Dry mead and red currant wine, part 2

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Pitched the mead yeast over the weekend, using a starter: honey stirred into hot water, cooled to room temp, and yeast and a small quantity of nutrient added.  When that’s all fizzed up, into the primary it goes.  And does it ever go!  It’s a really active ferment, fizzing up like a beer head when I stir it.

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It still smells of honey, though now, a few days after I pitched the yeast, it also has a nice ferment-y sort of smell, too.  Because I wanted this to be dry, it has less honey than some recipes, which should allow the yeast (Champagne, in this case) to eat nearly all the sugar.

I also got my second primary fermentation bucket, so I started my batch of red currant.  It’s pinkish, but the color gets a little deeper each day.  I just pitched the yeast (Montrachet) this morning, and both batches should be ready for their carboys this coming weekend.

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I plan to ferment this wine on the currants the whole time, for a nice red color. I also gathered enough currants for some raspberry-currant jam, when the raspberries are ready next month or so.  My freezer’s starting to get kind of full!

Something I read recently mentioned that red currants are sometimes called wineberry, so that seems auspicious.  Let’s hope these guys live up to the name.

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Mead and red currant

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I had a rough day of tripping and bleeding yesterday, so I was pretty grumpy when I got home.  I complained to Jo during the dog walk that I really needed to harvest the red currants because the birds were going to eat them all and then we wouldn’t have enough for anything useful.  So he gamely went out and started picking as soon as we got home.  I made dinner and then started to feel guilty, so I went out and joined him.  It turns out to be quite a pleasant summertime activity, and I needn’t have worried about the birds eating it all.  We easily gathered 2 pounds, 9.4 ounces.  My currant bush is several years old now, and this is its best year ever, fruit-wise.  We should have plenty more for raspberry-currant jam, and for pie, and still plenty left on for the birdies.

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My recipe (C.J.J. Berry) calls for 2 1/4 oz., so I took out 5 oz. and put both bags in the freezer.  I’m excited to try freezing to help break the fruit down.  It should mean less mashing, though of course the mashing of the currants won’t be terribly hard.

The other reason I froze the currants is that I also started some mead, so my primary fermentation bucket was already in use.  This is a recipe for dry mead from True Brews by Christensen.  It uses less honey than sweet meads, so most of it should ferment.  I looked at a few different recipes, but opted for this one because she specifically says that she doesn’t like sweet drinks (neither do I), and because it calls for Champagne yeast, which I have.  The others call for ale yeast or mead yeast, which would mean I’d have to go buy some, and then what the heck would I do with all the Champagne yeast I already bought? (I think I got 10 packets because I thought I’d be needing to make a lot of sodas for Kirsten, who was having some nasty acid reflux, but she’s on new meds now, and back to her evil ways.  Which is considerably more fun for the rest of us, too.)

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 I simmered the water (12 cups, I think) and then stirred in 3 1/2 cups of honey.  The recipe says to let it come to room temperature and the add the Campden, but by 9:30 it was still pretty warm, and I just wanted to go to bed, so I covered the bucket and added the airlock and left it until this morning.  So the Campden went in at around 6 a.m., after I fed the dogs.  It smells very strongly of honey, and part of me has trouble believing it’s actually going to ferment to dryness.  (This, again, would be a good argument for the Champagne yeast, which is better in high-alcohol environments, so it will keep fermenting beyond what the others would do, and I definitely want it eating up all that sugar!)  So this needs to hang out for the customary 24 hours and then I’ll pitch the yeast.  By next month, I should have six 1-gallon demijohns fermenting away.  (That’s 5 of my own and whatever we make in the country wine class.)

Racked wines

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This weekend, I racked the dandelion and rhubarb.

 

 

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They had both collected enough sediment at the bottom that I didn’t want to risk any off flavors.  They seem to be starting to clear, but I think they’ve both still got a couple months to go.  Happily, though, you can see the colors are starting to shine through a bit: a light pink for the rhubarb (left) and a yellow-green for the dandelion.  The blueberry’s still fizzing and fermenting away, so it’s mostly just in the shot because it’s pretty.

I’m wishing now that I’d tasted these when I racked them this time, but somehow it didn’t occur to me.  Maybe it’s just because it was morning, or the dogs were hoping all the activity meant something for them.  Anyway, I did save (and mix) the lees from both batches, and I may use that for soup or something.  There’s also a decent amount of the wine, as I think I erred too much on the side of caution this racking.

Since it’s getting good and hot now, I’ve also moved all 3 carboys to the dining room, where they sit under a shelf, flanking my old vinyl record collection.  The rhubarb is in a reusable shopping bag, in an attempt to preserve its color.  I’ve also come across a good handful of new things I’d like to try, but I need to get more carboys first!  Three seemed like plenty to begin with, but apparently this hobby is addictive.

Blueberry-pomegranate in growler

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Put the new wine in its growler over the weekend.  There’s the color I’ve been wanting!

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I confess I didn’t stir this batch ever, and the bag of blueberries had some yeast growth on it.  I will stir next time.  Fermentation in the primary wasn’t visibly vigorous, and I never saw the airlock do anything.  However, it’s bubbling along nicely now, and even has a little fizz at the top of the carboy.  It tastes nicely of blueberries, and should be a magnificent color when it’s finished fermenting.

I hated to waste all that fruit, so I made a crumble out of it, which turns out to have been a strange choice.  Maybe because I didn’t stir the primary ferment, some areas of the fruit had a strong alcohol/yeast taste, so some of the crumble was blueberry-licious and some was just kind of weird.

The rhubarb wine has started to change color– I will try to remember to get a picture soon.  It’s taken on a pleasant pinkish hue, which I quite like.  I hope it will be a nice rosy color when it’s all cleared.

Side note: I’ve come across a recipe for apple wine that I quite want to try.  It’s from this blog and it looks quite possible.  I’ve mostly found apple wine (and cider) recipes that call for a fruit press, and those suckers are expensive.  I’ve also come across this blog, which seems interesting and helpful as well.  Though apparently my little country wine blog is not as unique as I hoped!

Blueberry-pomegranate wine

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I really wasn’t going to make more wine until I had my own fruit.  I had plans!  But then I found myself in the freezer section of the store, looking at those tempting little bags of organic blueberries, and I sort of cracked.  So.  Blueberry-pomegranate wine, then.  This recipe is from True Brews, which tells me that the resulting wine is the closest to a red table wine in the book.  It does have a lovely blueberry smell.  It’s also a slightly different process from the other wines I’ve started.  For this one, after the juice and sugar sat on the Campden for 24 hours, I took out a cup of liquid and added the yeast to that.  A couple hours later, the mixture was frothy, so I pitched the yeast into the primary and added nutrient, tannin and acid blend.  And this is definitely not the yellow-green of my other two wines!

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I also made a batch of strawberry soda, also from frozen fruit.  Mostly I just wanted to try this recipe for the sake of trying it.  Even with frozen fruit, it’s not cheap.  It calls for 2 lbs. of fruit!  Still, I’m glad I tried it.  It’s more labor-intensive than the ginger ale, but it’s really delicious.  It also fermented much more quickly, I guess because of the natural sugars in the fruit.  Just overnight was enough for this batch, while the ginger ale took about 42 hours.  You can even see some fizzing in this photo, which I took immediately after I pitched the yeast, so I guess maybe the thawed berries had started a little fermentation on their own.  It’s definitely a treat, and one I’ll make again, but probably not often, unless my strawberries start coming on really strong in the next couple years.

So I think that should be it on the new wines until July.  I mean, I only have 3 carboys, so probably I should stop.  But nobody has ever accused me of lacking enthusiasm, so I guess we’ll just have to see.

Rhubarb, moved to carboy

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I put my rhubarb wine into a carboy over the long weekend.  It’s got a sort of fuzzy yellow color and tastes sweet and slightly of rhubarb.  I used the reddest stalks I could harvest, so I’m a little sad it’s not pinkish, but as I’ve learned from the dandelion, the color of the final product will almost definitely change.

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I will definitely ferment my next batch on the pulp longer, for more pronounced flavor.  My recipes seem to indicate that it rarely has a strong rhubarb taste regardless, but I’d still like to try to get one.

The dandelion is starting to clear but is quite sour.  I added extra acid blend, on the advice of someone at the wine-making supplies shop, and I think that was a mistake.  The citrus fruit alone will be sufficient next time.

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I hope one or both turns out to be tasty!  My raspberry bushes are coming along quite nicely, and they haven’t failed to bear a good crop yet, so hopefully that’s next. I may try the raspberry-rhubarb recipe in True Brews, or just blend the two wines.  In any case, I’m looking forward to having something that isn’t yellow-green.

My other fruit that seems to be doing well this year includes the red currant, but I can’t tell how the Concord grape is doing yet.  I cut it way back a couple years ago and it didn’t do anything last year.  For wine, I need a lot of grapes: I think my recipe calls for 16 lbs.  I might try this first recipe, though http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/reques10.asp, if I don’t seem to be getting that big a haul.

It turns out that one of the hardest parts of this endeavor is the waiting.  Patience isn’t my strongest suit, so this is probably as good for me as it is difficult.  The dandelion won’t be ready until Christmas, at the earliest, and the rhubarb apparently needs a year of aging.  Concord wine will need 2 or 3 years!  A late frost knocked off all my Damson blossoms, which was extra disappointing because that one is supposed to be pretty good at 6 months, although I’ve also read plum wines are hard to clear, and may require repeated racking.  I might try a cider or perry, though, with juice from Ela Family Farms, or a dry mead with local honey.  I think ciders and meads need much less aging time, though I do love the idea of making things with my own produce.  Partially to that end, I’ve also put in a peach tree this year.  I have access to the press at the wine supplies shop Wine and Whey if I ever get a big enough crop of apples or pears, too.  (In fact, they offer their space for wine-making, which is a great idea for a novice with lots of questions.  I, however, apparently need to dive in and start making things myself, at the moment the mood strikes me.)