“No poem was ever written by a drinker of water!”
Homer, Greek epic poet, (Eighth Century BC)
About 20 years ago I stumbled upon a book. I say stumbled, I didn’t actually step on it and go head over tit into a bush or anything resembling a shrubby growth. No, It just kind of revealed itself to me. It must have been a gift or belonged to a relative and had simply found it’s way into my possession. My passion for music and sport were evident by the amount of books covering these topics in my bookcase, but this book was nothing to do with Football, cricket, rugby, Depeche Mode or anything akin to the structure of music. No, this book was on the subject of wine and beer. In fact it was a glorious compendium of recipes for the amateur enthusiast to try at home.
The title of the book was ‘Making Your Own Wine & Beer’ And was written by Judith Irwin. The thing I liked about this book and still do in fact, is it’s simple step by step instruction on every aspect of home wine and beer production. The recipes now seem to be almost too simple by comparison with the many other books I’ve read on the subject, but 20 years ago, I found they worked perfectly and the results were always satisfying at least and very relaxing at best.
Below is a link to some more books that are a great source of recipes and instruction for any home wine and beer maker:
The 1st brew I made was not actually from ‘Making Your Own Wine & Beer’ but rather, a simple lager made from a beer kit. Looking back and thinking about that lager, it is safe to say if you choose to use a beer kit only ever buy the absolute best, the cheaper ones tend to be very bland and a waste of time.
A beer kit usually consists of a tin of malt syrup or 2 which is produced by extracting malt sugars via the process of osmosis. Basically, mashing barley malt in water for up to 3 hours. Although this method is basic, the temperature of the water is critical, too high a temperature can destroy the delicate enzymes contained within the malted barley.
The water temperature is a steady 66c throughout and is maintained by sensitive thermometers. After the malt sugars are liberated, the wort ( as the sugary pre-alcoholic liquid is know) is strained from the barley malt then boiled with a selection of hops for up to 2 hour. Next the hops are removed and the wort is hard boiled for as long as it takes to remove almost all the water thus leaving behind a sweet aromatic syrup the colour and viscosity of molasses. Please note that the malt syrup supplied with cheaper beer kits will also contain a percentage of white sugar that is purely for the purpose of achieving an acceptable alcohol content, and does nothing for the body and flavour of the beer.
In addition to this thick syrup the beer kit contains a sachet of yeast of varying quality, (the more you spend on your kit, the better quality yeast and indeed syrup you will find in your kitchen.)
The basic idea with all beer kits is to eliminate the initial stages of malt extraction and in doing so allow easy access to the fundamental substances needed to create beer.
Please visit Muntons website for more in depth product analysis.
In reality, all the home brewer is doing when using a beer kit is rehydrating malt syrup with boiling water. The procedure is as follows; 1st pour the syrup in to a 5 gallon (22.5 litre) fermentation bin, simply a large plastic bucket. Please note – the syrup is aided in it’s journey from tin to bin by firstly sitting it in a bowl of very hot water for 30 minutes. When the syrup is evenly distributed over the base of the sterile bin, 2-3 pints ( 1-1.5 litres
) of boiling water are poured on top, stirred around with a plastic paddle and then topped up with enough cold water to reach the 40 pint (22.5 litres) mark on the fermentation bin.
Next, using a thermometer check the temperature of the wort. When the temperature is between 22c – 24c the yeast can be apportioned to the wort. Some yeast as to be started first by stirring it into a little warm water and some is simply sprinkled on to the surface of the wort. All yeast is supplied with instructions so nothing can go wrong.
Next a period of fermentation is needed to allow the yeast to convert the malt sugars into two separate products, one is alcohol and the other, carbon dioxide. This initial fermentation takes up to 7 days according to most beer kits but in reality it is best to allow only 3 days at the primary stage and then transfer the wort to a secondary fermentation bin. The reason for this is simple. During the initial stages of fermentation a thick sediment of yeast cells will fall to the bottom of the fermentation bin and when left for too long the wort can suffer what is known has ‘yeast bite,’ basically a tainting is caused by the yeast leaving a poor yeasty flavour in the finished beer.
To finish these beers off it is necessary to transfer them to a sterile container with a minimum capacity of 40 pints (22.5 litres) such as a fermentation bin. The beer at this stage will still be cloudy and should be cleared using either a propriety finings solution or a simple and very cheap technique using powdered gelatine, the kind you will find in the bakery section of any store. If you choose the finings solution simply follow the supplied instructions. If, however you choose the cheap and cheerful option of the gelatine then follow these instruction below for perfectly clear beer every time!
1- Fill a 1 pint ( 0.5 litres ) jug with hot water and add 1 sachet of gelatine.
2- Sit the jug inside a saucepan of simmering water and stir until the gelatine dissolves.
3- stir the gelatine solution into theBeer and leave to clear over night.
- Below is the recipe for my personal favourite from ‘Brewing Beers like those you buy’
- Starting specific gravity 1048
- Finished Specific gravity 1012
Add the 3 gallons of water to the Mash Tun and raise the temperature to 60c, place the grains into the grain bag and lower into the Mash Tun so all the grains are under water. Raise the water temperature to 66c and stir well, now, allow the grain to mash ( steep) for 1.5 hours at 66c. Stirring occasionally.
- Lift the grain bag up above the surface of the water and suspend ( I use clothes pegs ) Next rinse the grains with water that is little hotter than the wort in the Mash Tun. continue to rinse (sparge) the grains until the level of the wort in the Mash Tun is 4 gallons.
- Remove the Grain Bag and discard the grains.
- Raise the temperature of the Wort to boiling point and add Fuggles Hops and 1oz of Goldings Hops. Boil the Wort for 1.5 hours during which time the brown sugar needs to be added and the Irish Moss apportioned according to the manufactures instructions. The Irish moss creates what is known has a ‘Hot Break’ this means the Proteins are coagulated and in effect separated from the wort, this allows for fast clearing of the liquid. Irish moss is actually a form of seaweed and is better known has ‘Copper Finings’; it can also be found in powdered form…
- Switch off the heat and add 0.5 oz of Golding hops and allow them to soak for 15 minutes.
- Strain the wort into the primary fermenting bin and top up to 5 gallons with cold previously boiled water
- Allow the temperature of the wort to drop to between 22c- 24c then apportion the yeast according to the manufacturers instruction. Ferment the wort until a specific gravity of 1012 is achieved.
- Rack (decant) the wort into the secondary fermenter and apportion the gelatine (using the method outlined a li
- ttle earlier) and the remaining Goldings hops. The Hops should be contained inside a muslin bag, ( this technique is known as ‘Dry Hopping’. )
- After 7 days of fermentation the wort should be racked into either bottles or a pressure barrel. Each bottle should be primed with 0.5tsp of white sugar to create a slight secondary carbonation or if choosing the pressure barrel, 3onz of white sugar should be dissolved in a little hot water then poured in to the empty barrel.
- Place the bottles or barrel at room temperature for 3 days to encourage carbonation then move to a cool area for a minimum of 6 weeks.
This beer, has I have said is my favourite to brew and drink, as testament to that, one of my least forthcoming friends once said “I would happily pay for your home brewed version in any pub!”
Mother Nature and Her ample bounty
Returning to ‘Making your own Wine and Beer‘ the book written by Judith Irwin that I alluded to at the top of this blog, I would like to share with you what I think is the most wonderful, free, well kind of free, white wine you will ever taste, namely Birch Sap wine.
During the middle two weeks of March between the 10th – 24th Birch sap is rising in trees up and down the country. Of course further north we travel the sap may take a little longer to rise by comparison with southern climes. However it will become available in all areas at some point in march.
Again I would like to give a list of equipment needed for not only collecting Birch Sap but also that which is needed to turn it into wine.
1 – 2 ….. 2 litre plastic bottles with caps (Drill a 10mm hole in each cap)
2 – 2 lengths of flexible tubing, 10mm diameter and approximately 20 inches long
3 – Roll of strong sellotape
4 – 10mm diameter wood drill bit
5 – Cordless drill
6 – Penknife
7 – 2……..10mm diameter wooden dowels
8 – Hammer
9 – 1 Demijohn
10 – 1 large capacity saucepan ( Minimum 1 gallon)
11 – 2 Gallon fermenting bin
12 – Nylon sieve
13 – Thermometer
14 – Hydrometer and trial jar
15- Plastic Funnel
Any experienced wine maker will most likely be able to adapt these specific equipment requirements, this is only my own personal method. Feel free to devise your own way of working and decide on the items you need.
A wander in the woods
Ok, lets collect some Birch Sap. Firstly locate a few trees that are off the beaten track, as many people, especially children like to investigate things they see in the woods, and a little tamper is usually the least they intend. Choose trees with a good diameter a minimum of 12 inches is a good starting point a little larger is preferable.
Using the penknife make a small incision into the bark of the tree and wait a moment, if the sap is rising you will see it begin to run out and trickle down the bark. If nothing is produced within 30 seconds try another tree or wait a few days before trying again.
Once you have confirmed that the sap is rising and flowing nicely you can position one of the bottles securely on the ground. Lean the bottle against the tree and secure it with some of the strong sellotape. Next insert one end of the flexible tubing into the hole in the cap of the bottle. Next make a hole in and through the bark using the drill and drill bit, make this hole about 1.5 inches deep at a slight upwards angle
the hole should be approximately 25 – 30 inches above the ground. Insert the free end of the flexible tubing into hole in the tree and wait until the sap starts to drip into the bottle.
Repeat this process on a second tree.
Return to collect the bottles in 24 hours and with the grace and cooperation of mother nature you should have at least 3 litres of sap, if she hasn’t be to generous you can tap two more trees whilst your already collected bounty can be stored in the fridge.
Birch Sap does unfortunately deteriorate quickly, so it is imperative that you collect your requirements within 2 days.
Once you have secured your Sap you must close the holes in the trees you have tapped. Do this by simply inserting the wooden dowels into each of the holes you drilled. A few sharp tap with the hammer is all that’s needed.
Recipe & Method
‘Making your own wine and beer’ by Judith Irwin
5 pints of Birch Sap
1 pint of Grape concentrate
1.5lbs of white sugar
1tsp citric acid
Sachet of Sherry Yeast.
Start by boiling 1 pint of water and dissolving the sugar into it. Once cooled this sugar solution can be poured into the sterile 2 gallon fermentation bin.
Next pour the Sap into the saucepan and bring it to a boil. There is no need to continue to boil the sap as will already be sterile at this temperature.
Pour the sterile sap into the fermenter, stir well with the plastic paddle and then place the thermometer into the liquid. Leave to cool to 22c – 24c and then add the Grape concentrate, citric acid and yeast. Although the original recipe excludes Yeast energiser I would strongly urge you to use it. Yeast energiser has the name might suggest gives a great boost to the yeast in the initial stages of fermentation and allows for a much longer life for the active Yeast.
- Before the fermentation gets underway it is a good idea to take a sample of the wine and using the Hydrometer and trial jar ascertain the sugar content, thus allowing for an accurate assessment of the final alcohol by volume. If, for example the starting gravity of the wine is 1100 and the finished Gravity is 1000 by dividing the difference, in this case 100 points of gravity by 7.36 we can safely say the finished wine will have a alcohol content of 13.5%. Ideally, a dry white wine should be around 11% so a starting gravity of 1080 is desirable. Of course, this method is also applied when brewing beers.
Allow 7 days primary fermentation. Stirring daily will oxygenate the sap, in doing so the yeast gets a further agitation and benefits greatly.
Next, using the plastic funnel transfer (Rack) the sap into the sterile Demijohn, being careful to leave any thick sedimentary sludge behind in the primary fermenting bin.
Leave the Wine to ferment until the Specific Gravity drops to 1000. This could take up to 6 weeks depending on storage conditions, so it is preferable to store this and indeed all fermenting wine at room temperature; 22c – 24c
Once fermentation is complete the standard bottling procedure as for all wines should be followed.
This wine requires a minimum of 12 months maturation so if you do fancy having ago at making it, you will have to be high on patience. ( I struggle to leave it that long)………
To finish off, I would like to say, for all the experienced home wine and beer enthusiasts these recipes and techniques will be, I’m sure, more than familiar to you. I would hope that those who enjoy a tipple but whom have yet to attempt to make their own particular favourite would be persuaded to have a go! It really is a great, fun and a worthy hobby.
- Below are a few links that would be interesting to peruse for those willing to get brewing, these companies should be able to provide you with all your equipment needs.