Natural hangover cures

Andy Hamilton with a natural hungover

My book, Booze for free is now the estimated cause of over one million hangovers*. So, to pay back my karmic debt I thought it time I shared how I deal with my monumentous hangovers, naturally.

The best natural hangover cure should really start the night before by drinking a glass of water for every unit of alcohol consumed as a preventative anti hangover measure. Alcohol acts as a diuretic increasing the flow of urine from the kidneys leading to dehydration. It’s this dehydration that causes some of the tell tale signs of a hangover such as dizziness, dry mouth and nausea. What’s more increased bladder flow can deplete valuable vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin C and various B vitamins. To further these feelings an increase in REM (rapid eye movement/dream) sleep means your brain has been falsely excited and this can lead to depression.

These vitamins and minerals have to be replaced in order for you to start feeling human again. Potassium can be reintroduced by eating bananas and I like to have two the morning after. Vitamin C can be found in pine needles so a pine needle tea or cordial will help. Pick the greenest looking pine needles from any species of pine. Place a large handful into a bowl and pour hot water over them. When the water has cooled strain through muslin cloth and drink. Equally and if you have it to hand a few mouthfuls of rosehip syrup will help.

The loss of B12 when drinking can bring on feelings of guilt which sometimes plays a part in the psychological side of a hangover. B12 can be found in eggs, bacon and black pudding which is why, if you can get it down you, a fry up always helps. Or if you want to try an ancient Greeks hangover cure, how about fried sheep lungs?

If even the thought of sheep lungs are causing your stomach to churn then a dose of ginger and cardamom tea will help. If you can’t even get that down you then pour the tea onto a flannel, let it cool and place it directly onto your stomach.

Each of these remedies will work on different types of hangovers, but for an all round general hangover cure all I have devised the following tea.


  • Thumb sized piece of bruised root gingerAndy Hamilton natural hungover
  • 10g Rosemary
  • 10g  Nettle leaves
  • Handful of pine needles
  • 3 Green cardamom pods
  • 500ml hot water


Boil kettle. Put all the ingredients into a tea-pot and cover with hot water. Allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, hold head and say, “never, ever again”.

Pour and sip. This will make two cups and you can also keep topping up the tea-pot and drinking all day until you start to feel a bit more human. Couple it with drinking plenty of water.

If nothing seems to work then go back to sleep for a bit and try to get some normal sleep. Of course if any of my sensible suggestions don’t sound like your bag you could always try a hair of the dog method; my favourite is a Roman one which consists of 5 liters of wine infused with 16 bulbs of garlic.

Andy is the author of Booze for Free published by Eden Project Books with a cover price of £9.99. Or much cheaper if bought online.

*Estimated by me and I tend to exagerate.

Booze for Free PDF

Booze for free PDF – Should everything be free?

Booze for Free and its Author Andy Hamilton

Booze for Free and its Author Andy Hamilton

Everything should be free is an argument that the internet has most certainly perpetuated. Authors Neil Gaiman and Paulo Coelho both agree to a certain extent, but does that mean its curtains for less established writers? Should Booze for free PDF be free?

When Booze for Free was released back in September 2011 I felt proud to have helped people help themselves to a cheaper and boozier existence. Myself and the publisher worked hard to keep the price low too, so that it was accessible to more people. Indeed, within days of release some internet sites were selling it for practically half price, a bargain indeed.

Cheap or even free is good and Most of my public work, including my latest book Booze for Free, has been about getting things very cheaply or for free. The Selfsufficientish ethos was and is geared around doing as much as you can for yourself whilst consuming the least amount of resources. I enjoy being part of this movement as there are many things I believe should be free. Gathering herbs to enhance food or for medicine, picking fruit in from the wild, growing your own vegetables or making your own booze are a few things that spring to mind.

But should we be getting books for free and what does that mean for the author? According to a report from ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collection Society)

The first ten years of a writer’s life are the hardest, even more so in the UK. The annual median income for professional authors from writing in the UK age group 25-34 is only £5,000 – one third less than for the comparable German category. Over the life-time of an author, earnings increase until the mid-fifties, and then decrease again”. Also, “A typical professional authors’ income is 33% less than the national average wage”.

Yep, most writers are poor. You may hear about £1 million book advances but I assure you that most of my writers friends are jealous of £5,000 book advances! Yet, before I started writing I thought that every writer was loaded, I thought that having a book out meant you could go off and buy that 6 bedroom house you have your eye on. Well you can’t, not unless you write a book about dirty Grey men!

It looks bleak now, but what about the future? In the last 10 years or so the music industry changed beyond all recognition with the advent of the MP3 player. The book market too is changing with the advent of tablets and e-readers. There is fear amongst authors, publishers and agents that the same thing will happen, pirated books will become as common as pirated music. That the industry will no longer be able to sustain itself. But music can carry on as musicians can be paid for gigging or getting radio airplay; authors can only really get paid when they sell books. Some book festivals will get authors to appear for free and another income stream many authors would sell their work in, the national newspapers are hemorrhaging money at the moment so even they will ask writers to blog for free or at greatly reduced rates.

But this won’t happen for years, will it? I certainly thought so and I also thought that my book didn’t lend itself to the e-reader. My ebook sales have always been very poor in comparison to my book sales. In the period between its release in September 2011 and new year just 5 ebooks were sold in the UK.

The other Andy Hamilton its (no) curtains for you

Andy Hamilton its (no) curtains for you

This is because no one wants a “cookbook” as a download right? Well, I thought so until I Googled “Booze for Free PDF” and checked out the number of illegal downloads my book has received. I found from just one torrent site that around 2000 ebooks had been downloaded. Now, is there a correlation? As an author I’d make around £2000 out of that many books. As I look into the shallow pool that was once my bank balance I start to fantasize about what I could do with the money. I could fix the shower and buy some curtains for the bedrooms, or perhaps life with a new child on the way be a little more comfortable rather than a little fraught!

But have I really lost two grand? Paulo Coelho the bestselling novelist suggests that pirated books will make him more money, he urges readers to who like his book to go out and buy a hard copy if they like it. Neil Gaiman agrees and argues that, for example, in Russia where his books were being pirated the most he was also making more sales. In his case his books were working as adverts. The more people that saw his books the more people would buy them.

Will that be the same for me? Well, my next royalty statement arrives next month and if the page Rank on Amazon has anything to go by my ebook sales are still looking poor. Perhaps if you already have a few books out then pirated books are a good thing, but I’m not so sure for those of us who are only on our first or second book.

I’d like to keep on writing for as long as people like what I write (and perhaps just a little bit longer). The free model does seem attractive especially if it sells more books and helps people who can’t afford books. So I too have thought about offering my first book, The Selfsufficientish Bible as a free download, or at least the parts I wrote (its co-written with Dave Hamilton, my brother) . But then I do already offer free content I have added some recipes and pages from Booze for Free all over this blog and even added new recipes. On top of that I may still turn my Lunch break forager articles into a book and by that point I’d have given most of that book away for free! (incidentally authors also get 5p every time one of our books is taken out at the library, remember libraries?)

I have to admit I do need at least some cash and believe it or not so do most other writers. I guess what I’d hope for is if a pirated book is read and especially if its been enjoyed then the reader should find a way to support that writer. Without book sales we writers can’t buy new curtains and we like new curtains (as least I do).

If you wish to keep Andy in curtains then you can find his latest book Booze for Free at Beetroot books, on Amazon and from your favourite bookshop or even as an Ebook. His other Book The Selfsufficientish Bible is available at Amazon too.

You may also notice a lot of opportunities to donate. If you did download Booze for free and now think, you know I’d love to give Andy £1 or even a bit more then any donation will be most gratiously recieved. You never know I might even send you a photo of me with a lovely new set of curtains.

Autumn Flower Champagne and Alan Titchmarsh

Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

I approached this recipe for Booze for Free in the same way that I’d approach making a curry. With a curry you know the basis and so can experiment with other ingredients without really worrying that what you get will be unedible. I’d been making elderflower champagne for years and understood that although the elderflowers were used for their yeast that other flowers might work too. I searched through my library and picked up a copy of Homemade Root Beer, Soda and Pop by Stephen Cresswell. A great book which helped inspire some the drinks in Booze for Free. I saw a recipe for dandelion Champagne which helped my thirst for experiementation (and new drinks). I decided I’d go for a walk along the river and just pick whatever edible flowers were around it was the autumn so autumn flower champagne was born.

A few months later I was teaching Alan Titchmarsh to make some on his show. The crew were a lovely bunch and watching the man himself at work I could see why he’s at the top of his game. He was a nice fella too and I’m not just saying that to be some kind of media lovely. He made me feel at ease and just before the cameras were rolling he turned to me and said, “Passion Andy, passion” and that did seem to help!

Autumn flower Champagne

The Himalayan balsam flowers add a real colour to this most flavoursome, champagne making it blush a bright pink.


3 litres/6 pints of water
1 kg/2lb sugar
1 litre/2 pints of balsam flowers
500mls/1 pint of red clover flowers
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tsp citric acid
2 tsp lemon juice
champagne yeast (as back up)


Wash the flowers to ensure that they are bug free. Place into bucket with all the other ingredients apart from sugar. Cover with half the water and give a stir. Meanwhile bring the rest of the water to the boil and stir in the sugar. Add that to the rest of the mix.

Leave with lid loosely on or a tea towel over the top occasionally returning in order to give it a stir. After two to four days it should have started to fizz when it does filter through muslin cloth into bottles. Put the bottles straight into the fridge or release the gas from them daily as they can be prone to exploding.


If the wild yeasts refuse to play ball after a couple of days then pitch a champagne yeast instead. If you can’t find enough red clover and blasam flowers experiment with any wild edible flowers, dandelion, mustard even white nettle flowers can all be used.

Elderflower champagne problems from mould, no fizz to exploding bottles

Elderflower by Stephen Studd

Elderflower photo courtesy of Stephen Studd

For more recipes including an elderflower champagne recipe plus more problem solving have a look at my book, Booze for free.  Or if you are a lovely person perhaps you want to share that loveliness by helping to fund my 3rd book – Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails)

If you are put off by all the problems you might have making this, then perhaps you might want to try making Elderflower Liquor and an Elderflower Tom Collins.

Over the last few years I have shared a few elderflower champagne recipes. It is a very popular drink it and at some point many people will have a go at making some. Now that I’ve written Booze for Free I feel that I should help people a little more in their elderflower woes as even my Mum who’s been making elderflower champagne since before I was born is calling me up for advice! The thing is, and this is something not many will share, the traditional recipe is not without its flaws and things can easily go wrong. I’ll try to address the most common elderflower champagne problems below, if I don’t cover your problem please leave a comment and I’ll update the post.

Exploding bottles

Essentially elderflower champagne is still fermenting. The bubbles are formed when the yeast “eats” the sugar forming alcohol and carbon dioxide. This gas can build up in the bottle and as it has nowhere to go the build up of pressure can cause an explosion. You can deal with this in three ways, firstly return to the bottles every day and “burp” them by loosening the tops and allowing air to escape.

Secondly, you can put the “champagne” into a demijohn (secondary) with an airlock on it until you need it. The downside of this approach is that you may forget about it and the champagne will fully ferment, meaning no bubbles it is also more alcoholic. But don’t fear, you can treat it the same as you would with beer and add some sugar solution afterwards to get it fizzy again. About 8g of sugar dissolved in a cup of boiling water per 1L of champagne is a perfect amount.

Lastly, the fermentation process can be slowed by putting the bottles in the fridge. No fermentation, no build up of gas. Don’t worry you can take them out of the fridge an hour or so before you need them for the fizz to return.

For more recipes and problem solving have a look at my book, Booze for free.

No fizz and mould

As I said in the exploding bottles bit, essentially the elderflower is still fermenting. Most recipes call for wild yeast however, this can be a bit of a Russian roulette way of brewing. Some areas are wild yeast deserts and there won’t be any floating about. Some areas will have the wrong type of wild yeast which might get to work momentarily and then die off. If you get this problem you might have to consider adding some yeast, I find champagne yeast works very well.

If you want to save a mouldy batch, well then I don’t rate your chances but you could try siphoning into a sterilized demijohn, leaving the mouldy top behind, adding a campden tablet. Leaving for a day or so then restarting with a champagne yeast.  Once something has fermented you won’t kill anyone with it (other than alcohol poisoning), so don’t worry about that.

Booze for free front cover

For more problem solving see Andy’s book Booze for Free

It helps if you make a yeast starter first. You can do this by putting warm water in a clean cup, adding half a teaspoon of sugar then sprinkling in the dried yeast. Make this a few hours before then pitch it (add it) to the must (champagne liquid).

Cat pee or cabbage smells

Always pick your elderflowers in the morning when the pollen is rich, before it gets deteriorated by the heat of the sun we’ve been getting it or the bees nick it or whatever it is that happens! After about noon they can start to smell of cat pee or some say cabbage, this is apparently due to the cyanide in the wood but I’m happy to be corrected on this as I can only find anecdotal evidence.

Whilst we are on the subject of smells, don’t shake your elderflowers to get rid of the insects as you will be shaking off the pollen and therefore the floral flavour. Instead put them to one on newspaper and let the bugs walk off by themselves, don’t worry they will!

When to use boiling water

As Russel has quite rightly pointed out in the comments below adding boiling water onto the flowers will indeed kill off the wild yeast. This is exactly what you are looking for when  you are adding yeast as you don’t want two yeasts competing. If you plan to let your champagne spontaniously ferment then do not add boiling water over the flowers. Hot water firstly disolves the sugar but then you need to add cold water before adding the elderflowers.

Alcoholic Elderflower champagne problems

If you have come here via my Guardian blog post about Alcoholic Elderflower Champagne as you are having problems I have to say that I have now tweaked the recipe here making it much more fool proof.

Solid jelly like

Bacterial infection, no cure. Wash and sterilize everything and start again.

Mousey flavours

A horrible smell not unlike the smell of hemlock or mice. It means your champagne is off and there is no cure, sorry! It happens due to unsanitary equipment.

Elderflower Cordial Problems

Elderflower cordial can often suffer the same problems as elderflower champagne. The biggest problems happen when there is little or no sterilization of equipment. See above for jelly like and mousey flavours/smells. Also see above for mould on your elderflower cordial.

Why would elderflower cordial blow up?

If you are worried that your elderflower cordial has blown up or started to overfizz it is because it has started to ferment. I remember making some elderflower cordial once, bottling it and leaving it out of the fridge. A friend opened it and got covered in half fermenting elderflower wine wine.

Wild cordials can start to spontaneously ferment when wild yeasts get to work on them. The fermentation process causes carbon dioxide gas. Left with nowhere to go in a bottle this can build up and cause explosions.

If you suspect that your has started to ferment you could put it in a demijohn and let it ferment out and see what you end up with. Or you could put it in the fridge. Yeast activity is suspended at low temperatures (well most yeasts) and bottles in the fridge are much less likely to explode.

For more recipes and problem solving have a look at my book, Booze for free.

Turning a different (darker) colour

Is this due to oxidation? A rusty colour and sherry like taste after fermentation is a sure sign that air has got into your champagne. Enjoy your elderflower sherry or kick yourself and tip it away. Next time ensure that there everything is sealed throughout the process or add a crushed campden tablet and see if that helps.

It could also be a problem with the recipe (I put my hands up here too), if it is suggested that you leave it to stand for a number of days before adding the yeast then ignore. The yeast should be added when the water has cooled to below 20°c.

Brown liquid It could also be a sign that you have not used any acid, squeeze in the juice of a lemon per (5L/1 gallon) demijohn full or half a teaspoon of citric acid.


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.

Birch Sap Wine and how to tap a birch

Birch sap being collected

Birch Sap being collected

One of the first signs that spring has sprung is when small, neatly wrapped parcels of leaves start to appear on the trees. These buds indicate not only the start of spring but that the sap is rising, and the sap  from the birch can be tapped and drunk. The ambrosial birch sap need not be just a taste of early spring as it can be preserved as a wine. Any birch tree can be tapped, but ensure you tap an older tree of at least 25–30cm in diameter: any smaller and you risk damaging the tree before it has had a chance to grow. Drill a hole into the tree at a 30-degree angle facing downwards. The hole should just penetrate the bark and should be as thick as the piece of tube you will need to insert into the tree. Push the tubing right into the tree and put the other end in a bottle or demijohn. Leave for a day or two, returning twice daily to check on progress. If the sap that comes out smells and looks a bit like dog pee then the tree has been infected with a fungus and the sap should be discarded.

It can be difficult to tap a birch tree if you live in a town or city. My friend and fellow forager Fergus Drennan suggests that you climb the tree and tape or tie the demijohn to a higher branch before tapping up there. The sap rises right up the tree so you should still get a good amount.

When you have finished tapping the tree, make sure you plug up the hole. There are several ways to do this, including shoving a piece of cork into the hole and covering it with wax so you can come back on alternate years, pick the wax off, pull out the cork and tap again. Personally, when I plug a birch I find a small twig or branch underneath the tree, cut that to shape with a penknife then hammer it home with a stone. If you don’t plug a tree you leave it open to infection, which could kill it.

Birch sap does not keep very well and should be put into use as soon as possible. If refrigerated it will last for only a few days, but it can be frozen until needed.

Birch sap wine is certainly a delicacy of the woods, so much so that it is available commercially in many countries. By altering the amount of sugar used in the fermentation process you can determine how sweet or dry your wine turns out to be. This recipe will make a slightly dry wine.


4.5 litres birch sap
250ml white grape concentrate
1kg sugar
2 tsp citric acid
half tsp tannin
Hock wine yeast

Bring the sap, concentrate and sugar to the boil, remove from the heat and add the citric acid, then stir until the sugar has fully dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature then stir in the tannin and sprinkle the yeast on. Cover loosely and leave for ten days.

Siphon into a demijohn and rack after about four weeks. Allow to ferment out before bottling and age for at least three months.

First published on the Observer Organic Allotment blog


Bay and rosemary Ale

This reicpe and 100 others can be found in Booze for free by Me (Andy Hamilton).  

Bay and rosemary Ale

Of all the malt extract brews I have made this ale has to be one of the finest. I was asked Bay and rosemary Ale with a gnometo supply a local herbalist with a barrel for the opening party at his shop and the general verdict was that this was made with ginger due to the heat created by the bay. It is said that bay can give a slight narcotic effect and therefore this ale generally helps parties go with a bit of swing.


1kg /2lb of Malt Extract
10 large rosemary sprigs
20 bay leaves
500g /1 lb Sugar
250g Golden Syrup (or honey)
Packet Ale yeast
13 litres/3 gallons of water
2 tablespoons of golden syrup for priming


Large saucepan/Cauldron
Fermentation Bin


Bring 7 litres of water to the boil and add the malt extract, then strip the rosemary and bay leaves into the water and keep boiling for 30 mins. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar until full dissolved.

Strain the liquid into a fermentation bin.

Pour over 6 litres of cold water and ensuring room temperature has been reached,  pitch the yeast. The gravity (if using a hydrometer) should be roughly 1030. Leave for about 4-14 days to ferment.

Siphon into keg or bottles using two tablespoons of golden syrup as a primer or if using bottles then use one teaspoon per bottle. Sugar can also be used. If you can try and leave for at least 2 weeks after bottling.