are not named. Often, it means they are undergraduates in this instance I just think it makes better reading to have one name sorry – Nicholas E. Scott-Samuel, George Stothart and Marcus R. Munafò