July 23, 2014

It was a busy day of work, not to mention mowing during lunch and weeding the garden after work was over!

All that wrapped up, I decided to get to the blueberries I picked over the weekend. Not enough for a batch of jam really, and certainly not enough for wine. Too much for eating. But I probably could have frozen them all for smoothies later, which would have made my kids happy. Instead, I decided to try something new. Well, new with blueberries.

Blueberry Liqueur

Thinking back, the recipe I’ve used for liqueur was originally for raspberries…and I don’t think I’ve actually ever used raspberries. In any case, it is really very simple. Get a 1 quart mason jar – that’s a rather big one – and add 1 cup of white sugar. Then add your crushed up fruit (1-2 pounds of it). I used just over 1.5 lbs of blueberries, leaving another 3/4 lb for eating. Yum.

To crush the fruit, I decided to use the blender. I augmented the blend with a little bit of vodka (Veil); I was going to be adding the vodka later anyway! Took more than one round in the blender for that many berries.

With the sugar and fruit/vodka in the jar, I add more vodka to top up. I then put the lid on and shook, to get the sugar wet. Not quite worried to get it into full solution – that takes time. Enough to free up extra room, though. I removed the lid, and added enough vodka to top up again. No need to waste space, right?

So now I have a purple-blue slurry of vodka, berry guts and sugar. Should be wonderful in about a month, given daily shaking and kept out of the light (maybe more important for raspberries, but why chance it?).

Vagabond Gingered Ale

Throughout the day I kept an eye on the airlock and head of my newest batch. Everything is looking good. I might have expected the head to form a little quicker, but no complaints. Took pictures at just under 12 hours and 24 hours from pitching yeast (see below). My hope is that the 6.5 gallon carboy provides the room for the 5 gallon batch, without having to remove the air-lock!

Muscadine Liqueur

And, since I was already in the liqueur mindset, I remembered the Muscadine liqueur that was ready to be strained and bottled. This round of Muscadine liqueur was made from the pulp after making jelly earlier in the spring. And I will definitely do it again. It’s a little lighter in flavor than the stuff made with whole chopped Muscadine, rather than leftover pulp and skin, but not by much. It’s a beautiful pinkish red – I imagine the color of wet pink cotton candy, a candy-like red. And it strained nicely, though I won’t say the end is crystal, it is pretty clear.

And that is it for the day. Probably it for the week, so far as anything new is concerned. Though if I got motivated I could make more Muscadine jelly from the grapes in the freezer. I’m going to say, unlikely


Hmmm… Now, What? Ginger!

Over the weekend, I picked Venus grapes – as I’ve already blogged about – but then realized I had a conflict that meant I really wasn’t going to be able to start primary ferment; the timing was bad for racking to secondary. But, having at this point gotten into the mood to do something, I started looking at possibilities. Ideally, I needed a ferment that would only have a primary fermentation cycle. In retrospect, a mead would have worked…

Most wines were out with that stipulation. Even some beers were out (I especially have my eye on a barley wine recipe in Palmer’s How to Brew). But many beers recipes do fit the timing well, and one grabbed my attention. Long story short, I selected “Vagabond Gingered Ale” from  Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

Now, I originally started toying with beer in the process of making braggot, and it had been an all grain recipe. And since then, I have not done a recipe (beer or braggot) that was not all-grain, or at least that did not give options for the all-grain version, which I then used. This recipe interested me enough to bite the bullet and do an extract brew. It helped that I already had ginger on hand in my refrigerator.

I had to make a run to my local brew supply shop, from which I gathered the necessary specialty grains, the bittering and finishing hops, yeast and the extract malt. Turns out the dark malt extract syrup was not available, as they had sold out over the weekend. I settled for dark dry malt extract, which was available. Hops were slightly different in AA (par for the course, really). No big deal – I’m actually happy with a little less hoppiness.

All that was yesterday, and this evening I got right to brewing. Per the recipe, I started by putting 1.5 gallons of water on the stove and heating it to just above 160°F. I heated it a bit too much, and had to let it cool a bit, but once I was just over 160°F again, I added the grain bag filled with 0.75 pounds of crystal  malt (120) and 0.5 pounds of chocolate malt). I held the temp at 150-160°F for 30 minutes, as the recipe required.

While the grains mashed, I grated just under 4 ounces of ginger. I peeled it, though the recipe didn’t give that specific detail. I added the dry dark malt extract, 5.5 pounds worth, which gave me a moment’s pause as the recipe called for Munsons dark malt extract syrup, and called for 6.6 pounds of it. In the end, all seems right with the world. To this I also added the grated ginger and the remaining half gallon of water. Being my first time using malt extract, and especially the powdered stuff, I was not prepared for the amount of gluey clumping it did at first. That quickly resolved as the wort heated.

Unfortunately, I was a little impatient with the pace of getting it to boiling, so I put a lid on the pan. Walking away for a moment was a big mistake, and I rushed back to the stove as it foamed over. I didn’t lose much, though I did have some nasty cleanup once the brewing was done. But, with it now finally boiling, I added the bittering hops. The recipe called for 2 ounces of Cascade, at 10 HBU. The hops at Grape and Grains were 7.1 AA, and rather than adjust the quantity up to account for the lower rating, I just kept the specified 2 ounces.

Per the recipe, I boiled this mix for 60 minutes. In the last minute of boiling, I added the Willamette hops (1 ounce at 5.3 AA). Then it was to the bathtub where I had prepared an ice bath, heeding the suggestion of some work colleagues. Very good move, as the temperature reduced much more quickly than my past attempts – from boiling to 80°F in about 20 minutes.

I then strained this into my fermentation bucket to remove the bulk of hops and grated ginger, “sparging” with 2 gallons of chilled water I had pre-added to the refrigerator to chill. I was surprised at the difficulty I had using a nylon bag (like I would use for grain or fruit) in a strainer. The hops, proteins and ginger turned into a paste that did not want to let the liquid through! Eventually I just used the strainer, which was not much better, but enough. Exercising patience, I methodically finished the task.

I then added water to bring the total to 5G. In total, I added the 2 gallons of chilled water and another 1 2/3 gallons of room temp. All distilled, as I still find the house water rather repulsive. At this point, with everything ready, and even at an acceptable temperature, I noticed that the yeast package (America Ale 1056 from Wyeast) required a 3 hour rest after puncturing the inner nutrient package before adding to the brew. Oops.

So, I punctured and shook, and set it to swell for the three hours. I cleaned up and had a pizza. I watched a movie. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I poured (using a funnel) the wort into a sanitized carboy, after testing SG. It measured at 1.054, which was the upper end of the recipe’s “expected” value for original gravity. Which is good, considering I lost some in the foam-over, and was iffy about the amount of dry versus syrup.

Three hours later, I poured the swelled yeast package into the carboy, and walked away for the evening. Overall, not bad for my first extract recipe.

Venus, continued

So today I went through the clusters of Venus and separated the berries from the stems. I discarded the bad berries, being maybe just a little overly aggressive in my selection. I then weighed and bagged.

Rinse, lather and repeat – in 4 pound batches. No, I did not literally rinse, or lather.

End result: 19 pounds of perfect grapes sitting in the freezer, waiting to be turned into wine. I think I’m going with a three pound batch using all the grapes. No jelly this time!


Venus Grapes

Venus Grapes

The Happy Berry continues to be a great place for picking blueberries, but today I focused on grapes, having picked blueberries before. The grapes ready are Venus, and they have a pretty strong flavor (much as Concord grapes do). They are not typically “wine” grapes, but I have enough for eating, maybe jelly, and for wine, too. Just trying to decide how much to use for each. In total, I have just under 23 pounds of grapes and stems.

With Concord grapes, I’ve most often seen 6 pounds to a gallon quoted, adding sugar and water as needed. A regular wine grape is closer to 12 pounds to the gallon, without the need often to add sugar or water. The reduction is based on the stronger flavor. But that stronger flavor usually comes with less liquid and less sugars. I still think I want to go over the “suggested” 6 pounds.

I’m not sure how much of that 23 pounds is stem and funkiness – berries that aren’t ready, are not good, etc. But if I go with 8 lbs to a gallon, I don’t have enough for 3 gallons. I would have enough for 2 gallons, leaving the rest for eating (possibly frozen) and jelly. Unfortunately, secondary fermenters (jugs and carboys) come in 1G (jug) and 3G (carboys – also 5/6G, normally). If I go with 2 gallons of wine, it will require me to separate the batch after primary fermentation.

If I do stick to the 6 pounds to a gallon, then I could get three gallons worth (18 pounds of grapes), if there isn’t too much waste.

In any case, based on other things going on through the end of July, I really can’t wait for a primary fermentation to finish. For now I am going to have to freeze the grapes, and come back to them in August. Storing the grapes away for alter will be tomorrow’s task.