Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Skeeter Pee Round 1

I really do not like brewing during the summer time.  Well, not so much the actual brewing part, but the fermenting aspect.  Liquid in my basement will hover around 70F on its own.  Throw the metabolic reactions of the yeast cells and you have a recipe to overshoot your fermentation temperatures and receive off flavors.  Now there are some beers and wines that will do just fine with a 70F to 78F temperature  range, but I have an 8 week old, a two year old, finishing up my 2nd to last semester of graduate classes, along with work, so my time availability was limited.  I needed to scratch the itch, but I didn't have 4-6 hours of spare time.

Skeeter Pee ingredients minus the yeast energizer and tannin.

I have been eye-balling Skeeter Pee for about 2 years now.  This was the perfect time.  I could throw it all together in under an hour after the kids go to sleep.  The variability of Skeeter Pee, plus the ease, is what really attracted me to it.  It is well known among the home-brewing forums so I knew it was tried and tested.  I decided to go with the standard recipe for the first time, and maybe next time I will throw in something different to change the flavoring(I have seen blueberry, pineapple, cherry, lime, etc.)  The one thing I did not have was a yeast slurry, and I didn't want to spend the time making one with some apple juice or fruit concentrate.  It wouldn't have been hard, I have the stir plate and flasks, etc, but I just did not want to have to deal with it, and I had two packages of Montrachet yeast laying around...I figured two will be just fine....we'll see.

You can use most any yeast, a lot of people recommend Champagne yeast, Cotes de Blancs, or similar, but I just used what I had and it will offer me an ABV of up 13%, plenty high enough for me.

I cleaned AND sanitized my equipment.  I will post later on the differences of cleaning and sanitizing, but using just PBW or OneStep is not enough.  (Those are cleaners, not sanitizers.  You need an acid sanitizer like Star San to finish the job, but again, more on that later.)  While my equipment was sitting in the cleaner, after being scrubbed, I readied my invert sugar(simple sugar syrup).  My 8qt pot was just big enough to handle it all. While I waited for my super saturated solution to come to completion I moved from my cleaning stage to sanitizing and my wife, with a baby boy in one arm, took the whisk in other hand continued to stir and watch my pot on the stove...what a sweetie.

Almost done...keep this solution from boiling!  Just stay right under boiling temps!

I added my 1/3 cup of lemon juice from a container in the fridge, therefore not taking it from my 3-32 oz bottles.  I then let the solution cool a bit and dumped it in my fermenter with 2-32 oz bottles of lemon juice and enough water(tap, distilled, and purified left over from last brew) to top it off to 5.5 gallons.

I added the yeast nutrient and energizer to mugs worth of volume of a strong brewed tea to get my tannins since I had no tannins from the home-brew shop.

Yeast Nutrient was added to this solution.

That all went into the fermenter as well.  I then vigorously stirred for about 5 minutes to oxygenate and covered with a clean dish towel for 48 hours.  I don't have a wine whip so I just used my standard plastic paddle. The addition of the tea really did not make too much of a difference to the color.

After adjusting for temperature, my OG was 1.070...right on target.  No need to add granulated sugar.

After 48 hours I uncovered the must, stirred again, and threw in the two packets of yeast and stirred some more!  I added the lid, put on an s-lock, which I would generally use for secondary, but my 3-piece airlocks were in use, and walked away.

5/19/15 UPDATE

I went ahead and opened my lid to check fermentation since I did not see any bubbles coming out of my air lock.  Sure enough some fermentation had begun by the noticeable onset of bubbles at the top of the must.  The temperature on the bucket is registering at around 70-72F.  I quickly closed the lid and walked away.  I'll check the gravity Thursday or Friday night.  Following the directions, once I get around 1.050, I'll throw some more yeast nutrient and energizer in the bucket.  Stay tuned!

5/22/15 UPDATE

I checked the gravity and it was 1.048.  The last bit yeast nutrient and energizer, along with the last 32oz bottle of lemon juice was added.  I went ahead and agitated the must once more and shut the lid.  The s-lock was replaced with a 3-piece lock that I picked up today...because who doesn't need more airlocks?

I also tasted what had been fermented so far....and all I have to say, even with it all being almost half-way fermented....this is going to be a refreshing, perfect drink for the summer.  I cannot wait, and I am already thinking of doing another batch, with the addition of a different fruit to go along.

5/25/15 UPDATE

I checked the gravity, and it read 1.016.  Bubbling had also slowed down from a constant bubbling to a steady "blub....blub...blub".  I went ahead and clean and sanitized my carboy and equipment and racked the Skeeter Pee.  I also tasted it.  Yeasty right now, but that it to be expected.  Tart, with a slight sweetness and definitely on its way to being dry.  I can tell this is going to be a good hot summer day refreshment.  Manzi tasted some as well. 

NOTE:  Make sure your bung and neck of carboy are DRY before you fit them together.  I freaked because my bung kept pushing out, until I slowed down my thinking and got logical.

Not very much yeast at the bottom of bucket.

With the flash on.

Without the flash on.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

Bottled Blackberry Wine

On March 13th, Der Brauer came over to my house. While he was here, we decided to try the three wines we started on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. The pear wine was still on the sweet & green side and the Cyser obviously needed to let some adjuncts fall through. But then we tried the Blackberry Wine. Der Brauer stared longingly into my eyes for a moment before saying, "This is really f&^%ing good."

Loving the color.
He was right. It had good flavor. So we decided on the spot to "kill it"-- to end the fermentation process as quickly as possible, to freeze it in time-- so I recommended we toss in some Potassium Sorbate. I measured the appropriate amount, crushed it between two spoons like a crackhead, and capped it. 

The next day I took some gravity readings. Then I wrapped the vessel in a towel and took it to the lower level of the house, a place where the temperature is consistently a few degrees cooler. Nearly two months passed.

Tonight I decided to taste/bottle the Blackberry and taste the Cyser and Pear Wine. I haven't yet warmed up to (or had the volume to justify the effort of) bottling using a corker. So until that day comes, I will continue to use liquor bottles. 

As I get older, liquor bottles are harder to come by... if you've got any extra bottles around, I could use them.

 The wines all taste good. The Cyser is less dense than before and starting to mature. This could take some time considering the sheer volume of adjuncts within the recipe. The Pear Wine is the semi-sweet to sweet range, so it's the next I'm bottling.

(See key below.)
A Key for reading the notes:

- The top line contains the original reading, which was taken on January 18, before the fermentation process started.

- The second reading (listed as "today") was on January 28. You can see the density of the wine becoming less and less as sugar is slowly converted to alcohol.

- The third line is a reading from March 14th, the day after Der Brauer was over and tasted with me. This includes an ABV estimation using an online calculator.

- Finally, the readings from tonight: The Blackberry Wine did not change mathematically, which means my Potassium Sorbate and venue change did their part.

The color lightened up. A vibrant purple-red. 

The taste is about the same, but it's more crisp and clean. 

As of tonight, the Blackberry Wine is officially named "Engagement Blackberry - 2015". The Pear Wine and Cyser will be named later.

Thanks for checking in! Drink your wine from a stein.    -Antonio

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Where it all starts

April is always a busy time.  Since I had a Saturday available, I decide to make a trip up the farm in Rhineland on April 25, 2015 to check on the growings on there. I wanted to make sure that all of the plants for the year were getting off to a good start.  My major concerns were the hops, blackberries, and grapes.  Throughout the last few years, with the help of some wonderful volunteers, I have almost completed all of the trellises needs for growing the fruit at the farm.   My major project was to finish the trellis for the Norton grapes since they need a "Geneva Double Curtain" style trellis because of their aggressive nature.  I also wanted to do some pruning and mulching as well.  (and some turkey hunting). 

The first step was to tweak a few parts of the newly built blackberry trellis.  I originally had two plants from Matuz that were donated.  I used one sucker to replant last year.  This spring I planted another sucker and two more plants from Matuz for a total of six blackberries plants on the new trellis. 
Row of blackberries with new trellis and older blackberries in front.

My father (Der Vater von Der Brauer) also acquired 6 blueberry bushes from a local nursery that was closing down.  They are planted next to the blackberry trellis. 

Blueberry bushes. Had bees flying all around the flowers. 
Blackberries and blueberries together
Next step was to check on the hops.  All hops had sprouted and were a few feet high except for the the Golding variety that was newly planted last year.  I pruned the hops back so that there will be 3 vines per plant.  I also set up the drip irrigation system for the summer.  I know it is early but a few years ago there was a very dry May and I didn't have the system set up yet and it ruined the plants for the rest of the year. 

All six hop plants.  Glacier, Willamette, 2 Goldings, Tettnang, and Fuggle. 
An example of the drip irrigation on the Fuggle.
Gravity fed from rain water. Very useful when I can only get up there to check on them about once a month.
The last project was the grapes.  A few weeks ago I had the help of a "red bearded man" to build 2 more of the grapes trellises.  This has definitely been the toughest part of all the projects at the farm.  It has been difficult and expensive to find and buy the equipment and it has been the most labor intensive.  The trellises are about 90% complete.  All that needs to been done now is to string the wire across the posts for the Norton variety. 

The grapes are doing well for this time of year.  The Niagara variety is doing the best.  One Niagara vine is completely attached to the wire and I am now pruning it as a mature vine.  One of the Vidal Blanc vines snapped off in a storm last year and it did not survive the winter.  The only place I have found,  only sells them in groups of 5 and I really don't want to do that again because I have done it in the past and it costs too much.  If anyone finds a single Vidal Blanc vine at a home and garden store please let me know!

The Norton variety requires a "geneva double curtain" style trellis because it is so aggressive.  There will be two top trellis lines and each vine will alternate which line it attaches two so that it will have more room.  The T-Posts have been attached and now all I need to do is secure them and run the wire across which should be pretty easy.
The Niagra variety is doing the best.  No idea why.  No sure if it is the location of the row or the variety itself.
The best vine that I have.  It is a Niagara and it hurt to prune it because it looked so good but it is for the best.  If you can see, it has about 5-7 shoots coming of the 2 main canes on the trellis line.  These will eventually hang down.  Each shoot has been pruned to about 3-5 buds which have created shoots which will eventually produce grapes clusters. (fingers crosses, but I have had much smaller vines produce grapes clusters in the past so I'm feeling good about it)
Complete vineyard
After driving up late the night before and getting up early to turkey hunt, Der Brauer took a much needed nap in the late afternoon while listening to the rain hit the tin roof in the cabin.  

-Der Brauer

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From Rust to Riches

I think it is about time we really pay homage to our hard work that we have put into getting the wine making side of our operation into full swing.  When we first started making beer we began with kits, and extracts to get the job done.  Same went with wine making.  Fruit concentrates and juice cans were used.  The occasional mead was made and a couple ciders out of canned/bottled apple juice.  Then we moved on to squeezing the fruit by hand.  That was just more work than it was worth.  So the obvious most logical step, just as we went from extract to all-grain in brewing, we needed to go from juice kits and concentrates to pressing.

The search for the wine press was on.  It had to be cheap and it had to work.  A little TLC was no problem.  You can by a wine press new for anywhere from $275-$1000 or more depending on your needs.  We just needed something that worked.  Months and months of scouring craigslist and nothing fit the bill.  Then one day in 2012, this popped up.

A Beraducci Bros. C3-4 Model that was $75 and needed work.  The guy asked me what I was going to use it for, and I told him,"To make wine!"  He was flabbergasted and just said,"With this?!!?".  Yes, because even though it didn't look like much with cobwebs, rust, and the screw was stuck, I could see in my mind what it could become.

The first step was to dismantle, and sandblast.  Luckily, Antonio's dad knew a guy with a sandblaster and said he could do it for free.  That was huge in keeping the bill down, I had made contacts with other people and the fee ranged from $35-$75 to get the job done.  Here is what it looks like taken apart and can already see the beauty coming out.

Looking for parts for this press is terrible.  Do not try.  The company, Beraducci Bros., went out of business a long time ago.  I was missing the handle to turn the press down the screw and one side latch to keep the press closed, the previous owner just used wire....

I went ahead and searched online and went to and ordered some of their Gondola Red paint.  This is a special paint that can withstand acidity and is also food safe.  I called around prior to Sherwin-Williams/paint stores and no one was of any help.  The shipping cost was either the same or more expensive then the paint...but if I am going to do something like this, I am going to do it right.  I couldn't find any other dealers of this paint, so I went with PiWine.

I painted three coats with the help of Antonio and my wife.  It was messy, and basement floor hates me, but here are the finished results.....and in action!

A screw and wing nut can be seen on the bottom right of the basket.  The original owner lost the lock piece and was just using wire. 

A base made out of 2x4 and OSB was fabricated for the press to bolt down upon.  It is 8'x4'.  Yeah, it is huge, a bit heavy, but it allows for a person, or two, to comfortably stand on and pull the rod around the press to squeeze the fruit.  A person on each side, makes the job quick and easy.  The next mods would have to be adding handles to the outsides of the base for easier transportation followed by a latex paint job to help eliminate moisture problems with the OSB.

As you can see, the wood was numbered.  This was done prior to sandblasting to ensure everything went back into its original place.  We also opted for a metal rod instead of a wooden rod for durability reasons.  The ridges on the rod are originally there for screw purposes, but for us it helps to add friction and hold the rod snuggly in place.  Gloves or towel are optional, but it does help to not tear up your hands. 2x4 blocks that we had laying round became our press blocks.  I do not expect them to last long, some started splintering that day, but they got the job done and I am happy with that outcome.

The base plate of the press is beautiful and easy to clean.

As you can see in the pictures, we had a great day.  One cyser, one blackberry, and one pear wine was made.  Clean up was easy with a quick wash down with a wet rag, followed by drying it off and adding mineral oil to the screw rod.

Updates on the wine will come soon, as well as our endeavors at the farm with the hops, grapes, and blackberries, and of course any brewing we do.

Happy Brewing,