This blog is a record of the wine that I make and drink. Each flavour made and each bottle drunk will appear here. You may come to the conclusion that, on the whole, I should be drinking less.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Brew It Yourself - Review of an Excellent New Book

The Book Cover

Brew It Yourself by Nick Moyle and Richard Hood is the most recent addition to the ever-growing library of books about how to make your own booze. An experienced home-brewer might be sceptical about whether there is room on the shelf for another book. A novice may not be sure about whether this is the right book to choose to get started. I would urge both to get this book. There is much to delight the experienced brewer, and it both guides and encourages the novice.

The book is divided into six main sections: wine, cider, beer, sparkling drinks, liqueurs and cocktails; and each has a host of recipes. I turned to the wine making chapter first, on the basis that this is where my knowledge lies. There is a good range of recipes, from classics (elderberry, parsnip) to the more unusual (oak leaf, pineapple) stopping on the way for instructions for three types of mead.  The methods given are straightforward and never complicated, and there is a very useful ‘basics’ section at the beginning in case this is your first time at having a go. What I love about the ‘basics’ chapter is that the Two Thirsty Gardeners demystify the process. There is nothing precious here. They throw out the requirement found in some literature that wine should have “temperature-controlled storing conditions” and they actively encourage experimentation. Advice on the first page includes “Treat measurements as a rough guide” and “Taste is subjective”. As soon as I read these, I knew that I had found two kindred spirits.

The chapters on cider and beer took me away from a subject I know, but made my fingers itch to try – particularly the cider section. It is clear that the authors love their craft, and they make it sound easy. But easy in a way that makes the reader suspect it truly is. Pear and Ginger cider sounds delicious, and there are handy hints on how to choose apples. In the beer section, I particularly liked the advice to make only one gallon at a time. The one time I tried to make beer, it was for vast quantities, and the result was disappointing. A gallon I could imagine doing. And how can anyone resist a recipe for “Nick’s Liquorice Stout”?
The introductory page for Cider
 The remaining three chapters were actually the ones I enjoyed most, because the ideas are fabulous and the methods looks as if they require very little patience. I have never made a sparkling drink on purpose (though several by accident, as my exploding bottles attest), not even ginger beer. Brew It Yourself gives instructions for nine of them, and the ginger beer has been expanded by the addition of chilli. Lavender Sparkle sounds like a must-do, and Tepache, made from pineapple, a cinnamon stick, brown sugar and nothing else is something that I am going to try as soon as I remember to buy a pineapple.

For the most nervous of readers wanting to make their own drinks, the chapter on liqueurs is probably the place to start. There is no brewing involved, just simple instructions on what ingredients to mix with which spirits. Of course the chapter begins with sloe gin – it would be sacrilege if it did not. Thereafter, the drinks become more unusual: raspberry and thyme whisky, mint, lime & lemongrass liqueur, mayflower brandy and many more besides. The authors have chosen the ingredients carefully and give the reader confidence that the suggested flavours will match.
Raspberry & Thyme Whisky

Finally there is a chapter headed ‘Classic Cocktails and Curios’. Some of the cocktails are familiar (Bloody Mary), some less so (Spruce Martini). All look effortless. As for the curios, they sound so unusual that they have to be tried: Beetroot Kvass, Marrow Rum, Glögg.

It is clear that much thought has gone into the layout of Brew It Yourself. There are many inserts, within the pages introducing the chapter, and in the recipes themselves. Here we are told snippets about C J J Berry, what wines to use for cooking, Norse mythology, and how to grow rocket. Within chapters the authors will break off from providing recipes to have a couple of pages about relevant issues. Within the wine-making chapter, we get an informative page dedicated to honey, for cider the recipe-break is dedicated to apples and for beer it is hops. This continues in each of the chapters, and is an interesting method of preventing the reader from being overwhelmed by the number of drinks he or she could make. For as well as being a book of recipes to follow, Brew It Yourself is also a book which you can read from start to finish for pure enjoyment. Nick Moyle and Richard Hood have an engaging and always humorous writing style. They pun, they have internal disagreements and they are genuinely funny.

This review has yet to mention the most striking thing about the book. It is a thing of beauty. I have the hardback version (I don’t know when the paperback will be out, but I would urge you not to wait for it) and the cover has a pleasing feel and look. Its colours are well chosen, and the indentations suggest quality even before you open the book to read it. Then, inside, the photographs accompanying the text are outstanding. Who would think that pictures of cloves or dandelions or frothing pints of beer could look so inviting? The book’s designer has made Brew It Yourself as much of a coffee-table (or should that be wine-table?) book as a genuinely useful book of recipes.
The Authors
Brew It Yourself is a wonderful book – it would make an excellent present, but be more adventurous than that. Buy it for yourself, and then make any one of the drinks it suggests (make several) and give these as presents – if you can bear to part with them.