Andy Hamilton’s Beech Leaf Noyau

After my problems with Andy Hamilton‘s nettle ale lately, I thought I’d better get my booze mojo back with a recipe that he describes as unfailingly foolproof, as I was feeling a little foolish and fallible.

[Andy kindly responded on Twitter, by the way, and we agreed that I probably didn’t leave my ale to ferment for long enough – I pretty strictly kept to the recipe’s prescription of 3 or 4 days, but could/should probably have gone up to as much as 10 days to make sure the fermentation had properly worked its magic – as it was, I ended up with something desperately sickly sweet, as not enough sugar had turned to alcohol.]

Andy tells a great story in his wonderful book, Booze For Free, about a hopeless but enthusiastic home brewer who finally wowed his long-suffering friends with this: Beech Leaf Noyau. I could relate to this man, so this caught my eye.

beech leavesI was particularly pleased because, while I’ve long loved beech trees, with their elephant’s-foot trunks and the incredible twisting, sinewy shapes they throw, I’d never foraged anything from them. The only thing I could conceive of using might be the beech mast (nuts), which many foraging guides will tell you are not worth the bother, though Andy H says they’re great raw. But that’s for another season.

This season, of course, brings beautiful, glowingly green and succulent-looking new leaves, of course, and Booze For Free would have you pack them half full into a jar, cover in a bottle’s worth of gin and leave in a dark cupboard for a few weeks, shaking occasionally and making sure there is something to weight the leaves down below the surface of the alcohol. After three weeks, discard the leaves, stir in some sugar syrup, a dash of brandy and bottle.

I finished these final stages today, and now face the most difficult part: waiting three months until it’s ready to be drunk (and I am ready to be drunk). I can’t wait to find out what the magical flavour is that one of my favourite trees bestows.

Beech leaves soaking in gin

Beech leaves soaking in gin

Gin strained of the leaves after 3 or 4 weeks

Gin strained of the leaves after 3 or 4 weeks

Sugar syrup and brandy added, bottled, now ready for its three months of maturation

Sugar syrup and brandy added, bottled, now ready for its three months of maturation

This isn’t really brewing, of course, merriment-inducing though it is, so to really get back on that horse I need to get fermenting again. Believe it or not, my elderflower champagne was actually a big success last year, despite my debutant brewer status, so this is probably going to be my route back in, as the elders are all suddenly frothing with flowers and I don’t want to miss this chance.


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