The first days after New Year are a time when many people resolve to give up the booze - for a few weeks at least.
But an enterprising homebrew group has proved that you don’t necessarily need to produce beer or wine to enjoy the satisfaction of making your own beverages.
Falkirk District Homebrewing Club (FDHC) is not restricted to those aged 18 and over - it’s youngest member is just five-years-old. That’s because those under the legal drinking age make juice, not alcohol. Instead of a pale ale or sweet dessert wine, youngsters learn to make lemondade.
“It was my wife Doris’s suggestion,” explained vice-chairman Ian Smith (55). “It doesn’t take a lot to make juice, and the kids really enjoy it. My grandson Aiden, who is five, is our youngest member.
“Obviously, we can’t have children along at every meeting, but it’s great to have them there on family open nights.”
The most recent of these took place in Bainsford’s Dawson Centre a few days before Christmas and was attended by local councillors David Alexander and Cecil Meiklejohn, who were invited by the club to learn more about its community work.
FDHC was founded in
Langlees in 1981 by Ken Shirra, who now acts as chairman of the revived group. It is still based in the area, but has members from across the Falkirk district.
Ian - who is also a member of the long-established Denny Wine Club - decided to restart the Falkirk group with his son John (30).
“The original group stopped due to a lack of suitable venues and evenutally the interest fell away,” said Ian, a former Alexander’s employee.
“I used to make beer and wine years ago, and then my son said he wanted to learn. I offered to show him, and then thought it would be a good idea to see if we could get a club going and see what we could get in terms of members.”
There was another motivation to revive the group in addition to passing on winemaking skills.
“There’s very little in the way of community groups in Bainsford and Langlees,” he said. “The club is intended to be a social occassion as much as it is about winemaking. It gives people the chance to meet up and have a chat as well as learn a new hobby. Our oldest member is 71, and he enjoys the chance to get out and meet people.
“We try to advertise the date and time of our meetings as widely as possible, but there’s only so much you can do. The success of these things are really down to word-of-mouth, but we already have around 30 members and hope that number will continue to grow.
“At an average meeting, after we have dealt with the club business, we’ll have a discussion about any beers or wines that members are making, and offer advice and share recipes. We’ll then have a wee wine tasting competition among the members to see who has made the best bottle that month.”
The emphasis is on encouraging people of all abilities and backgrounds to come along and find out more about the hobby. No prior experience is neccessary nor expected from new members.
“I began making beer and wine around 25 years ago,” Ian continued.
“It’s not hard to make. Folk will often say things like they don’t like homebrew - as they tasted it a while ago and didn’t like it - but it’s important to remember that you can only make it to your own taste.
“When I began making wine, I used to like a medium sweet. Then when I started going to the Denny club, I found their members prefered a more dry wine, so I learned to make that as well. You have to make a variety to suit people’s different tastes.
“And the beauty is, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work - you can just pour it down the sink.”
The club should not be short of new members. There has been a renaissance in homebrewing and ‘craft’ beer across the UK in the past decade, and Ian is hopeful that same interest will now transfer to winemaking.
The Falkirk Herald first reported on the rising market for real ale/craft beer in November 2013 as part of a feature on the independently-owned Tryst Brewery, based in Larbert.
Eight new breweries had opened in Scotland in 2013 alone, and that sales of real ale/craft beer had risen 12 per cent during the same time period.
Many of those responsible for the new brewing ventures first learned their skills at clubs like FDHB, and while none of its members are considering commercial ventures for now, the hope is that it will be a fruitful time for homebrewers and winemakers.
“I think there is more of an interest today,” Ian said. “There are a lot people that make it, but the question is whether we can encourage them along to join the club.
“I also go to Denny Wine Club, I looked around to see if there was a wine club about and they asked me to come along. They’ve been going around 30 years, but interest has waned to a certain extent.
“There are some difficulties as no shops in Falkirk stock the required kit - the nearest is at Uphall, or through in Glasgow or Edinburgh.”
Ian hopes that 2015 will see all members of the club progressing so they are all capable of producing competition-standard wines. They are also looking for any locals with judging or winemaking experience who are willing to visit the club and pass on their expertise.
Falkirk District Homebrewing Club meets on the third Friday of every month at the Dawson Centre, Bainsford, from 7-10 p.m.
Denny Wine Club meets on the second Friday of every month at the Broompark Centre, Denny, from 8-10.30 p.m.