Port Wine With WLP530 and Advanced Brewing: Yeast Washing

In continuing the experiments with fermenting weird stuff, the newest experiment is 1 gallon of welches grape juice and 1 lbs of dark brown sugar.

Why?

It tastes like port wine.

But that’s not the point, and it’s not what the post is about. The experiments are driven by two factors: No-one really seems to be exploring fermenting non-beery things with beer yeast and the experiments have to be cheap enough that if the product is total junk, I can toss it. The biggest hurdle here is yeast. Good yeast, which is usually $7 a phial, is way to expensive to be tossing on top of apple juice and brown sugar, grape juice and brown sugar, motor oil and other things you might want to experiment with fermenting and drinking.

As usual, we’re using a standard 6.5 stopper, three piece airlock, carlos rossie 4 quart jugs, WLP530 and whatever I feel like feeding the WLP530. Why 530? It’s got a nice flavor profile (it worked really well for the cider) and it seems fairly tolerant of.. me feeding it terrible stuff. The downside – it operates really slowly. Really slowly. Even on it’s own fermenting good old maltose it’s just slow. The cider took a month, and I wasn’t sure if the cider was going to work. In typical fashion it took three days to get started and it will probably take it a month to finish.

The yeast wash was fairly easy and I think I overthought the problem the last time. Take the yeast trub (the slurry on the bottom of the bottle) preferably by pouring your product off from it as gently as possible into a bottle or another jug, then fill the original jug up with water and shake it. The yeast is now suspended in the water. Put some foil or wrap on top and put it in the fridge for a week or until the yeast settles back down. (Note that if you brewed an all grain batch, you’ll see two layers. The bottom layer is proteins from the grains and you don’t want this). Do this until the water runs clear, usually twice or three times.

Once you have it down this far, you want to pour off the water one last time and then stir up the slurry. Pour this into a glass or (ideally) the tube the original yeast was shipped in. Top up with water (or it will mold), seal, save $7.

That being said, to get the yeast to start you either need a stir plate (but this is a post for another time) or you need a bubbler stone. The stir plate is the better option in my opinion because the yeast is going to clump up and sit on the bottom. That’s why you need the bubbler, you need to put air in the product. Lacking either one of these, I just put a cap on the carlos rossi bottle and shook the hell out of it once I had put the yeast in. This worked, but like I said, it’s a slow starting yeast which is made even slower because of the lack of oxygen in the wort.

So hows it coming along? Three days into it, it’s finally to the place I would expect actual wort to be bubbling after 12 hours (a bubble every second or so). I’m thinking the grape juice either has chemical preservatives in it or its way too acidic for this yeast. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE. If it plays out the way the cider did, it should finish sweet and have enough complexity to satisfy jaded drinkers while being easy (and cheap) enough to make to keep as a table wine.

On Catawba Grapes

There’s weirdly little history on catawba grapes. I find this incredibly strange because this particular vinaculture saved the American wine industry, wholly on accident. In a weird twist of Jonny Appleseed kind of legend, Nicholas Longworth established the cawtaba grape vine in Ohio. Similar to Maynard’s comments in Blood Into Wine, the vines had lived through temperance, prohibition and just about every major American military engagement since 1800. Why don’t we know more about him? Because no-one really has published anything about him. Wikipedia is weirdly quiet on the topic, but I think this is largely because they’d have to put the Republicans in a positive light. Wikipedia has a clear policy against this, so once again history is lost to personal agenda.

There is exactly one source google coughs up which I consider credible: You can read the story here. The Wine Historian has graciously transcribed Great Fortunes and How They Were Made which also has an excerpt on Longworth. If you try to read the book, which is available on google reader, it’s just badly written and can’t stick to a topic.

General Davy, of Rocky Mount, on that river, afterward Senator from North Carolina, is supposed to have given the German in whose garden Major Adlum found the grape a few of the vines to experiment upon. General Davy always regarded the bringing of this grape into notice as the greatest act of his life. “I have done my country a greater benefit in introducing this grape into public notice,” said he, in after years, “than I would have done if I had paid the national debt.”

Weirdly enough they made carbonated wine back then. Considering that the wine was generally fermented and served in barrels, actually spending it’s entire life in a barrel, this suprises me greatly. But, with the popularity and custom of making fortified wines to ensure they wouldn’t spoil from Europe, it’s not too much of a stretch to think someone looking to make a European style wine (which was the only popular style in colonial America) would toss in some sugar and bottle it. The result would be a homebrewer bottle grenade, as the newly fortified wine wouldn’t get to age on a sea vessel in a barrel for several months in the Atlantic crossing.

When I get the first six-ish pounds of grapes off these vines, I plan on doing a 1 gallon batch in the traditional colonial American style. Save those champaign bottles for me.

Maynard James Keenan and the Great Grape Gonspiracy

I mentioned Blood into Wine the other day – I decided to buy it having gotten one positive comment from someone and one e-mail telling me my comments didn’t work and I should kill myself and it happens to be decent.

I also would like to plug Caduceus. I’ve been sitting here far longer than I should at work paging through it (I’m up to 07/28/06) and having a blast reading it. The intro to the site is deceptive, wait until you see the vine come up onto the trellis and click on the book. Start from the beging. Click on the photos. Maynard is one of the people I would love to meet in real life. Yeah it’s a great artist and all that but he understands the purpose of The Great Work (emphasis on the last word) for what it takes to actually invest yourself in something. More on the point he’s got a wonderful sense of balance of nature to his vineyards. Some of them are graded, some of them are on the side of a hill, and when they found a mystery grape vine, they kept it. That grape vine has seen two world wars, the prohibition, “hippies and smelters” and now it’s his.

Reading this type of thing I tend to feel like I’m missing out on life by not owning a vineyard, but I suppose there’s perks to having more money than god. For one, Maynards tasting notes from literally around the world are interesting to read, if not terribly brief. But on the other hand he doesn’t come off being a wine snob. It’s something he’s interested in doing. To quote the journal, what other rock star owns a backhoe? Or what other rockstar has a subaru brat which has seen some real amature welding. Lord only knows.

My grandparents had grape vines growing around back, but I never remembered the taste. Not sure if they ever produced anything workable, certainly I don’t ever remember eating them. I do remember their back yard in the valley house being a total wash for the most part. I do plan on trying to grow grapes here, I think it would dovetail nicely into the beer brewing and the honeymead. If the cross pollonation happens the way Maynard suggests with growing fruit near the grapes, then the grapes grown in the backyard should be fantastic if we can keep the apple, pear and nectarine trees alive.

Anyway, if I’m ever in Arizona, I figure I’ll show up with my purple postal carriers hat and a shovel and see if he could use the help or if I’ll just become another paintball target.

Anyone Seen Blood Into Wine?

Looking for an honest review of Maynard’s Blood into Wine. For the sites who don’t know who he is or don’t listen to TOOL, the general take is that’s its a C-. There’s a lot of comparison to Sideways out there – Sideways making California more of a mecca for douches than it already is. It’s got about as much in common with Sideways as Star Trek did with Apollo 13. Yeah they both take place in Wine Country but so does every other movie set in California.

Blood into Wine takes place in Arizona, if you’re wondering. It has nothing to do with Sideways. Sideways was a cheap hack of Mondovino, which was a hatchet job of wine snobs. But on a more serious note, Sideways isn’t about wine, it’s about people who use wine. Blood into Wine, from what the interviews say, is actually about Maynard making wine.

That being said, anyone seen it?

The Spoils of Wort: IPA, Mead

I took a hiatus from brewing because I bought a house and had a kid. The one-two punch really put a dent in the hobbies. More on the point I couldn’t find half the fucking equipment for the longest time and there was one totally aborted batch somewhere in the middle due to the electric range not cutting it for brewing.

The previous electric range in the apartment was actually better, but did nothing to spread the heat so the eventual outcome was scorching on the brewpot until I figured out the flashing trick.

If you are interested in brewing on an electric range, the quick fix for hotspots is to buy a turkey fryer and never brew on your electric range again. If you absolutely insist on not owning a turkey fryer, then go to home depot, buy a piece of flashing (for a building) and so long as it’s not lead, it will work as a heat spreader. If you have an electric cooktop, it already has this. But seriously, buy a turkey fryer.

BEER
I’ve been getting hops off my Goldings rhizome for several years now and they just end up in the freezer. I think I killed it this year transplanting it into the garden, which sucks, but three years for a hop vine is actually a fairly long time. Point being, Goldings are supposed to be piney, sweet and floral. These were headed towards grassy. However, being an IPA, I decided to toss them in anyway for aroma. Hops tend to depend strongly on where they’re grown, so the “apartment hops” are going to be different from the “house hops” if they survived. More on the point hops don’t have very strong separation unless made in tightly controlled conditions, which tends to lead to hop of the month. I also grew chinooks, but it was never very good and finally expired, probably due to acidic hops needing more neutral soil than I could provide in a balcony pot.

The recipe was a basic IPA base, which is to say 16lbs pale and 1lbs caramel. Actually I made that 2lbs caramel and dropped the special B, pils and special roast because at .25 lbs, they don’t contribute anything. If it were black patent or chocolate, they would have made the beer roasty. Also my mash water is slightly on the high side since my thermometer didn’t survive the winter and I need to purchase another one. My best guess is that the water was 175F to 180F since the thermometer now has the column of color and then a thin line of it 5 degrees higher up. Fortunately they’re only $3. I also disagree with the 45 minute mash, generally longer is better when it comes to mash with the cutoff being when the mash drops to 160F or so it’s time to drain it before it really cools down and makes grain jello. My mash was roughly 1h15m.

I ended up using more make up water than I wanted due to me not paying as much attention as I should be and letting the mess boil over. Plus the late addition of hops usually means the brew kicks up. I need a bigger pot is really the root cause of this so I can keep a hard boil on while not worrying about what the hops are going to do to nucleation. This isn’t a huge problem with IPAs since the emphasis is on the hops and I had planned to use some of my own anyway.

The cooldown I decided to do entirely differently. Normally I’m a fan of the hot water bath or wort chiller, but now I’ve got a basement which hangs out at about 70F. A bit warm for lagering but perfect for just about anything else. The new plan was to simply put the beer in the carboy and put a plastic bag loosely over the top and let it sit overnight. The airlock here is a trap because the wort will suck in air as it cools. The air in the carboy is going to contract, the more it does so the more vacuum is built up in the fermenter and it’s perfectly capable of sucking all the water out of the airlock. The double-bubble airlocks really shine here because it works both ways. If the water is below the half way mark, it’ll keep the nastiness out. 3 pieces will pull the water right into your beer. So, if you have a double-bubble, use that if you’re not going to chill the beer ahead of time. It’s not the best filter, but it’s better than the bag. My double-bubble went AWOL in the move, hence the bag. Water isn’t the best filter, but as the K5 Bong Squad will tell you, it does filter whatever bubbles through it to some extent.

Dry hopping – I put in hop flowers and I really should have shredded them before doing it. Since they’re frozen, they’re plenty crumbly. It made a real mess to clean out of the fermenter. Plus they float. Not only do you lose the trub on the bottom but you lose the beer on top now that it’s filled with hops. I think I only lost four bottles out of what I expected to get but that’s four less bottles to drink. There’s a reason why those wine filters are so popular in the brewing community, and this is the reason.

Yeast – I double-pitch now because I’m paranoid that the long cooldown period will let things get into the beer I don’t want. Buying two yeast packets instead of one is cheap insurance.

A week later and the beer hadn’t settled, so I let it sit for two weeks and some change and things had improved. Also make a mental note to buy a keg kit. Actually washing out two cases of bottles, sterilizing them, and then washing them out again is crap. Not that kegs are easier to clean but they’re certainly better than 50 bottles. The beer is good.

MEAD
My wife eventually got the beer envy and said “Lets try making mead!” Note that we still have that lonely bottle in the basement from beeguy via Rusty, I keep saying we should drink it and she keeps coming up with reasons why not. I think it’s getting on four years old now. One of these days I swear it’s going to grow wings and fly away.

Now, BEERLAB 2021 is already setup to do wine because my wife thinks Arbor Mist is good wine. Then, just because Arbor Mist wasn’t shitty enough, there’s a brand of wine kit called Harbor Mist which is absolutely fucking foul. Any wine which requires you to add “concentrated watermelon flavor” to the mix – probably crap. The two year old bottles are actually passable because that shit gets toned down but no-one is going to mistake it for wine. We’ve had OK luck foisting it on people as wine coolers. Also a note on better bottles versus glass. Better bottles, despite all claims, pick up the hop smell. If you use a better bottle for beer, you cannot use it for wine. I have been playing with the idea of adding noble hops to wine or fermenting wine in a beer bucket if the nose is right, but I want to hear from more winemakers before committing to it. I’ve had the better bottles for a few years so they’ve got some wear on them. I also have a glass carboy and I prefer to use that.

Anyway, mead is interesting. The Northern Brewer will ship just about anything for $7.99. While it’s not a huge savings for one kit, if you order two it’s a steal. In fact they have an extremely nice selection of mead kits so I just picked a beer kit (petit saison) and we got them both. Of course, she got sweet mead and let me tell you it lives up to it’s name. The mead kit comes with energy mix, whatever that is, and three more small satchels of the same. It also comes with the standard overpitch of yeast. Of course it also comes with a metric ton of basswood honey.

Now when I link to that, it’s so you can see the color and get some tasting notes. Be that as it may, this honey from northern brewer was raw. It was slightly darker than that, strong smelling, had shit floating in there to the point of being opaque and it had a layer of stuff on the bottom. NB sends a note with it – “it’s normal for the honey to be opaque since this is brewing honey, not table honey”. OK maybe it’s a UK thing, but I wasn’t aware there was “table honey”. The instructions said it would clarify when it was warmed, which to their credit it mostly did but I’m still not sure you would want to eat it straight from the bottle. There were no mummified bees present in it’s golden depths.

Now, if this were wine there would be warming, a brief boiling period, etc. Mead is a lot more raw than wine and the process is dead simple: Warm bottles in a hot water bath, boil some water. Stir in big yeast nutrient phial in boiled water and add yeast. Fill fermenter half way with warm water. Pour in honey. Top up. Done.

I changed this a bit.

I’m in the camp that the yeast should be re-hydrated with whatever you’re going to put them in. Reason being that the yeast are sensitive to temperature and they are strongly sensitive to Ph. I could have saved some honey and put that in the water but the easiest way of doing it is to toss the yeast straight way into the fermenter. Since we already have to stir up the honey and we need to stir in the yeast food, it only makes sense to put the yeast in the must (unfermented wine-product) and stir and stir again. I did not observe any adverse effects.

The honey at this point was quite pretty and golden.

The next day – it stank. To make it more fun, there’s three additions of yeast food 24 hours apart. If it stinks now, you can bet that it would stink for subsequent feedings. Trust me, it did. It only got worse. Every time we fed it for the next three days it smelled like all sorts of strange smells. Sulphur and overripe apples abound. I was actually getting worried it had spoiled, except every time we gently stirred it we got CO2 out so I knew the yeast was working properly. Fortunately we have a radon mitigation system in the basement and it’s fairly flowy so most of it was going out the top of the house. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was unique. Once you smell it you notice it’s everywhere.

A week later I went downstairs for something unrelated and noticed it was cloudy and highlighter yellow. I was starting to fear the worst so I got out the trusty wine spoon and gave it a quick cleaning. I stick it in there and KABOOM. All the suspended CO2 came out, it looked like soda. Six gallons of highlighter yellow mountain dew. I decided to lick the spoon and it was delicious. Honey, apples, flowers and sugar. Oh this is going to be dangerous. Yes it is.

PA Response to the Monks Raid

Mom always said “You catch more flies with honey” but I always pointed out she beat the living hell out of me the day I tried squirting honey onto a fly for the purposes of safely depositing it outside the house.

I had written the PLCB over the Raid the day I saw it on philly.com.

Basically, I wrote them a nastygram.

In case you’re not familiar with PA law, it’s stupidly draconian. The PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) is a bunch of pricks who use excuses like “bulk buying brings you lower prices”. In actuality since the liquor in the state is effectively taxed at 32%, basement hooch to high end wine is accounted for to the bottle.

And god help you if you’re drinking high end wine, there’s no wine bars in PA because splitting a bottle is technically illegal.

Here’s what I wrote:

To whom it may concern at the PLCB,

WRT: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/local/20100308_Troopers_raid_popular_bars_for_un licensed_beers_Dozens_of_gallons_seized_aftercitizen_complaint.html

No-one in their right mind believes this was a “citizen complaint”. PA has long since had possibly the worst licensing and distribution system of any state I’d have the pleasure of visiting, and the PLCB is anything but a monopoly. As such no-one believes that any citizen would have both the insight and understanding of how this draconian establishment works enough to report “improperly licensed” beer. More on the point I sincerely doubt given the quality of the average state trooper or PLCB employees language skills that anyone in either of those two establishments would be able to read the barrels or beer names, most of which would be labeled in Belgian German or Flemish.

Even more on the point – it’s been legal for tobacconists to have “house blends” of tobacco, but in reality these tobacconists are selling tobacco purchased under another name. Yet no-one walks into Grandpa’s tobacco shop with state troopers armed to the teeth and says “OH YOUR TOBACCO IS MISLABELED”.

I will also submit a CONTACT THE GOVERNOR form and CC him.

As a result of this action, I’ve created a sign up sheet in my neighborhood to hold a workshop this weekend. This weekend I will teach approximately 17 people to make their own beer.

Sincerely,
Joshua Knarr

Actually the homebrew thing wasn’t nearly that popular, and it’s only got three people. But it’s good to put the fire under them. Also of note, tobacco is regulated similarly to liquor, but given the “declining popularity” the state has decided to tax the living shit out of it while not caring where it comes from. For those really not from the area, PA is the “tax state” for goods, Delaware is impossible to live in since they’re the “tax state” for paychecks, and NJ typically taxes the living hell out of tobacco. As such, we go to NJ for our gas, buy our tobacco in PA, and buy merchandise in Delaware, the home of “tax free shopping” (and god help you if the staties see you crossing state lines with a TV on your roof).

Anyway.

Here’s the letter I got back:

Mr. Knarr,

Please be advised that it is the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and not the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which enforces the liquor laws in Pennsylvania. Therefore, your e-mail is being forwarded to them for review. Thank you.

OK so lets talk to those guys. I shot them the same mail and….

This is in response to your inquiry regarding the recent raids of three Philadelphia-area bars, conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (“BLCE”), in which the PSP, BLCE apparently confiscated beers that may or may not have been properly registered for sale in Pennsylvania.

The raids in question were conducted by the PSP, BLCE, not the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board(“Board”). The officers involved are employed by the PSP, BLCE and not the Board. The Board and the BLCE are two distinct agencies. Therefore, your inquires should be directed to the PSP, BLCE Harrisburg Headquarters. Their contact number is 717-540-7410.

Ah yes, the great circle jerk of responsibility continues unabated. (Note that the state police and governor simply said “Thank you for contacting us” and included no other response).

Bolla 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

Cab savs are generally my favorite wines next to chiantis.

Bolla 2006 really screws the pooch. It’s got all the astringency you would expect, and none of the flavor. The worst part is that the aroma is fantastic. I mean it’s just jammy, grapy, raisins and fruit. You expect it to be fruity and well balanced.

Well, it would have been well balanced when it was released in 2006. However it’s just terrible now in almost 2010. Three years and a wine should just be hitting it’s stride. Three years and this wine is beat.

The Spoils of Wort: Corks and Bottles

We finally got our first batch of wine done.

Since this was my wife who wanted to make the wine, it’s fruity bullshit. Unlike Arbor Mist, however, it doesn’t seem to give me a hangover and it doesn’t taste like disgusting fruit syrup despite me knowing that there was disgusting fruit syrup added of the watermelon variety.

All things considered, the kits are cheap and it works out to about $2 a bottle.

The not so local homebrew store deserves a big plus for being both knowledgeable about their products and for letting me borrow a bottling device. Basically, the Island Mist is a really well done 28 Day Wine Kit. Instead of secondary fermentation in the bottle or having extremely aggressive tastes which need to mellow out, the wine is ready to bottle in about 28 days. The kit suggests waiting another two months in the fridge before the kit really hits it’s stride and from my sampling (we ended up with only 29.5 bottles after the angel’s share) of the half bottle, it seems about right. The kit itself contains all the correct stuff and doesn’t seem to cut and corners of winemaking including potassium sorbate for preservation. Apparently that’s a popular cost-saver to skip the preservatives. But, I’ve already given the kit good praise so onto other odds and ends.

Bottles – They are entirely your choice of style and color. If you buy the really cheap ones they’re just total crap quality glass and doesn’t feel like it will put up with much use. For an extra dollar per case, I opted to get nicer bottles. My wife specifically requested clear glass bottles, so I asked about UV protection. Unfortunately, the clear bottles offer none. But, since this wine would spend it’s entire life in the fridge lagering, this didn’t concern me nearly as much as beer which sits in a box in the dining room while it ages. The style and color is entirely up to the user and has no effect on the wine. I do recommend making sure the bottoms aren’t flat – not only does this show off any sediment that might be present, it makes it easier to cork the bottles since they will center themselves in the press.

Corking Press – While this seems like the least significant thing you’ll need, trust me you want to spend a little to get a little. Unlike capping beer bottles, you need to put lateral force on the cork to compress it, and downward force on the cork to insert it. The beer bottle style capping devices just don’t cut it, the homebrew store was kind enough to let me try one and it was a total letdown. plunger corkers suck and require almost a hammer to smash the cork in there, which is hard to keep straight, let alone the correct depth while struggling with it. Too much depth means the cork falls into the wine bottle. This looks like it might be decent, you compress the cork in one motion and insert it with another. Keeping it straight might still be a problem. All things considered, the reloading press style corking machine is well worth the money. The bottle gets locked in, the cork is compressed smoothly, and the insertion is consistent. A nod to the Keystone Homebrew Shop – they let me borrow one of theirs with the purchase of bottles and corks. Adjustment is the same as adjusting a reloading die – You set it to be too shallow (the cork would hang out the top) and slowly work the adjustment down. The first cork through gets a little beat up if you don’t eyeball it well, but I only had to try twice to get the depth correct. The little ball on the end of the ram is to keep the cork head from getting marred, so put the cork above the ball and adjust the nut up to the top of the cork to get really close to where it needs to be.

Corks – The least exciting part of the process. There’s three grades of cork, “fine”, “good”, “poor”. Poor cork goes into track shoes, flooring, heat pads, whatever. “Good” cork goes in fishing bobbers and things which need to look decent. “Fine” cork is what we put in wine bottles, unless you can settle for “good” cork. The grading seems to depend on the density of the cork and how well it’s expected to hold together. Cork demand is up, but the process is like harvesting birch but slower. Trees can only be harvested every 12 years or so, and they take 25 years to produce their first usable cork. The “cork problem” in wine is that the cork needs to avoid contaminating the wine while allowing it to breathe a bit. Bacteria and whatnot gets grown into the cork. The newest thing is a quarter inch of fine cork glued to the standard size of good cork. It gives fine cork ends for where the cork touches air and wine, but good cork in the middle. This is what I bought and it seems to work well. Synthetic cork might be better for wines that don’t need to breathe (have been thoroughly degassed) but they were expensive. The cork for a wine bottle comes with a light silicon coating and a quick dip in warm water makes them slide in real easy. Just for paranoid, I rubbed them with vodka and also cleaned the jaws and crusher of the press with vodka also to ensure everything was sterile.

There seems to be some debate among the guys at the homebrew store as to if there should be any space under the cork but above the wine. I’m in the camp that the wine may have some suspended carbonation, and rather then keep that in suspension or have it push the cork out, it’s best to leave an inch under the cork for gas to compress. Since I’m not aging the wine for 25 years or more, having the corks not push out is well worth the slim chance of oxidation.

The final step is to leave the bottles upright for 24 hours to let the corks dry out and any remaining CO2 flush into the cork, then tip the bottles on their side and toss them in the fridge for two months.

The Spoils of… MUST?!

I had to run down a bottle of one step sanitizer for my pilsner I had fermented at 90F. Rather than let it go to waste, when I took the lid off the fermenter there were really neat apple, fruit, apricot notes. I decided that while it wasn’t nearly on style, it would be interesting to drink. Then I realized I was out of sanitizer so off to the homebrew store. I decided to go to the crappy one. It’s closer, but the guy is much more into winemaking than he is into beermaking. However, with the overlap of simple supplies like tools, buckets, and sterilizer, it made it a reasonable choice.

But then my wife wanted to come.

Actually this isn’t a bad thing – spending time with the wife, and she might get into brewing I thought to myself. She liked some of the brews I put together before I worked the IPA thing out (grossly underhopped) and she drinks the cheap brown I made out of whatever was left in the fridge. Actually, she drank enough of it to throw off the brewing schedule so that the pilsner won’t be ready in time to finish the case assuming I have a beer a night. A few times having friends over and whatnot and suddenly the beer larder is looking bare.

We got to the store and I found he had reclaimed almost all the beer shelf space for winemaking and installed a humidor. His prices on the remaining beer items were high, especially considering that I’m not a huge fan of Munton’s malt extract. It just doesn’t grab me flavor-wise and I find myself having to use a ton of specialty grains to get decent flavor profiles. Which is fine for esoteric, holiday beers that require dead chickens and fairy dust as an adjunct but for table-beer, this isn’t a good situation to be in. Coopers and John Bull both made stuff I liked, until John went under. Of course, only the Muntons hadn’t been bought up, and what was left of the dusty cans was pretty specialized malt.

We get in there and get talking, and my wife notices that he’s got a huge winemaking section complete with oak barrels of various toast, a spice rack filled with the standard beer spices (coriander, poppy, coffee, etc), books upon books on winemaking, and a huge selection of grape extracts, grape kits (freeze dried grapes?) and wine kits. Instead of hop vines, he’s selling vine cuttings. My wife couldn’t resist. I came in for two $5 packages of cleaner, and I could see I was going to be leaving with probably a few more buckets.

The wine equipment kits have a strong overlap with the beer kits. They have a siphon, hydrometer, two buckets, a corker, an airlock, pretty much what you would expect. Oh, and a small instruction book that basically says, “It as easy as pouring from A to B and adding yeast!” Well that’s what Mr Beer said to me also a few years ago and we saw how well that scratched the itch. Talking with the guy I asked him what it would take to go from a beer kit to a wine kit. He said I would need a new bucket and a new carboy. I asked if having a 6.5g carboy would cut it. He said I would be better off in the bucket for the headspace (the bucket is actually close to 8 US gallons, so I don’t mind buying it for an all grain setup). He also said the carboys for wine are supposed to be filled up to the top by the airlock, and valid configurations were 6 gallons – to the brim. The reason for this, he said, is because the wine oxidizes much quicker than beer. And unlike beer, he says, where the carbonation and yeast activity let you get away with some oxidation, this will spoil your wine very quickly. If you’re looking to make the jump, you need a new bucket, and a new carboy.

I told him “thanks for your information” and was going to excuse myself, but it was too late – my wife had found a kit.

There’s two types of kits: Crushed grape kits where they haven’t removed the water (literally 1 lug which is about 12 lbs of grapes – crushed), and grape extract kits which are exactly like beer malt extract kits. It’s enough grape-smash condensed that you need to add the water to six gallons and you’re good. Both of these include or should include the skins since there’s flavors there which pruno isn’t going to give you fermenting store grapejuice. Hold the bag up to the light and make sure there’s some particulate floating in there, and he showed me. It looked like jelly. My wife interrupted and asked about watermellon merlot verus the honeysuckle one.

“Oh but let me show you!” he says, and runs into the back.

There was some rummaging around and some quiet. I looked at my wife expecting that he had just hung himself and we were about to be party to murder but when I poked my head into the stock room he was in the back trying to read labels. I pulled out my PDA and lit the room dimly to reveal what could have been a scene from National Treasure 3: Dungeon of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rows upon rows of bottles stored in the back of the shop with the boxtops pasted to the shelves and serving as labels.

“Here’s the one…” he said “…your wife will like it. It’s similar to what you’ve got but it’s their kiwi strawberry white”.

He pulled out a 750ml bottle off a shelf, blew the dust off, and brought it out. “This kit makes 30 of these”. There’s exactly .2 gallons of dregs, called “lees” in the fermenter when we’re done. “Now, the kit says ‘delicious taste in four weeks’, which does not mean ‘ready to drink’. You need to bottle it in four weeks and then it sits in your fridge for four months while it fines. This bottle is six months old, give it a try!” Before we could say no he popped out the cork and had poured us two shares into plastic wine goblets. I should probably ask where he got those… The smell was good. I don’t normally like whites, but it wasn’t tart and definitely tasted fruity as advertised without the Sam Adams Lambic flavor (fruit syrup like Cherry Coke). In fact, it was really, really drinkable. Which was bad because it was also about 17% ABV if the box is to be believed.

My wife was sold.

We got home, sterilized the kit (I bought another airlock just because those things are handy) and I showed her how the hydrometer worked. She cleaned the bucket, the airlock, and the hydrometer kit while I read the instructions. Sure enough, it takes four weeks in the fermented, transferred once to secondary to get it off the lees (dregs), and then needs four months in the bottle in a “location free of light and under 60F” to lager. Whoever wrote “tastes great after four weeks” probably was fresh out of prison.

Alright, so what’s actually involved? Cool water, open the bag, fill fermenter with about a gallon, wash the rest of the bag out with warm water into the fermenter and top it off. These are cool space bags which are double-layered and vacuum sealed, making them impossible to open. Don’t bother trying to rip off their airlock, just cut open the top and don’t drop the inner bag into the outer bag and cover everything in grapes. Your OG should be 1.06 or close. Here’s where it differs from beer – you add bentonite (a fining agent) to the primary and try to keep as much air out as possible. The bag is simply labeled with a big number 1 on it so you know “use bag #1 – bentonite” means #1.

After two weeks, and the kit is written well to tip you off you’re going to need to lift the whole mess at some point, they tell you to siphon off the wine while reserving a small portion in another container. Why? You need to fill the carboy to the very very top with wine, which leaves you no room to stir. With other additives needed to actually make wine, you need to be able to stir. Once it’s racked, package 2a is sulphite (what gives some people, including myself, “wine hangovers”) and 2b is potassium sorbate. The potassium sorbate kills off the yeast, and everything else. The wine needs to be degassed, which if you’ve ever added spices to beer, you know the effect. The beer or wine has suspended carbonation and since carbonated wine would be weird, we need to get that out. This is accomplished by stirring. Package D1 is kieselsol and package D2 is chitosan. There’s a stern warning to add D1 first, and stir for no less than a minute, then add D2 and do the same. Reversing them carries dire, but unspecified consequences. Just what is the stuff? Ask Mr Wizard. Slowly add the reserve until we’re within “two inches” of the airlock. That’s how important oxidation is to wine. The instructions advise adding any flavorings now.

Two weeks later, the wine should be “delicious” according to the box. From here’s it’s pretty standard beer fare. Siphon the wine into the bottles while leaving an inch from the bottom of the cork, insert the cork, let the wine stand upright for a day (this is another de-gassing to avoid carbonation) and then store the bottles on their sides in the fridge “two to three months” prior to consuming. There’s no word on what happens if you store them warmer for two to three months. Considering I don’t like fruity wines, I shudder to consider it.