Smells can be so evocative of a time of year – flavour even more so. And those are the joys of making hedgerow booze: each bottle you open or cocktail you mix reawakens precious memories of long, romantic country walks or picnics and blackberrying with the family.
What’s more, it can feel primal, a return to a forgotten ancestral past, a time of gathering summer’s glut and setting down stores for the winter. And, let’s face it, by the time Christmas comes, you’ll be glad you had the foresight to make some inexpensive but truly delectable drinks all those months previously.
If you forage your own hazelnuts, they will need roasting. To do this, shell them and roast them for 25 mins in a warm oven at 140°C until the skins become papery. Allow them to cool, then rub the skins off and roughly chop the nuts.
Alternatively, you can buy a bag of pre-roasted hazelnuts from your local health food shop or supermarket.
First make the hazelnut bourbon…
400g roasted and chopped hazelnuts
Place the roasted hazelnuts and bourbon in a jar for three days, before filtering and decanting the mixture. Best consumed within six months.
Hazelnut manhattan ingredients
2 parts hazelnut bourbon
1 part Italian sweet vermouth
Mix the hazelnut bourbon and sweet vermouth in a cocktail shaker, add four dashes of Angostura Bitters, pour over ice and serve.
Improve your sloe gin
By far the best sloe gin I have tasted was during a talk I gave at the country’s largest branch of the WI. The maker had not added sugar and had left the berries infusing for 18 months. It was tart and delicious (not to everyone’s taste, but I found it phenomenal).
Often sloe gin can be made too sweet and cloying. You do need some sugar to draw out the flavours of the sloe when infusing, but I’d tone it down to at least half of any recipe – you can always add more later. Also, I wouldn’t bother using gin – the flavour is often masked by the sugar and berries. Vodka is fine but filter it first, six times through a dedicated water filter. This ensures the sloes don’t have to compete with the harsher elements of cheaper vodkas and allows more subtle flavours to come through.
The sidecar is a traditional cocktail that is thought to have originated around the time of the First World War. It’s usually made with triple sec (orange-flavoured liqueur), cognac and lemon juice – giving both warmth and sharpness with each sip – a perfect autumnal drink. There are a few variations of the blackberry sidecar but this is my own and I love it.
6-10 fresh blackberries
30ml/1 fl oz blackberry-infused apple brandy
15ml/half fl oz Cointreau
1 tsp/5ml sugar syrup
15ml/half fl oz fresh lemon juice
Muddle to gently crush the berries in the bottom of a shaker, add ice and the other ingredients and shake until your hand is cold. Strain into a large cocktail glass and garnish with a thin slice of apple.
This is a full wine-making recipe and, done well, can produce a red wine good enough to compete with many supermarket wines. Occasionally you will produce something truly exquisite. Just like grapes, elderberries can differ year on year. Some years every tree seems to be weighed down with massive clusters of plump, juicy fruits that all go ripe at the same time. Other years are leaner but elder trees are so abundant you should find enough berries for this recipe.
Large fermenting bucket with lid
Bung and air lock
2kg/4lb elderberries – remove stems and any green berries
5 litres/8.7 pints of boiling water
1.5kg/3 lbs of sugar
Juice of one lemon or 1 tsp citric acid
1 tsp pectolase
1 campden tablet (optional)
1 tsp yeast nutrient
Yeast recommendations: Gervin Wine
Yeast GV2-Robust wine, Vinters Harvest wine yeast VR21 & R56.
1. Freeze the berries overnight, as this makes it easier to prise them from their bitter green stems. It also breaks the skin and allows juice to run more freely.
2. Put the berries in the fermenting bucket and crush, squeezing out as much juice as you can. I recommend a clean pair of rubber gloves for this job. Gently squish the berries in your hands and try not to crush the seeds inside.
3. Whack in the sugar and pour over a litre of boiling water, stirring until the sugar has fully dissolved. Add the rest of the water, the acid and yeast nutrient. If you wish, take a hydrometer reading to see how strong it is. The campden tablet (if using) should also be added now – this kills bacteria but can cause headaches in some. If you do use a campden tablet, leave the mix for 24 hours.
4. Check the temperature is below 32°C before adding the yeast. Ideally, this should be made into a yeast starter but if that sounds too technical, sprinkling the yeast over the must (unfermented wine) still works.
5. Leave to stand for 3-4 days so vigorous fermentation can take place and then siphon into a demijohn. Leave it for around a month.
6. Syphon it into another demijohn, leaving the lees (aka sediment) behind. This process is called racking and should be repeated between 1 and 3 more times depending on how much sediment builds up. Top up with boiled-then-cooled water each time as you will lose some liquid.
7. When the air-lock stops bubbling, your wine is ready to bottle. Cold may pause the fermentation process, so if you are not sure then move your demijohn to somewhere warmer. The steadier the temperature is kept during fermentation, the better. A hydrometer allows you to be sure. Take a hydrometer reading after each racking. As soon as the reading is stable for three days, your wine is ready to bottle.
8. When ready, siphon your wine into sterilised bottles adding corks. Don’t use screwtop bottles. Let your wine sit for at least a month, if not a year or two, before drinking. If this is too difficult, make 10 times this amount and hide as much as you can.
Hedgerow Soft Drinks
The simplest ways to get the flavour of the wild into a drink is to make a quick syrup that can then be added to fizzy, hot or cold water. I tend to go for rose, mint or thyme.
2 tablespoon of the fresh herb – rose petals / mint / thyme
250ml boiling water
Make a tea with the herbs/rose petals and boiling water before pouring in the sugar and stirring vigorously until it dissolves. Allow to cool, then use or pour into a sterilised bottle. These syrups will keep for a few weeks in the fridge. With a nip of vodka that shelf life will increase to six months – but then it’s unsuitable for the children. You’ll have to drink it yourself – what a pity!
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