Getting Pissed – For Free!

Well almost free.

Why spend a fortune on booze at the offy, when you can get six litres of rocket fuel from a hedge, for next to nothing?

Since moving to the sticks we’ve quickly realised that you can make booze from pretty much anything. Parsnip? Check. Carrot? Yup. Rice? Err, ok. Rhubarb, hawthorne, blackcurrant, parsley, nettles! Basically anything that grows in the country (or in your garden) can be transformed into a tasty tipple.

Most of them take a while to ferment etc, so if you’re looking for something for the weekend, you better plan well ahead. The one we’re trying at the moment, elder flower champagne, appealed because it was a) easy, ingredient wise and b) quick. It takes about two to three weeks from start to finish, but the end result is fantastic (ie it will get you quite nicely drunk)

Here are the ingredients we’re using –

Makes about 6 litres


  • 4 litres hot water
  • 700g sugar
  • Juice and zest of four lemons
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • About 15 elderflower heads, in full bloom
  • A pinch of dried yeast (you may not need this)
This is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls recipe and we’ve only made a few amendments.
Firstly pick the elder flower heads. You’ll find them in elder trees…Don’t get confused with the tall necked weed that look a bit like elder flower, but will in fact kill you (it won’t kill you, but it won’t taste that good). You’ll see elder trees absolutely everywhere, especially now you’re aware of them. It might be a little late in the season now, but you’ll still find a few still in flower, here and there. Check that the heads are white or creamy. They smell like cat piss, but don’t let that put you off. Collect about fifteen heads, for the six litre recipe. I’ll let Hugh tell you what to do next –

1. Put the hot water and sugar into a large container (a spotlessly clean bucket is good) and stir until the sugar dissolves, then top up with cold water so you have 6 litres of liquid in total.

2. Add the lemon juice and zest, the vinegar and the flower heads and stir gently.

3. Cover with clean muslin and leave to ferment in a cool, airy place for a couple of days. Take a look at the brew at this point, and if it’s not becoming a little foamy and obviously beginning to ferment, add a pinch of yeast.

4. Leave the mixture to ferment, again covered with muslin, for a further four days. Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with muslin and decant into sterilised strong glass bottles with champagne stoppers (available from home-brewing suppliers) or Grolsch-style stoppers, or sterilized screw-top plastic bottles (a good deal of pressure can build up inside as the fermenting brew produces carbon dioxide, so strong bottles and seals are essential).

5. Seal and leave to ferment in the bottles for at least a week before serving, chilled. The champagne should keep in the bottles for several months. Store in a cool, dry place.

The only thing we’ve done differently is add a little extra sugar, when bottling (one teaspoon) and used pop bottles instead of glass bottles. You’ll have to let the carbon dioxide out every couple of days, or you’ll have elder champers all over the place, there’s quite a lot of pressure in there. When it gets going, the pissy smell goes and it tastes and smells more like pears. Properly lush and a really nice drop.

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