Capping Off The Blackberry And Mead Wines

August 12, 2008 at 3:14 pm (Airlock, Blackberry, Bungs, Fermentation Lock, Mead Making, metabisulfite, Nutrient, Potassium Metabisulfite, Sulphited, Wine Making, Yeast) (, , , , , , )


Two examples of capping fermentation pails with two different types of Airlocks.

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Blackberry Wine

August 4, 2008 at 8:00 am (Airlock, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, metabisulfite, Potassium Metabisulfite, Sue Hubbell, Sulphited, Uncategorized, Wine Making, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

SWEET!

Sammy and I had been noticing a prime crop of blackberries that were growing in the fallow meadow temptingly close to the roadside about a mile from our house. We kept wondering if anyone would pick them, and, it getting near the end of the season, decided they should be ours! I have an old wine making book written by a British gentleman who talks about getting carboys from the “chemist” for “20 pence or so”. This chemist, for a few more “pence” will also supply siphon tubing, sodium metabisulfite, bungs, and nearly all other materials. I get the idea that the chemists in Britain of that time were a bunch of wine swilling mad scientists. My kind of people! My wine “Bible” suggested several kinds of recipes for blackberry wine. The wine could be made in port style, claret style, as “light” table wine, sweet or dry. Sammy and decided on a port style. This called for four pounds of blackberries.

We loaded up a bucket, a couple of smaller containers (Chinese egg drop soup containers which we have a surplus of), a “snake” hoe (Sammy is always sure that copperheads will just naturally want to be anywhere we want to be), and some bug spray and headed out. We were both wearing shorts and t-shirts which I do not recommend. Blackberries have vicious thorns and they’re not afraid to use them. We started picking berries, Sammy in his selected section and I in mine. His method was to first beat the underbrush to death to mangle or scare away any snakes, then use the hoe to pull the canes toward him to pull off the berries. I trusted that any snakes were well out of my way by the time I had gotten snarled up in the first canes I came across, untangled myself, had three or four more canes attach themselves to my anatomy, dropped the hand full of berries I’d just gathered, cursed a bit as I wiped off the blood, ate a berry or two to see if they were good, and generally wallowed around ripping my clothes and skin to shreds. But, by the time I had picked my first quart, I found my berry Zen. I would carefully move a cane to the point where I could anchor the thorns against my clothing (or skin) to hold the cane where I wanted it and then, by this method, work my way into the patch to collect the berries.

We picked berries until our bucket was half full and the berry patch was picked over. We weren’t sure we had enough, not having any idea how much we needed to make four pounds. I remembered a couple berry patches I had seen while jogging and we checked them out, only to find they were pretty scant in the berry department. Sammy remembered seeing a patch right across the road from home so we decided to make that our last stop. As we walked over to the patch I felt my mouth drop open in awe. The patch was loaded, absolutely loaded with huge, ripe berries as big as a thumb tip. They were so ripe they were falling off into our hands. We picked more, juicier, plumper berries in 15 minutes than we had in an hour. We had a little concern with a yellow jackets nest that was apparently about five feet from where we were picking. We were a little more concerned when the dogs came down to keep us company and started snapping at a few stray yellow jackets.

Back at the house Sammy started picking over the berries (culling unripe berries, bits of leaf, a few aphids and inch worms, that sort of thing) and I started preparing my “tools of the trade”. Now these were, for the most part, new tools of the trade for me. I had only ever made dandelion wine in the “hillbilly” way, bakers yeast, citrus peels for nutrient, allowed to ferment right in the bottles so that the lees settled to the bottom and came as part of the wine. Don’t get me wrong, it was good wine. Good enough that Sammy and I chose it as our wedding toast. In fact, at one point in our post nuptial celebration, I was walking around in my wedding dress with a bottle of dandelion wine under one arm, a mason jar of moonshine (compliments of a certain Uncle), in one hand, and a bag of jello shots in the other. Just so you know, I was sharing these items.

Back to the blackberry wine. The first thing I did was scrub out the sink and fill it with a few gallons of sterilization solution. Potassium metabisulfite at about 2 oz. per gallon of water. What a stink! I think the fumes actually made my voice a little hoarse the next day. I had also boiled a big pot of water which I allowed to cool to use for rinsing. Everything that was used was sterilized in this fashion, soaked in the sink, rinsed with boiled water. Sammy had finished picking over the berries and we tumbled them into our large six gallon bucket. I mashed them with my potato masher until they were a liquid mash. (I found later that using your hands works much better and doesn’t run the risk of scratching your bucket. Scratches can increase the risk of places to harbor contaminants.) Into this mash was added an eighth teaspoon (per gallon) of the metabisulphite and a pint of sterile water. Fruit wines can naturally harbor stray “bad” bacteria which can make the wine taste off. So they can be “sulphited” to minimize this. The mash was allowed to sit for a couple of hours. The metabisulphite causes a little bleaching of the color as it sits but doesn’t harm the color of the wine. While that was sitting I mixed one third of the total sugar to be added (1 1/2 lbs. at about 2 cups of sugar to the pound) into 2 pints of water. I boiled this for one minute and let the mixture cool to about 80 degrees. (Important! the mixture to which the yeast will be added can’t be too hot or the yeasties won’t like it!) I mixed up 1 package of wine yeast in about 2 oz. warm (not hot!) water and let that sit for about 15 minutes. Once the sugar water was cooled enough I added it to the mash with 1/8 tsp. of yeast energizer and 1 tsp. of yeast nutrient, then the prepared yeast. This I stirred vigorously for five minutes. Well, part one was finished! The lid went on the pail. The hole in the pail lid can be fitted with a fermentation lock (not necessary at this point) or taped over. We didn’t have a lock for the pail (ours reserved for our mead) so Sammy found a metal tube which fit and we put a balloon over the tube. We did this rather than tape out of simple curiosity to see how much the first stage would ferment. We ceremoniously carried the bucket downstairs and placed it in the bottom of an old cedar wardrobe I have. The basement temp. stays at about 70, the wine likes 60-80 range. Fruit wines like to be kept in the dark or be in dark glass bottles or they can bleach in color like Grandma’s old sofa.

Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees

Sammy finished out the evening by having a little of last year’s dandelion wine. I went straight to the apple jack and the warm smooth glow of accomplishment. Tomorrow, mead, stage one. I relaxed for the rest of the evening and began reading Sue Hubbell’s wonderfully written A book of Bees.

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We visit our friend Lew and get some equipment.

August 3, 2008 at 9:00 am (Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, Mead Making) (, , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

My friend Lew had generously offered to lend us two carboys, bungs, and fermentation locks that he wasn’t using at the moment. Actually he generously offered to lend us two carboys, bungs, and fermentation locks that he was borrowing from a mutual friend Sylvia who wasn’t using them at the moment. I work with Lew and used to work with Sylvia. Lew is a great guy, great sense of humor, do anything for you, give you the shirt off his back, cancer survivor, one of the best people I know. In the fall of each year, Lew and Sylvia make red wine. I’ve had a bottle or two, it’s good stuff. In fact, several years ago I met Sylvia at her house after we worked night shift and we drank a bottle of homemade wine while watching “The Big Chill”. Story for another time but I did eventually make it home and after all, I’ll probably never see that nice gas station attendant again. Anyway, I’m rambling. Not rambling as much as the day we watched “The Big Chill”, but nevertheless…

We called Lew’s house to get directions and talked to his wife, Angela. Now let me just say right out of the gate that Angela is a lovely, super intelligent woman whose directions were correct, concise, and easy. We just sort of didn’t follow them. We mistook a Karns grocery store for a Giant. And I couldn’t read my own handwriting. I’m quite sure that when I’m discovered posthumously as a great modern American poet, generations of students will work on hundreds of doctorates trying to decipher what exactly I did write in all those little notebooks and scraps of paper. Sammy was still at the point where we hadn’t been wandering aimlessly for too long and so he was amused at my conjecture that although we probably weren’t looking for “Compost Lane”, it was something approaching that. After a nice little tour of Hershey and accidentally taking a nice little tour of Palmyra, we found “Lamppost Lane”, followed by “Tally-ho” and finally “Cobblestone”.

Lew’s house is big, beautiful, and upscale enough to make me a little nervous about touching stuff. We were greeted by Otis (Redding), one of those pugs that look like the offspring of Peter Lorre and Bette Davis. Degas (pronounced Degas, not De’ Gah) was the other canine greeter. We followed Lew around to the back to see the new pergola he had just built. Very nice. Angela came out holding another member of the family, Isaac (Hayes), a young Red-fronted Macaw. Angela was petting Isaac and playing peek-a-boo with him and I was admiring Isaac’s beautiful red, green, and blue plumage and Lew was telling us about Isaac’s extensive vocabulary and then Angela said to me, “Want to hold him?” Oh Lord. I had heard stories from Johann, another co-worker who has stayed at the Casa de Lew several times, that Isaac was possibly possessed by the devil and speaks in tongues. And then, there is that little episode from my childhood concerning me and the chickens that has scarred me for life, but that’s another story for another time. Needless to say, disconcerted but wanting to make a good impression, I held out my hand in the “perch” position. Isaac, helped by Angela, stepped over, looked me up and down, and promptly took my finger in his beak. “He’s testing his perch”, said Lew. It was like that time in the Girl scouts when I got to hold some one’s pet blacksnake only to have it constrict around my neck. The pressure on my finger increased as I was saying (calmly, I think), “What a pretty bird. Pretty bird.” (That is possibly cutting off my finger now. No blood, that’s good, but crushing injuries can be just as bad as amputation…) Isaac went back to Lew at the first opportunity and the bird and I breathed a mutual sigh of relief. Birds don’t like me. I must have wronged the species terribly in a past life.

Well, we got our equipment, Lew gave us a bottle of his wine, we had a great visit, I didn’t spill or drop anything, and we made it safely home.

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Our trip to the wine store for equipment.

August 3, 2008 at 8:00 am (Bottles, Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, Hydrometer, Mead Making, Nutrient, Potassium Metabisulfite, Siphon, Strainer bag, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

My husband Sammy and I were having a really good weekend. We had had a long, gray, spate of “not winning the lottery” (again), having our septic system spew raw sewage out into our beautiful corn crop (human poop does grow good corn-not safely edible corn-but good corn), having our safety net of painstakingly horded cash mysteriously disappear from its hiding place, having the air conditioning go out in the car three times while at the same time listening to the musical grindings of the brake rotors in the other car, and having our kitten Ophelia become very ill very suddenly. Our motto for awhile there had become, “Let’s kiss the ass end of this day goodbye.”

But, we were having a really good weekend. Saturday we decided to finally make the hour drive to the beer and wine making store. We held hands and talked of pleasant things like our proposed mead making and the possibility of another trip to the Bahamas next year when I reach 50. I had a list of things we needed for the mead. I always feel better when I have a list. When I drop dead some day it will be with a list in my hand with all the items crossed off. On the drive to “the city” Sammy called a friend who he hadn’t been in touch with for a long time. The two of them, Sammy and Ramey, used to have an acoustic duo. back in the 70’s. I have a picture of the two of them on my locker at work. When people ask me, which one is your husband, I either reply, “the fuzzy one” or “the Dan Fogelburg looking one”. Ramey I call “the Glen Campbell guy”. Anyway, Sammy and Ramey talked until we had reached our destination and then we parked and sat and they talked some more, catching up on 30+ years of news.

We finally figured out that the entrance to the store was actually down an alley. As we drove down the alley Sammy stopped, backed up, and said, “Hey, did you see those drums? Somebody put a snare and a tom out for trash.” I said, “well, you can’t pass up looking at that, we could use some drums.” So, Nine Inch Nails sticker and all, the drums were loaded into the car.

As we parked in front of the store we saw a van with a Bucknell wrestling sticker. We looked at each other and at the same time wondered how our young friend Luke was doing. He is an honors student, fantastic musician, savvy wrestler, and he goes to Bucknell. We miss him. We entered the world of “everything you need or want to have to make really ostentatious and hopefully drinkable beer and wine” and stood gaping like fish out of water. Buckets, carboys, wine yeasts, wine nutrient, yeast energizer, siphons, fermentation locks, bottles, corks, potassium metabisulfite, strainer bags, bungs, hydrometers, thermometers. And we saw young Luke there with his dad! After hugs all around he told us he was there shopping for the ingredients to make his own probiotics. Well, we were assisted in our purchases by a knowledgeable and personable kid who is probably old enough to drink but young enough to get carded for the next 10 years of his life, and headed out. Outside the store we called Lew, an amateur wine maker I work with who had generously offered to lend us two carboys and some other equipment.

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