My attempt at living "the good life" resulted in a bowlful of plums, three raspberries and a few potatoes – the sum total of last year's crop from my garden.

Clearly my fingers are anything but green, unlike Jake Griffin's. For years he was producing so much fruit from his Glasgow allotment that he had to ferment what he couldn't eat or turn into jam. "At some point," he told me, "I thought, 'Hang on – I'm making wine, but I drink beer.'"

Realising it couldn't be that difficult, he got into home-brewing with his friend Chris Lewis. In 2010 they won a prize at Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts for the beer they had brewed for the event's pop-up pub. "I think it was 'visual arts' because they could see us serving it to people," Griffin explains. "I then made beer for a friend's wedding, and everyone was really positive."

Sufficiently spurred on, the pair decided to enter the Institute of Brewing & Distilling's home-brew competition, held for the first time last year at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Being fans of zombie films, they called their brew Zombier which Griffin describes as a very robust, dark porter. He told me they used a mix of malts, roasted without their husks, to give the beer lots of colour and flavour without the associated bitterness.

Instead of wafting around the sort of cheque you might see on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? the organisers had something far better to offer. The outright winner was to be brewed and bottled by Williams Brothers of Alloa, with the runner-up brewed by Fyne Ales in Argyll. The thought of having your very own brew transported out of the kitchen or garden shed and transformed into something sold in pubs is beyond the wildest dreams of almost any home-brewer.

The dream came true for Ed Young, who won first prize with Impale – an extremely hoppy, American-style IPA – and Griffin. In both cases the beer was life-changing. Young will soon join the Daleside Brewery in Yorkshire once he has finished his brewing degree at Heriot-Watt, while Griffin was offered a job with Fyne Ales the night his beer was launched in Edinburgh last November.

With a freshly-minted PhD in neuroscience, Griffin could have landed a lucrative job in industry, but the pursuit of happiness got in the way. "I want to do something that represents my genuine interests in life." Without Zombier, he reckons he would "probably be living in Nottingham, being unhappy and getting paid loads". Still, it would have been an easier commute than the daily slog from Glasgow to the head of Loch Fyne, which can involve ferries, buses, lifts and doing the last stretch on foot.

Thanks to a bevy of beer bloggers, Zombier went viral on the internet. It seems the name and the brand's psychedelic imagery caught people's imagination. Even the Japanese have ordered a pallet.

Meanwhile Young will be back to defend his title at this year's home-brew competition next month. There are six categories covering everything from golden ales to speciality beers. For details visit

Fyne Ales Vital Spark

Great Grog, Cornelius and good independents, £2.50 (4.4%, 500ml)

Named after Para Handy's famous Clyde puffer, Vital Spark is a deep, rich brew of dark chestnut with lots of resinous, bittersweet flavours from the roasted malt. These are lifted by the hops that add a dry, spicy character on the finish.

Williams Brothers Joker IPA

Widely available, £1.70-£1.80 (5%, 500ml)

There are plenty of hops on the nose of this lively IPA, with its slightly dusty smell of dried flowers and pine cones. Some of the aromas come through on the taste, which is fairly light bodied and fresh. Very drinkable with a crisp aftertaste.

Taste the difference Verdicchio 2011

Sainsbury's, £4.99 until Tuesday then £7.49 (13%)

For a fiver, this is a good-value expression of one of Italy's top white grapes from the Adriatic coast. It offers a mouthful of citrus fruit, a little ripeness in the middle and a short finish. There is a lot more to verdicchio than this, but it's an OK introduction.