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Burgundy

I consider the ability to make alcohol an important skill. Like guns, ammunition, and gold, you’ll probably always be able to trade it for something. Now it’s the time of year when you can get fresh grape juice and grapes out of California. I ordered what’s called “bucket juice,” because it comes in large buckets. You know, the kind that kill kids in drowning accidents more often than guns.

When the season arrives, the local home brew stores put out alerts that you can put in orders for juice or grapes. After the orders are all taken, the stores put in orders to have the juice shipped from Golden State vintners to the store. Obviously this takes a few days from order to delivery, and who knows how long the stuff has been sitting in refrigeration out West. As soon as I got mine in the car, I heard hissing.

“What’s that hissing? I think that juice is already fermenting,” I told Bitter.

So I get the juice back home, and sure enough, it’s fizzing away. Apparently it’s not unusual for bucket juice to arrive fermenting. I’ve even read of cases where people have gotten bucket juice where fermentation has completely finished. We thieved a sample of the juice, and both agreed it tasted excellent. I added a bit of extra sugar, since the specific gravity wasn’t all that high. I could taste no alcohol on the juice, so I’m not sure fermentation had gone that far, but sugar also is very very effective at hiding alcohol. If I added too much, we’ll get a sweeter Burgundy. Wine yeast tends to commit environmental suicide at around 14% alcohol by volume, so if you add too much you will have some residual sweetness. I much prefer dry wines, so hopefully I did not overdo it.

I’ve generally not gotten burned in home brewing or winemaking just going with whatever happens. I’ve never had to toss a batch for being so foul it couldn’t be drunk. The juice tasted good, so even if wild yeast are going at the juice, they seem to be working well so far. I pitched my starter in, so hopefully that will be the dominant strain in a few days. We’ll see how this goes.

The one thing about winemaking vs. home brewing is you put a lot more time into a wine than you do a beer. An all-grain batch of beer might take a whole day to produce, but one racking a week later, then two weeks in secondary, and you’e ready for kegging and drinking. Winemaking never will take a whole day of your time at once, but over time it will take more of your time. It takes more care and you have more invested emotionally in its outcome. On the upside, if you screw up beer, you’re generally screwed, and it’s time to make like Elliot Ness and just dump it in the storm drain. Wine is easier to fix and doctor if you make mistakes. If you’re goal is adult beverage goodness, I can’t really say one path is superior to the other.

9 Responses to “Burgundy”

  1. Andy says:

    Bad beer batches can also be distilled. Ethanol has lots of uses and besides, it’s cool chemistry. Plus engineering to make your own still. Legality in PA unknown, of course. In GA, there’s a certain amount per year for personal use, unless you are spiking it for fuel then make as much as you can.

    • Sebastian says:

      Distilling is illegal federally. There’s no amount of liquor the federal government allows you to distill without a license to do so, and without paying the taxes on it.

      • Robb Allen says:

        Eh, who cares, really? Unless they’re monitoring every last house on the planet, you’re more than likely to remain uncaught for doing nothing that harms another human being.

        We’re already at the point where ignoring a lot of ‘laws’ is simply the best way to go.

      • Patrick says:

        I just looked at the regs and the kid at the High School Science Fair with the potato still broke at least three federal laws, one of which might have been a felony.

        Yikes.

        They even have a special permit for science fairs. Do we really need to regulate every damn thing?

        Now I want a still. Just because.

  2. Robb Allen says:

    True, beer takes a lot less time overall, but I dare say it’s a much more involved process.

    You malt the wheat, crack it, soak it in *precisely* heated water for a *precise* amount of time. You have to stir it to ensure you don’t get dough balls, all the time maintaining that critical temperature. Then you sparge it, again with an exact temp. water at a speed that will not extract tannins. For extra caramel color / flavor, take a small portion of the mash and do a decoction on the stove.

    Take the liquor and bring it to a boil, adding in hops at the right times (earlier for bitterness, later for aroma), maybe some Irish Moss for finings. Cool the wort down as fast as humanly possible, then filter the hot wort into a bucket. Aerate wort to add back the O2 lost during the boil. Transfer to a carboy. Toss in your yeast that you started at least a day before, then seal the jug (I liked using a blow-off tube submerged in a bucket of water.

    Wait a week or so for primary fermentation to subside. Carefully siphon off the young beer into another, sterilized carboy, leaving behind the trub. Cap with a valve and wait another week or two.

    For me, I would put the beer into a sterilized Corny keg and artificially carbonate it. Otherwise, it was bottling time which meant making a sugar syrup to mix in with the beer before bottling to wake up enough yeast to carbonate in the bottles. Just enough, though, or you’re making small, self detonating grenades.

    Wait another week or so, then enjoy!

    For wine, order a bucket of grape juice. If it didn’t ferment on the way to your house, toss some yeast in it and wait ;)

  3. Andy B. says:

    Joan Baez sang about that.

  4. Alpheus says:

    Despite being a Latter-day Saint, this topic still fascinates me. As Sebastian said before, knowing how to make alcohol can be useful in trading; more recently, I remembered that alcohol is useful in making transparent soaps. (Something else I’m interested in doing, once I find the time! :-)

    If you bought the alcohol for soap, you either have to purchase it denatured (making sure that it was denatured by adding wood alcohol to it, because other alcohols can ruin your soap), or you have to buy expensive food-grade stuff. Or you can distill it.

    Which brings me to something else I’ve wondered: is it possible to remove most of the alcohol from wine? If so, would what’s left be something worthwhile to drink? I suppose someday I might just try it, to see what happens…

    • Sebastian says:

      You can actually make alcohol for purposes other than drinking, such as for fuel. But I’m not sure who carries the burden of proving what you’re using it for. Probably comes down to what they can convince a jury of.

      The way you remove alcohol from wine is through distillation, and if you do that to wine, you get Brandy :)

      The way you get stronger and stronger alcohol, and fewer and fewer impurities, is through successive distillation. That’s what the XXX means on the old moonshiner’s jugs. Each X is for a single run through the still.

      Though, if you’re making fuel, you need to make anhydrous ethanol, which requires a further, chemical process of removing all the water.

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