Monday, August 30, 2010

Moving Blog

For awhile now, I was running my blog on two different blog sites. Even though this blog site is superior in posting videos, I find it to be a little lacking in formatting and administration. Therefore, I will no longer be posting to this site. To keep reading what I'm learning about and watching me grow at making cider and fruit wines, please follow me at:

Thank you,
The Candle Wine Project

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review on Infusing Spirits and Making Liqueurs

Here are some books on infusing spirits and making liqueurs – a process completely legal so long as you don’t sell it.

Classic Liqueurs: The Art of Making and Cooking with Liqueurs by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey is part of the Creative Cooking Series and was updated in 2005. It has a nice short and concise intro including the basics, equipment needed, alcohol basis, other ingredients, and ageing before offering up 37 pages of fruit liqueur recipes and 21 pages of non-fruit liqueurs using herbs and spices. It does have some cream liqueurs in it. Next, it has 17 pages of drink serving suggestions, followed by 65 pages of food recipes using the liquors. This seems like a fun book, but there are no pictures to inspire you. Still, it seems very well organized. I accidentally got my hands on the older version printed in 1996, which appears to have less recipes in all the categories.

Cordials from Your Kitchen by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling was published in 1997. It is set up very much like Classic Liqueurs, but with more chapters breaking out fruit liqueurs, nut liqueurs, herb and spice cordials, cream liqueurs, candy cordials, coffee liqueurs, flavored brandies, rums, and vodkas, and fruits preserved in spirits. There are chapters dedicated to drinks or food recipes with the liqueurs, but instead are included as side notes in the margins. Again, it doesn’t have pictures, but I would probably pick this book over Classic Liqueurs.

Homemade Cream Liqueurs by Dona and Mel Meilach was published in 1986. Not to be confused with crème de liqueurs, which is a sweeter liqueur, cream liqueurs such as Baileys contain dairy cream. There really isn’t another book like this out on the market. It starts off with a brief intro and then the history of cream liqueurs, explaining that cream liqueurs contain cream, and saying that cream liqueurs have really only been on the market since 1979 when Bailey’s Original Irish Cream Liqueur figured out how to add cream to their product, keep it from separating from the alcohol, and keep it stable enough for it to be on shelves for years. Homemade cream liqueurs, it warns, will have a shorter shelf life than store bought because a person at home will not have the same tools to homogenize the mixture. To make a cream liqueur, the book says you will need a blender, measuring spoons, clear liqueurs, flavorings, canned or fresh milk, possibly eggs, and containers to store the final product in. It warns that the quality is a bit tricky to control, but offers up a suggested recipe record sheet. It talks a little bit about theory so that you can later go and experiment to make your own cream liqueurs. It then offers up 23 pages of cream liqueur recipes, followed by a chapter on cocktails, coffees, and ice creams, a chapter on cakes and cheesecakes, a chapter on pies, filled pastries, and fruit dishes, a chapter on cookies and cupcakes, a chapter on candies and confections, a chapter on sauces, quiches, fondues, and flan, all made with cream liqueur in it. While other books might have cream liqueur recipes, I feel that they don’t cover the topic as well as this book does.

Luscious Liqueurs: 50 Recipes for Sublime and Spirited Infusions to Sip and Savor was written by AJ Rathbun in 2008. The library lost the copy, so I can’t really tell you how this book is laid out or the quality of the recipes. However, I do remember this book for having pictures, which can inspire you on how to package the liqueur up, especially if you are giving it as a gift.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drink Review: Jalapeño Infused Guava Margarita

Some time ago, my husband and I went to a restaurant, and their drink special of the night was a prickly pear jalapeño margarita on the rocks. We asked them how it was made, and much to our surprise, they told us. Thing is, they used prickly pear puree, which is kind of hard to find, so we modified the recipe to guava juice instead as it is a mild juice. Look for guava juice with lower amounts of sugar.

The process involves infusing tequila with jalapeño, and then mixing it into a margarita drink. In this case, infusing is just flavoring the tequila by letting it seep, but not sweetening it like one would do for a liqueur. This is not a spicy make your eyes water drink, but instead a nice smooth sweet drink that gives a little bit of a jalapeño burn in the throat. The whole drink works together quite well. My mother’s cousins love it, and once we made a pitcher of this drink and offered up our entire liquor cabinet, and everyone drank the margarita rather than touching anything else. Mind you, this was before we made our own beer and wine.

One starts by taking a jalapeño, cutting it open, and removing the seeds from it. I highly recommend wearing gloves when you do this, as the jalapeño is hard to remove from your skin and under your nails, and will burn your eyes if you rub them hours later. Place the jalapeño in a mason jar and add tequila. Since this will be used in a margarita, it does not need to be the best tequila you can find. Cover the jar and let the jar sit at least three days, and then begin sampling it until it reaches your desired taste. This is usually around a week, but it could be faster or slower depending on the jalapeño. Remove the jalapeño, and recover the jar and label it as being jalapeño infused tequila.

The margarita is then as follows:

1.5 shots jalapeño infused tequila
2 shots guava juice
1 shot triple sec, blue curacao, or other orange flavor liquor (or infuse it yourself!)
3 shots sour mix
1 squirt lime or lemon juice (fresh is better)

Mix together and serve over ice.

Actually, I have come across infused spirits recently, including pepper, but why pay the extra money when you can do it yourself?

Other infusion inspirations:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Making Liqueur

In my last blog, I talked about adding an alcoholic spirit to wine to increase the alcoholic content. But one can also add juice, sugar, and other flavorings to a spirit to make a liqueur. Only the act of distilling is illegal, but if you purchase an already distilled alcoholic spirit and convert it into a liqueur, it is legal so long as you don’t sell it.

Let me back up and say that a spirit is a wine or beer that that been distilled in an attempt to capture only the alcohol, and it is completely dry with no sugar in it. Examples of this include vodka, rum, tequila, gin, brandy, whiskey, and others. A liqueur is a spirit in which flavoring and sugar has been added to it, such as schnapps, Grand Marnier, Frangelico, and others. All liqueurs start off as a spirit.

It isn’t hard to find liqueur recipes on the internet. Some of them are quite simple. My grandfather used to take vodka and mix it with hazelnut syrup that you would use in coffee, and he would call it Frangelico. Some are a little more complex.

According to, the basic recipe for a general fruit liqueur is as follows:

1 lb. (450 g) berries or fruit
3 cups (710 ml) 80-proof vodka (or 1.5 cup pure grain alcohol + 1.5 cup water)
1 1/4 cup (300 ml) granulated sugar

Rinse the fruit or berries. Fruit must be cut into small pieces. Place berries or fruit in a container, add vodka. Cap and store in a cool, dark place, stir once a week for 2 - 4 weeks. Strain through metal colander. Transfer the unsweetened liqueur to an ageing container (glass bottle or container with tight cap). To 3 cups (710) ml unsweetened liqueur add 1 1/4 cup (300 ml) granulated sugar. Let age for at least three months. Pour carefully the clear liqueur to a new bottle. Add more sugar if necessary.

The fruit used for liqueur making can be used as deserts: mix with sugar and use with ice-cream.

Storage of liqueurs
The flavor of almost all liqueurs improves during storage. Fruit and berry liqueurs should be stored for at least 6 months for maximum taste. Some lemon liqueurs (e.g. Limoncello) should not be stored for a long time.

Sugar content
Liqueurs should contain approximately 1 cup sugar per 3 cups finished liqueur (300-350 g sugar per liter). If your liqueur is too sweet, add a mixture of vodka and water (1:1).

Sweetness change during storage
Sugar is converted to glucose and fructose which are simple sugar types with less sweet flavor. Therefore sugar must sometimes be added to homemade liqueurs after storage for some months.

Alcohol content
The alcohol content should normally be 20-30% for fruit and berry liqueurs, except for citrus liqueurs which might have higher alcohol content. If your liqueur has too strong alcohol taste, add some water (or fruit juice) and sugar. If your liqueur has too low alcohol content, add vodka and sugar.

Liqueurs of fruit mixtures:
Don't mix more than two types of fruits or berries in liqueurs. You can make successful mixtures of bitter berries with mild ones, like blueberries and cranberries. If you mix more types you might end up with a sweet-sour drink with no interesting flavor.

Other liqueur making websites:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Target SG 1.090

Lots of fruit are coming into season around here, which means it is time for making fruit wine. Thing is, most fruits do not contain enough sugar to make a wine that is stable. That is to say, the sugar in the fruit becomes alcohol, but not at a high enough quantity to act as a good preserver of the wine. Therefore, more sugar should be added until a hydrometer reading comes out to be SG 1.090. This gives the wine a potential alcohol content of 12%. This process is called chaptalization, and is usually heavily frowned upon with grapes and apples, but necessary for other fruits.

I find chaptalization very frustrating.

First off, one would figure out how much sugar is in the juice that you are working with by taking a hydrometer reading. For example, maybe it reads 1.070. Based on Daniel Pambianchi’s Techniques in Home Winemaking, I was converting the specific gravity to degrees Brix, and having to do all my other calculations in metric. What a headache! However, I have recently found out from Ben Waston’s Cider, Hard and Sweet that it takes about 2.25 grams of sugar per gallon to raise the SG 5 points. So, to raise a 1.070 reading to 1.090, which is a 20 point difference, so 20 divided by 5 is 4, which is then multipled by 2.25, so it would take 9 ounces of sugar times the number of gallons you have.

But wait, it isn’t that simple!

First off, it is difficult to get sugar to dissolve into juice, so it is usually added to boiling water first and dissolved. However, the water can dilute your total sugar! Therefore, the syrup that you create should try to be the highest amount of sugar to the lowest amount of water possible.

Secondly, sugar has a volume, even without being dissolved in water. 1 kg of sugar will have a volume of about 0.7L. Therefore, if you have 1 gallon of juice and wish to add 2 lbs of sugar, those two pounds are 0.9 kg, which would have a volume of .63L, or .16 gallons. Since there are 8 pints in a gallon, one pint is .125 of a gallon, so the 2 lbs of sugar will increase your one gallon by a little over a pint! Either you have to toss some juice, or find a new container to put it in because you now have more than a gallon.

So, when chaptalizing, remember:

  • You want a target of 1.090 SG to have a stable wine.
  • 2.25 grams of sugar per gallon to raise the SG 5 points so long as there is no added water.
  • 1 kg of sugar will have a volume of about 0.7L, without water. Adding 2 lbs of sugar is like adding 1 pint.

Further reading:

The metric version of chaptalization:

  • SG 1.090 is about 21.54⁰ Brix
  • One degree Brix means that for every 100 grams of juice (1 Liter), it has about 1 gram of juice, so the juice is 1% sugar. Of that sugar, only 55% of it will become ethyal alcohol. That is to say that the Brix x 55% = the potential alcohol quantity.
  • 9.2 grams of fermentable sugar per liter will increase the Brix by 1⁰.
  • Remember to convert gallons to liters!
  • Again, monitor for volume issues: 1 kg of sugar has a volume of 0.7L

Friday, August 20, 2010

Game Review: Wine Tycoon

My husband’s computer died a few months ago, so we went out and purchased a new one. Of course, with the new computer, he had to have a new computer game, and while I was browsing with him, I discovered Wine Tycoon by Got Game. I had a coworker rave about Railroad Tycoon to me once, so on an impulse, I bought this game for $20.

I played it for a little bit, thought I wasn’t really impressed. You are given an estate in some region of France, and you have to manage the existing vineyard for weeds, pests, over growth, and soil depletion. You have to make a one time purchase for equipment to do this, and then periodically check in to see if the equipment needs any maintenance. There is a market demand, which helps guide your selection of what grapes to plant, though one would think that some of the market would find the product other places in the amount of years it takes to meet an order. You have other buildings such as grape sorting/crushing, fermentation, and bottling, and you have to build a storage room and purchase barrels for aging. When fermentation is done, it asks you about “blending”, which is really what you have ready to bottle unless you want to set some aside for aging in barrels. It seems to me that you can buy x number of barrels and put less wine in it than they can hold, and the program will treat them all as full when maybe only a quarter of them are. Also, two types of grape wines are never bottled together, so I’m not sure why they still call it “blending.”

The game marches on in time with or without you. In fact, at one point I was cooking dinner and just letting it run, and would periodically check in on it. You just have to periodically check in on the vineyard to make sure it is healthy, on the equipment to see to maintenance, and also deal with blending and possible selling of wine. So much more of it is automated, including harvesting and bottling. I was never really sure if I had the right equipment for crushing or if I needed more fermenters, but I figured if I didn’t, that hopefully, like a real wine estate, the employees would come to me and make recommendations for new equipment purchases. Maybe I just haven’t played enough to hit that point. In fact, I decided to look up reviews to see if I was missing something about the game. There were very few reviews out there, but the ones that did exist were not positive. I wish I had known this before I bought it.

I also found the controls to this game very clunky, and I find myself repeatedly opening windows upon windows, wishing it was all there in one window to begin with, and cursing about how I clicked the wrong button and opened the wrong window. Saving is also a bit odd, as I don’t seem to be able to title my saved games.

Apparently, there is a Beer Tycoon out there, made by a different FIP Publishing & Virtual Playground. If it is anything like Wine Tycoon, I would stay away. As for Railroad Tycoon, I would probably still purchase it because it is done by Sid Meier, and I love playing his Civilization games.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wine Tasting: Clark County Fair Beer and Wine Competition Results

I entered a cider and my bell pepper peach wine in the local fair last week, and I got the results and the judge’s notes back. I found the judging experience quite fun, but the entering part quite odd.

I got a blue ribbon for my bell pepper peach wine 12 points out of 20 points, which is 60%. According to the judging scale, that is a “Good” wine. A lot of the comments I got I was actually kind of expecting, but I decided to go ahead and enter it anyway just to see it though. Everyone was talking about it, and when I went to pick up the score sheet, the clerk even commented on the buzz it produced. I’m definitely going to make this again with recipe modifications for next year.

My cider didn’t hold up as well, which could have been because it got shoved over to the beer competition, where it is impossible for them to score the “hops”. It got a red ribbon with 32 points out of 50, which fell into the “Very Good” category. Actually, that is a 64%, which is higher than the bell pepper peach wine even though it got a red. Good news was that was the top cider, but I think next year I would purposely mislabel it as a “apple wine” to get it into the wine competition. You see, there is a organized Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) which has encompassed beer and mead, even those two are made in a wine like fashion. I would not expect beer drinkers to really understand how to judge it, as it would be like having a coffee drinker judge tea.

As far as judging goes, my favorite wine that I had tasted that night was a Pinot Grigio by Ken Stinger. I originally ranked it a 17, but some of my fellow judges ranked it only an 11, partly because it was the first wine we had of the night. As a result, I lowered my score to a 15 due to we all needed to be within 4 points of each other, which we all later regretted, giving it an average score of 13.44. I’m glad that he had a Pinot Nior that took second place with 16.50 points. I wish them luck with their amateur winemaking label, Gam Cellars. If they ever get a license, I would definitely recommend them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Basic Winemaking Equipment

I mentioned that a person could start making wine from a wine kit with a purchase of $100 in wine making equipment. Most any homebrew supply store that sells the wine kits have wine making equipment starter kits.

These equipment starter kits usually include a carboy to make a 6 gallon wine kit with, but the price will vary if the carboy is plastic or glass. It should also include a plastic bucket, fermentation lock and bung, siphon tubing, auto siphon, bottle filler, wine bottle brush, carboy brush, double lever corker, corks, hydrometer, sanitizer, instructions. This kit starts around $90. These kits are missing the test jar for the hydrometer, but if you use the bucket as a primary, then you don’t need the test jar. Also, if you were to use a wine kit to make wine, you would need bottles, which you could either buy or keep out of your recycling.

From this basic winemaking equipment kit, there are some upgrades available. Most upgrade the double lever corker to a floor corker, which then increase the price by $100, and maybe throw in a bottling bucket. Some will also offer a wine thief, which is useful, and a plastic paddle.

I could see that getting a funnel would also be very useful and not included in this kit.

Is the basic equipment kit worth it? Well, looking at Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply:

Northern Brewer Basic Kit with Glass Carboy - $119.99

  • 7.9 gallon fermenter w/lid - $21.99 for the bucket and $6.99 for the lid
  • 6 gallon glass carboy - $39.99
  • Fermentation lock and bung - $1.10 for the airlock and $0.75 for the bung
  • Sipon tubing – 5 ft x$0.35 per ft
  • AutoSiphon - $8.99
  • Bottle filler - $2.75
  • Wine bottle brush - $2.75
  • Carboy brush - $4.75
  • Double lever corker - $24.99
  • 30 9x1.75 corks - $4.99
  • Hydrometer - $5.99
  • 8 oz easy clean sanitizer - $7.50
  • Instructions – not available separately, but usually can be found for free

Individually priced total - $135.28.

A savings of $15.29 to buy it as a kit. So buying a basic winemaking equipment kit is worth the savings.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Making Wine from a Kit at a Winery

A good friend of my husband’s recently wrote me to tell me that a Classic Winemakers in Lacey, WA was having a good sale to make your own wine. There was a bit of confusion at first as to why I was uninterested in this.

See, a place like Classic Winemakers who offer to let you make wine there are using wine kits. Once you have selected what to make, they then make the wine for you using their equipment at their facilities. In my post about wine kits, I said that to buy the equipment to make a wine kit at home costs about $100, but in using their store, you wouldn’t have to buy that equipment. Plus, you don’t have to know how to make wine, as they will do all the labor for you. All you have to do is show back up, pick out a label, and they will give you a finished bottled wine custom made for you from a wine kit.

These type of wineries are not for me because I do have the equipment, and I do want the experience of making the wine myself. However, if someone wanted a custom wine but didn’t want to deal with all the details, this would be very ideal for them.

I know of at least two other wineries who operate like this. One is Bader Winery in Vancouver, WA, and the other is Cork This! in Texas.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wine Kits

vineyard to give you the grapes to crush and press. This means that one month you could make a cabernet and the next month a Riesling all from the comfort of your home.

According to “Wine Kits: Save Money, Make Wine” written by Tim Vandergrift and published in the October-Novermber 2009 issue of Wine Maker Magazine (article not available online), making wine from kits is much more economical than buying wine. After spending $100 on wine making equipment that can be reused, the cost of the wine kit can break down into about $2-$7 a bottle. However, the savings is in that that same wine would retail for about $6-20 a bottle. Vandergrift shows how that can really add up, saying:

the example I use is about three bottles per week, yielding 156 bottles per year, with a built in factor of about 20% for wine-related emergencies bringing it up to around 180 bottles per year, or six 6-gallon batches, covering red, white, rosé, and dessert wines… your total cost is roughly $100 (equipment) and $600 for kits, for a total of $700 for 180 bottles which works out to $3.88/bottle.

He gives another example for weddings:

Caterers will tell you to budget ½ to 2/3 of a bottle of wine per person, depending on the nature of the invitees… and the time of day of the reception. If you’re inviting 200 people you’re going to need between 100 and 135 bottles of wine. If you were planning on spending $15-$20 per bottle, the tab would be between $1,500 and $2,700! And you wouldn’t get customized labels and capsules color-coordinated with your bridesmaid dresses (lavender taffeta is just so dreamy!)

Running the numbers makes producing your own wine for an event like this very attractive. Five kits at $120 each, with capsules, custom labels (or DIY for the personal touch) and you’re going to spend under $750 all-in – less than what you would have otherwise.

One other thing to note on the economic front is that you are buying grape juice, and is therefore not subject to any alcohol tax because it is not yet alcohol. That is also savings.

Of course, the last reason for using a kit is pride. It is a good feeling to think, “I made this.”

Admittedly, I have not made grape wine from a kit yet, but after listening to Vandergrift give a presentation at the Wine Maker Conference I attended, I am very tempted to.

Some Wine Kit Manufacturers:

Also, RJ Spangnols has a label called Vinoka, which makes cider kits, and about any homebrew supply store will have a mead making kit.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review: The Compleat Meadmaker

Yes, my spell check is going bonkers on that title, but the book is indeed named The Compleat Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine from Your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations by Ken Schramm, published in 2003. This is the number one recommended book about mead, but some of that is because there aren’t many out there dedicated strickly to mead, and this one is the newest.

Part One of this book goes though the history of honey and mead, including the decline and recent resergance of mead. He talks briefly about styles of meads, and then he finally moves on Part Two, the Process.

Learning how to make mead in Part 2 starts with a shopping trip to get equipment and supplies, of which a recipe is then presented. He then sort of goes though the process with the recipe so that you are learning though doing, and he explains along the way. However, there are some things I think he glosses over that should have gotten more attention in the general introduction process. For instance, he says that if the mead is clear and there has been no fermentation for two weeks, it is okay to bottle, though he usually ages for at least six months. Most people I talk to who make mead say that mead is undrinkable unless it has been aged, so he really should have broken this out into an “Aging” step.

Next, he moves into a little more advanced ideas, such as note taking, heat’s influence on mead, sulfites, making sparkling mead, more advanced equipment, and additives such as acids. This section is followed up by a lot of science about the actual fermentation, such as fermentation phases, flocculation, nutrient levels, pH levels, and various issues regarding yeasts. Admittedly, the last part drove me a little bonkers because with wine and cider, there is definitely pH zone to be in, which is controlled by the addition of acids, and I couldn’t get a straight answer out of this book about what that zone might be for mead. This is probably the primary reason I haven’t really made mead. It wasn’t until I recently took a class and asked flat out what the pH should be that I found out mead makers don’t care about pH as it will fluctuate during ferment. They will finally measure when it comes time to bottle, at which point it should be in the same zones as wine for taste and stability reasons. I wish he had said that plainly instead of scientifically.

He goes on to talk about fermentation issues before moving on to conditioning, aging, and using oak. Thing is, I’m not sure how many beginners would read that section, as it would probably be the more advanced people who do, so there should have been a quick summary back in the basics of making mead.

In Part Three – Ingredients, Schramm begins by talking about bees, beekeeping, making honey, honey properties, and varietal honeys with a chart of scientific properties. This is followed by chapters on fruits and melomels, grapes and pyment, spices and metheglin, and grains and braggots. Again, I wonder how much of this is initially skipped by the reader, only to be read when the reader is more comfortable making mead.

Finally, in Part Four, does Schramm get to the recipes, which is contained on eight pages out of a 200 page book. Honestly, I would probably use Making Wild Wines and Meads to gain more recipes.

Next, he writes about how to appreciate mead, including glassware, temperature, evaluation, a brief section on hosting a mead tasting.

The appendix includes ten pages of just honey suppliers, wine and meadmaking suppliers, websites of interest, conversion charts, glossary, a large bibliography, and an index.

Overall, this can be an intimidating book, and it kept me from really going out there and making mead. However, it is highly recommended by mead makers, and I think the technical information would be good once a person has a few mead batches made. It is lacking in recipes, probably because he figures you will be creative and create your own recipes after reading all the technical information, so I recommend Got or Making Wild Wines and Meads to supplement this shortcoming.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mead Review: Mountain Meadow Moonlight Magic Mead

I have had Mountain Mead Meads before at various beer festivals. The first time was at the Holiday Ale Festival and again more recently at the Portland International Beer Fest.

When I found out that my mother had never had a mead, I went to my local grocery store hoping to find some, and was surprised that I found three. It was in the port section, also grouped with the sweet dessert wines like ice wines and muscats, all of which I like. I bought Mountain Meadow Moonlight Magic Semi-Sweet Mead.

When I was drinking it a few nights ago, wondering how to describe it, it came to me that this was very much like drinking a slightly sweet Chardonnay wine, as it kind of had a buttery feel for it. I agree with the labeling that it is only a semi-sweet or a medium sweet, as it is a mild sweetness that doesn’t overpower the palate.

Looking at their website, I see that my description actually fits with their goals when they made it, as they said it was inspired by semi-sweet white wines. I think they succeeded wonderfully.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Got Mead?

Mead, like cider, is a growing industry. Check out Got This website has a plethora of information regarding mead, including meaderies, recipes, and other information. It is quite the website.

Some meaderies to check out and try:

You may have to go to a specialty beer or wine store to find mead, but also check the Port section in wine at in your local grocery store.

As far as finding honey to make mead, start with your local farmer’s market. Also, you might be able to find local honey via associations. For instance, Washington State Beekeepers Association is broken down into regional clubs. There is also a National Honey Board that has a Honey Locator website that lets you search by type of honey or by state.

One other thing I should mention about drinking mead or any alcoholic beverage with honey in it is that it gives horrible hangovers, so be careful with this stuff.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Choosing Honey for Making Mead

Honey is made by bees collecting flower nectar from flowers, mixing it with a few enzymes, and then sealing it in wax. This process actually makes honey very stable, as it will not ferment or mold unless water is added. Honey will sometimes crystallize, but it is still very usable.

If a hive is placed in an area where there is predominately one type of plant flowering at that time with a few weed exceptions, beekeepers are allowed to call the honey a single variety honey by the name of the plant. Therefore, if a hive is placed in an apple orchard, and the beekeeper believes the honey to be made out of at least 80% apple flower nectar, then the honey can be called apple honey. However, if that guarantee cannot be met, they honey will usually be labeled as wildflower honey, or not labeled at all.

At last weekend’s mead class, they had about 30 different jars honey, in which we got to taste by dipping toothpicks into the jars. I have to say, pumpkin honey was probably my favorite, as it had a little bit of spice to it. I didn’t care for chestnut, as it seemed a bit bitter to me.

So what honeys make the best mead? The first rule is to taste the honey. If it doesn’t taste good, it won’t make a good mead. After that, fruit honeys are pretty good with the exception of melons, which can give off sulfur. We were told to stay away from maple honey, and pine honey apparently creates off flavors such as menthol. We were also told that buckwheat in general does not make a good mead. I tasted the dark colored buckwheat honey, and it was very malty, but they had a second Eastern Oregon honey that was much lighter in color and tasted very different that they said made a good mead. So this proves that there are exceptions to the rule and reinforces that the honey should be tasted first. However, they did suggest that the darker buckwheat honey could be good if blended with other honey to tone it down while perking another honey up.

In the case of the two buckwheat honeys tasting different, according to, “the darker the honey, the more apt it is to taste stronger and more robust. The lighter colored honeys are usually more delicate and sweeter in flavor.”

They told us that orange blossom honey and fireweed honey make some very good mead, and recommend it for beginners. I have seen a lot of orange blossom honey from the homebrew stores, but never fire weed. Also, I usually see clover honey in the grocery stores, which makes a decent mead.

After my class, I went down to my local Saturday farmer’s market to see what I could turn up there. Again, I found orange blossom honey which is imported to this region, and clover honey. I also turned up blackberry honey, which I realized to be a lighter milder honey than the other varieties. Still, it tasted good and would probably make a decent mead while supporting my local region.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review of Mead Class

On Mead Day, first Saturday of August, I attended a mead class at F.B. Steinbarts in Portland, OR. Mead, simply put, is a fermented honey drink, sometimes called honey wine. It is as simple as fermenting honey and water, but there are other words for mead if other ingredients are added, such as:

Braggot – a mead made with malted grain, usually malted barley.
Cyser – a melomel made with apples
Melomel – mead made with fruit
Metheglin – mead made with spices
Pyment – melomel made with grape juice
And many more lesser known kinds

After learning how to make fruit wine, I have thought about dabbling a bit with mead. Mead is a honey wine, made by diluting honey usually with water. However, due to Oregon homebrew laws, they could not actually demonstrate how to make mead because it is so simple to make. It shouldn’t be cooked like beer, or it will lose its aromas, and it doesn’t need to be sulfites or pH balanced like wines. Honestly, after the honey is diluted, they can add yeast, which is when it becomes illegal to transport homebrew in Oregon.

So the event ended up being talking about making mead, sampling some meads, and tasting honey. They must have had about 30 different jars of honey, including honey made from the nectar or alfalfa, buckwheat, blueberry, clover, holly, honey, poison oak, pumpkin, thistle, and wildflower. Interestingly, items like poison oak, which causes people to get rashes due to the oil in the leaves, does not have the same poisonous oil in the nectar, making it safe to consume.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review: Traditional Country Winemaking Including Mead

Traditional Country Winemaking Including Mead was written in 1997 by Paul and Ann Turner. Instantly, I noticed that it was different than most wine making books because this book is chalked full of pictures. For instance, something as simple as reading a hydrometer has six different pictures. Racking is laid out in eight pictures. There are a series of techniques demonstrated in this book on how to extract flavor, be it boiling carrots or soaking berries, AKA, adding water. If you are a visual learner, this is the winemaking book for you.

Another thing that strikes me is how very similar it is to First Steps in Winemaking by C.J.J. Berry. I say this because Traditional Country Winemaking Including Mead also has a brief word on poisonous plants before going onto the recipes. The recipes are alphabetical buy season, which is similar to Berry’s book. Both books were published in England, so they have a lot of the same recipes. I checked to see if they were published by the same company, but they were not.

Just before the index is a wine maker card to copy and take notes on for the batch of wine you are making. It’s not the best record I’ve seen set up, but it is nice that it is included, as most books don’t include anything, and is aimed at country wines instead of fruit wines.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Experience Judging Wine for the Fair

The Clark County Fair wine and beer competition that I entered my cider and bell pepper peach wine into is sponsored by Bader Beer and Wine Supply Homebrew Supply. I met the owner, Steve Bader, while attending the WineMaker Magazine Conference in May, and he invited me to sit on the judge’s panel for this competition. Later, and email was sent out to all their email subscribers asking for judges.

There were about 30 judges who were split into teams of three or four, with each team having some experienced judges and some new judges. There were about 80 wines, most of which were fruit wines due to ease of getting fruit versus paying for grapes, and most were sweet wines. My team ended up judging four grape wines and about five fruit wines in about two hours, at which point we had some food and were free to taste what was judged the best by other teams or other wines that interest us.

When Bader invited me to judge, I hesitated. He explained that the score sheet would help guide me, and he was right. It was probably the most useful wine score card I have seen, and I will probably adopt it because it does guide so well. It was broken down into appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste, and overall impression, each with different scores. Each category had some word descriptions, which I circled if they applied, and then space to write down thoughts. This space was very important, as winemakers, such as myself, would want that feedback as to what was wrong, what was right, what was liked, and what was disliked about the product. The maximum scoring went like this:

Appearance: 3
Aroma: 4
Taste: 6
Aftertaste: 4
Overall Impression: 3

This gave a total of 20 points, so the classifications were something like this:

18-20 Exceptional
15-17 Excellent
12-14 Very Good
9 - 11 Pleasant
6 – 8 Drinkable
0 - 5 Needs improvement

Really, there should be very few “Exceptional” wines, and hopefully most wines get a 9 or higher, with the “Pleasant” category maybe having a few flaws, but nothing to really stop a person from drinking it willingly. Believe you me, we hit a peach wine that we scored a 4-5, and later gave it to others at the end of the night and they smelled it and refused to taste it. It got points for looking nice, and that was about it. The higher scoring wines were also rememberable, while the pleasant wines lacked that something to push them over.

We would go though and score as individuals, and then compare notes. As long as the scores came within four points of each other, and they usually did, we submitted as is, though we usually talked about what we found. Sometimes I felt bad that I didn’t write down very good descriptions, but then talking to the more experienced tasters, I would realize that they were able to vocalize clearly what I couldn’t and so I didn’t worry so much.

Unfortunately, the best wine we had was the first one, which, being the first wine, we rated a little low at 15. It probably should have been a 17, with a ding because it wasn’t clear. It was a pinot grigio, and that wine maker ended up having another bottle of pinot noir make the nomination table for best wines. We also tasted a blackberry wine that we had to ding because it looked more like a raspberry wine, and one wine that escapes me now had very little aroma. We had a chocolate raspberry wine that I called cheap and another gal said it tasted like a tootsie roll. I believe the award for best wine went to a raspberry wine, which was very good. The official results will be posted in a few days.

I’m definitely doing this again next year!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Labeling for Competition

While I was at my local homebrew store getting bottles for use in the fair, I decided I would go ahead and get some wine labels to print on rather than use my string method. The store sold different sizes from Classic Studio. Part of the attraction to this was that I could get a label to stay on for a few months, but it would come off easily with a little bit of soaking.

I would not recommend purchasing these labels unless certain things were done.

First off, I was smart in that I would design the labels and then print on regular paper and then hold it up to my labels to see how the margins turned out. It took me two hours to finally have something acceptable, but not perfect. These days, so many pieces of software use Avery to guide the margins, and Classic Studios did not. Classic Studios did provide me with what the margins are, but they were things like 5/8”, which is 0.625 inches. The software I was using did not like three decimal places, and kept truncating it to 0.63 inches, and therefore moving it a sixteenth of an inch and messing it up.

There are two work arounds for this issue. The first is that you can actually design labels on Classic Studio’s website, in which they would print them off and mail them to you for a fee. Since I already had the blank labels, this was not an ideal situation. The other work around is to pay about $40 for software from Classic Studio that allows you to design and print off labels. Call me cheap, but I didn’t want to go that route. In the future, I’ll stick to using Avery labels in the future because of ease of use. Actually, I probably put too much work into the labels for that competition, as I saw others just write on paper and use tape to stick it on, and it worked for the competition without all the frustration of trying to make a label that I went though, especially since the bottles were not going on display. Mine did look nice though.

I did recently go back to the store that I bought the labels from, and they had the packages on sale for $5. I told them it was tempting, but too difficult. One clerk agreed, and said that the store did have the software and would allow me to use it if I wanted to. I’ll keep that in mind to use up the rest of my label stock.

As far as the design goes, I went online looking for pictures of apples and then a bell pepper and a peach. I found lots of apples, but no bell pepper and peach in one picture. However, I found an artist named Carol Marine who did a small painting a day in sort of an impressionist style. Now I have a little bit of artistic talent, and I decided that I would give a try at drawing a bell pepper and peach in this style. I’m not as good as her, and I was using pastels instead of oil paints, but I’m fairly pleased with the drawings. From there, I scanned them into a computer and made a few touch ups, and adjusted the framing for the label. However, I was a little disappointed with the final outcome, as I lost the shadows a bit on the apples, and the printed yellow on the label does not show any “brush strokes,” so some of the hand drawing quality that I was attracted too was lost. Not that I’m talented enough to draw like that on a computer anyway, but computers sometimes leave things too sterile, as it has the same color everywhere instead of a variance due to pressure, thickness, and smudging of the medium.

Anyway, here are my first labels:

I used a font called Tall Paul. I wanted something whimsical yet unisex, that is to say, fun but not flowery. It is a smaller font, and I find it sometimes needs to be spread out when I use it.

Classic Studios did offer one piece of very good advice when it came to adhering the label. They told me to find a striped towel and lay it flat on the counter, and then lay the bottle on the towel. I then used the stripes on the towel to help guide the placement of the label so that it went on straight.

In hind sight, I probably won’t use such big labels on 375mL bottles again…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bottling Bell Pepper Peach Wine for Competition

Most of the time when I bottle, I use bottles that either myself or my friends or family emptied, rinsed, and saved. Because there are so many different styles of bottles out there, quite often a batch of wine will be bottled into different bottles. Sometimes I even go for different sizes, such as a few wine bottles and a few beer bottles.

After I had blended my bell pepper peach wine, it was time to bottle. Since I was going to enter this into two different fairs, I turned to the competition rules for guidance on what kind of bottle to use.

The first set of rules I was interested in is the Clark County Fair. The rules stated that I was to enter one bottle, which would be open, tasted, and all remaining contents dumped. They recommended using small 375mL bottles, which are smaller than the more standard 750 mL. The other smaller competition I was looking at had almost identical entry requirements, but said that I had to enter two bottles larger than 4 oz – one for tasting and judging, and one for display. Since 375mL is not the standard wine bottle size, I actually went and bought some bottles. Because of the added sugar water, my previously one gallon batch of wine fit into twelve of these bottles.

One other interesting thing to note is that wine bottles, despite how much they hold, be it 750mL or 375mL, all have the same size opening, and therefore take the same cork. So just because I changed bottle sizes did not mean I had to go buy special cork to fit the new bottles. The same is true when using beer bottles in that a 22 oz bottle and a 12 oz bottle both use the same sized cap. It makes things nice and simple.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Finalizing Bell Pepper Peach Wine for Consumption

Last December, I decided that I wanted to make something to enter into the local fair, per the suggestion of Crush It! As I had mentioned before, I was going through my freezer and realized I had bell peppers and peaches, and decided to ferment them together, and that would be what I entered.

It hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride with this project, but in the end, I did have a unique product. I don’t know if it is blue ribbon material, but I have to try and I have to start somewhere.

It finished fermenting a long time ago, and has been aging for a few months. A few weekends ago, I decided it was time to bottle, even though the peaches in it were still causing a little bit of a haze and fall out. I hope the judges don’t hold that against me.

My husband and I tried it out with three sweetnesses. The first was completely dry, which had a good body, but admittedly tasted a little off. I tried adding a little sugar, but it seemed to make things worse, so I added more sugar, and things got much better. However, to dissolve sugar in wine, you have to first boils some water to dissolve the sugar in and then add it to the wine. That added water did two things. First, it lowered an already low alcohol wine further. Second, it made the wine thinner, loosing some of that body. However, my husband and I felt that despite the lack of body, the taste was much better, and so the trade off was made.

I think if I was to make this wine again, I would definitely boost up how much alcohol would ferment.