Earlier this year I started brewing my own ginger beer, following instructions in the River Cottage Fermentation Handbook, and I’ve been making batches regularly ever since. My ginger bug – the ginger and sugar concoction that’s used to kickstart fermentation – lives in a jar in the fridge like a sourdough starter. Come to think of it, she lives next to my sourdough starter. Did I mention I’m obsessed with fermenting?
It spiralled from there, really. I’ve been fermenting pineapple and even banana skins to make tepache (a Mexican fermented drink that goes brilliantly with rum or tequila). I’m watching the elder trees near our house like a hawk, just waiting for my opportunity to make elderflower wine (and, later, elderberry wine).
And my latest effort is a natural rhubarb wine. Technically, the River Cottage recipe that I follow is for a gooseberry wine but, ever one to stray from a recipe’s path, I wondered if it would work with rhubarb. And it does. The result is a lightly fizzy, mildly alcoholic wine that tastes of rhubarb and custard. This is not fancy wine, obviously. There’s definitely some green rhubarby stuff floating at the top of the bottles. (It’s fibre! It’s good for you!) This is a wine to drink while wearing dungarees and with earth under your fingernails. But I love it. It boggles my mind that I can combine fruit and sugar and time, and create something that will get me tipsy. Science, baby, science.
It’s quick to make, too, ready to drink in two weeks. Which, as you can perhaps imagine, is what makes this whole fermenting wacky drinks hobby so addictive. It’s a much easier and quicker process than Rob’s ‘proper’ cider and wine. With this rustic stuff, there’s no need for wine yeast or additives. And since you brew in small batches, you don’t need to worry about storing it for the long term – or making a huge batch of wine only to find out it’s, well, a bit shit. We’ve been there in the past with our grape wine and it hurts. Emotionally, that is.
Want to give rhubarb wine a go? Come on, let’s make rustic rhubarb wine a thing. All you have to do is blend rhubarb, sugar and water together (350g, 350g and 1ltr respectively). Then whack it all in a big jar, rhubarb pulp and all, and cover the jar with muslin. Leave at room temperature for a week, then strain it off, pour the liquid into bottles and seal. Leave at room temperature again for another week or two (I was happy with mine after a week), then store the bottles in the fridge to slow fermentation. Otherwise you’ll have a rhubarb explosion all over your face, and ceiling, and kitchen table when you come to open it. Not that I speak from experience or anything…
These quantities make 1.5 litres of wine, which is perfect for brewing regularly and experimenting with different flavours. Rachel de Thample, author of the River Cottage book, says she constantly has a batch of natural wine (of varying flavours) bubbling away in her house. I can see why…
What are you fermenting at the moment? And can I come round and drink it?