As we get older, many of us begin to look for new hobbies with which to occupy the time not taken up with Eastenders, X-Factor and the making of soup from yesterday’s assorted leftovers and, as the government seeks to raise the revenue gained from the sale of alcohol to such a point that one would need a very stiff drink indeed before even considering the purchase of one, many are turning to home brewing.
Home brewing is an absorbing and enjoyable hobby. Drinking home-brew is not. Never-the-less, thousands of otherwise sane and reasonable people spend many hours each week mashing fruit, adding yeast and standing back whilst it turns itself into something green and combustible. In this modern age of home-production, recycling and composting, it has become the green hobby of choice. There are literally hundreds of books on the market offering help and advice to the would-be brewer. Unfortunately, they all leave out the single most important piece of advice – don’t bother.
STARTING OUT – If you have purchased the standard range of books and followed all the advice, then you will have more glass vessels, plastic tubing, jars of chemicals and empty bottles than you can shake a stick at. The first thing you need to do is to throw everything into a cupboard and lock the door. Leave them there for at least a month while you try to think of a more sensible hobby; perhaps rope-less bungie-jumping. If, after a suitable pause for thought, you decide that you really can’t resist the lure of cheap and delicious wines, then go to the supermarket.
PICKING THE FRUIT – Don’t! Get somebody else to do it. Ignore everything the books tell you about buying only top quality, clean and sound fruit. Rotten fruit is cheaper and it squashes easier. The blanket of mould that forms over it within a few hours can easily be destroyed with the use of a liberal handful of the chemicals from your cupboard. The resultant brown sludge lurking in the bottom of your bucket is called the must, I don’t know why, but it’s the basis of all homemade wines. If this doesn’t discourage you then nothing will.
STARTING TO BREW – The books will tell you to add sugar and yeast to the must and to syphon it into a demijohn. This is impossible. The must is as thick as jelly and sticks everywhere. If you try to suck it through a tube, you will probably give yourself a coronary. Use a ladle and a funnel and be prepared for your hands and feet to stick to everything for at least 48 hours. Presuming that you still wish to continue after this, simply bung the demijohn with an airlock and put it somewhere warm and out of sight. As the wine begins to brew, gas will begin to bubble through the airlock. The books will tell you that this gas (carbon dioxide) is odourless – it is not. When you open the cupboard door then you will know what it is to smell a marathon runner’s sock.
FACT – It doesn’t matter how much room you leave at the top of the demijohn, the wine will always bubble up through the airlock and rot the carpet.
MATURING THE WINE – When it stops making a mess, then the wine has probably stopped fermenting. Don’t bother buying a hydrometer, they are unnecessarily complicated. If it removes paint, then the wine is ready. If it leaves a sticky brown patch or glues your hands together, then it is also ready. Now is the time to syphon the wine off the lees (sludge) and into a clean demijohn. If it is clear, then there is something wrong, it is probably water – check in the cupboard for a bucket full of rotten fruit. If it is extremely murky with a fluorescent scum on top, then it is normal. Ignore the presence of insects, they are probably dead. Now is the time to cork the demijohn and hide it somewhere dark to mature.
FACT – It doesn’t matter how long you leave it, homemade wine never has long enough to mature.
BOTTLING THE WINE – When the wine is fully matured, i.e. when it is almost clear enough to see through and any submarine fragments are below half an inch in diameter, then it is time to bottle it. Don’t worry about using the right type of bottle, you will after all, be far too embarrassed to show anybody the end product anyway. A word of warning though – some plastic bottles are liable to melt when filled with corrosive liquids e.g. Dandelion Hock, so go for good strong bleach bottles. Ignore advice to label your wines with details such as type, date etc. Home brewers are notorious bores and no-one will want to know.
FACT – There are no medium home-brewed wines. They are all sweet, sweeter or hallucinogenic.
SERVING THE WINE – My advice is don’t. Your friends will probably never speak to you again – they may not be able to. If you really feel that you must serve it, then do so by making it into a punch. It is easy to blame the cloudiness on the other ingredients, such as orange juice or Vim, and the strange flavour onto sour fruit and a new herb you are trying.
Never make exaggerated claims for your wine. Do not, for instance, claim that it is ideally suited for consumption with a good, strong curry, if you actually mean that it will remove lime-scale from most porcelain surfaces.
A SHORT GLOSSARY OF HOME-BREW TERMS:
• WINE – The drink of a home-brew enthusiast.
• WHINE – The sound of a home-brew enthusiast.
• NOSE – The smell of a home-brewed wine.
• TEMPORARY BRAIN DEATH – The effect of a home-brewed wine.
• ACID – Any home-brewed wine that is not sweet.
• SYRUP – Any home-brewed wine that is not dry.
• NORMAL – Any home-brewed wine that is not clear.
• BEER – Home made wine with a head.
• ALE – Home made wine with a head and bits in.
There are better things in life than alcohol, but it makes up for not having them. Terry Pratchett