If this title conjures up only a long-buried childhood memory of your dad escaping to the sanctuary of the garage to check on his plastic keg of beer kit bitter (no, just me then), think again. Think instead lavender lemonade, star anise vodka, elderflower cordial and cinnamon schnapps – all made simply, by your own fair hand.
Award-winning wine writer, broadcaster and drinks expert, Susy Atkins' new book How To Make Your Own Drinks breathes new life into the concept with more than 70 surprisingly simple recipes for homemade alcoholic and soft drinks, from amaretto, limoncello and flavoured vodkas to raspberry-leaf tea and cherryade. We spoke to Susy to find out more about the DIY drinks revival:
Susy – most of us at least attempt to cook from scratch, but have probably never considered making our own drinks from scratch – is that what inspired you to write the book?
Well, I'm just about old enough to remember the 1970s and 80s when there were quite a lot of books about this sort of thing, but then there seemed to be a real gap for a long time when no-one wrote about it and it seemed like an old-fashioned thing, but it's come right back in again. I think it follows all the grown your own/foraging/source things locally trends and now as well as raising chickens and all that sort of thing, why not make your own drinks as well?
Is it something you've always done?
I remember making drinks with my parents as a child, and it's something I've done since we moved to Devon from London ten years ago. We live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by tons of things like elderflowers and blackberries and I inherited quite a lot of fruit bushes and trees. Lots of people here make sloe gin, elderflower cordials, limoncello – that sort of thing.
What was the first drink you made from scratch?
As a child I made dandelion wine with my parents, but as an adult, my first was elderflower cordial: I had small children so that seemed like the obvious thing to make with and for them.
Most of the recipes in the book are fantastically simple - lots having only three or four ingredients...
Yes, most of them are really easy. The more complicated ones are the fermentation ones – the wines and the nettle beer. In the book I stayed away from including beer recipes other than the nettle beer as then you do start getting into buying specialist ingredients, but it really is amazingly easy to make fruit and flower wines. There's this mystique around it – people think that you have to have all this amazing equipment, but everything you need is listed on one page in the book: it's one trip to a homebrew shop or the internet – anyone can do it.
Do you have a favourite recipe from the book?
It's hard, because there are alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, infusions – so they're all very different. I have a personal affection for the lavender lemonade. I just love making that – the way it makes the house smell so lovely while you're making it – the way it turns pink when you add the lemons – I love it. It's a great all-rounder that you can serve to anyone, young or old and I can't wait to start making that again this summer.
The other one that people adore is the limoncello - that's the one that the team who helped to create the book have been making all through the winter, even after we'd finished writing the book – it's just so easy and so impressive to friends!
One of the things you suggest in the book is that homemade drinks make great gifts...
Yes, absolutely – you can save up old attractive bottles, or buy them really cheaply, and it makes a really nice gift. Turning up at someone's house for a dinner party with homemade drinks is like turning up with homemade chocolates – it's really something – deeply impressive, and looks like you've spent way more time on it than you actually have!
To illustrate just how easy it is to get creative with homemade drinks, here is possibly the shortest ingredients list we will ever feature, in Susy's recipe for Star Anise Vodka.
How To Make Your Own Drinks, published by Mitchell Beazley is out on 26 May 2011, priced £16.99.
Star Anise Vodka
Great for creating a quick, perfumed, pastis-style spirit, to use up any pretty star anise leftover while Chinese cooking. The aniseed flavour is strong and natural, and very slightly sweet and spicy.
25 star anise
70cl vodka (unflavoured)
1. Place the star anise in a large kilner jar and pour on the vodka.
2. Seal, shake gently and leave for 3 days, turning twice a day.
3. Strain, bottle and enjoy within 4 weeks.
● This tastes slightly medicinal (but in a good way), and seems to soothe a sore throat.
● Chill this and add cold water to taste and some ice cubes for an instant French pastis/Greek ouzo experience.
● Save the discarded star anise for cooking – chuck some in with roasting pork chops, or use in a Chinese-style marinade.
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