Wild Blackberry Wine

Many older foraging books, and my childhood memories of the 1980’s, insist that blackberries are an autumnal fruit rarely seen before the end of August. These days if you wait until autumn to pick blackberries you will be disappointed. The changing climate now means an early August harvest.

Wild blackberry wine

Blackberry wine photography Roy Hunt

For most, the blackberry is the first (and often only) food that will be foraged. It is my hope that it will become as popular to ferment as it is to turn into a crumble, as Blackberry wine is one of the best homemade wines.

Blackberry wine has a robust, fruity flavour and bouquet, while slipping down a little too easily. And start one now and it will be more than ready for Christmas.

Brambles can be found on wasteground, parks, and in hedges. Picking the fruit is not without its hazards, and the thorns make plastic bags a no-go – one snag of your bag and a day’s pickings are lost to the hedgerow. Indeed, it is the thorns that give blackberries one of their country names, “lawyers”; once they trap you in it is very difficult to get loose.

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries taken by Roy Hunt

Blackberries (or brambles) tend to take over wasteground if left unchecked. They can also be found on the edges of parks, in wooded thickets, by railway lines and cycle paths, at field edges and as undergrowth in forests.

2kg blackberries
Half cup of strong black tea
1.5kg sugar
4 litres water
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp pectolase
Red wine yeast
1 tsp yeast nutrient

To extract more juice from the fruit it helps if you keep the berries in the freezer overnight, then allow them to thaw before using. Ensure they are clean and place into a fermentation bin. Crush with your clean hands or a sterilized stainless steel/plastic potato masher. Pour over 1 litre of boiling water and the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the further 2.5 litres of cold water then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Cover, and leave to stand in a warm place for 3 days.

Strain into a demijohn and attach the air lock. Rack after a month and allow to ferment out. Enjoy your blackberry wine with a blue cheesecake.

Elderberry Black and Black

Elderberry Black and Black



There are many cocktails made using Guinness one of the nicest being Black and Black which is made simply by adding a shot of blackcurrant cordial into a pint of Guinness.

As originally the Guinness brewery brewed a porter and not a stout I like to make my variation of Black and Black, an Elderberry Black and Black using a porter instead of Guiness and some elderberry liqueur instead of blackcurrant cordial. One of my favourite porters is made by Anchor brewery and that works very well with elderberries as does Sam Smiths Famous Taddy Porter or for a touch of decidance try and old ale such as Havestions Ola Dubh Special Reserve. To make an Elderberry Black and Black make the drink below and pour a shot of it into a glass full of porter, stout or old ale.

Elderberry Liqueur

A great liqueur on its own, I like to taste my elderberries and have not use much sugar in this recipe. It’s much easier to add sugar than to take it out, so if you do find this drink not to your tastes I’d suggest adding a little more sugar dissolved in 30ml/1 oz of boiling water then cooled.


750ml/1.5 pints of elderberries
750ml/1.5 pints of Vodka
60g/2 oz sugar
The rind of half a lemon

Elderberry black and black

Elderberry black and black (without the black)

Put elderberries into large mason jar and pour all but the last half a fl oz of vodka over them, drink the last half fl oz of vodka and keep the bottle. Add the lemon rind (with as little pith as humanly possible). Seal then shake the jar and put into a dark cupboard for three months.

Pour sugar into the vodka bottle and strain the liquor over the top of it. Shake vigorously and return to the cupboard for at least two months, shaking every time you remember it is there (once a week for the first week then less). After this time it is perfectly drinkable but, if you can manage to restrain yourself, it will improve with age.

Cleavers Juice – A recipe from Booze for Free

Not every recipe in Booze for Free is for booze, there are a number of soft drinks there too and here is one of them Cleavers Juice. I thought I might even add a little video just show how easy it is to make the stuff.

Cleavers can be found growing in areas where the soil has been disturbed. Often on the edges of paths in public places, woodland edges, fields and on allotments. They love full sun or partial shade so won’t be found in areas where cover is dense. Cleavers will grow to a height of about 1.5m/5ft often sprawling at the base of trees and smothering the other plants.

Cleavers Juice 1

cleaversThis recipe is more of a cleavers infusion and requires the smallest amount of effort for a great spring tonic.
A good two handfuls of cleavers
1 litre of water


Large jug
Muslin/cheese cloth


Put the cleavers into a jug and pour over the cold water. Leave overnight to infuse, giving the cleaver a little squeeze whenever you walk past them.

Strain through a muslin cloth/cheese cloth into bottles and store in the fridge. It is ready to drink immediately and will stay fresh for a week. Take three of four wine glasses full a day.

Cleavers Juice 2

For a stronger spring tonic try this recipe. It can be used by the health conscious in place of grass drinks as a lymph cleanser. It is certainly an acquired taste and can be mixed with other juices to give a more appealing flavour.

A good two handfuls of cleavers
1 litre of water

Muslin/cheese cloth

Using the freshest, greenest parts of the plant chop up and put in blender. Add the water and blend until the water and cleavers are cut into very small pieces. Strain and serve immediately for maximum benefit. It can be refrigerated and used throughout the day but you may need to shake before use as it will separate.

Booze walks – Part of the Bristol Walking Festival

Booze walks  –

Please note these walks were in 2014; for more up to date details on my events click on the picture of me to the right. 

Andy Hamilton booze walker

Have a boozey walk with this man

This year, and for a limited time only, I’ll be running two exclusive Booze walks. They are 2 hour long strolls, around the stunning backdrop of Brunel’s masterpiece suspension bridge and through the worlds first heritage site Avon Gorge. Within this majesty we’ll be sipping on something alcoholic, sharing stories of all things boozey, meeting new friends and you’ll get to hear me waffle on about plants and booze.

Due to my schedule I will only be running two of these booze walks this year, so once they have sold out that’s it I’m afraid!

Numbers are limited so to avoid disappointment please do book a place by emailing me. 

More details about these Booze walks

The second booze walk is going to be free and will be part of the Bristol Walking Festival on May 8th and it starts at 16.30 (4.30pm)- THIS WILD BOOZE WALK IS NOW FULL a handful of spaces are left on the 4th May. You will have to book on and to do that please email me. As soon as this walk is full or if you can’t make it don’t worry, you don’t have to miss out as I will be having a lunchtime stroll on May 4th for this I’ll be charging just £ or the price of a cocktail (in some places). Again to book, please email me or use the contact form at the bottom. The Sunday May 4th Walk will start at the earlier time of 12.30pm. Both will start outside the Create centre (click here for how to get there).

What to expect from the Exclusive Booze walks.

I will be sharing some of things that helped inspired my 2 award winning booze books, Booze for Free and Brewing Britain and my Guardian blog.  We’ll  be identifying some of the plants that can be turned into historic ales, delicious wines and sumptuous cordials. I’ll also be happy to answer any questions you might have about brewing in this informal and relaxed atmosphere from elderflower champagne woes, to Slow gin tips and problems with beers. All this and booze!

The booze walks are a celebration to mark my fresh returned from Turin, Italy where I will be making a Vermouth documentary so there is sure to be some added extras about the botanical and brewing process of this understated fortified wine. If you are new to Vermouth it is the backbone of many of the most classic cocktails including the Martini, Negroni, Martinez and Manhattan.

If you like drinking, walking and meeting people the booze walks are an event for you. You know what I’ll even offer you a discount on my signed editions of books Brewing Britain or Booze for Free (or both) if you come along. How does 30% off sound? Hope to see you there.

Things people have said about Andy and his work

“You’ve made Christmas very easy, as I just buy everyone your book” – BBC’s Kate Humble

On drinking some of my wine “Well done indeed Andy, that is really rather good”. Jilly Goolden (whilst on the Titchmarsh show).

“Yours is one of the best foraging walks I’ve ever been on”, Eden project staff.

“Andy is a bright boy but he needs to learn to pay attention in class” – Mr O’Leary, Weston Favell Upper School (1989).


Fruit juice wine

Booze for free front coverPart three in the 12 drinks for Christmas. Part one was T’ej an Ethiopian beer and part two was Bastard Chilli vodka. The aim is to have drinks that will be ready in time for Christmas.

This basic fruit juice wine recipe is one that can be found in my book Booze for Free, and it can be followed at home using household ingredients.

The ingredients below will make a passable, “wine”. For me the beauty of this recipe is that you can pretty much use and fruit juice to adapt to your tastebuds. It is a very crude drink and not at all one that will win any awards. Mind you, I have heard of people making this with the slightly posher juices like Acini berry or Mango and they report some pretty damb tasty drinks so experiment and see what you get after all its not going to break the bank and you will get cheap booze. Actually, you could even use fruit juice that is on the turn for a “freeish” wine.


1.5 litres of fruit juice
6 slices of Wholemeal/brown bread
500g/1 lb sugar


3 litre/6 pint plastic bottle with lid
Old t-shirt
Bucket of warm water or radiator

Place the bread into a bowl of warm water and leave it to soak for 10 mins. Then squeeze each slice so that the water turns to a light brown hue.
Pour the sugar into the plastic bottle, cover with warm water and shake vigorously until it dissolves. Filter the bread mixture through the t-shirt into the bottle and add the orange juice, shake again. Ensure the lid is attached and put the bottle in a very warm place, such as by a radiator or in a bucket of warm water with a pillow or towels wrapped around it. If using warm water then the water will need to be changed every 5-6 hours.

As Carbon dioxide will build up in the bottle it will need to be loosened occasionally (3 times a day) to let it escape. Failure to do this will result in a rather messy and smelly room.

After 5-7 days you’ll have your “wine”. Filter again and serve to unsuspecting guests telling them that it’s an exotic fruit juice wine delight that you picked up from an artisan off licence (liquor store). See if they belive you.

Bastard Chilli Vodka

Chilli vodka

That’s not a scotch bonnet ya wimp

This is drink 2nd in the 12 drinks of Christmas, part one T’ej beer is here.  I named Bastard Chilli vodka as in reality it is nothing more than a bit of a bastard of a drink and you sort of have to be a bit of one too in order to make it and give it out. I’ve made a version similar to the one below but not quite as strong in chillies, more of a double bastard or at least a Bastard2.

The reason for the name should be self explanitory, it burns, not only does it burn but it burns intensly!


10-15 Scotch bonnet chillies
Half a horseradish root chopped into chunks


Sealable jar


Wash and thinly slice the chillies and cut the horseradish into chip sized chunks and put them into a jar. Top up with vodka and leave for 10 days. After 10 days strain and serve. I’d suggest serving to someone who irratatingly and doesn’t stop talking as this should shut them up for a bit!

Wild Summer flower cordial and Pine needle cordial

Wild summer flower cordial

elderflowerAfter a quick discussion with Leo from my favourite cafe. The Duchess of Totterdown in Bristol, I found myself out picking wild flowers around Arno’s Vale and Totterdown so they could serve a localy sourced wild summer flower cordial as part of their summer menu.

I have to say it was a fairly blissful activity as foraging often is, but knowing that I was doing it for someone else who’d be making the cordial with their (now grown up) son gave it real purpose, on top of that it was the first time that Loki  (my 8 month old son) has paid any attention to my foraging antics which he found rather amusing.

Much of the elderflower had gone over, but we managed to find some in more sheltered areas that were still viable. Instead, I found myself picking red clover, wild rose petals, sow thistles (similar to dandelion) and rosebay willow herb flowers. As long as there are enough rosebay willow herb and red clover flowers this will mean that the resulting cordial will be a luscious girly pink colour, suitable for a duchess. About half a cup is enough. The few rose petals give a sweeter floral flavour that compliments the elder. In all I feel that a wild summer flower cordial is better than a straight elderflower cordial in both colour and flavour, but try for yourself!

Wild flower Cordial

Himalyan balsamIf you wish to make your own I really wouldn’t be too prescriptive about how many flowers you use, a hand full of what you find will be fine. In short you are making a syrup that is delicately flavoured with flowers.

Do however, make sure you know what flowers you are picking I have known people to mistake foxglove flowers for Himalayan balsam and pick ragwort rather than sow thistle. Also avoid some of the more bitter flavoured flowers. It can be a good idea to make a small infusion to test the flowers taste before using. Simply pour 10mls of hot water over a few petals in a tea cup and taste.


A pint glass full of your favourite wild edible flowers with all the green bit removed  or for a really floral drink, two pint glasses. (red clover, elderflower, dandelion, sow thistle, wild rose petals, rosebay willow herb, Himalayan balsam are all good choices)
1 sliced lemon
2 tsp of citric acid (OR the juice of a lemon)
1.5 kg/3 lbs of sugar
1.2 litre/2.5 pints boiling water


Small bucket/fermentation bin


Place all of the ingredients in a sterilized small bucket. Pour over the boiling water and stir until you can no longer feel the crunch of undissolved sugar at the bottom of your bucket. Some scum may arise and this should be skimmed off.  Cover with a tea towel or pillow case. Stir now and again over the next 12 hours and then strain through a piece of muslin/cheese cloth into sterile bottles and refrigerate. It is ready to drink immediately and should be diluted to taste. It makes an excellent mixed and goes well with gin.

As with any cordial without preservatives they can have a habit of fermenting, especially in warm weather. This could mean exploding bottles, refrigeration will calm this down as will using a good steraliser such as star san.

Pine Needle Cordial

Andy Hamilton picking pine needles

Nothing like a toilet

When you read most recipes either in a book or online there will be a preamble about it before the author goes into detail about the recipe. That is this bit the bit that gets your tastebuds ready, however there probally won’t be many authors that will tell you that the trouble with their coridal is that the smell might remind you of pine fresh toilet blocks. This is an unfortunate truth about pine (I blame Flash liquid too), however, once you get over that and start to think of the resinous delicate botanical flavours in a good gin instead you might start to forget the toilet block and instead think of a patch of pine tree growing atop an alpine path, a Scottish woodland or a Scandinavian paradise. Pine needle cordial is indeed delious and ridicously simply to make.  Just pick the youngest freshest needles and they will be full of flavour.


50g/2 oz Pine needles
2 tsp Citric Acid
225g Sugar
500ml Boiling water


Large Bowl


Put the pine needles into a bowl along with the citric acid and sugar. Pour over boiling water, cover with a tea towel and leave overnight. Decant into sterilized bottles.

Variations – 125ml/Half a cup of edible flowers such as Himalayan balsam, elderflower or dandelion can be added to the mix for colour and added flavour.  As with many recipes once shared they are developed, award winning chief and friend Leona Williams (of St Werburghs city farm cafe) adds a thumb sized piece of ginger along with edible flowers which works amazingly well.

 In case you somehow missed it, Andy is the author of Booze for Free, the best selling guide to making wines, beers, cordials and teas from wild and cultuvated plants.

Dandelion Champagne

Dandelion champagneThis recipe and 100 others can be found in Booze for free available in the UK and USA.

Although elderflower champagne is a than this cherrished favourite drink during the summer months there are other drinks out there that in my opinion are far superior. Dandelion champagne is such a drink and what’s more the dandelion is very easy to identify and find.  St Georges day (22nd April) is traditionally the time to go out and pick dandelion flowers and this is when they are in abundance. The do flower all year round but up until early summer it will be easier to pick in one sitting.

Have a real hunt around for neglected places as this is where dandelions love to grow. Check meadows, any grassy places such as playing fields and parks, wastegrounds and grass verges. Although I’d be very surprised if you don’t have an abundance of dandelions growing somewhere close to your house unless you live in a desert.

Dandelion Champagne

It can be infuriating waiting for wines to be ready and with most flower wines it is worth experimenting with a champagne first to ensure you like the taste. The complexity of the wine does change from a simple champagne but it is enough to try one to get an idea of what you will be fermenting. What’s more dandelion champagne makes for a thirst quenching distraction whilst you wait for your wine to ferment.


8 litres/16 pints  water
1kg /2 lbs sugar
2 litres/4 pints flowers
4 Lemons. Two for juice and 2 sliced
3 tablespoons mild white wine vinegar


Fermentation bin
Large saucepan/cauldron


Cut the green bits totally off the dandelion heads to avoid bitterness and place into fermentation bin. Boil up half of the water and add the sugar, stir until dissolved. Pour over dandelion heads adding the juice of lemons, vinegar, lemon slices and rest of the water. Cover with a cloth and leave for a week or until it starts to bubble a bit. Since this relies on wild yeast if the bubbling doesn’t happen after 48 hours or to just to be sure that of ferementation add some dried champagne yeast.

Strain through muslin/cheese cloth into swing top bottles and drink after about 2 weeks. A cautionary note, since the champagne will still be fermementing you may wish to place the bottles in the fridge since this will slow down the ferementation process. I also sometimes place my dandelion champange into a demijohn and allow to ferment for a further month, before bottling.

There is more to life than sloe gin – How to make herbal and fruit alcohol infusions out of almost anything

Andy Hamilton with a drink

Cheers from Andy Hamilton

This time of year everyone starts talking about one drink, sloe gin. Indeed, this is the fifth blog post I’ve written about the stuff as sloe gin really has got so popular.

I do love the stuff, but not everyone does. Since penning booze for free  I constantly have a house full of homemade booze and it means that I can be really find a drink for every guest that comes round. It can be a night in itself just working through my infusions and many merry folk have left with smile on their face and stumble in their step after a good tasting session.

But how are alcohol infusions made? What if you have only ever made sloe gin and are a bit scared to try anything new? Well, let me take you by the hand and talk you through each stage of the infusion process so that you too can start experimenting.

Let’s start with the basic sloe gin recipe. The ingredients I generally use are….

750ml/1.5 pints gin
340g/12oz Fairtrade Sugar
500g/1lb sloes
1 vanilla pod (optional)

These are simply left in a jar or bottle in a cool dark place for a few months before being strained to give you your sloe gin; for a full recipe see here. That is basically it for making sloe gin, it’s very, very  easy and once you understand that it’s also very, very easy to tweak the recipe and make something that will wow your friends much more than your own sloe gin.

What is happening to your Gin

Two things are happening to your gin as it sits in your dark cupboard; firstly the flavour from the sloes is being infused into the gin and secondly the sugar is dissolving into the gin taking the edge off the tart flavour of the sloes and making it sweeter. It’s these two basic processes that can be played around with to make other drinks or indeed to tweak your sloe gin to your own tastes. On top of that a very easy change can be to the alcohol that you use and lets looks at that first.

Changing the booze in your alcohol infusion

This is the simplest thing to change when making infusions. It’s worth experimenting, I’ve made sloe rum, quince whiskey, elderberry vodka, Japanese knotweed vodka and a whole host of other drinks. As long as the alcohol content is around 35% or above then fruit can go in and you can make an infusion. Elderberry and sloe Tequila anyone?

Changing the fruit and/or adding herbs and spices in your alcohol infusion

Lovely red currants

Lovely red currants

Again another simple step and any fruit can be used. To give you some ideas lemon infused tequila means you don’t have to suck on a lemon when doing slammers, whole quinces work well in whiskey, blueberry are good in gin, chillies in vodka, ginger in rum and one of my favourites from Booze for Free is elderberry vodka.

You might also want to try nuts and I’ve tried and made infusions using hazelnuts, walnuts and chestnuts.

If using fruit with harder skins like quinces or even sloes then I like to put it in the freezer overnight and then allow to thaw. This helps break down the cellular structure. If using strong flavour such as horseradish or chillies then do take a taste test every few days over the first week as the flavours can become very intense very quickly.

When thinking about quantities then it’s worth thinking about what is going on. To put it very simply, the alcohol is sucking out the essence of your fruit or herb. It takes less time for the flavour to come from chillies (for eg) than it does from a sloe as the flavour is much more intense. This means you can add just 3 scotch bonnet chillies to a litre of vodka and get results, but 3 sloes wouldn’t do much at all.  A very simple way to approach is this is to remember that fruit  will take more time give you its flavour than herbs.

How much sugar to put in your alcohol infusion?

Sugar for alcohol infusionsWhen developing a new infusion it is worth bearing in mind the sugar content or tartness of your fruit. Sloes are very tart and that might be a flavour that you like and so want to use less sugar.  Blackberries have a high a sugar content so again you might want to add less sugar to a batch.

Remember too it’s much easier to add more sugar than to take it away.

If you make an experimental infusion and your lips turn into a cats arse then you may well decide that adding sugar is the best thing to do. You can do this at any stage even after it has infused. Some will disolve the sugar in a small amount of water and pour that in, but this waters down your booze. I prefer to add sugar and shake the alcohol infusion every few days to ensure it disolves.

Around 3:1 alcohol to sugar ratio makes for pretty sweet end result and most people will remark that they like your drink as most people like sugar.

Around 5:1 allows the flavours to come out a bit more but isn’t always to everyone taste

Around 10:1 or not all I find is the best thing for herbal infusion  I found with elderberry vodka, for instance, that just 50g of sugar per litre gave me a rather tart drink that I loved but only around 10% of my mates enjoyed (a poll taken at a party).

A word on changing the sugar

You can use any sugar you like but, as GeorgeSalt commented on my sloe gin recipe post, using something like very dark muscavado sugar might initially give a bitter flavour but after a year or two this will mellow. Darker sugars also taint the colour of the final product so do bear that in mind if making something you want to be light. So for example this will matter more with horseradish vodka than it will do with elderberry gin. 

One of my Twitter followers sarah fuller asked,  “it ok to use honey instead of sugar?”. Well Sarah Fuller, yes it is but it will heavily influence the flavour so really you are making a honey and alcohol infusion. This is fine if you like honey, but not so if you don’t. Personally, I sometimes add just a spoon full of honey to some infusion to give an extra taste dimension.

Let the booze infuse

Let the booze infuse

Let the booze infuse

So once you’ve decided on your fruit and or herbs, the sugar content and your booze it’s time to let them infuse. For this you’ll need an air tight container make sure it is big enough to hold your fruit and booze. I’ve used kilner jars, old jam jars (with plastic lids), vodka bottles and demijohns (although it’s harder to get the fruit out afterwards) and ceramic jars. I’d never use tins or anything metallic or plastic as this can taint the flavour and probably imparts all sorts of nasties into your booze.

Once you have chosen your container and put all the ingredients you are using in it give it a good shake and stick it in the back of a larder, in the bottom of your wardrobe or anywhere where it will be cool, dark and untouched by any passing drinkers in need of an extra tipple.

If an experimental batch then have a little sip after 2 or 3 days, then again after a week, 2 weeks, a month then 3 months. If at any time you think, wow I like the taste of that then strain through a piece of muslin cloth into a clean bottle and get drinking!

Some drinks will need time to rest after straining,  the quicker the infusion the less time it needs to rest is a great rule of thumb.

Now it’s your turn

So next step is to buy some sprits and get experimenting. If you do make tons or make any  great tasting alcohol infusion then I’d love to hear how they turned out. Please feel free to leave comment about your endevours (good or bad) below.

Further reading

Booze for Free by Me

Urban Harvest Wiki – Vodka


Vino Hedgio – Foraged Wine

I’ve had a few email’s about my appearance on The Alan Titchmarsh show on 28th September. They all ask for the Vino Hedgio recipe and as I like to please, here it is. It was the one that Jilly Goolden and Alan really liked.


Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

Don’t get too het up about what you use in this recipe, if you can’t get all the ingredients. When researching my book (Booze for Free) I made many variations and as long as you use some elderberries and either grapes, raisins or half a cup of tea for the tannin then this wine always yields great results.


1kg Elderberries
300g Sloes
1 bunch grapes
1 orange
1 lemon
1 overripe banana
2 Apples quartered
3.5 litres of water
1.5kg Sugar

Port style wine yeast


Using a fork remove all destalk all the elderberries and place in a freezer overnight with the grapes and sloes. This helps to break down the skins of the fruit allowing for the flavours to be released. Also the night before make a yeast starter by adding the packet to warm water and a teaspoon of sugar

Put the water onto boil. Peel the citrus fruit and banana. Place in a sterilized fermentation bin along with all the thawed fruit and the apples, add sugar. Pour boiling water over, stir until sugar has dissolved. Leave to stand until the water cools. Then add the yeast starter and leave covered with a tea towel for three days.

Strain through a piece of muslin cloth (or an old ironed t-shirt) into a demijohn attaching an airlock with a drop of water in it. After a few days when the fermentation process has calmed down a bit, top up with water that has been boiled then cooled.

Rack after a month then bottle after about three when fully fermented. This wine benefits from at least a year aging if you can wait that long!

Andy Hamilton is a foraging and homebrew expert and the Author of Booze for Free, published by Eden Project Books and priced £9.99.. or cheaper on line…