I asked Andy for some juicy home-brewing tips and about some of his future projects
Much of your work in your books and your website Theotherandyhamilton.com is centred on making use of what you have in inventive, unexpected, and might I add damn tasty ways. What gives you the ideas? Are they the result of successful experiments or are you passing down older recipes?
It’s a mixture of both really, often I’ll see a recipe and think, “That looks good, I wonder if it will work with x ingredient instead”. Then there are some old recipes that just work and are (as you say) damn tasty, it would always be a shame not to include these. Sometimes if the recipe is old it will need bringing up to date, the addition of yeast nutrient or cold tea can make all the difference. I also work by finding things whilst out foraging and knowing that I enjoy the flavour of them I then try and work out how they would work as a drink.
I’ve made your nettle beer recipe quite a few times with amazing success – very popular and a great mixer with cava to make hedgerow cocktails (dead posh!). However, on a last occasion I added too much yeast and the brew became pretty volatile, blowing the corks out of the bottles gushing it everywhere. What the worst mishap you’ve had with home brewing?
I suggest that you bottled too early with that one, rather than added too much yeast. A mistake that I made with elderberry wine a few years back when we lived in a rented house. Our then landlord, in his infinite wisdom, decided to paint the kitchen white. We protested as the house was damp and knew it would only be a matter of time before it looked grotty again. Well, that time arrived sooner than we thought. The day after it was painted I’d stacked 6 fresh bottles of my finest elderberry on the top of our shelves. We sat in the living room watching some telly and heard pop followed by a pouring sound. We ran into the kitchen to find a bottle had spurted its contents all over the ceiling and down the freshly painted walls, wine was dripping out of our cookbooks and my bread machine, which became a right off!
Other disasters have happened when I haven’t sterilised properly, if there were any two bits of advice I could give to new booze makers it would be to bottle later and to sterilise everything.
With the success of River Cottage, What to eat now, wild food and similar, ideas about foraging natural foods and cooking up homegrown recipes seem very popular at the moment. Why do you think that is?
I think it depends on what you mean by popular, people do love reading about wild food, going on wild food courses and even sometimes eating it in restaurants but even people that come on my courses don’t always apply the knowledge. There is still an idea that all wild food is poisonous or is covered in wee from a fictitious dog with a massive bladder. The thing that many people don’t realise is that they are foragers and have been all of their lives, think about blackberries, I bet you have picked them and have done for years. If so then you are forager. I’d like to see people getting braver and perhaps foraging just some of the weeds in their gardens or allotments and using them in meals. Of course you do need to make sure that you know what you are doing but there is a lot of info out there.
Have you plans for another book? If so, can you share hints?
I have plans for many more books! I am currently writing just one of them, Brewing Britain – Search for the perfect pint*. It’s due for release in the Autumn 2013. Its very different than anything I have written before and will have a lot more of me in it. Over this summer I have been sampling some of the best beer made in this country and believe me there is a lot of it around. This Autumn I am to become a Dad and so this is my final bout of freedom before I turn all responsible.
Once our boy is born, being housebound I’ll be brewing on an almost daily bases. I’m building a small brewing area onto the side of my house and I’ll be brewing up beers using knowledge gained from some of the best brewers in the world. As for hints, well I’d suggest that any beer brewer should do exactly as I have and try out as many beers as possible. Beer is amazing right now and it looks like it continues to do so. Don’t go for fancy labels but do your research and look out for great artisan beer. What I’m discovering also is that its all about the yeast but you’ll find out more next Autumn!
Finally, what’s your best original recipe?
You might have tried sloe gin, but most other spirits can be used and the final results can transform that neglected Christmas present left at the back of the drinks cabinet. This recipe uses Whiskey.
1 litre Whiskey
1 drop of almond essence
Put half the sloes and half the sugar into a sterilized kilner jar – ensuring that the sloes have been left in the freezer overnight. Pour over half a litre of the whiskey and the drop of almond essence and shake vigorously. Place the jar in the tea cupboard and shake every time you make a cuppa. Repeat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then shake every couple of weeks for three to six months. After this time decant back into the bottle and try and leave until this time next year by which point it will be delicious.