For a long time I have fealt that sourcing food locally can make a really positive difference to the world around us, and am more than happy to extend this philosophy to alchohol as well. The countryside is stacked full of all sorts of fermentable treats, and as spring gets going and the days start to warm up one of my favourites comes from the silver birch tree.

There are two native species of birch, but in practice both are fine. Find a nice open grown one with a clean looking stem that it is at least 18 inches diameter at the base. I always try and choose a healthy looking tree that is tucked away in a nice location.

Using a drill with a bit the same size (or preferably ever so slightly smaller) as the plastic tube you have brought with you, drill a hole at an upward angle into the stem of the tree. You don’t need to go very far in, about an inch is plenty.

You should see the sap start to run out of the hole straight away. Its best to try and do it when there is a couple of days of nice weather forecast. The sap flow is usually best at this time of year, but the exact timing varies depending on the weather.

Put one end of the tube in the tree and the other in your collecting vessel. It can up to take a couple of days to collect a gallon, but if you catch the flow just right you can fill a demijohn in less than a day. I usually seal the top of the demijohn to protect against flies or bits of twig falling in and then hide it with some bracken so it can’t be seen.

When your demijohn is full its important to stop up the hole in the tree so as not to leave it bleeding.

FInd a twig or bit of wood and chamfer the end to make a peg. This peg should then be knocked nice and tightly into the hole and cut off just proud. This will allow the tree to heal itself without further loss of sap.

If you forget to take a bung with you when you collect your demijohn the same technique can be used to make a demijohn stopper!

The sap is a clear watery liquid, which I always think tastes slightly of twigs!

There are loads of recipies out there for turning the sap into wine, I have used a number of different ones over the years, at the moment I am using one based on the one in Ben Law’s “woodland year” book.

You need:

1 gallon of birch sap, 2 lemons, 1/2 lb of chopped raisins, 2lb of sugar and a sachet of wine yeast.

Add the juice and some of the zest from the lemons to the birch sap and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the raisins and sugar. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Leave until lukewarm and then add a general purpose wine yeast. Put in a fermenting bin until initial fast fermentation has slowed down. Then transfer (leaving behind the raisins etc) to a demijohn and fit an airlock. After a couple of weeks when the sediment has settled out rack off into a clean demijohn. Then leave to ensure fermentation has finished and all sediment has settled before bottling. It should be ready to drink by the late summer, but will be even better if you leave it till this time next year.

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