Humans have been brewing for as long as hops and wheat have been – in other words, forever – and while the first alcoholic drink may have been the unintended consequence of soaking mashed barley for too long, it was a joyful accident nonetheless. The Sumerian peoples of ancient Iraq are considered to have recorded the earliest brewing recipe, which is at least six thousand years old. However, it was the Babylonians who actually elevated it to the level of a skill, producing no fewer than 20 different varieties of beer. Winemaking became a passion in ancient Egypt, Greece, and finally Rome once it was discovered that fermented grapes created a delightful drink.
The Greeks were so taken with wine that they created its own deity, Dionysus (known as Bacchus in Rome), who also happened to be the god of debauchery, indicating the two had been linked for a long time. They also despised beer, believing it to be the drink of the barbarians they were attempting to subjugate, notably the Britons.
While beer drinking in the United Kingdom predates the Romans, it became a national pastime throughout the Middle Ages. Beer became the beverage of choice out of necessity since the water was so contaminated and disease-ridden that drinking it threatened death. It is believed that mediaeval men, women, and children drank around a litre and a half of water every day, a practise that many people still do today. The drunken Brits spend over 40 billion on beer, wine, and spirits, with excise duty and VAT eating up a third of the expenditure.
This means that the government makes more money than the producers, and with the price of a pint expected to rise next year, drinking is becoming more costly. But there is a less expensive and greener way to enjoy a drink or two.
The solution is to create your own. For starters, it’s (almost) free. You can manufacture 10 to 20 gallons of wine, beer, or sherry for close to nothing with the exception of a few simple pieces of equipment and some locally available ingredients. And by using what you find in the hedgerows or local parks, you may make a great, seasonal beer for nothing. Even city inhabitants may participate in urban foraging, according to foraging expert and home brew specialist Andy Hamilton. His home brew ingredients are sourced within a two-mile radius of his Bristol house.
Local parks, hedgerows, and gardens (with permission from the owner) are all home to fruits, nuts, and herbs that may be utilised to make all-natural alcohol. He does, however, recommend avoiding urban nature reserves because many are former industry sites with possibly harmful soil. You might also hunt the green grocer for food that is going to be thrown out, or use up excess fruit or veggies from your garden.
Home brewing provides environmental benefits as well, with less food miles and less pesticide usage being two of the most important. You won’t have to buy wine flown in from the Americas or South Africa, nor will you have to drink beer carted in on giant lorries from the continent. You’ll know precisely what’s in it and avoid any potentially harmful chemicals or additions. Furthermore, contrary to common assumption, home brewing is really simple. Take, for example, Andy Hamilton’s cider recipe: ‘Cut apples up and squeeze into a demijohn.’Attach an airlock and let to ferment. ‘OK, you’ll make a rough and foggy cider, but it’s still cider.’ ‘Some of the cocktails I made [the first time] were similar to what you’d see pouring down sewers,’ Andy recalls. But don’t give up: exploration is vital, and because home brewing is similar to alchemy, gently changing components can yield in some unusual and delicious flavours.
A basic brewing kit is required for all brewers. This may grow as you gain experience, but you can make a perfectly fine pint with only a fermentation bin, a demijohn, a rubber cork bung, a few corks and bottles, and a plastic tube for syphoning. A thermometer, a bottle brush, a hydrometer (to measure the sugar levels), some sterilising solution, and a large plastic spoon are also good additions. There are a lot of free alternatives to assemble your kit for those who are short on funds.
To begin, you can use a bin liner in a cardboard box, a good quality plastic storage box, or a catering size plastic food tub as a fermentation bin (or an old t-shirt as they use in prison). A five-litre juice bottle will suffice for the demijohn. If you want to make your wine and beer bottles seem elegant, you may buy them from a home brew store or collect them for free from parties or your neighbor’s recycling bins on your street.
The traditional method for producing alcohol is to ferment your selected berries, leaf, fruit, or vegetable in a solution of hot water and sugar. Allow the mixture to cool before adding the yeast and leaving it for at least a week. Then, depending on the tipple, either transfer to a demijohn for additional fermentation or syphon directly into a bottle to be aged or consumed right away. While this is too straightforward, brewing lovers like Hamilton believe that complicating things can frighten people away. In any event, even the most basic recipes may provide a delicious brew.
Pumpkin Beer is one to try.
2 kg pumpkin or squash
55g dried hops
1kg malt extract
750g light malt extract
13 litres of liquid
a big saucepan
Siphoning tube Muslin Fermentation bin Hydrometer (optional)
Chop the pumpkin, remove the seeds, and roast for 20 minutes at 200°C/390°F/Gas mark 6. Allow it to cool before scooping out the pulp.
Bring seven litres of water to a boil, then add the pulp and continue to cook for 30 minutes.
Stir in the hops.
Mix the malt extract and sugar in the fermentation bin.
In the fermentation bin, strain the pumpkin juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the remaining six litres of cold water and let aside to cool. Add your yeast after it has reached room temperature.
Seal the bin and leave it for a week, or until fermentation is complete.
Add a teaspoon of sugar to each empty bottle before syphoning in the liquid (avoiding any sediment).
Drink from the bottle in 10 days