Really Wild Drinking

How about brewing something tasty from the wild? Everyone knows about the Sloe Gin, Elderflower Champagne and traditional country wines that our grandparents used to make, but there are a host of others. Shop-bought alcoholic drinks and wines are so cheap these days that not many people experiment with home-brewed drinks anymore. But do give the wild booze a try!

Beech leaves are unfurling now, so whilst they are very young and fresh how about making Beech Leaf Noyau. There are a number of recipes which offer gin or brandy (or both!) as its base. Searching around on the internet will throw up all sorts of recipes, so that you can find some which take your fancy.  I first gave this a try after finding a simple recipe somewhere where the author remarked that it “would knock your socks off”! (Nothing to lose and much to gain, I imagined…).

So I made some! 

700ml gin

200g white sugar

350ml brandy

350ml warm water

Young beech leaves

In spring gather delicate, fresh, young, bright green beech leaves. Remove any twiggy bits and lightly pack enough leaves into a jar so that a 700ml bottle of gin covers them.

Make sure all leaves remain immersed, cover the jar and keep in the dark for 4 weeks. 

Strain the gin through muslin into a jug. 

Mix the sugar with 350ml warm water and stir until dissolved. 

Add the brandy and cooled sugar-water to the gin and store in sterilised bottles 

The Noyau can be drunk immediately, or matured for a while longer, depending how desperate you are feeling…

The article I had read said that the alcoholic liquid would be a gorgeous clear green. Mine was in a whole other colour-league. It was a brackish brown and the sort of drink you would either have to consume wearing a blindfold or after some other heavy alcohol intake, so that you would be oblivious to the strange, unappetising colour. However, it tasted amazing and was, indeed, capable of knocking socks off. Don’t let that discourage you. I worked out that when the leaves were added to the alcoholic spirit they must be kept at all times below the surface so they don’t oxidise and discolour it. 

Wild wines and some alcoholic drinks and brews can take up to a year to mature and seeing the bottles sitting on a shelf when you are desperate to have a sample swig is frustrating, but if you try out some faster maturing recipes throughout the seasons, the year’s wait will disappear before your eyes (or sooner if you do a lot of sampling!)

For those of you who are still impatient, try Dandelion and Burdock Beer or Dandelion Ale both of which are delicious and take only days to become drinkable, or treat yourself to Nettle Ale, another tasty brew that is speedy to produce. 

Heather Ale, Spruce Beer and Birch Sap Wine will also smooth the passage of a twelve month wait so there is no need for complete abstinence or turning to commercial vino!