Anything Can Be Wine If You Just Believe

20150913_150117_HDRI’ve got some peach wine brewing. It’s made from locally grown peaches and it smells just like summer and I’m sure it’ll be my favorite thing to drink in the dark of February.

But who cares?

I’m making cucumber wine.

In my garden plot I have three cucumber vines that can’t be persuaded to climb a trellis but are nonetheless producing like crazy.

I’ve made them into pickles and I’ve munched on them whole while I water, but they just keep coming!

I had never tried or, to be honest, heard of cucumber wine, but I thought it must exist. I thought that every food must, at some point, have been thrown into a bucket with yeast and sugar. It seems the list may be finite, though, and cucumbers are right at the bottom of it, because my internet searches have brought me exactly one recipe. It can be found in a few different places, but it’s always exactly the same, copied and pasted over and over. And I’m here to carry on the tradition!

Of course, once I’d set my mind on using “all these cucumbers,” I discovered that I had only four, and that they weighed about half of what I needed for my recipe. My mission to use up extra produce suddenly required a trip to the grocery store. Oh well. The light green pickling cucumbers came from my garden. The dark green traditional ones came from a farm somewhere in Rhode Island, if the produce department is to be believed. One of them is missing an end because my boyfriend took a bite out of it. So it goes.20150913_183455_HDR

The recipe called for two lemons and two oranges, cut into slices. I imagine this is because cucumbers on their own don’t have a lot of body to them. Also, even though I’m looking for a cucumber flavor, a fruity base might be what it takes to tip this thing from pickle juice into wine territory. I’m a little apprehensive about how the orange flavor will mesh, but since this is my first try I’ll put all my faith into that one mysterious person who devised this recipe and follow it to the letter. Maybe the oranges will add some complexity that lemons alone can’t.


I sliced the citrus and roughly chopped the cucumbers. I added seven cups of sugar and yeast nutrient, then I poured a gallon of boiling water over it all. It smelled like a spa treatment.

Up until now I’ve always used sodium metabisulfite to sanitize the must before adding yeast, but now I’m experimenting with using just boiling water. I have no political or health reasons (I had no idea I was supposed to hate sulfites until I came across recipes that proudly omit them). I’m just curious to see if it works.


Once the must cooled (it took hours!) I added pectic enzyme to help break things down. After 24 hours I pitched the yeast and let it do its thing. It made a beautiful froth and all but disintegrated the cucumbers. The skins and seeds were still floating around, but the meat disappeared, making for a slimy goop that I could pick up in my hand and had a heck of a time filtering.


But filter it I did. The finished product is an interesting color: green from some angles, yellow from others. Does it taste like cucumbers? Yes! Does it taste good? Not particularly. Does it smell like pickles? Not as much as I expected, but that’s not a no. Is it so full of citrus that it burned every little cut in my hands as I cleaned the equipment? Oh yes. Taste-wise, the citrus is a little overwhelming, too. Between the lemon and the alcohol, it’s like an astringent medicine that happens to taste like cucumber. I’m hoping it settles down over time.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s a good conversation piece. And it’s not more pickles.


A Sudden Windfall

20150821_111357_HDRThere are six gallons of mead on my cellar floor.

I thought I fixed a faulty spigot. It turns out I didn’t.

But let’s not focus on the bad things. At least not until I’ve thoroughly mopped. Because plenty of good things are happening. I racked the lavender and raspberry meads, and they both taste very good. So does the mulberry wine. My Kazakh melon vine has taken way off, and I might actually get to see what its fruit tastes like before the frost.

And I have recently come into a huge amount of fruit.

Keri of kombucha fame let me in on a hot tip: Her fruit tree-obsessed landlord was away on vacation and the yard was getting littered with windfall fruit. He’d given her permission to go in and clear it up a little. If anything, we were performing an important service.

This tiny backyard orchard has plums, pears, and a few varieties of apple. It even has apples and pears growing out of the same trunk, because this old Portuguese landlord I’ve never met is an avid amateur grafter.

The ground was, as promised, littered with fallen fruit. Some had been there for quite a while, but some was brand new. While we were there I got startled more than once by a pear crashing down behind me. 20150821_105750_HDRWe waded around in the wet grass, getting devoured by mosquitoes and sorting the fruit into usable and unusable. The former we split between ourselves and the latter we composted. In the end I think I had something like six pounds each of apples and pears and a couple pounds of plums. And I was supposed to go away to Cape Cod for a week the next day. Cue frantic preservation. 20150821_160712_HDRI was saved by the fact that a lot of the pears weren’t completely ripe yet. I was… reasonably confident that they and the unbruised apples would last a week. But where to keep them? The house was hot, the refrigerator was at capacity, and I still hadn’t recovered from discovering my cellar mangoes full of little rodent toothmarks. Rationalizing that they were free anyway, I sealed them in a five gallon bucket in the cellar and tried not to think any more about it. 20150821_232313_HDRThe remaining apples and pears had some serious holes and bruises, and the plums were so ripe they were dissolving into my table as tried to figure out what to do with them. I’d never made preserves before, but I decided to take a stab. After some over-the-phone reassurance from my mother that I’ve eaten unprocessed jam my whole life and am no worse for wear, I sealed the preserves hot in sterilized old jam jars rather than processing them in the canner. 20150901_160639_HDRThe four light jars are apple and pear, heavy on the pear. The single dark jar is all that’s left of the plums after I ate quite a few. Apple butter was also on the menu. I found a great recipe for overnight apple butter, set the slow cooker on its way, and woke up the next morning to the smell of charcoal and cinnamon. It was not meant to be. 20150901_162219_HDROne week older and a tiny bit tanner, I opened up the bucket and was pleasantly surprised. There was some moisture on the sides and a touch of fuzz on a few stems, but no sign of the writhing mass of worms or near-sentient mold I’d envisioned. I had just enough pears for a gallon and a half of wine. It was meant to be a gallon, but I found myself with extra, and the man at the brew supply store made fun of me the other day for being small beans. 20150908_171547_HDRWith the remaining apples I attempted slow cooker apple butter number two. This time I added plenty of apple juice to keep it moist and woke up to…20150902_090559_HDR…Charcoal and cinnamon. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Ten Pounds of Frozen Mulberries

I have ten pounds of frozen mulberries. 20150707_143950

At the end of the season I moved from my calm handpicking method to much more drastic measures involving a tarp, some bungees, and a long PVC pipe. Yields went up. Tree limbs went down.

By now the tree has finally mellowed and stopped producing fruit. The birds have moved to greener pastures and the driveway no longer smells like vinegar. And I have to find something to do with all this fruit.

Or rather, I have to find a few things to do with this fruit in a way that adds up more or less to ten pounds. Thankfully all the berries are frozen, so any time constraints are replaced by freezer space constraints. Which are also kind of pressing.

For my first project I’m trying a very simple wine. I’ve read a few recipes that recommend adding raisins or juice because mulberries on their own make for a very thin-bodied wine. In fact, the alternate recipe in that link calls for both raisins and orange juice. For my first batch, though, I’d like to do without the bells and whistles. I’ve still got six pounds to tinker with if I think I can make improvements. And I figure as long as I’m in this house I’ll have summertime mulberry re-ups.20150721_220801_HDR

I thawed four pounds of berries and threw them into a bucket. They were still unbelievably cold, so instead of crushing them with my hands like in the old country, I used a potato masher. I think the effect was more or less the same.

I added a pile of sugar plus yeast nutrient, acid blend, and pectic enzymes. I threw in some sodium metabisulfite and let the berries sit for a day to hopefully kill off whatever’s been living in our driveway.

Then I pitched the yeast and got this bizarre moonscape. I’d say it’s halfway between a satellite map and a cobbler.20150723_162514

I let the yeast do its thing, squishing the berries and swirling the bucket daily, leaving the lid loosely on the bucket with just a cloth over the grommeted hole to let oxygen in but keep fruit flies out. I did this for a week, and I think it was too long.

A lot of my problems at the moment seem to come from the weather being too hot. I can’t wait until a few months from now when I get a whole new batch of unforeseen cold weather problems. 20150730_124032_HDR

I racked the wine to a carboy by siphoning it through my trusty mesh funnel. I forewent my old nylon stocking trick because I thought the wines I’d used it on had a certain… nylony taste to them. The funnel worked just fine, and I got a beautiful full carboy of mulberry wine…

…That isn’t showing the slightest signs of fermenting.20150730_125359_HDR

It’s a great color. It tasted… fair. But there’s not a single bubble in the airlock. There’s not a single bubble creeping up the inside of the glass.

This stuff just isn’t fermenting anymore.

I’ve been reading up, and the problem is almost certainly due to the heat, of which we’ve had a lot lately. There’s a chance the fermentation has gotten stuck due to big fluctuations in temperature, which we’ve certainly had between daytime and nighttime. There’s also a chance it’s been so hot during the day that the fermentation has gone into overdrive and just plain finished.

I’m hoping it’s the latter problem, and I’m going to proceed as if it is and see what happens. I gave the carboy a hearty shake and no yeast turned up. I tasted it and it certainly tastes fermented. There is a risk that if it fermented at a very high temperature it’ll produce off flavors. I’m not sure I’m up to a high enough standard for that to be a problem yet.

20150803_175512_HDRWe’ll have to wait and see with the plum wine I’ve just made, too, because the exact same thing happened to it. Nice fermentation in the bucket, none at all in the carboy. Beautiful color and wine-y but not by any means good taste. Whatever the problem is, it seems to be environmental, and I’m tempted to believe it was a rapid fermentation.

This is partly because it means I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

The Best-Laid Meads

My first mead was good!20150724_114023_HDR I’m as surprised as anyone. And since the only thing to do with moderate success is run with it until you trip over yourself, I’ve whipped up two more meads. They’re flavored, more ambitious, and a lot more free-wheeling. On the left we have raspberry mead, and on the right we have lavender mead. Both are bubbling away nicely.

Now for a note on honey. Here’s the thing about honey: it don’t come cheap. Or more correctly, it don’t come cheap unless you buy the cheap stuff. There will come a day when I have the money to buy humanely raised meat and raw, local honey. I hope. But it is not this day. Particularly when I’m still learning, I’d rather not pay top dollar for my honey. For my first batch of mead I used generic brand, pasteurized clover honey from my neighborhood grocery store (as far from purist as you can get) because I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to spend too much. And I was so happy with the results. So for the moment I’m sticking with my cheapo, heated, store brand bulk honey and aiming for quantity (and therefore variety) rather than quality.

That being said, I’m trying to make improvements in quality where I can. I thought my grocery store strawberry wine was a little lacking, so I’ve flavored my crappy honey with home grown ingredients. The raspberries were grown in my parents’ garden and frozen at peak ripeness. The lavender was donated by my community garden neighbor Ken, who’s getting overwhelmed by his huge lavender bush.20150724_161453_HDR

I wish I had that kind of problem. This is my lavender bush at present.

It’s over a year old and still so tiny!

Anyway, I had a hard time finding a definitive recipe for lavender mead online. There were plenty of rumors and memories of friends of friends who make it all the time, but nothing really concrete. And the few details that were concrete varied wildly, from steeping the lavender into tea, to leaving it whole in the mead for a month, to leaving it out completely until bottling. I’d already picked my lavender, so that last one was right out. In the end I decided to make up my own recipe, roughly adapted from this guy’s vague remembering.

In a sterilized pot I heated some water to 160F, then20150721_212127_HDR added an ounce and a half of lavender flowers. I let them steep until the water turned to a nice golden brown tea and the whole house smelled like lavender. I may have driven my roommates away for the night.

I let the tea cool a bit, then combined it in a gallon carboy with three pounds of honey. I topped the carboy up with water, added yeast nutrient and sodium metabisulfite, shook it up, and let it sit for a day with a towel over the top.

This may not have been a good idea.

I swear I’ve added nutrient and metabisulfite to must simultaneously before, but maybe never in a fully topped up carboy. When I checked on it the next day, the must had bubbled up into what was by then a very crusty towel. My suspicion is that I 20150721_224210_HDRwas feeding the natural yeasts from the lavender at the same as I was inhibiting them, and the feeding won out in the end. If this is the case, I may have some sub-par mead on the way.

Then again, I may have just shaken it too vigorously and the bubbling over happened in the first minute.

Only time will tell. Or maybe it won’t.

My raspberry mead had some hangups, too. Actually, raspberry mead isn’t called mead, but melomel – a fermented mixture of honey and fruit.

My raspberry melomel had some hangups, too.

I thawed and smushed the raspberries (just under two pounds) and shook them up with three pounds of honey, some sodium metabisulfite, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and enough water to equal a gallon. I did not add any yeast nutrient, because the recipe I was vaguely following didn’t say to. Maybe these recipes know what they’re talking about, because this one did not bubble over in the night.

The next day, however, I continued to follow my recipe closely and set my yeast and nutrient in a cup of water to get it started. I then poured it into the carboy and the liquid filled up straight to the top. No room for even a single bubble. Until now I’ve been pitching my yeast straight into the must, and for some reason it didn’t occur to me that extra water would mean extra volume. Whoops.

I had to get some of the liquid out; I was afraid that the very first bubble was going to pop the cork off this thing. The whole top layer was yeast, though. I wanted to get rid of the liquid in the middle. I eased the auto siphon in and the carboy promptly overflowed. There went a lot of my yeast. I released some liquid and pulled out the siphon. It was coated in a lot more of my yeast. No!

There was no immediate activity in the airlock, and I was worried I’d completely eradicated the yeast. I didn’t want to add more, though, in case I wound up with too much. I decided I’d give it until morning to start fermenting, and went to bed uneasy.20150724_114124

Lo and behold, this is what I woke up to! The next morning the raspberry melomel was bubbling with a vengeance, as was the lavender. They’ve both been put in cool and dark storage in the cellar.

The main lesson I’ve learned is that there’s no reason to do a primary fermentation in a carboy. I’m not sure what possessed me to do it, and to do it twice! The little bit of liquid I removed from the melomel tasted fantastic, though, so I have high hopes.

Just as long as those seeds don’t sprout…

Wine Successes and Unsuccesses

IMG_20150714_212055272The wines are resurfacing! For the past month or so, they’ve been bubbling and settling away in the cellar. Every now and I again I check on them to make sure they haven’t exploded and created an ant paradise. Since I went through such a wine frenzy, everything was brewed at roughly the same time. Meaning everything has to go through its next step at roughly the same time. Meaning now!

I dragged everything upstairs and we had a Grand Tasting. Most of the wines just needed to be racked, but how can you not taste a little bit? These are our findings.

Rhubarb Wine: Still looks like dishwater, but not unpleasant. I have hope for this one. I racked away a lot of lees, so I can imagine it clearing up some day. The taste is basically unchanged.

IMG_20150714_211444152IMG_20150714_211446317Grapefruit Wine: Close to undrinkable. To be honest, the main problem with the grapefruit wine is that it tastes so much like a grapefruit. I’m not sure what I expected in that regard. I’ve been picturing something light and crisp and sweet, more with the fragrance of grapefruit than anything. And that still may be achievable, with a lot of ageing and a lot of back sweetening. This wine has such an edge to it, I can’t imagine it would be any fun to drink dry.

Blueberry Wine: A strong contender. This was one of the house favorites. It’s got a very distinct blueberry flavor that borders on being too tanniny. There was a huge amount of sediment in this one, and I had to make up for the missing volume with water. It’s so dark and strong, though, even with the added water, that I think it’ll be alright. For the future, though, I need to invest in some glass marbles for bringing up volume.

IMG_20150714_211500365IMG_20150714_211458292Elderberry Wine: Basically vinegar. I don’t know where I went wrong with this one. I had such high hopes for it when I racked it the first time. It was dark and raisiny, by far the closest thing to grape wine I’ve made so far. But something has obviously changed between then and now, most likely one of those stray foreign yeasts I’m always sanitizing against. Everything I’ve read has said that if you do one thing right, it should be sanitizing. I try to sanitize faithfully, but I do have a cat and roommates and a kitchen that’s far from spotless. At my level a bad wine now and again may just be par for the course. The recipe I’m following does say that this wine improves with age, so I’ve racked it and put it back in the cellar in the hopes that the long road to improvement includes an early vinegary phase.

Mead: Genuinely good. I started the mead and the strawberry wine earlier than than all rest and had racked them both once already. According to my recipes, this meant that I could bottle them or let them age, depending on my tastes. Mead apparently gains a lot more complexity if you age it, and some people whose blogs I’ve read wouldn’t dream of drinking mead that’s under a year old. I’m new to this, though, and impatient. And the mead was really very good. So I decided to bottle it! I can always make another batch and age it for longer to do a comparison.

My only complaint with the mead was that it was very dry. I like sweet wine, and the flavor of honey especially feels disjointed to me when it’s not accompanied by sweetness. Everyone who tried it said they liked it just the way it was, though, so I split the difference. I siphoned the whole carboy off into a bucket and added some Sodium Metabisulfite and Potassium Sorbate to inhibit any remaining yeast. This is absolutely necessary if you’re back sweetening with honey, but I’m paranoid about exploding bottles and figured it couldn’t hurt for my unsweetened batch, too. 20150719_142420_HDR

I filled five bottles with the unsweetened stuff. Maybe I’ll hide one of these bottles from myself in the cellar to see how it ages. To sweeten the rest of the mead, I just added honey, stirred, and tasted until I was satisfied. I’m really happy with the result. It has a strong alcoholic body to it, with a sweet finish. It’s very obviously made of honey. And the alcoholic body is strong. Back in May I was too eager to get started to take any hydrometer readings (something I will be doing from now on), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the alcohol content is at or over 20%. I’ve put it in beer bottles with the idea that they can be shared or portioned out over a day or two like wine bottles. Or drunk by one person after a particularly hard day.

Strawberry Wine: Also good. I’m so happy my bizarre sprouting wine has come out okay. Over the past month it’s settled beautifully and really cleared up. It has an amazing summery smell. According to the recipe, it can be bottled very young, so I took the same tack as with the mead and back sweetened it to taste with honey. Since this batch had been downsized to a half gallon that still produced a lot of sediment, I got only six beer bottles’ worth.20150719_234355_HDR I like the look of a hodgepodge of saved bottles, and I even threw in an old Jarritos bottle to show off the beautiful clear blush. I chose to use beer bottles because this wine, too, is incredibly boozy. I have an open bottle in the fridge right now that I’ve been nursing over several sittings, like a liqueur. My only regret is that I think you can taste the fact that I used grocery store strawberries that had been shipped from who knows where. Sweet as it is, I think there’s a noticeable undertone of that white, foam-like core you get in big, under-ripe strawberries. I’m going to hunt down some farmer’s market berries and attempt another batch, because I think it could be really great.

A Mulberry Invasion

20150611_101426_HDRIn a way, I’ve been making mulberry wine for two years now. The neighbors don’t have much going on in their yard, but they have one mulberry tree with production rates any orchard owner would be proud of. And it hangs mostly over our driveway. Which means the berries ripen, fall off, and make a vinegary sludge an inch deep.

I know it’ll be a challenge, but this summer I’m hoping to improve upon this setup. Last year my friend Tommy and I got our act together enough to collect one crumble’s worth of fruit, with some heavy 20140713_174232supplementation from other berries scrounged from the community garden and the woods. We called the crumble Fruits of the Forest, and my hat still has stains.

This is a year of proactivity, however, so my plan is to collect the ripe berries daily and freeze them, hopefully accumulating enough to make mulberry wine, which I vaguely remember being drunk at a Redwall feast. If not, it’ll be Fruits of the Forest time again.

As you can see, the invasion has already begun in earnest.20150613_134109_HDR Twice now I’ve gotten out the hose and blasted them into the street, but by the next morning they’re always back in about this thickness. I don’t want to scavenge them off the ground, since they don’t handle the impact well and start to smell vinegary pretty quickly. I’ve had dreams of hanging hammocks to catch them, but with the bird traffic around here I’m afraid I’ll catch just as much poo.


I don’t have any pictures of the actual event, but here’s a lively re-enactment.

My roommate’s mother visited recently, and she was having flashbacks to shaking mulberry trees in Iran with a big sheet held out to catch the berries. I adapted this method by laying out a bunch of newspaper and whacking the tree with a broom. It was not a booming success. I took out just as many unripe berries as ripe ones, and when they hit the newspaper most of them bounced or rolled away.


In place of that technique, I’m now opting for hand-picking. I find it strangely soothing.

Since our driveway is Birdtown, USA, my initial plan was to pick the berries when they were nearly ripe, then let them sit on the counter for a day or two before freezing them. The birds and I have formed a strange truce, though. They ravage the top branches and leave the ones I can reach, so the berries I’ve been collecting are actually nice and ripe. I’ll have to look into this bond I’ve apparently formed with the natural world and use it to my advantage somehow.20150613_151913_HDR

So far I’ve collected and frozen 5 1/2 pounds of the things, and the tree is showing no signs of stopping.

Man, I hope mulberry wine is good.

Accidental Gardening

20150612_114023_HDRMy strawberry wine appears to be sprouting. While interesting, this isn’t exactly what I was going for.

This is still very much a learning process, and today’s lesson is in straining your fruit must thoroughly. A search has found me one person on reddit who had exactly the same problem. There were a few assurances that it should be alright, lots of confusion, and not one but two references to The Circle of Life. There was general encouragement to plant the seeds, which I’m going to do, because why not? And there was more or less a consensus that I should get the wine out of there as 20150612_112956quickly as possible. So I’m going to rack the wine, about two weeks before I was intending to, and I’m going to hope it keeps fermenting. I’m also going to rack it into a half gallon bottle, because today’s lesson is also in head space, of which I apparently have way too much. All that residual air is no good.


Doing my best to keep the siphon in the middle of the fermenter, between the sediment on the bottom and the seeds on top, I’m sending the wine through a mesh strainer in a funnel, hoping against hope it’ll catch the seeds but allow the yeast to pass through. I have a racking cane with a pump, so I usually don’t even bother putting my secondary vessel on the ground to siphon. The funnel, however, just barely fits into the lip of this jug, so I’m balancing it between my knee and the kitchen cabinets. When the person you usually conscript into holding things has been conscripted into photography instead, you have20150612_122718 to improvise.

A half gallon of wine has survived the transfer. There’s still sediment in the bottom, but no seeds have made an appearance and there’s already activity in the air lock, which means some of the yeast made it as well. The jug is a growler from Endless Brewing, a great little brewery from my hometown. If you find yourself in rural Pennsylvania and craving beer, go to them and tell them I sent you.

There’s still quite a lot left over, but not enough to justify saving in a separate container. It smells fantastic, and I have visions of whiling away the afternoon writing and sipping my young strawberry wine.


I’m just going to tell myself it needs to age.

Rhubarb Connections

I’ve gotten really into craigslist deals again recently. These fascinations with it are always ebbing and flowing, but since I’m learning to drive my boyfriend’s manual car, there’s been a serious flowing as of late. Turns out there’s a real freedom to emailing a stranger and knowing you can arrange to meet them around your schedule. And with a car, no less!

This weekend, however, both boyfriend and car were away, so when I found an ad for mature rhubarb plants for $12, I had to call ahead and confirm that the planter would fit into my bike’s milk crate. 20150606_142439It did.

Along with eight enormous stalks of rhubarb.

I did the deal with a lovely older lady. I told her I was planning on making rhubarb wine, and she regaled me with stories of tomato wine made with the guy she was going with at the time, as she called him. They opened one bottle and loved it, so they took it to the local wine festival, where it quickly became apparent that every other bottle was swill. At the end of the day they sold out, though, because theirs was the only table that still had wine and all the festival goers were too sloshed by then to care what it tasted like. She was great. I want to be her when I grow up.

The plant has found a place among all the other driveway plants. My dealer suggested that I bottom water it, presumably because it was in desperate need of watering but it was so sunny out. I didn’t ask her rationale. I just went along with it and set the pot in a big dish of water, which it promptly sucked up. I gave it another dish, then watered it from the top as well in the evening. It seems happy enough, though I’m not positive I’ll be able to harvest from it this summer.

20150609_214526_HDRThe day I brought it home, I hacked up my stalks and mixed them with sugar, then covered it all and left it in the closet for three days. It started as a solid mass, but during that time a whole lot of liquid was drawn out. From everything I’ve read, you want especially red stalks to make for a nice blush to the wine. As you can see, any blush to this stuff is going to be a seasick green. Oh well. The price was right.

I added water to the20150609_230227_HDR rhubarb, then strained it into my primary fermenting vessel with some yeast, yeast nutrient, and some grape juice concentrate. My snazzy new craigslist bucket is is full of blueberries, so the job has fallen to Mr. Beer. My mom got me a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas. It made a huge amount of an alright light beer that I still drink every now and again. It also gave me this pretty handy food grade plastic keg with an airlock-esque lid. Perfect! Who needs a bucket?

20150609_230325…Oh wait. What’s that? All over the paper towel that’s been conveniently laid down…


That’s some very sticky rhubarb juice.

That’s a pretty fast-flowing leak.


Luckily, my canner is just the right size to balance this thing more or less securely in such a way that the liquid can’t reach the lid or that damn spigot. Also luckily, it only has to stay in this precarious postion for a week before it moves to a real glass demijohn.

Mr. Beer will not ride again, I think.

A Brewing Operation

I am on a wine kick. I’m not sure where it came from. A year ago my roommate and I made a mostly successful IPA from an ancient graduation gift beer kit. Since then we’ve made two more downright drinkable beers from Brooklyn Brewery kits,20150607_182116 although I think I may have overdone it on the carbonation… Look at that head!

I’ve been itching to make something more homemade, though, and since it’s June, fruit wine seems like a good direction to go. I bought this fabulous 6 gallon carboy off a very nice craigslist man, along with a 6 gallon bucket with a grommeted lid and more supplies than you can shake a stick at, all for $40.20150608_112228

It’s a lot of responsibility, coming up with a wine I can afford and am confident I might like enough to make 5 to 6 gallons of the stuff. I’ve settled on mango wine, mainly because mangoes were on sale and are a heck of a lot cheaper than berries. I will be following this 32-year-old recipe from the Rare Fruit Archives of Australia because it’s the first one I found that sounded doable. And because I like the sound of it.

That will be a separate post, though, as I’m still waiting for the champagne yeast to come in the mail, and I’m typing with my feet drawn up on my chair because there are twenty pounds of mangoes softening in paper grocery bags under my desk. Until then, a quick look around at the operation I’m trying to get going.

No one has lived in the apartment below ours for a year now. 20150607_120427_LLSThis means their basement storage room is unoccupied, apart from all the junk they left behind. Until someone new moves in, I’m appropriating it as my wine cellar! There’s a great, reasonably dark shelf for finished bottles, where I’ve put what’s left of the beer. And another, darker shelf for all that caution tape the neighbors were hoarding…

I’ve also got two wines fermenting20150607_121114 down here already. I brought them out into the light for a photo-op; they’ve been living off to the left of the frame in a dark corner. I’ve read many a forum argument about whether dark is necessary for wine or just an old wives’ tale. The jury appears to be out, but I figure if I’ve got the dark I might as well use it.

The pink fermenter on the right is a strawberry wine. When I transferred it from its primary vessel I had a terrible time separating the liquid from the berry sludge that formed, and now I have a pitifully shallow fermenter that still somehow has a ton of sediment. When I rack it again I’ll have to decide if I make up for the lost space with water or just move it to a half-gallon jug.

The yellow fermenter is mead that I’ll be racking as soon as the bubbling dies down. By the numbers it should be any day now, but the yeast is still going strong.20150607_120859

The bubbles in the airlock have actually formed a very cool honeycomb pattern. For a while I had a half-baked idea that this had something to do with the high honey content. And then I found the same pattern in the strawberry airlock.

And then I realized that idea was ridiculous.