Strange Brew

I like alcohol a lot and when thinking about the reason for it came up with…..my parents. 

My mother swore by a tot (or two) of whiskey with warm water and honey, all mixed together, when I had a cold.  No matter how snotty or bunged up I was I slept well on this homemade remedy.   Given my love of spirits I suspect that I either had a lot of colds when I was young or my mother discovered a way for all of us to get some sleep!   Unfortunately, mum never passed on the tried and tested recipe to me.  After I left home and was living on my own I contracted very bad flu, tried the concoction – replacing whiskey with brandy.   I woke up in bed the next day with a shocking hangover nursing an empty bottle.  I guess one could say that the remedy worked, although not quite as I expected, as the hangover was far more distressing than having the flu. 

At the age of three I discovered Guinness when I drank my father’s pint, which he had thoughtfully placed on the floor behind him whilst working on some DIY project.   Turning round he saw an empty glass and a small child staggering back into the kitchen.   As my sister and I grew up our parents often took us into pubs to ‘socialise’ us.  Generally we sat in freezing cold gardens so no one saw two minors gulping down a ½ pint of lager/shandy/scrumpy/cider or Guinness each and reported it to social services.     

I owe my appreciation of wine to my mother who went through a phase of wine making.  She was awful at it and therefore any bought bottle was more acceptable to the palate.  The pea pod wine developed mould, the gooseberry was tart, the grape got fruit fly and tasted of vinegar and her fruit wines were ‘interesting’.  Although I must say her carrot whiskey packed a punch.   I watched and learned.  Some lucky children have a patch of garden they can grow strawberries or something in.  I also had a demi-john and an air-lock to turn that fruit into 14 percent proof wine.  My first attempt was elderflower.  It tasted amazing and sparkled like bubbly.   

By the time I lived on my own I owned 15 demi-johns and a large cellar of homemade wine.  It was cheap, strong, mainly good and there were no chemical additives.   When I went to university (as a mature student) I kept the kit and started to make home brew in earnest – well I was broke most of the time and it was a good way to drink without spending too much!  Luckily the house I lived in was near the river and a lot of allotment plots which were subdivided by large bramble bushes and elderberry trees.  I started to specialise in blackberry and elderberry wine.  Word spread pretty quickly around campus and frequently someone would come knocking at the door for a bottle of the good stuff. 

I expanded my wine range when I joined an Elderly and Disabled Social Club in York as a volunteer and found an unlooked for supply of free fruit.  Many of our members had gardens and trees that had a plethora of plums, apples, pears, gooseberries and raspberries.  Not adverse to a tipple themselves, they would give me a few bags of the fruit in season and in return, when the wine had matured, I would slip a couple of bottles into the back pocket of their wheelchairs.  It all had to be done on the QT as we didn’t want to make those who were not allowed to drink feel excluded.    Apart from that the woman who ran the club was a bit of a sergeant major and treated the members like children.   So those in the know loved the subterfuge as it made them feel like they had one up on her.           

I rejoined the land of bought wine I went on holiday to Australia.  At that time Australian wine was a bit of a novelty in Europe and expensive.  My first buy was a white wine – 2 litres for 3 dollars, supplied in a white plastic bottle.  It tasted amazing.    When I came to live in Australia, many years later, I had the good fortune to arrive at a time when they were having a wine glut.  I enjoyed extremely good wines at extremely reasonable prices and developed a taste for ‘reserve’ years.   Unfortunately, wine has gone up a lot since then and I have had to revise my consumption considerably.   It looks like I’m going to have to get the brewing bucket out again. 

Does anyone out there have a couple of demi-johns going spare?

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