Originally Posted on Apr 13, 2016
Two Thirsty Gardeners is a website documenting the work of two guys, Rich and Nick “… digging and swigging their way through the seasons..” The website initially began as a way of documenting their trials in growing produce and making booze and has continued to grow. Their success has led to a book, Brew It Yourself, which is an easy to read and practical guide to brewing, as well as being packed with traditional (and some not so traditional) beer, cider and liqueur recipes.
Today we are chatting to Nick, finding out a little more about the website and his history of brewing and growing…
I see you work in design, a world away from allotments. How did Two Thirsty Gardeners come about? Myself and the other Thirsty Gardener, Rich, started making cider about ten years ago. He subsequently acquired an allotment site so we thought it would be fun to grow other produce for booze making, chronicling our trials on a website. The site took off so we kept growing and brewing more and more…
When did you first start to take an interest in growing your own fruit and veg? What spiked your interest? My parents had a touch of ‘The Good Life’ about them and grew plenty of fruit and veg in our garden. Seeing small seeds turn into large food-bearing plants is very exciting as a kid and I still find nature’s processes fascinating.
Was it a natural progression for you to move from growing to brewing yourself? Again it’s what my parents did so I’ve always had the home brewers curiosity. I remember making carrot wine when I was way too young to drink it, and used to help my dad with his beer kit brewing. Seeing murky liquid burst into bubbly life and eventually clear and become drinkable is another slice of natural magic.
Do you have any advice for aspiring gardeners? Don’t get too caught up with the need to maximise harvests or grow pristine specimens. That aspect can start to turn it from fun into something more competitive (and costly). Stick stuff in the ground, if it grows then rejoice, if it doesn’t try something else.
You have some interesting flavour combinations in your brook ‘Brew it yourself’ (chilli tequila and mango margarita and spruce bitters and spruce martini immediately jump to mind, where do you find the inspiration for these? Lots of research and experimentation. There are flavours that were widely used in the past that we’ve forgotten about (eg. spruce tips are full of vitamin C, so Captain Cook insisted his crew drank spruce beer to fend off scurvy); there are flavour combinations that are common in foreign countries that have been ignored here (eg. the Basque region of Spain make spirit infusions that combine coffee, vanilla, sloes and aniseed); and messing around with ingredients is great fun.
Are there any combinations that haven’t worked? I struggle with pretty much anything that includes bananas. They’re a very popular booze ingredient throughout the world, used widely in wines and beers, but apart from a fairly decent banana and blackberry wine I’ve not had much success with them. And it took ages to perfect our recipe for home-made absinthe – early batches were among the foulest things I’ve ever drank. (The one in the book works a treat!)
Where did you learn to brew? What have you found to be the hardest thing to master? Brewing beer is remarkably easy. Start with a beer kit to get a feel for how it all works and assemble the right equipment, then progress to combining malt extracts with other grains and hops before stepping up to all-grain brewing like the professionals. That’s the route I took and would recommend it to anyone. Getting precise timings and temperatures can be tricky, but… good news… it only really matters if you’re desperate to make exactly the same beer every time.
What was your first drink and where were you when you had it? I honestly don’t remember, it was so long ago! When I was a nipper my dad used to help out on a local farm during busy hay bailing times and all the workers would be rewarded with some of the farmer’s cider at the end of the day. I used to tag along and get to sample the cider so that could well have been my first taste. Either that or some of my parents own home brews.
What drink can you no longer face having had one too many? Ha! There is no such thing! There are plenty of drinks I would never touch because they’re too revolting, but even my worse hangovers have failed to put me off their causes.
What is the silliest thing you’ve done whilst drunk? I’m quite good at keeping a lid on excessive behaviour and my hangovers have been given more legendary status among my mates than any particular booze-induced antics. However, I did go through a phase of starting drunken congas in foreign bars. They’re a great way to break down social barriers. Due a comeback I think.
You are stuck on a desert island, what three things are you taking with you? I’m going to be really boring here, but I have a retractable pencil which I treat with more respect than pretty much every other item I own. So that’s coming with me along with a large notebook made from decent paper. And the third item, I’m less bothered about… so how about one of your cases of Belgian Beer? Orval or Westmalle Tripel. Or maybe some gueuze. Or perhaps I should go for a mixed case…
Good news! If this Q&A has piqued your interest, with thanks to the Two Thirsty Gardeners we are currently offering you the chance to win a copy of Brew It Yourself, alongside a case of mystery UK beers.