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 best tip for perfect sloe gin, elderflower liqueur & other infused drinks

thanks john forage london for the photo

Hands off my botanicals

There is one simple mistake that everyone makes when they first get into making infused drinks like elderflower liqueur and sloe gin. I have to admit that for many years I made the same mistake too. It’s an obvious one when you sit back and give it some thought and that mistake is to use cheap vodka or cheap gin.

The subtle flavours and tastes of whatever botanical you choose to infuse can be lost if with the harsh aromas and flavour compounds of the methanol in cheap spirits. Enough sometimes to totally wipe out any subtle flavours. An example is bramble/blackberry flower liqueur. I made some last year, a tiny amount as there was far too much fiddly picking involved. Fiddly picking that was in vain. There was a taste there, a good one, but it didn’t really come through enough.

Luckily you really don’t have to spend a huge fortune on luxury vodka or gin in order to make great drinks. Indeed, unless you are looking for something that goes particularly well with juniper or some of the other botanicals in gin, I wouldn’t bother to infuse anything with it. Instead, you can filter your booze before making the infusion and rid yourself of most of the harsh flavours. In the case of the bramble vodka the flavour, is exquisite. Something unlike blackberry vodka, sweet, perfumed and lightly complex. It’s almost like an expensive brandy or cognac.

Use a filter

Use a filter, any water filter will do, I use a brita one and have used the same one for a year without any need to change the filter but perhaps I should! Or, for the bushcrafty amongst you, of which I know I have at least one reader, (yes it is you), you can make your own filter using a lump of wood as I have in the video below. Whichever way you use, make sure you filter your spirit at least 6 times, if not 8 and also remember never to use the filter the next morning to filter that first cup of water to quench a hungover thirst. I speak from nasty experience.

What this process does is take out the strong-tasting methanol alcohol and leave you with just ethanol. This also has the added bonus of giving you a far less serve hangover the following morning. There is some sound science behind this, but ironically, I am a little too hungover to wrap my head around the concept. This lot will give you a much better idea of the science of a hangover.


Make your own evocative Mediterranean tonic water

The Alps

The Alps great spot of foraging

There are places that you visit that can vividly paint themselves into your consciousness; weaving into daily life as a semi-subconscious backdrop to the daily mundanity of life. These special places, you have only experienced for a moment and yet you can always visit them, always imagine yourself back in their loving embrace. Be it the moment you dipped your toes into a most welcome rock pool after your feet were burnt on the sand from a distant tropical beach. Or, in my case, the moment I walked along a mountain path high up in the Alps, a gentle breeze carrying the distant tin bell ringing from a herd of alpine goats. Just me and my Emma on top of the world. The smells of thyme, lavender and rosemary entering the air with each step as we walked.

This most evocative of moments is one that plays on a loop in the back of my mind, not so much my, “happy place”, as my reminder that to have moments like these and, be able to appreciate them, means that I am a very rich man. What’s more, I realised that I could sit back and drink this moment. I could capture the essence in a glass and let my mind revisit it, it was that moment when the recipe for this Mediteraianin tonic water was born. Coupled with some homemade foraged gin, you can combine all the moments that make life a rich one.

The original tonic recipe that I used can be found here in something I wrote for the Guardian a while back. Once I’d made it a few times it was time to tweak it to something I enjoyed further, Mediterranean tonic water! When creating a new recipe it is good to sit back and work out what flavours work together well. This is the same for cooking as it is for drinks making. Much of the time groups will work well, warming spices live cloves, nutmeg and allspice for example or in this case, rosemary, lavender and thyme as they are all Mediterranean herbs. But most of all, I go by instinct, I let my nose and my taste buds be my guide. I hope that you can too, a touch of experimentation and a few tweaks and you could be back on your favourite beach or high on a mountain path once more!

How to make Mediterranean tonic water

The video is one for how to make your own tonic water, it will give you the idea of how it’s done. Use the recipe below it as a guide and when adding herbs and spices use similar measurements. The only essential ingredient is the cinchona bark, the rest can be chopped and change to match your memory.

900ml water
350g sugar
Zest and juice of 2 limes
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
25g Cinchona bark (Don’t use powdered)
28g citric acid
2 sticks of lemongrass
1 sprig Rosemary
3 sprigs Thyme
2 sprigs Lavender (with flowers)
2-4 cardamom pods
10 allspice berries
Soda water


Accurate small scales
Large saucepan
Wooden spoon
Small sieve
A bottle or two

Put all the ingredients except the soda water into your pan and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes. Stir to ensure the sugar has fully dissolved.

Allow to cool, then strain the syrup into bottles. It will keep in the fridge for about a month. If you want it to keep a little longer then you could add around 50ml vodka. Although, do try and remember your tonic syrup is alcoholic when working out how pissed (drunk) you want your friends to be or not to be!

When using, dilute at around 4:1 with soda water to make fizzy tonic water.

You can freeze your tonic as ice cubes and use in gin and soda water, making a gin and tonic that slowly becomes more tonic-y, and therefore more refreshing, as it warms. The cubes won’t fully freeze unless using a deep freeze freezer, they will be a little slushy.

Now your can make your own Mediterranean tonic water, I look forward to trying your New York Tonic water, or your Brockwell Park tonic, Willard Lake tonic water, Paris tonic water, ect…

Homemade buckfast and what were we drinking in 1895?

Homemade Buckfast and what we what we were drinking in 1895

A bottle of Heroin

Heroin, it’s where I draw the line

I’ll be continuing my countdown of 800 years of booze to coincide with 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta.  Thus far I’ve covered predictions for 2015 and the rest of the 21st Century

This week I’ll be looking at how to make your own Buckfast whilst taking a quick look at Laudanum. I did think about giving a home-brew Laudanum recipe, but it didn’t seem right somehow. I guess I’ve finally found where I draw my line.

Somehow the image of Victorians has been distorted, children not speaking until they are spoken too, everyone wearing black and an overall, compliant population. Yet the more you peer into the world of over a century ago the murkier and dirtier it seems. Chemists sold Heroin and Cocaine over the counter and there were 80,000 sex workers in London which is one to every 35 inhabitants. Really, rather grim if you ponder about it.

1895 -Buckfast

Under that backdrop it is of little wonder that Buckfast was created in 1895. The monks of Buckfast abbey first sold in small quantities with the slogan “Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood“. Buckfast somehow found its way up to Scotland and in Strathclyde from 2006-2009 it was mentioned in three crime reports (on average) every day. The potent mix of 15% fortified wine and 281mg of caffeine which is the equivalent to five cups of tea.

I would love to include a homebrew recipe for some, but alas I can’t find anything. Here is the closest thing I can think of that might work, my version of Backfast.

How to make your own Homemade Buckfast

Day One

  1. Put equal parts lovage and sage, thyme and a very small piece (0.5cm) of liquorice root in a small mason jar or jam jar and top 100ml brandy. Leave for three days.
  2. Bucky has a red wine base so – 1 bottle of 12% cheap Spanish* red wine . Leave the wine open for three nights so that it oxygenates and this will give your wine a raisin taste.  You can also push in small head of dried lavender flowers as these will infuse into the wine.

*traditionally Spanish wine was used in Buckfast but you could use any if you can’t get Spanish. Just don’t waste a decent bottle.

Day three

  1. Strain the herbal brandy and pour into to your wine. To fortify a 750ml bottle of wine and bring the level up to 15% you’ll need around 100ml brandy.
  2. Boil Cola. Given that Bucky has a taste of Cola, the easiest way to get the sweetness and the high level of caffeine into the tonic wine will be to boil down about 3 litres of cola until it is a syrup. Stir in your wine vigorously. You will need to continue to boil the wine to ensure you get at much of the gloop into the wine.
  3. Allow to cool then decant.
  4. Drink and start a fight.

And there you have it homemade Buckfast! Well, the “wine” won’t taste exactly like buckfast, it might even taste better. But it will have the same effect I suggest if you do make it then do it once as an experiment and go easy on it.


Buckfast might have been invented in 1895 but the popular drink of choice during that time was Laudanum. Essentially, it’s opium infused in alcohol. Doctors of the age would prescribe it for illnesses including toothache, gout, rheumatic pain and melancholy.

The tonic was flavoured with cinnamon or saffron although a tastier sounding variant called Battley’s Drops was also available which contained a mix of opium, sherry, alcohol, slaked lime and distilled water.

Of course Laudanum was soon found to be highly addictive and is now a controlled substance. Although, it did take it’s time to be outlawed and despite knowing it’s dangers it was still legal in the UK right up until 1920.

Cheers opened or did it?

I couldn’t mention 1895 without mentioning Cheers. As a child in the 1980’s I’d look at the Cheers sign that was shown every ad break and read est 1895 and wonder if they would celebrate 100 years of the bar. Thing was it wasn’t first opened in 1895, it was actually opened in 1889. The date was changed by Carla who wanted the bar to fit with her Numerological superstition.

What is the Nitrous Oxide/C02 infuser?

The No2 infuser

The No2 infuser

What is the Nitrous Oxide/CO2 infuser?

Just a month ago I got a new bit of kit, a Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) infuser. It uses both Co2 and Nitrous Oxide canisters and it makes infusions in minutes rather than days or even months. Imagine, sloe gin in 300 seconds!  It has been a bit of godsend considering I’m currently experimenting with wild cocktails. Not to mention the fact that it ensures a ready supply of tasty booze for my wild booze walks.

I was first alerted to the infuser by fellow forager and taste explorer Mark Williams.  Mark, like myself is also making wild booze cocktails and so needs a ready supply of infused booze. The infuser itself came from and for the sake of transparency I have to admit that I didn’t pay for it. I’d also like to add that I don’t make any money from any that they sell.

What is the Nitrous Oxide/CO2 infuser?

The infuser is a stainless steel airtight container capable of withstanding high pressures. The top screws on and then a chamber screws into the top. The chamber is capable of housing and administering Carbon dioxide or Nitrous oxide canisters into the contianer.

How does the Nitrous Oxide/CO2 infuser infuse?

You put your fruit or herb inside the container, then pour in whatever liquid you want to infuse. Next you screw on the top, creating a sealed environment. Then you screw in the gas canister releasing the gas inside chamber.

When the gas is fired into the chamber it creates pressure. This forces whatever liquid you have put in it into the herbs, spices or fruit that are inside the chamber. When the gas is released the liquid rushes out, infused with whatever flavour it has picked up. If using CO2 this means you will also have a carbonated drink, but if using Nitrous Oxide you won’t but you will have flavoured it.

Does it work?

I’ve found some mixed results. It does infuse flavour, but sometimes these are weaker than others. I didn’t find it to handle granulated sugar very well, leaving much of the sugar undissolved. There is a get around, and I’ve started using agave syrup or making a sugar solution. It wasn’t great with thicker skinned fruits like apples or plums. Again a work around was needed and putting the fruit in the freezer overnight, then thawing really helped. This is exactly how I make sloe gin infusions anyway so there was no real difference there.

The Nitrous Oxide works on herbs very well, just two sage leaves in one litre of water gave a rather pronounced taste. Wine infusions were great using this method too and you could really taste the herbs.

Having poked around to see what others were doing I thought I’d have a go at making cocktails bitters using the infuser. They sort of worked, but I think the barks and roots didn’t take as well at they could and the medley of bitterness you are after just wasn’t there. Again, it’s obvious why, the harder the outside of the thing you are infusing the harder it will be to release the aromatics.


I certainly enjoy using this bit of kit and I think it will come into its own next year as there will be more flowers and herbs to play with than in the depths of winter. The CO2 infusions are fun and it’s a great way to make quick fizzy drinks from herbs and edible flowers. The Nitrous Oxide infusions are certainly quick and they often have a slight sweet taste from the nitrous oxide. They might not be quite as strong as the age old method of pouring booze over a herb/fruit in a jar and waiting but they are a close enough approximation. I’m sure, given time, that there will be work arounds. Just like any new tool you need to get to know how to use it and that is exactly what I intend to do. Watch this space!

Over to you

Have you been making infusions with one of these? If so then please do post your results, especially if they are contradictory to mine!

Homemade tonic water – Beta

Homemade Tonic water – Beta

Homemade tonic water

Homemade tonic water

There are two ways to make tonic water, either the infusion method or the decoction.  Mercifully, they are both very straightforward and apparently yield excellent results.

I’ve only tried one of these methods and so I’ve called this post Homemade tonic water Beta. I intend to try both a few more times in order to perfect the recipe. I will post the results, well if I remember.

This time I’m just going to try the decoction method. I’m going to simmer all of the ingredients together. The infusion method is a cold infusion and, as ingredients can loose their potency when boiled I’ll be interested to see what happens.

I’ll be interested too to hear if you have had a go at making tonic water, either from this recipe or someone else’s. Let me know what you did differently and the results.

Homemade Tonic water method one

In many of the recipes I looked at the citrus and botanicals varied. So, if there is a particular gin you like you might want to match your tonic with it, enhancing the flavours. Perhaps experiment a little and use some floral flavours too like rose petals or elderflower. But do not replace the cinchoa bark as this is essential.


1 litre water
500g sugar
2 limes
1 lemon
1 orange
28g Cinchoa bark
28g Citric acid
1-4 sticks of Lemongrass*
2-4 cardamom pods
10 allspice berries
Zest the citrus fruits
Soda water

*Although I’d ran out and used lemon balm. The final results were good, but without anything to compare them to, I just don’t know how good the tonic could be.

Equipment needed

Accurate small scales
Large saucepan
Wooden spoon
Small sieve
A bottle or two


Zest then juice the citrus fruit.

Put everything in the pan and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes. Stir continuously at first to ensure the sugar has fully dissolved.

Strain through the sieve and the cheese cloth and through the funnel into the bottles then allow to cool. You might want to strain into a jug first as this reduces the risk of shattering or melting your bottles. It will keep in the fridge for about a month.

The resulting syrup can be diluted at around 4:1 with soda water/table water to make fizzy tonic water. As this recipe yields a bit more than one bottle there is a bit left over, this can be frozen and used as ice cubes in gin and soda water. Making a gin and tonic that slowly becomes more tonicy, and therefore more refreshing as it warms.

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.

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.

How to write a letter and other downtime videos

The art of letter writing is not dead as American writer Sam Swa(m)pwater will demonstrate in a place that looks remarkably like my kitchen. Keep watching for a nugget of information right till the end.

This site seems to already be filtered by many adult filters due to its 60% alcohol content, but please note that the below clip contains partial nudity and some naughty words.

How to write a letter

How (not) to Survive bird flu

Having written a survivalist column for Wired, advised for some TV show and lived off wild food I decided to make a survival video in case bird flu hits.

A day in the life

This last video is only for those with staying power. For clarity too I have to point out that when I made it I wasn’t a best-selling author, although I do have to say that not much has changed since and this is still a pretty accurate depiction of my daily life.


Himalayan Balsam, eating invasive plants -The Lunchbreak forager

Himalayan Balsam - Invasive species

Himalayan Balsam – Invasive species

If I was to mention Policeman’s helmet,  Bobby Tops, Copper Tops,  Gnome’s Hatstand, Kiss me on the mountain and Impatiens glandulifera or Himalayan Balsam I’d be talking about the same plant. For a plant that only reached the UK in 1839 it has rather a lot of names, perhaps partly due to its invasive nature. Himalayan Balsam might not be the most invasive plant (that prize goes to Japanese Knotweed), but it certainly is one of the most invasive plants that we have you just have to come across a patch of the stuff to realise that.

So why is Himalayan Balsam such a menace? Well each plant can produce up to 800 seeds and each of these seeds is capable of being shot up to 7 meters (22ft) away. Imagine sowing 800 seeds across 7 meters of land, then the next year 800 plants sowing 800 seeds across 7 meters of land. Often too the plants will take root along river banks and I’ve seen Himalayan Balsam growing at the top of a river system one year only to find it growing all along the system over the next few years.

The happiest control of these plants is to eat them, I do find it fascinating that so many of our troublesome plants can be eaten.

Himalayan Balsam can be found growing almost anywhere it likes, but in practice more often than not this means close to rivers and on the edges of woodlands.

Pan fried Burdock and Balsam balls on a wild salad with a Corsican pine needle dressing

The addition of burdock gives this dish super-food status. Burdock has been used for centuries as a key herbal medicine. A study by Farnsworth Kiansu suggests that burdock even has anti-tumour properties.

Ingredients – for the balls

80g burdock root (grated)
1 tablespoon Himalayan balsam seed (crushed)
1 egg (beaten)
100g white flour (sifted)
1 tablespoon water
Oil for frying


Place all the ingredients bar the flour and water into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the flour mixing all the time until the mixture begins to stiffen.  Kneed and add the water. Roll into balls and fry for a couple of minutes or until golden and crispy.

For the wild salad

Pick any wild edible leaves and flowers you can get your hands on and chop them into ribbons; this might include – Dandelion, yarrow, mustard, jack by the hedge, nasturtiums leaves and flowers, red clover flowers, evening primrose flowers and daisy leaves and flowers.

The leaves that can taste slightly more bitter such as dandelion, yarrow, daisy and even jack by the hedge should kept at a 10:1 leaf ratio or the salad will be over powered.

For the Corsican pine needle dressing

I keep this vinegar in a balsamic vinegar bottle at home and when guests come and eat I leave it amongst the other condiments on the table, they are always shocked when I tell them it is made from pine needles.


A handful of fresh green Corsican pine needles
500ml cheap white vinegar


Place the pine needles into a clean jam jar and top up with vinegar. Seal tightly and leave inside a cupboard for 2-3 months. Filter out the vinegar into an empty balsamic vinegar bottle and serve to unsuspecting friends.

Himalayan Balsam seed falafel

This quick and easy recipe is a twist on the original falafel recipe, but equally as tasty and perhaps a nice unusual one to serve up at dinner parties.


1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1 can of chickpeas- drained
1 cup of Himalayan balsam seeds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp wholemeal flour
1 carrot finely grated with the moisture squeezed out
1 chilli finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon zest only
Rape seed oil for frying


Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan for 1 min then mash in your pestle and mortar or give a quick whizz using the seed bit of your blender/food processor. Blend the rest of the other ingredients. Roll into balls about the half the size of rats head. Heat about 1cm/half an inch of oil in a large frying pan and roll your balls about until browned. Put onto kitchen paper and then serve in a pitta bread.