Sep 23, 2012
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.
May 13, 2012
With my first red wine now bottled, I can turn my attention to my next wine making endeavor. I made a few mistakes with my red which I will do my best not to repeat. My main complaint about the first red is that it was lifeless and watery. I racked into my brewing carboy for secondary, and topped off with water to fill the remaining headspace. Then I recalled that the standard winemaking carboy is six gallons, where as my brewing carboy is six and a half. I watered the wine down too much. That also affects how well the wine clarifies. It’s not that the wine is bad, it’s just that it’s not good. Hopefully with a little bottle conditioning, it’ll improve a bit.
What I’m going to try next is a white wine, made from reconstituted Welch’s 100% Niagara Grape Frozen Concentrate. After reading the history of Thomas Bramwell Welch, I decided I had to try this. Welch was the first person to get the idea of applying Dr. Pasteur’s microbe killing process to grape juice. There were many things to admire about Dr. Welch, being an abolitionist and active on the Underground Railroad. But he was also a world class busybody prohibitionist, and it is that particular history that has made me decide to turn some of Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine into a real McCoy. It would probably kill the old man to know the company that he founded, and bears his name, seems to be on relatively friendly terms with the home winemaking community, and willing to answer questions from home winemakers using the Welch’s product to make wine. But I suppose this day in age shouting, “Be gone sinner, and drinker of the demon spirits!” into the phone of people wanting to know the acid additions to their grape juice, or sulfite concentrations, wouldn’t go over too well among the juice buying public, never mind hobby winemakers.
What the body politic did to prohibitionists is a wonderful lesson for our cause. To the extent there even are prohibitionists these days, they are viewed as out of the mainstream and quacky. We almost have the opponents of gun rights there, provided we keep pushing. I’ll drink a toast to Dr. Welch, and his company, and hope in our current struggle, our opponents suffer the same political fate.
Aug 29, 2011
Apparently there’s a strain of yeast in lager yeast that no one has ever been able to identify. Turns out it’s a strain of a wild Patagonian yeast that somehow made its way to Bavaria. The important takeaway from this is that this discovery is “paving the way for new types of designer beers.” Give the strain to the folks at Dogfish Head Brewing in Delaware. If there’s anything good that be made from it, they’ll figure it out.
Apr 8, 2011
Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-PA-06) has proposed cutting the federal beer tax. His district has a number of microbreweries. If you haven’t tried any of the breweries mentioned in the article, I would recommend it. Victory and Sly Fox are particularly stellar breweries.
Sep 29, 2010
According to my favorite state government reporter, it’s National Coffee Day today. Normally, I could care less. The only coffee we ever drink is the stuff from Starbucks that probably has some coffee in it, but you wouldn’t know with all of the other crap they put in it. At least until recently.
When we announced we were headed to the Big Island, a friend from NRA mentioned that her father owned a coffee farm where he grows, processes, and sells his own coffee. We made it out there on our last full day on the island, and indulged in a couple of bags. We bought one to try out ourselves, assuming that we’d use it for things like ice cream or other decidedly non-coffee culinary adventures. Instead, this coffee has turned us into weekend coffee drinkers. We went out and bought a french press since we didn’t have a coffee maker (but we did own a coffee grinder!). Every weekend morning now has a new tradition – getting up and having a cup and a half of delicious Kona coffee.
Jul 22, 2010
PETA and HSUS are gonna love this. For that reason, I should probably approve, but really, it just freaks me out.
Jun 15, 2010
NRA isn’t the only one carving out exemptions for itself. Boston Beer company is getting in the game too:
I would be in favor of the proposal to lower taxes on craft breweries, but I see no reason to create a law that would give Boston Beer a tax advantage until they grow to three times their present size. The idea is to encourage small craft breweries. Once you hit two million barrels, you ain’t small no more. Take it on the chin, Jim, and pay Uncle Sam the full tab. You can afford it.
Hat tip to Liquidity Preference. Personally, I don’t like the idea of special tax statuses at all, even if it’s just for actual craft brewers. But I can also understand small brewers trying to get any leg up they can. The big brewers and distributors have a mega-powerful lobby in DC and state capitols that tailors liquor laws to benefit themselves. It’s regulatory capture at its finest.
Dec 30, 2009
My Extra Special Bitter is nearly ready to be bottled/kegged. It’s been in secondary fermentation for nearly two weeks, and it’s developing a clear, amber color. I can’t think of anything to go better with a good English Ale than some fish and chips. Of course, Fish and Chips are probably a good bit less English. Apparently chips (fries) come from Belgium or France, and fried fish was brought in by Jewish immigrants. Nonetheless, Brits are passionate enough about their fish and chips that they nearly went to war over it. Trouble cooled once Iceland started giving up fishing for the fast paced world of International Finance. Now that ship has sunk, and Icelanders have gone back to fishing, so perhaps things will heat up once again.
Dec 5, 2009
I decided to make up a batch of Extra Special Bitter for the holidays. It’s been quite a while since I have done any brewing, so I decided to go with an extract kit rather than doing an all grain batch. Right now I am outside with the snow, ice and rain bringing the kettle up to temperature for the boil. This will be the first time I try to use a plate chiller, so we’ll see how this goes.
UPDATE: Fermentation has started. I had a few issued with the plate chiller. In terms of cooling, it was very efficient, but if you use one, I have a few suggestions. Ideally, you’d probably want a pump. but they are hella expensive for a single use item. It can be done with gravity, but as I discovered a bit too late, one of these is a must, as the plate chiller ended up clogging with pellet hop residue. The worst part is I have one of those strainers for my kettle, but I forgot to put it on. Another option would be to just pre-filter the hot wort, being careful not to splash it and cause oxidation.