Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The Art of Coarse Winemaking

I neglected to make any wine last year. Neither did I update any winemaking records. And I'm usually very particular about my records. There was no need, for not only did I fail to start any wines, I completely ignored the 23 gallons of various wines fermenting in a cupboard. No racking, no bubblers changed, nothing done. Forgotten about.

The first thing to do was change the bubblers. They were disgusting, full of dust and dead fruit flies and some were filled with a primordial soup. I'm certain had I left them any longer, new and unpleasant life forms would have emerged from the cupboard. While I was doing this I took tentative tastes of the wine and, surprisingly, most of them were drinkable.

But not this elderberry. Started in November 2017 it tasted unpleasantly musty and looked like watered-down blood. Down the sink it went.

This rhubarb was started in September 2018 and this is the first racking. It is good. I'm drinking a glass of it right now.

So, after a year of neglect, it seems not too disastrous. I intend to give a lot of this wine away. Although anyone who reads this account might not fancy it! Peter and Billy will give it a go. If you see this post guys, I have Beetroot & Berries, Strawberry & Raspberry and the good old Rhubarb 14 waiting here for you.

The rhubarb patch is showing signs of a revival. Here's to Rhubarbs 15, 16 and 17. Slainte!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Making Wine With Grapes

Peter landed in yesterday with a huge bucket of grapes from his granny's greenhouse. Haven't weighed them but there must be at least 8 pounds. So checking recipes for grape wine which is, actually, just wine and I've got enough and the method for mashing given in the first recipe I read is treading with the bare feet. So, if this stuff turns out to be drinkable it will be all for me for I'm sure no one is going to want to drink wine that has been trampled by my tootsies. Unless perhaps Jazzer who is game for anything and also likes wine.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


Strawberry and Raspberry fermenting merrily

I had two lots of yeast to choose from last night. One, from VinClasse, smelled a little sour and is three months from its sell by date. The other one (Youngs) was fresher but there wasn't much of it and I wanted it for white currant wine. It might be a while before I get to Nature's Way in Belfast. So I asked Bert to sniff the VinClasse, second opinion and all that. Of course he was wreathed in pipe smoke and could smell nothing else but his aromatic tobacco which is like old woollen socks sprinkled with essence of vanilla.

Nevertheless he pronounced the yeast fine and I tossed it into the bucket thinking to myself, if it hasn't started fermenting by tomorrow I'll re-yeast. No need to worry for it was off and running by bedtime. I've used yeast with added nutrient for a long time now and it is always quick to get started.

I really wish we had a decent wine supplies shop close by. There is a place near Ahoghill but it's more about beer and every time I go there there is always something needed that they haven't got. Which is annoying.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Busy Day In The Wine Making Kitchen

Went and let the home made wines get out of control again. I have 23 batches on the go, 24 if I count the raspberry and strawberry one I started today. And there is still enough frozen fruit in my freezers to make at least another six batches.

Today I racked off four batches that have been sitting around since October last year. Two were blackcurrant. It has a good flavour but is a little on the sweet side which is a pity as I made it in bulk, five gallons altogether. I'm sure somebody will like it. Swisser definitely as she is fond of dessert wines and Jazzer, she will probably go for it too. I also racked two that I've never tried before. The first was gooseberry. Maybe a little sharp but not so your eyes would water. I like it. It's the first time I got to the goosegogs before the blackbird. We definitely need more gooseberry bushes. The other was beetroot and blackcurrant and it is rather good. The earthiness of the beetroot balances the acidity of the currants. Bert thought it tasted of cherries.

Strawberry and Raspberry Stage I, before yeasting

Then I started a new one, the strawberry and raspberry. Easy recipe.

Slightly over 3lbs of fruit, a gallon of boiling water (cooled) and a bag of sugar then a wee bit more. I used a yeast and nutrient mixture which was still in date, but slightly old. It might not work out so fingers crossed. Before adding sugar I squished the fruit up using my incredibly clean hands and tried not to think about how the strawberries looked and felt like slugs. And I dissolved the sugar in hot water before I added it to the fruit mixture.

And this is how I keep track of my wine making activities. The coloured entries are finished wines.

Click to embiggen. But you knew that.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Interesting Wines

212 views, 13th most interesting...

...but not as interesting as the completed wine, I'd wager.

1. A conglomeration of pome fruits. Middling to good. All drunk.
2. A rhubarb. Rhubarb is always good. All drunk.
3. Carrot and Raisin. Carrot is always good. This one was dry and delicious and is all drunk.
4. & 6. Rosehip, made from dried hips. Overly sweet. Still some left.
5. Orange and Apple. Made from fruit juice. Not very nice and wouldn't use juice again. Still drunk it.
7. Damson. Fabulous, delicious, sublime. All drunk.
8. Nectarine. Some of the fruit was over ripe and there was a slight mustiness to it. I liked it. All drunk.

All these wines were started in late 2012.

The piano they are sitting on? Chopped up. Late 2014.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Adventures in Cider Making

At primary school one of the stories in our Wide Range Readers was Johnny Appleseed. As I remember, Johnny was presented as a jolly hobo who wandered the length and breadth of America with bags of apple seeds which he planted everywhere for no reason other than benevolence. And this is how Johnny Appleseed is generally known. I never gave him another thought until I read The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.

Pollan's work shows how people and domesticated plants have formed mutually beneficial relationships. His chosen plants are the apple – our desire for sweetness, the tulip – for its beauty, marijuana – which intoxicates us and the potato which nourishes us. Each of these plants has thrived through selective breeding and genetic engineering. It was a fascinating read which I'd recommend to anyone who takes pleasure in growing – anything!

The section I enjoyed the most was the one on our desire for sweetness and apples. Pollan had a lot to say about Johnny Appleseed or, to give him his true name, John Chapman. The tale I had from school was over simplified. John Chapman was a fascinating man. But he didn't just wander around the United States planting seeds willy-nilly. He planted nurseries of apple saplings and sold them to farmers. When a nursery was established he left it in the hands of a manager and moved on, planted another nursery and continued in this pattern. He made a decent living. Now an interesting fact about apples is that they don't grow true from seed. Indeed, if you were to take an apple and plant the several seeds that it contained, each seedling would be entirely different from the others. And most would be sour. Apple trees that produce sweet fruit may only be propagated by grafting. So the vast majority of John Chapman's trees would have produced sour fruit. So why did people buy them in such large numbers? Because sour apples are just what is needed to produce hard cider and applejack. Our reading book never mentioned that.

Which brings me to my own recent experiment. I've been wanting Bert to make a cider press for ages but he has yet to get round to it. So I was rather pleased when a friend sent me a link to a method of producing cider without using a press. I gathered my apples, a mixture of Bramleys, crabs and dessert apples. Mostly Bramleys as they are what I have at hand. They are not ideal for cider but it is just an experiment.

The recipe uses a juicer instead of a press and we happen to have a sturdy masticating juicer which makes it easier still.

Hard Cider From Whole Apples

What You’ll Need:
  • Apples, pears, or crab apples (to be mixed with sweet apples.)  About 15 lbs. of fruit gets us about a gallon of juice.  Must be fresh and organic.  Try to include some crab apples or tart apples with your sweet ones for a better, more balanced flavour.
  • A juicer. 
  • A chopping knife and cutting board.
  • A large sieve and a clean kitchen towel.
  • Demijohns, a funnel, a siphon hose, rubber bungs and airlocks.
  • Sugar
  • Swing-top bottles
  1. Wash your fruit well with plain water. 
  2. Cut your apples into quarters.  This is mostly just to check for bugs or other issues with the apples.  Discard or cut around any that have an infested core, and cut out major bruises. You don’t need to worry about coring or taking stems out– the juicer will do that for you.
  3. Start juicing!  As your juicer pitcher gets full, pour it through a funnel into a sterilized demijohn.
  4. Once you have juiced all of your fruit, taste the juice and add sugar.  At least a cup of sugar to a gallon of juice, more if you like sweet cider.  During the fermentation process, the yeast will eat the sugar (both the fructose from the fruit and the added sugar) and turn it into alcohol– so this step is both for flavour and alcohol level.  Those of you in the USA may not really need to add much sugar, as most of the apples there tend to be really sweet.  You can add more sugar later if the brew is turning out too dry or tart for your taste.
  5. Put a rubber stopper and an airlock on your demijohn, and let it sit for a week.
  6. Rack your cider– siphon it into another sterilized demijohn, leaving the yeasty sediment in the bottom of the first one, so you have a much cleaner cider in the new demijohn.  Taste it and see how it’s doing.  If it’s already tasting pretty dry, you can add some more sugar before you put the airlock back on.
  7. For a sweet cider, bottle after a week. Three weeks or more makes a drier end product. Fermenting it this long means that it won’t be very fizzy in the end– but you can also add a little sugar just before bottling to regain some carbonation.  The next step is to bottle your hard cider.  Use the siphon hose to fill swing-top bottles. The type of bottle is really important, since it lets out small amounts of the pressure that builds up, so you don’t burst any bottles.

For those of you in Northern Ireland all the specialist equipment needed can be purchased at Hillstown Farm Shop near Ahoghill (and Randalstown) or Nature's Way in Belfast.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Carrot and Orange Wine

It's been ages since I've blogged about my wine making activities. The truth is I've been too busy growing fruit and vegetables to have time for making wine and, like last summer, I've rather neglected the wines already started. Five months and nothing racked, nothing progressed. I'm beginning to realise that. for me,  wine making is going to be an autumn and winter pastime.

Carrot & Orange10/05/1329/05/1320/10/1323/11/1326/01/2014 & 7/04/2014
03/09/142nd R -heavy sediment/3rd R: Heavy albumin bloom decanted out topped with cider & water

Still, the freezer is full of peaches, all colours of currants, rhubarb and raspberries. The damsons look like they are going to crop well this year and the hedgerows are full of blackberries. It's been four months since I laid anything new down but, I promise, I'll make up for it.

And so it was I bottled the Carrot and Orange. Started in May 2013, racked 5 times and bottled tonight. It is drinkable already. Nellybert shared a couple of glasses tonight. Too soon but we are reckless fools.

Carrots always make good wine. My experiments with pineapples, pears, oranges and strawberries are over. From now on I shall concentrate on the fruit and vegetables that make dry and palatable wines. I know I used a dash of orange in this one but it was juice only, no rind. Wines with rind included tend to give me a headache so no more of that.

Sixteen months from start to bottle. Too long but the wine is yummy. A friend, Emma, gave me loads of sultanas today. Carrot and sultana wine coming up!