Week Forty

IMG_5096Wow. Week Forty. Okay, this is going to be a busy week outside the blog and I have a lot to cover in the blog as well.

First of all, I brewed my second last week. It was a process drawn out over the whole week. I’ll explain that tomorrow. Then I’ll do a batch update on Tuesday. I’m a bit behind on the batch updates, so that will probably be a long one and it will be followed the next couple days by tasting notes for some of the same beers I’ve just updated (spoiler: there’s been some bottling).

Then, on Friday, in my house the official start of the Christmas season, I’ll write about my Christmas beer from last year. This is the last old batch I have yet to write about, so that is kind of big. I’ve mentioned before that I like to do a crowd pleasing beer for family events around the holidays, but I also like to do a weirder beer to fit my own idea of Christmas. Hop Holiday was that beer last year. This year it is the one I brewed last week (although for a time I thought it might have to be Night Work because I wasn’t sure I’d fit this one in). Anyway, Hop Holiday seemed like a somewhat original idea when I had it last year, this year’s beer is probably just plain strange. Come back all week to see what I’m talking about.

Amy and Mitch’s Second Anniversary Mead Update

IMG_5091I haven’t updated on this batch since way back in March. And for good reason, it has just been sitting in the basement. Waiting. Well, we finally made some adjustments this week.

First, on Tuesday (11/18), I added some Campden Tablets to kill whatever yeast might have been left after all these months. There is over six gallons of this stuff the carboy is filled right to the top, so I added seven tablets.
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On that same day, we bought another six pound bag of frozen strawberries from Costco. When we got home, we stuck it in the fridge to thaw. Then, on Wednesday, I brought the carboy of mead up from the basement warm up a bit, too.

Then, on Thursday, we dumped the new bag of strawberries into my eight gallon bucket fermenter and racked the mead on top of them. The idea is to back sweeten with the fruit and hopefully pick up some fresher berry aroma. I’m not sure if this is standard practice or not, but in my head at least, it seems to make a lot of sense.

From here, the plan is to give the mead about two weeks on the berries, then rack it off to a carboy and hit it with some clearing agent. Once it has cleared, the time it will take will depend on what clearing agent we go with, we can finally bottle. Once the mead is in the bottles, it will have to wait until our anniversary on December 30, when we’ll open the first bottle, maybe while mixing up our Third Anniversary mead. Check back around that time for details on that mead and tasting notes on this one.

Amy and Mitch’s First Anniversary Mead Tasting Notes

IMG_5083Well I have some bad news. Although, it does mean that today’s tasting notes will be a little different. The bottle of mead I just opened is tainted. I have not had this happen before, we have had several bottles from this batch and the rest were all fine.

I knew there was an issue with this one right away, though. The cork was overly wet and crumbled a bit as I tried to remove it. This is bad news and I hope that it has not happened to most of this batch, as it is very important to Amy and I.

The aroma is less changed than the flavor. It may be slightly musty, but it mostly just gives the impression that it is older than the mead actually is. There is still some honey aroma and juicy, citrusy notes. It was made with orange blossom honey.

As soon as I take a sip, though, things get a lot worse. It feels very thin and tastes… well pretty plain and bland. Swallowing the mead is when things go from worse to worser. The aftertaste is awful. Musty, alcoholic seltzer water is how I would describe it. There is no honey left.

This is disheartening, but the timing is pretty good. We are only about a month away from bottling our Second Anniversary mead. I’m going to have to do some research to figure out how to prevent this from happening again, and just hope that most of this batch has not fallen to a similar fate.

Here is how I remember the mead: it is very dry and maybe a little bit lifeless, but certainly not unpleasant. The orange blossom honey definitely comes through, but the extreme dryness keeps it from becoming overly characterful.

I will try to post an update when I figure out what has actually happened here and I’ll definitely do another set of tasting notes with an untainted bottle, assuming this is an isolated incident, at some point.

Ancient Orange Mead (2012) Tasting Notes

IMG_5077This one gallon batch from 2012 was my first foray into wine and mead. I followed a very popular recipe that can be found all over the internet. I remember it being a bit harsh at first, but later bottles smoothed out a little and became somewhat enjoyable.

I bottled most of the batch in standard twelve ounce beer bottles. They are all gone. The one bottle left is the only one that was in anything different. It is a quart (or is it liter?) flip top bottle that I bought for this use and has been tied up ever since. I think it is finally time to open it up.

The flip top obviously had a good seal. There was no carbonation pop, but it was stuck in place well enough to still plink a solid sound as I opened it. The orange aroma came out right away. I don’t remember getting so much orange initially, but before even pouring it, the aroma is all over the place.

It poured somewhat clear, though no where near the clarity of the wine kits I’ve been writing about the last couple days. The color is a bit darker, too. This is more gold than yellow. Maybe even a little orange. It reminds me of an un-carbonated version of the Triple Valor I’ve been drinking lately.

Taking a proper sniff from the glass, I still get a lot of orange aroma but it is joined by a bready character. This was fermented with bread yeast, is that where that’s coming from? There isn’t much honey in the aroma, but this was made with cheap grocery store clover honey, not the most characterful honey around. Alcohol is well hidden in all this, though I don’t know how much alcohol is actually in it, the harshness I remember certainly doesn’t come through in the aroma.

Finally taking a sip, I get a mixture of the orange and bread with some sweetness. A sort of orange marmalade character comes out of this combination. Alcohol also now shows itself and the honey does come through in the end.

I get the impression that this is actually very dry, but it somehow tastes sweet. It tastes sweet but it feels dry. It is sort of strange. This is a pretty intense drink that goes all over the place between first being brought up to the mouth and going down the throat. I enjoy it, but I think one glass is probably plenty for a sitting.

Back to the honey in the finish. It is sort of flat and one dimensional on its own. Seems like the honey you’d get in a little foil topped plastic container to dip fast food in. It is lucky there is so much else going on here, because this honey could not carry the show on its own.

After even the honey, there is a burst of cinnamon. The cinnamon was much more intense when this was young. It is much better with the tamer spice. Now it is there to clean things up at the finish without getting in the way.

This mead is a mix of a bunch of interesting elements, I’m not sure that it perfectly comes together, though. I’m glad to have made it, but I don’t plan to repeat it. It gave me a chance to try my hand at mead without much investment of time or money, but now that I’m in, I’ll make some different decisions on future batches.

Autumn Bliss Liebfraumilch Tasting Notes

Okay. I’m going to try this again, but I warn you: it will be quick and will probably not be good. Here we go.
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I get a very similar aroma to the Piesporter, but it is a little bit more tart. There is alcohol that I never noticed and won’t likely notice again as I don’t normally inhale with this level of intensity when drinking wine for pleasure as opposed to review. The prevalent aroma is fruit and the tartness brings it a bit broader than the Piesporter. It is not just grapes. I can’t pinpoint anything from just the aroma, but hopefully it gets clearer with a sip.

On the palate, it I get an almost strawberry like flavor. It is nowhere near that sweet, it is slightly tart and almost a little bitter. These are both at a low level and very pleasant, but I don’t remember them from the other wine.

In fact, the only way I’m going to be able give many details on this is probably to compare it to our first batch, so I’m going to go ahead and get some of that out to make the comparison more accurate.
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Wow. Drinking these next to each other, the Piesporter tastes much sweeter than I remember. The Liebfraumilch is much more complex. Maybe my tasting notes weren’t that far off. The Piesporter is extremely likable, but it just doesn’t seem very complex next to the Liebfraumilch.

I get more berry, peach and… tang. Okay, I guess I still don’t know what I’m doing, but both of these wines taste great on their own. My opinion of the new batch of Liebfraumilch has been boosted by trying the two back to back, though.

I’ve always liked pairing the Piesporter with food and haven’t found a lot of combinations that don’t work. Its simplicity is not a bad thing, but I think I’ll be enjoying the Liebfraumilch more on its own as opposed to only along with dinner. It should still be good with a lot of food, but it will take a bit more planning to really fit well, I think.

I have some of both wines left, but I don’t have the vocabulary to express much more about them, so I’m going to end this. I can heartily recommend either kit, though.

Autumn Bliss Liebfraumilch and Wine Kits

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After having a great time and great results with our first wine kit, a Piesporter, Amy and I decided we could make it an annual activity.  We went through the wine more slowly than expected, though and as you may have noticed by the date on the label in yesterday’s post, we ended up skipping 2013. 

Well, a couple months ago, with supplies dwindling, we finally got around to putting together another batch of wine.  This time, we decided to go with a Liebfraumilch kit.  It was on purpose that this was another off dry, German style white wine with a fruity flavor.  It was not on purpose that it is from not only the same manufacturer, but the same series.  We realized this before making the final decision and I kind of wanted to try something different, but we were so happy with the last one that we decided to go with it.

I will do tasting notes soon (or try to), but today I’m just going to go through the step by step of how to make wine from a kit.  This is specifically for WineXpert’s Selection series, which as I mentioned, both of our wines are a part of, but I don’t imagine that there are too many differences in other kits.  The instructions I’m writing are of course in my own words, but they are not really any different from the instructions that come with the kit.  I’m mainly posting this to show beer brewers who haven’t given wine a chance just how easy it is and hopefully get someone to give it a try.

I’ve never been a big wine drinker.  I enjoy it when it is offered but haven’t really gone out of my way to get my hands on it.  I have found having thirty bottles of it in the basement gives me a lot of excuses to enjoy it, though.  It goes great with a lot of food, particularly fresh vegetable dishes over the summer for the wines we’ve made.  It is also a much easier sell at certain gatherings than homebrewed beer.  And much easier to explain.  “Off dry white” has two more words tacked onto the beginning than what most people will expect for an answer to their question about what kind of wine you’ve brought to the party.

Anyway, there are a lot of good reasons to give making wine a shot.  Now lets get into how easy it really is.  We’ll start with the equipment you’ll need, all ingredients other than water are included in the kit (with one possible exception I’ll get to when it comes up):

Primary fermenter with more than six gallon capacity (an 8 gallon/30 liter bucket is easiest)

Long handled spoon for stirring

Measuring cup

Hydrometer and related equipment to test the gravity (if you want to. Follow the instructions and your gravity will be exactly what they tell you)

Racking equipment

Six gallon secondary fermenter

Bottles and bottling equipment (you can bottle in beer bottles with crimp caps if you want to, but you should be able to find a hand corker for under $20 at your local homebrew shop and that is the only extra you’ll need to make your wine a whole lot more presentable)

That’s pretty much it.  The corker, as I said is probably the only thing a homebrewer may not already have.  Maybe you don’t have a bucket, either but you probably should and if you don’t, they’re available for $10 or less.

You will need five sessions over the course of a couple months or so to make your wine.  They will all be considerable shorter than a standard brew day, though.  Bottling is the longest, most labor intensive step.

On the first session, you will be mixing some ingredients, adding water and starting fermentation.  First, add some water to your primary fermenter, a half gallon or so.  Then add the packet of Bentonite.  Again, this is all for the specific kits Amy and I made, your kit may be different, don’t panic if you don’t have Bentonite, just ignore this and follow the instructions that came with the kit.

Anyway, Bentonite is a type of clay.  It is used to clarify wine.  Adding it will prevent protein haze.  So if you have it, dump it into some water and stir it for a good thirty seconds or so.  Once all of the clumps have mixed into the water, you can add the juice.  This should be the bulk of what came in your kit.  It seems like the volume of the juice/must/concentrate, whatever it is, is one of the main differences in the different prices of various kits.

Once you’ve emptied out the bag of juice, add some water to the bag and give it a good shake.  This will help make sure you don’t lose any of the precious juice.  The instructions say to do this once.  I did it a second time just because.  You still have more water to add, so why not?  Once you’re sure you’ve got all the juice in, top up to the full volume with warm water.  Most likely, your kit will be for a six gallon batch.

When you have six gallons of liquid, stir it up again.  Once you have the desired volume and it is thoroughly mixed, you can take a gravity reading, if you want to.  I did, but both times, it was dead on exactly what the kit said it would be.  In the future, I may just skip this to save that extra bit of wine for later, when it will taste a whole lot better.  At most, maybe I’d use my refractometer instead of the hydrometer.

Now it is time to add your yeast.  Our kit recommends a temperature of 72-75ºF for primary fermentation.  Once the yeast is in there, you’re done.  All of this should take you well under half an hour. 

IMG_3918On to the second session, racking to secondary.  This will take place about a week after the first session.  The instructions say to wait five to seven days.  We decided to err on the side of caution and gave it the full seven.  All you’re doing is racking to secondary.  That is it.  Keep the temperature the same, there may be a bit more fermentation.  We went from a bucket to a six gallon plastic carboy.  it was filled to the very top.

And the third session!  This should be ten days to two weeks after racking.  Again, we waited two full weeks, but the instructions say ten days is enough.  This time it might be more worthwhile to check the gravity.  In our wine’s case, 0.996 was the gravity we were looking for.  If your wine hasn’t reached its terminal gravity, you should wait because this step will stop further fermentation.

IMG_4080If you have reached your terminal gravity, you can move on to adding stabilizers.  Our most recent kit had three things to add at this step.  We dissolved metabisulfite and sorbate in some water to add them to the wine and added the F-Pack straight to the carboy. 

Metabisulfite and sorbate are both used to stabilize the wine.  They should both kill the yeast and I’m honestly not sure what the reason for using both is.  The F-Pack is to back sweeten the wine.  If you’re making a very dry wine, you may not be adding this.  It is another bag, just like a smaller version of the juice.IMG_4320Once you’ve added everything, give the wine a good stir.  The stabilizers may not work if the yeast is all settled at the bottom.  They may not be able to kill yeast that is settled in a thick layer, so stir thoroughly and make sure that everything is mixed together.  Don’t worry, the wine will have plenty of time to clear later.

Session number four, in fact just racking the wine again.  Most of the yeast should have again settled out.  Racking the wine again, about a week after adding the stabilizers will give it a chance get completely, crystal clear.  I wish my beer was this clear, but I guess that is the price of bottle conditioning.

IMG_4639And finally, session number five: bottling.  The wine can be bottled just like beer, only you don’t need to bottle condition of course, unless you’re making a sparkling wine.  Once the wine is bottled, if you have corked it, you should leave it sitting straight up for three days to a week, then sit it on its side.  This will keep the cork wet and keep it from deteriorating.

That is it.  Drink your wine.  It’s good.  Come back tomorrow to hear how good ours is.

Piece of Time Piesporter (2012) and Tasting Notes

IMG_5054I am terribly under-qualified to do wine tasting notes. I’m going to try, but I’m going to pad the post out with some details about the making of the wine. If this was beer, it would be two separate posts.

Anyway, Amy and I made this Piesporter from this kit. It was our first wine and to be sure we didn’t screw it up, as well as to make it a more suitable date night activity, we decided to take advantage of a program at our local homebrew shop. Lancaster Homebrew offers a wine workshop. This is more geared towards people who don’t homebrew but want to make a batch of wine for a special event, like a wedding.

The wine kits are very straight forward and all of the needed equipment is stuff that I already have from brewing beer. I’m still glad we did the workshop for our first wine, though. It was fun to go to the store together and gave us an excuse to work a night of activities around the trip. I also learned one new technique which I’ve applied to my brewing.

We bottled the wine using an auto-siphon straight out of the carboy it was conditioning in. I decided to start doing this with my beer, skipping the bottling bucket. While it would be an issue if you’re adding sugar to the beer for carbonation as it will kick up any sedimented yeast, my next move of using sugar cubes in the bottle for carbonation eliminated that problem. Skipping an extra racking limits the beer (or wine)’s exposure to oxygen and wild yeast or bacteria in the air. It also saves time.

Back to the wine. We picked the wine from a list after Amy described what she likes. We ended up picking this one out of the list of recommendations based on a couple of different things. First of all, it is German. If you’ve been following along since the early days of the blog (Kölsch Week), that makes sense. We had never heard of the style and figured most other people hadn’t either, so we thought it would be interesting and even if it didn’t end up tasting like the real thing, no one would know as opposed to if we did something like a pinot grigio or something.

I won’t get into the actual brewing process in this post because it was basically identical to our more recent batch of wine, which I’ll cover tomorrow. Instead, on to the tasting notes.

I poured myself a glass as I started writing this post and have taken a couple sips already, but I’ve been drinking this wine for two years and am already very familiar with it so this was never going to be much of a blind tasting. I will approach this just like my beer tasting, whether that is proper for wine tasting I have no idea, but here goes.

IMG_5055The appearance of this wine is crystal clear and pale yellow, looking gold in the light. In short, to me it looks like every white wine I’ve ever seen.

The aroma shows just a hint of alcohol, which I honestly never noticed until now. So much for being very familiar. The main components of the aroma are fruity, though. Grape, is of course the predominant fruit I smell and I’m sure the specific varieties would be evident to someone more knowledgable. There is a distinct grape character that I instantly recognize but could not identify beyond knowing that I’ve experienced it before in other wines.

There are other fruit notes, but they are subdued. I get a little bit of apricot and maybe peach. It smells great. The alcohol doesn’t come out unless you take a very deep breath, which I guess I’ve never done before. Mentioning that first is a disservice to this wine, but I was very surprised, twenty plus bottles into the batch to notice it at all.

Taking a sip, more of all the things I already mentioned come out but I think it is sweeter than I’d expect from the aroma. At least early on. By the time I swallow, it seems to have dried out and it cleans up well.

It starts out sweet and fruity, then dries out and leaves only grape behind. Maybe the fruitiness is actually making it seem sweeter than it really is.

Wow, I’m really not good at this. This wine tastes like grapes. I guess I need some practice. Or to just stick to beer. What I’m trying to get at, though, is that this is really good. And it’s very easy to do. Check back tomorrow when I’ll fill in all the steps in the process while talking about our second batch of wine.