Look, I am not an alcoholic, but I do enjoy my evening glass of muscadel. So when the first alcohol ban was announced, I checked the stocks and saw that I had enough bottles squirrelled away for quite a long siege. Everything would be fine.
However, when the second ban was announced, I felt a twinge of alarm. What would happen if I ran out of my daily tipple? The stocks were indeed running low. I tried to do without, just to see what would happen, but the twitches and spasms were just too much, and the animals threatened to leave home. I would need an alternative supply.
So when I saw Niki Botes’ guide to homebrew in this very publication, I thought: “This is it! Cheaper, more reliable, no queues at the bottle store. I will start making my own apple cider (which is about as close to muscadel as I am ever going to get) and my problems will be solved.”
Having an rather undergraduate approach to DIY, I rooted around in various cupboards to see what I could find. There was a retired bag of Granny Smith apples at the back of the fridge, an antediluvian packet of brewer’s yeast from some long-ago flirtation with mead production, lots of sugar, and some dusty cinnamon sticks. However, the tea bags were almost modern.
I slung this all into my biggest soup pot, boiled it up, sprinkled over the yeast, and put it into a cupboard.
Several days later, nothing was happening. A tentative taste indicated nothing more than sweet apple water. Was the yeast, perhaps, on the elderly side? I decided to leave it a bit longer.
After a fortnight, something had definitely occurred. I had produced apple vinegar. The brew was now so sour that the edges of the pot had puckered. Humph. Even though I managed to choke down a glassful, it was clear that no alcoholic production had taken place. I would need to start again.
Being of a frugal persuasion, though, I was not going to throw good old apple vinegar away. So I ladled in some bicarbonate of soda to get rid of the acid. It frothed up most satisfactorily, and tasted like apple-flavoured toothpaste. Then I needed to add more sugar, and so I found a half-crystallised bottle of soda syrup (strawberry flavour) at the back of the cupboard.
Strawberries and apple? Sure!
In it went.
I warmed the concoction up and added a fresh packet of yeast. The whole convocation went back into the cupboard for the fermenting process to begin.
And begin it did. Within a few hours I had to put a brick on the lid of the pot to prevent the viscous pink foam from invading the house. The entire abode smelled like a brewery.
I couldn’t wait to taste the result.
A few weeks later I was chatting to my hairdresser about my foray into the distilling industry. She told me she and her husband had tried the same, with excellent results.
“How long have you been brewing yours?” she asked.
“About five weeks,” I replied.
“Five WEEKS?” she exclaimed. “It’s only supposed to ferment for five DAYS! Your mixture is going to be SO STRONG!”
I went back to check the recipe and – sure enough – what I had read as five weeks was actually five days. With some trepidation, I opened the cupboard and regarded the pot. I thought I detected a faint growl. I half-expected it to leap up and grab me by the throat. Some of the pink foam had been trying to crawl out, but the re-inforced lid had beaten it back.
I tasted it, and recoiled. I seem to have invented something that I could run my car on. The small tot that I sampled ricocheted around my insides and gave me a very satisfactory buzz, and that night I slept like a top. (I must confess though, that the mouth-corrugating taste required dilution with lemonade, but the resultant agglomeration was most tasty.)
According to internet advice from other brewers, when you ferment your apple cider for too long it just becomes very dry and then needs to mature over several months. It can’t kill you, assured the Internet. That was a relief.
The only repercussions from my foray into home brew is that, to this day, everything I have subsequently cooked in my stockpot tastes faintly, but not unpleasantly, of apple cider. I have therefore moved the centre of operations into plastic buckets (with tight-fitting lids).
So. I am onto something.
This is hot stuff.
I might never have to buy muscadel again, ever.
Actually, muscadel? Pfft! This beverage could knock muscadel into a corner with its hands tied behind its back.
Actually, back in a minute, want to go and have another glass…
Ah, that’sh better. I have now had several p-p-p-portionsh.
Excushe me, want to go and try a little more…. it jusht, jusht, gets better with every, every ….