Although I’m still learning and experimenting, I’ve done enough fermentation now, I think, to consider myself reasonably experienced, at least when it comes to solid, savoury foods; in the field of fermented drinks, I’m still a complete beginner, at least in my adult life. The first ferment I made, in fact, was Binger Geer from The Weird And Wonderful Cookbook, a comically fizzy and powerfully gingered concoction made first with the help of, and then, as I got bored with the lengthy, repetitive process and realised I didn’t much like the stuff, almost entirely by my dad, himself a keen home brewer. He makes a fine dark ale, and a number of more or less experimental and palatable country wines; the blackberry has, in years past, made an excellent mull for Christmas Eve.
Brewing beer has always seemed like a complex and arcane process to me, requiring large investments of time, skill and equipment, and so, in fact, it is; you can buy one of those can kits and make yourself a batch of indifferent bitter with relative ease, but as you can easily buy indifferent bitter at any supermarket, cornershop or pub, it seems a little pointless. Making anything decent or interesting is hard, and best left to professionals or dedicated hobbyists; making country wines is much easier. This is obvious, when you think about it. With beer, you take a sweet-smelling but fairly unpalatable mash and coax it gently into a complex deliciousness; wine-making lets you start with something delicious and basically leave it alone, your only input being to not cock it up. Moreover, light, gluggable wines are something I generally want to drink, and they’re quite hard to come by in this country. So.
With this in mind, and with the help of Sandor Katz, I thought I’d try making honey wine. Given that honey is basically the tastiest natural thing, this is very easy. You just mix honey with water (1:4) in a bucket and leave it to do its thing; once it’s done that, you put it in a sequence of bottles until you want to drink it. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are the basics. Deciding when you want to drink it – that is, when it is at its best – is the hard part, but since it’s your wine you can sort of decide what its supposed to taste like anyway. There, that was easy, wasn’t it? Even if it goes really wrong, you’ll probably end up with vinegar, and fresh, unpasteurised vinegar is a lovely thing. You can, if you want, use it to make more drinkables, in the form of shrubs or sipping vinegars; or you can pickle things in it, taking the all-my-own-work glow of preserving up a notch. Or you can just use it as vinegar, in dressings and sauces and marinades. Honey wine vinegar is bloody lovely. Next time you find yourself with a lot of something sweet, I urge you – stick in a bucket and wait. You might not be disappointed.