What could possibly be better than spending a Wednesday afternoon in the park, soaking up the sun (and booze) with a bunch of local bartenders and an expert forager? That's exactly what happened this week when I was invited along to Drink Aberdeen's Wild Booze Walk.
Drink Aberdeen is a week long celebration of all things booze in the Granite City. Organised by 10 Dollar Shake's Adrian Gomes, the line-up included gin dinners at both Rye & Soda and Moonfish Cafe, a rum and chocolate tasting at Cocoa Ooze, a pop up Drygate bar at Melt, a Tiki takeover at 99 and so much more!
I was kindly invited along on the second foraging walk of the day in Seaton Park with Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods, and Fabiano of Reyka Vodka. Mark is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to plants and had us munching away on ice plants like hungry little bunnies.
Admittedly I wasn't keen on the leaves - beech trees, lime trees, whatever kind of tree it comes from, they all just taste like salad leaves to me. I don't like salad! The rowan tree on the other hand, has little flower buds that taste just like almonds, but I'd still much rather catch those little yellow bramble hybrid berries all day.
It wasn't all plucking leaves off trees though. Mark had brought along an array of syrups, shrubs, tinctures and infusions that showed just how well you can make use of what you find in your own backyard! I was surprised by the taste of many of the plants he showed us.
We were introduced to sweet cicily, which reminded me of Sambuca with it's aniseed flavour. The plant belongs to the carrot family which includes other well known herbs like dill and coriander, as well as the dangerously poisonous hemlock plant. Sweet cicily looks very similar to hemlock so it's a good idea to know how to spot the difference before you go foraging the wrong thing! Look out for the aniseed scent and white spots that look like bird crap (but aren't!) and you've got sweet cicily.
Some say weeds, Mark says tonic. Smash dandelions and mix with water and sweetener to create your own dandelion tonic water and serve with a decent gin - like this one, or maybe even this!
A few of our bartender friends were in need of a hangover cure and Mark found just the thing. Meadowsweet contains the same compound used in aspirin and is apparently a great cure if you dehydrate and smoke it! Look out for the creamy, yellow candyfloss flowers. Luckily Mark had come prepared and we sampled his homemade meadowsweet syrup, as well as one made from Japanese knotweed.
Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant, and UK law classes it as a controlled waste. In other words, if you take some you have to dispose of it in a way that it won't grow roots and take over the place you left it! The best way to do this is to burn, or eat it! Mark recommends getting your hands on the asparagus-like shoots while they're young and pulping them to a sour juice.
Of all the concoctions we tasted along the way, the wild sour was my favourite. Made with sea buckthorn juice, sweetener and bitters! Even better than the sour though, was the cake.
Common hogweed is known to taste like ginger and I can confirm this hogweed flavoured cake was divine! If only there'd been less of us on the walk I could have eaten the whole lot. Another use for this plant is to simply eat it as a vegetable - the young shoots are apparently delicious fried in butter. Avoid the older shoots and again make sure you know how to identify the plant. You don't want to confuse it for the toxic giant hogweed!
While lots of Mark's tales were aimed towards those in the drinks industry, I still found it informative and fun with great company! He showed us so many different flowers, pods, leaves, shoots and roots that I couldn't possibly remember each plant and all it's uses. I at least remember the important stuff: buttercups are toxic, the roots of wood avens taste like cloves (yuck!) and foraging rule number one - never, ever eat a yew tree!
To finish off our ramble round the park, we were treated to another drink or two. Reyka vodka ambassador Fabiano had been enthusiastically stuffing greenery into a bottle throughout our forage which was then blended with Reyka to create our "taste of the walk" cocktail.
Mark was also prepared with his expertly crafted "Copse Reviver No. Tree"! A cleverly named take on the classic cocktail, combining clarified Japanese Knotweed juice with sweet cicily infused Reyka, a homemade vermouth (which got the seal of approval from our award winning bartenders!) and triple wormwood triple sec. The perfect way to celebrate Drink Aberdeen. Slainte!
*I was invited along to the Wild Booze Walk as a guest of 10 Dollar Shake. As usual, all views are my own and 100% genuine.