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Limoncello, a few ways

Limoncello, a few ways

Is there any fruit that feels more like a sunbeam, than a lemon? Limoncello, the happy yellow essence of perfect lemons, is one of those universally welcome gifts. It’s equally good as a digestif after long summer meals with friends, or as a cheer-me-up in […]

Bushland Barleywine

Bushland Barleywine

I’m relatively new to beer making, and in fact beer drinking. So it surprised me to find that the ones I love best aren’t the refreshing pale ales that most closely resemble the lagers of my youth; or even fruity fresh IPAs; but huge, mellow, […]

Potion of Heroism Metheglyn

Potion of Heroism Metheglyn

I love good produce and take recipe creation pretty seriously. But as the great Arlo Guthrie once said, “I know I’m supposed to be singing. But you can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.”

Sometimes you have to be silly.

Noodling around on the internet late one night, I came across this blog post from Patrick Rothfuss. If you’re not familiar, Rothfuss is one of the great fantasy authors, and a very funny guy to boot. He writes of his first foray into mead making:

“It’s 1999 or so, and I’m thinking that I’m going to take a crack at making some mead… I learn some interesting things. I learn that the name “metheglin” comes from the old English term for medicine. Metheglin was mead with a bunch of herbs in it. Because, as you know, herbs are good for you.

But as I read more it all started sounding like a huge pain in the ass… I wasn’t looking for a part time job. I didn’t want to babysit this goddamn thing for 6 months, petting it and taking its temperature and cooing sweet nothings in its ear.

No. I wanted to muck about with glass bottles and tubes for an afternoon. I wanted to make a potion. I wanted to do some goddamn mad science and then not think about it again until the stuff was ready to drink.

Then I thought to myself, “Self,” I thought. “This is bullshit. Vikings made this, and I guarantee that they did not own a hydrometer. They just thumped it together in a barrel and then drank it and pillaged some shit.”

Now, I do like my hydrometer. I think the Vikings probably would have used yeast nutrient if they’d had some (and actually, from the evidence we have, it seems like they threw fruit and grain and other good stuff into their mead, which would have done much the same thing). And, I dunno, I’m conservative, but I was a little worried about getting dissolved gemstones in my mead (which Rothfuss did), or for that matter involving hallucinogenic moonflower seeds (yup, he did that too).

But the silly metheglyn idea rolled around in my mind for ages. I kept on wondering where it could go. And then everything came together in the middle of a Dungeons and Dragons game.

I was going to make my own potion: a potion for adventurers. A potion for the brave.

In D&D, the ‘potion of heroism‘ makes you incredibly lucky and hard to hurt: you’re all fired up and ready to fight a dragon. For that I wanted a few things. An awesome colour (got it thanks to butterfly pea blossoms). A sweet, rich, spicy base (sweet mead with a whole shop o’ spices). And a real challenge for the drinker. In D&D lore, the potion sizzles and smokes. I didn’t actually want to hurt my friends, but in the same spirit, I did want the potion to present a challenge. I mean, you can’t just have a cup of chamomile tea and go off stronger to smash orcs, that seems unfair. I went with scorpion chilli.

Butterfly pea blossoms (clitorea ternatea) turn acidic drinks a lovely shade of blue or purple, depemding on the PH. The dried flowers can be purchased in small packages online. If you’re in no hurry, grow them at home. They are very pretty in the garden and easy to cultivate. They really don’t taste like much at all.


Potion of Heroism Mead

Makes approximately 6.5L of mead must, which I fermented in a bucket, then racked to a 5L jug with one spare 750ml bottle, then finally to a final 5L jug. You could halve the amount and just throw it into one gallon jug and leave it for six months, as Rothfuss did. It wouldn’t be its best possible self, but it’d be totally fine. If you do that, add the infusion of spices last, when you bottle the mead. If you’ve never made mead before, the Reddit community sidebar has some great pointers.

OG 1.123, semisweet when finished at 14%. The finished gravity and ABV will depend on your yeast.

Ingredients:

First day:

  • 2.8kg of the lightest coloured honey you can find, such as clover or a very light orange blossom
  • Water, to 6.5L
  • 1/4 tspn potassium metabisulphite

Second day (24 hours after the potassium metabisulphite is added):

  • Yeast, 5g, rehydrated in Go-Ferm, 7g. I used 71B

Third day and into fermentation:

  • Yeast nutrient, divided into four portions

In a jar, and strained into the jug at the final racking:

  • 1 cup of vodka
  • About 20 dried butterfly pea blossoms
  • 20 black pepper seeds
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 3 slices fresh ginger
  • A pinch of dried wormwood (or use gentian or hyssop: this is to add a little bitterness, but you could leave it out)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon, broken up
  • 1 clove
  • 1/4 tspn grains of paradise, crushed
  • Zest of half a lemon and half an orange
  • One hot chilli, sliced in half (I used a scorpion, left in for one day only, because I like to make my adventurers work for their potions).

These final ingredients only take a week or so to work their flavours into the vodka, but I wanted to make everything up all at once. You can strain the vodka into a new jar after a week, then just set it aside somewhere dark until your mead is ready to rack.


Did you enjoy this post? The Booze News is a curated collection of new ideas, recipes and research on home boozemaking from around the web. Some are from this site, some are from other good places. Add yourself here for irregular deliveries of deliciousness.

Tasting the Carrot Whiskey

Tasting the Carrot Whiskey

A year and a half has gone by since I made my experimental batch of carrot whiskey. Time to taste! The batch took a long, long (long) time to stop fermenting. I don’t really know what these carrots added in terms of fermentables, and the […]

ADDING BODY TO COUNTRY WINES (2)

ADDING BODY TO COUNTRY WINES (2)

A bit more than a year ago now, I posted the start of an experiment on adding body to country wines. To recap: What’s the best way, among the many weird and wonderful home methods out there, to add a bit of body and fullness […]

Why enter competitions?

Why enter competitions?

If I haven’t shown you my competition trophies… well, let’s be honest, that’s highly unlikely. I’m quite obnoxious about it. My parents are very proud. The folks at work are usually happy to celebrate a win with a glass or two of homemade mead. Telling the postie was probably a step too far.

While pondering the trophies’ shiny fabulousness (again), I did find myself wondering why I love comps so much. After all, plenty of very good boozemakers never bother with them. Since I only make small batches, it’s not like there’s tons to go around. And then, isn’t it a bit… weird to be competitive when what you love most is the hands on physicality of the thing, the spices, the fruit, the honey… the absence of the outside world from the task at hand?

Not at all. Just like the impending deadline of a fun run can energise you to get off the couch on Sunday morning and enjoy the air in your lungs, a competition (if you approach it right) can be a great motivator to dive into your hobby rather than clean the bathroom.

Which, let’s be real, is only going to get gross again.

Comps are great! They give you so much…

1. The push to create

There’s nothing like a good deadline to really get the imagination running and the hands making.

Knowing that my wine guild’s annual show comes up every November, that the club will be expecting everyone to enter something… and that dammit I missed out on a medal for mead last year, is quite the kick in the pants to actually make that cherry metheglin that’s been kicking around in my head for months.

2. The feedback

While your friends are going to tell you everything you do is art, there’s the very real possibility that they a) love you and are telling you what you want to hear and b) like getting tipsy for free.

One of the hallmarks of a well run competition is useful feedback. Some judges spend decades training their palate and learning how to communicate what they experienced when they sipped your booze. Good judges can offer hints on what needs improving and what you did right, and give you a sense of what level you’re at right now.

In fact, lest you think comps are all about winning medals, it’s pretty common for experienced boozemakers to put something in a comp just to find out what the heck is wrong with it!

3. The community

Once the judges have made their decisions, there’s often a public tasting, where you can sip your booze again next to some that have done better, and some that have not fared as well. It’s an education in itself. You can even park yourself next to a table of drinks and just listen in as people taste and discuss.

And then, after the results are all posted and the score sheets come out, clubs often come together to share again, sheets and notes in hand. What did the judge mean by this feedback, we ask ourselves. Could this one have used a different yeast, a bit of sugar? How could this drink be improved, to score slightly higher?

Oh, yours scored better than mine? Yes I would like to taste some. And can I please have your recipe…

4. The shiny, shiny medals

Let’s not kid ourselves, trophies are awesome. I suck hard at sports: this is my chance.

And finally, there’s…

5. The completely awesome and often rather random prizes

Local businesses, especially the ones that sell to do-it-yourselfer types, often sponsor categories with vouchers or product. I once won five kilos of hickory chips. 10/10 would enter again.

Convinced? I do hope so.

If you’re thinking of giving it a go (yay!), it’s worth doing a little research to find out what the rules are, and if you’ll get plenty of feedback.

And finally, but really importantly….

Seriously, this is key:

Make your peace with the fact that humans, and volunteer humans at that, are judging on the day.

With all the good will in the world, some days there are not enough experienced judges in the room. Your feedback sheets might be very slim: on a very bad day, you’ll just get a score. Sometimes you will violently disagree with a judge, and complaining is not only useless, but rather unfair given that every human tastes things differently. I don’t agree with the judge who thought my hopped cider should be sweet, but neither of us is wrong. He or she was the one doing the volunteering on the day, so he or she gets to make the call for that comp. I’ll continue to make my cider dry.

If you enter competitions and can add to this list, or indeed if you’ve decided they’re not for you, I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

Booze News

Did you enjoy this post? The Booze News is a curated collection of new ideas, recipes and research on home boozemaking from around the web. Some are from this site, some are from other good places. Add yourself here for irregular deliveries of deliciousness.

Ice Cider

Ice Cider

So, friends, I’ve been on a bit of a high. This Monday night, I found out that I won best cider, best mead, best novice, and best brewer (tied), at the Victorian amateur brewing championships (Vicbrew). That means that three of my creations are going […]

Meet the Peach Santa

Meet the Peach Santa

Are you one of those people? … who lives for the first stone fruit, for cherries around your ears and dark red plums and too many apricots (not that that’s a thing)? … who buys a peach from every shop all through summer: hoping, tasting, […]

“If you can peel them, they’re not kumquats”: How to choose and use kumquats

“If you can peel them, they’re not kumquats”: How to choose and use kumquats


…That decade or more past Keats’s span 
makes me an older not a wiser man, 
who knows that it’s too late for dying young, 
but since youth leaves some sweetnesses unsung, 
he’s granted days and kumquats to express 
Man’s Being ripened by his Nothingness…

‘A Kumquat for John Keats’, by Tony Harrison

When you think of kumquats, what flavour springs to mind? Is your memory sweet, or sour? 

When I was a kid, my parents cared for a potted kumquat tree (well, I thought it was a kumquat tree, more on that later). They loved this elegant little tree with its glossy leaves, mass of aromatic blossoms, and round, golden fruit that brightened our porch.

I used to try, again and again, to peel and eat the fruit, but it really wasn’t there for the eating.

Over the years, as I’ve lost the child’s obsession with sugar, I have come to really enjoy picking the odd golden kumquat. But they were never the best fruit, the kind you looked forward to. That space in my heart was reserved for cherries, peaches, and mangoes.

And then, on a wander through a market a few years ago, Mr. Small Batch and I spotted some quite different-looking fruit sitting in a small bowl at the counter, labelled ‘Fortunellas’. We bought them out of curiosity, and were immediately hooked.

Nagami kumquats (Citrus margarita or Fortunella margarita)

They were crunchy, sweet-skinned, and when you bit into them they burst with a tiny bit of fragrant, sour juice, which soon disappeared and gave way to sweet flesh again.

In the years since, we’ve become addicted to these, and a devoted customer of specialist farmers The Kumquatery. Every year around late July, a couple of boxes of fresh Nagami kumquats arrives from South Australia, to be ripped open and devoured in short order. 

Still, I remained a little confused as to why the round fruit I see left on trees around Australia, are so different to the ones that I get in the post. Sometimes the foraged fruit is good, sometimes bad: kumquats have felt like a bit of a lottery.

Luckily for me farmers are a generous bunch, and Patria at The Kumquatery was happy to walk me through what makes a kumquat, a kumquat, and what to do with a lot of kumquats when you have them!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your farm? 

‘We have a five acre property in Renmark, South Australia, just off the Victorian border, and we’ve been here for around seven years. We grow around 500 kumquat trees.

Seven years ago, we bought the business from somebody else when it was very low key and we thought we could grow the business. We thought there was a niche market and thought we’d give it a go. Since then we’ve opened up the market right across Australia for our fresh fruit and our kumquat products.’

So – I’m not the only weirdo who gets boxes of kumquats in the post?

‘No – there is actually a lot of demand for it!

We could probably sell our entire fresh fruit crop, and sometimes actually have to say no when we get towards the end of the season, or we wouldn’t be able to make and sell our marmalades or our candied kumquats. ‘

Candied Marumi kumquats drying at The Kumquatery

‘It’s one of those forgotten fruits that’s not grown much commercially. But people will remember trying one, they’ll get excited to see them for sale and buy some to share with their family and friends. And then those people want to buy more.’

What’s up with these sour kumquats that everyone has in their gardens?

‘That’s actually not a kumquat! The ones you see in front gardens are normally ‘Calamansi’, which is also called ‘Callamondin’; they’re closer to the mandarin family.

When people say they don’t like kumquats, that’s usually the one they’ve had. And I’ll say to them, well, that’s actually not a kumquat. The Calamansi is a different family of plant: if you’ve got a true kumquat, you actually can’t peel it. You eat the whole thing.’ 

Citrus madurensis. Known as Calamansi or Calamondin, or even Philipphine Lime (the skin is green when it’s grown in the tropics), it’s not a kumquat but a citrus-kumquat hybrid.

Confused yet?

‘You know, everyone has their tastes and lots of people do love the Calamansi style, the sourness of them. Other people would rather have the Nagami or Marumi varieties that we grow. The Nagami is a tangy variety. Marumi is round, and tangy-sweet. Still has a little bit of a tang to it, but a good amount of natural sweetness to it as well. 

Marumi has a lot more seeds, where the Nagami usually only has two or three little seeds in it.’

How do you know when a kumquat is ready to be picked?

‘They’re at their best when you’ve got full colour over the whole fruit, so it’s orange from top to bottom, and the calyx (the spot where they connect to the bush) has lost it’s green tinge. That’s when they’re sweetest. 

Size doesn’t matter at all: big or little, they are all great just as long as they are beautifully bright orange all over.’

And people leave them on the tree for a long time. Is that bad?

‘No, they actually hang on the trees very well. We can actually get a good three to four months’ harvest with them.

And a kumquat tree will have a couple sets of flowers over the summer, so you can have two or three crops on your tree at once. Your harvest keeps going that little bit longer.’

bees collecting pollen from kumquat flowers
Kumquat trees are absolutely ideal planted in a spot you’ll walk past at night, as the blooms not only pick up the moonlight, they’re incredibly fragrant.

On that note, how can people get the best out of the fruit?

‘Really the best way to enjoy it is straight away. As with any kind of fruit, it’s always at its prime as soon as it’s picked and delivered. Turn it into something great, or eat it right away. Don’t let it sit around in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks, because you’re going to lose all the beautiful tenderness of the fruit.’

I have a bowl of them on my kitchen table, and we eat one every time we walk past. They’re like fruity Sour Patch Kidz.

‘That’s perfect. They should be enjoyed and shared.’

Is there a variety of kumquats that you really wish you could grow, but for some reason you can’t? 

‘I would love to have the new seedless variety of Nagami. There’s one in America, but you can’t import it into Australia. I make a lot of marmalade, and that would really save me some time!’

Apart from just eating them, how do you use lots of kumquats?

‘There’s so many different things you can do with a fresh fruit or even any of the products we sell. We turn a lot of them into candied kumquats and ‘kumquat crumble’. And I actually just stir the crumble through scones. Phenomenal with a little bit of butter straight at the oven.

Our kumquat syrup is also great for marinading chicken, with a little bit of fresh thyme, some garlic, chicken fillet or chicken kebabs. Let it marinate for a couple of hours in the fridge and then chuck it on the barbecue. Yum.’


What to do with a lot of kumquats

cumquats and alcohol macerating in a jar
Kumquat Elixir

In celebration of the harvest, I made up a batch of an old Italian liqueur called ‘kumquat elixir’ with white vermouth, vodka, lemon zest and spices. You can find the recipe here. Some other ideas I’ve used and enjoyed over the years include:

Kumquat Achar

Kumquat marmalade (English style, made by charming French American Bruno Albouze)

Kumquat marmalade (Moroccan style)

Kumquatcello: macerate the whole fruit and wait at least a month before moving on with the recipe 

Kumquats are delicious sliced thinly tossed through a salad or a fruit salad, or muddled into a cocktail

Rumquats: stick your kumquats with a pin a few times: stash them in a jar with rum and sugar.

Brandied kumquats with Stephanie Alexander’s recipe

Pickled Kumquats: use any recipe for Indian Lime Pickle, but substitute kumquats. It’s a little sweeter and less aggressive than a lime pickle, and every bit as fragrant

Kumquat Ginger Syrup

Or do as I do, most of the time: crunch them between your teeth and enjoy.

Do you have a favourite kumquat recipe? I’d love to know about it and to add it to this list…

Booze News

Did you enjoy this post? The Booze News is a curated collection of new ideas, recipes and research on home boozemaking from around the web. Some are from this site, some are from other good places. Add yourself here for irregular deliveries of deliciousness.

homebrewed sake:  tasting the sake

homebrewed sake: tasting the sake

This is part eight of a series on making sake at home, part one is here. If you haven’t picked it up from my posts, by now, let me be blunt… Making rice into alcohol is easy. Making sense of sake making is hard. There are […]

homebrewed sake: kasuzuke (sake lees pickle)

homebrewed sake: kasuzuke (sake lees pickle)

This is is part seven of a series on making sake at home, part one is here. I’ve been married to Mr. Small Batch for almost ten years now, and in that time I’ve picked up some instincts about Japanese food. For example, if your leftovers […]