Not by Beer alone…

The Guru does not live by beer alone. There are times when another beverage is more appropriate. Therefore, being a multi-dimensional brewer, I do venture into other fermentations occasionally. Today in particular is a momentous day. This morning I made wine, and then bottled last fall’s cyder. How does the process compare? Which would I rather do? Hard to say, but I will say that there are different concerns and different challenges.

The wine I made was from a kit. A friend at work is getting married and asked me to order him a couple of wine kits so he could make the wine for his wedding. I actually had to spend some time researching to find him just the right wines. While doing so, I became intrigued. The last time I made wine from a kit, the must came in concentrate form, in cans, and without a lot of information. I made some OK wines, but nothing I really enjoyed drinking. I have made several attempts at “country wines”, from my own fruit (blackberries, elderberries, even one batch of my own grapes) and frequently add fruit to mead. But after looking over the kits now available, at the variety of styles and so on, I felt the urge to give it a try. So when I ordered the wedding wine kits, I also ordered one for myself. I debated over several of my favorite reds, and finally settled on a Chianti kit from RJ Spagnols. The kit comes in a cubic box. It contains about 2-1/2 gallons of concentrated grape juice, plus yeast, sulphites, bentonite, and a couple of other additives. I’m not sure about some of them but for this time I decided to follow the kit’s instructions to the letter, although I opted to change out the dry yeast provided in the kit and used the White Labs Cabernet Red liquid yeast (WLP760). It took all of about 20 minutes to get the whole thing assembled and sealed up. It made a little bit of a mess, as I splashed bright purple juice all over the floor, but cleaned up relatively quickly. Now I have 5-1/2 gallons of Chianti-to-be in one of my fermenters, which the kit claims will be ready to bottle in about 4 weeks. We’ll see.

The cyder was a much different proposition. I used to buy 6 gallons of juice from a local orchard, Poverty Lane Orchards in West Lebanon, NH. This orchard produces their own excellent hard ciders (or cyder) under the name Farnum Hill, but also sells the same blend of juice in bulk for people who want to ferment their own at home. I have recently been cultivating a field full of apple trees, some wild, some planted, some… well, we’re really not sure where they came from… As I’ve pruned and cleaned up around them, they have yielded ever more and better apples, to the point where I have not bought juice the last two seasons but have pressed exclusively my own apples.

I have a small grinder/press combination that I bought several years ago, a real heavy-duty sucker that takes two people to move.

This past fall my son and his girlfriend came down for the day and helped press (in fact, they did most of the work – I supervised!) and we got almost 7 gallons of juice. I kept 6 for fermentation. I generally add a couple of Campden tablets (a sulfite) and let it sit for 48 hours before I add yeast. This assures that fermentation takes place with a “good” selected yeast and not by a wild, unpredictable “beastie”. I usually use the White Labs English Cider liquid yeast (WLP775), and I sweeten the juice with maple syrup. This batch got a quart of my own syrup added. I racked it to secondary after four weeks of primary fermentation, and I topped it off in the carboy with a little more fresh local sweet cider, about a quart, to fill the headspace. It has been aging in the secondary since mid-November at this point, so some three months. Not quite clear, but it will clear more in the bottles.

I decided this year to put it up in champagne bottles, although capped not corked. My capper has a second “bell” which accomodates the larger (29 mm) “european” champagne caps. So I have approximately 50 champagne bottles of mixed size, color and style, full of the 2009 pressing. Hmm, I think I still have a few bottles of the 2008 around too…

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