Smart Consumer: Beat the recession blues -- brew your own booze!
One of the worst things about a recession is that it makes you want to drink more -- but you can't afford it.
In fact, we are drinking less -- a lot less -- as pub sales of alcohol plummeted since 2007.
However, a growing band of people are bucking the tee-totalling trend with a home-grown solution to the problem.
They are making their own wine from 75c a bottle and beer from as little as 30c a pint.
These massive cost savings have combined with a growing movement towards self-sufficiency that itself is a backlash against the consumer excesses of the boom.
Donal Condren, managing director of www.homebrew.ie, reports a four-fold increase in business last year.
"It's not just the money. People are getting back to their roots -- keeping chickens and growing their own vegetables as well," he says.
Carmel Bell, owner of www.thehomebrewcentre.ie, pronounces 2010 the best year yet for "country wines", (the sort experts make from scratch without a kit).
"I used to think it was like some guy in a garage hiding from the guards and making poteen. But then I realised how much it's catching on."
The last homebrewing boom was in the 1980s and '90s, but the Celtic Tiger put paid to that because everyone was too busy and too well-off to bother making their own.
The processes back then were also more time-consuming and challenging, which put off many would-be enthusiasts.
Not any more. Now we've got time on our hands -- and plenty of incentives to save cash.
"The kits are also better and the yeast is much improved and faster. You can really play around with flavours," says Mark Hughes of Mybeerandwine.ie, which is based at 92 Lwr Rathmines Road in Dublin.
But how good can a five-day wine really be?
Donal frankly admits that "you get what you pay for".
He compares the fast-track wines to something from the bargain bin of an off-licence -- drinkable but not much more than that.
However, if you're prepared to wait four weeks for your vino, a kit such as the KenRidge Classic can be comparable to wine costing three or four times more in the shops, according to Donal.
"KenRidge Classic (for just over €2 a bottle) is 10 times better than the seven-day wine," says Donal.
But why such a difference? One key reason is the amount of concentrate in the kit.
Donal explains: "You get 10 litres of concentrate with the KenRidge Classic range and just 700 grammes with a cheapie kit. That really makes a difference to the flavour."
And what about strength? Actually, DIY wines can be made as strong as you like (within legal limits).
For stronger wines, add more sugar; for weaker ones, cut the fermentation process short.
You may also be wondering how kit wines made in your hot press can carry the same illustrious names as Rioja, Shiraz and Chardonnay?
The answer to this is simple -- the concentrate comes from grapes and wine suppliers in these regions.
So, is making your own beer and vino really worth the effort? I put to the test popular wine and beer kits from www.thehomebrewcentre.ie
I chose the Beaverdale six-bottle Rioja kit for wine and a 40-pint Pils kit from Belgian outfit Brewferm.
The delivery charge was just €5 and everything arrived by courier within two days.
The wine and beer took about an hour to mix. The UK-based Beaverdale instructions were very easy to follow, however, something seemed to have been lost in translation with the Belgian Brewferm kit.
Be careful to avoid the two most common pitfalls made at this stage. The first is killingthe yeast by overheating it and, secondly, not sterilising the containers and equipment properly.
Donal reckons that the optimum temperature is 18 to 20 degrees Celsius for wine and beer, which is conveniently around hot press temperature for this time of the year.
So how did they taste?
The beer was great -- with more flavour than the popular lager brands.
As for the wine: well, I have to confess to a little trepidation when I went to taste my late 2010 vintage Rioja.
A snow-bound December had subjected the batch to wild fluctuations in temperature and I had to re-bottle it after omitting some key ingredients.
However, it too tasted fine. Not up there with the finest Riojas but, even at the youthful age of four months, definitely a decent and full-bodied red that goes down nicely with steak.