Northern Brewer Home Brewing Blog

$7.99 Flat Rate Shipping

  • 1-800-681-2739

Originally Published at www.timvandergrift.com Read Tim’s Blog >

Master Vintner Small Batch Winemaking Kit – Part 2 Racking Day

Small package? Good thing!

 

Mmmmerlot!

More Master Vintner! I got my Master Vintner equipment and kits going last week and now it’s time to rack them out of primary fermentation and into the I gallon jug.

Oh Little Big Mouth, you so tiny!

US Oh Little Big Mouth, you so tiny! Shmutz around the jug is yeast residue.

One of the cool things about the Master Vintner Small Batch kit is the size. Compared to lugging 6 US-gallon (23 litre) carboys around, the Little Big Mouth fermenter is a breeze. I’m a big, strong brute, but even I get twinges in my lower back when I have four or five full-sized carboys to lift up for racking.

Autosiphon with tubing, hydrometer and test jar, 1 gallon jug and cap.

Autosiphon with tubing, hydrometer and test jar, 1 gallon jug and cap.

First things first: I assembled my equipment and double-checked the instructions. Yes, I wrote them, but I’ve become slightly obsessive about double-checking them for accuracy. I’m the only guy I know who can argue with himself about following instructions that he wrote!

Next up I cleaned and sanitised the equipment and jug, following the same procedure with Oxygen wash, rinsing and sulphiting that  I did on day one. Once it was all clean, it was time to rack it over.

Upsy-daisy

Upsy-daisy

Not only are the Small Batch kits easy to lift, you can also place them just about anywhere. Rather than having to rack from a primary fermenter sitting on the counter to a carboy down to the floor, I popped the LBM onto a box on my countertop and put the jug beside it. I love working at counter height! Honestly, this has got to be one of the killer sell features of this kit: light weight, ease-of-use and dead simple, too.

If you’ve never seen an Autosyphon in action, the small version that came with the kit is a great piece of hardware. Plain syphons work fine, but you have to start them either by filling them with water, covering both ends and simultaneously plunging the pick-up rod into the wine and the hose into a bucket to catch the extra water, and then swap when the wine comes through, or by sticking them into the wine and sucking on the hose like you’re stealing gasoline from a car–which is a little unsettling, but sometimes an opportunity to ‘accidentally’ drink from the hose (wine, not gasoline).

Check out the Autosyphon action:

While the Autosyphon took care of racking the wine into the gallon jug, I did two more things. First, I deftly filled my hydrometer jar with wine so I could check the specific gravity, and second, I tilted the Little Big Mouth back towards the side of the jug that the syphon tip was in. Tilting it would allow me to get all of the liquid out of the jug, while the anti-sediment tip on the syphon prevented any yeast-goo from going into the jug.

Rack, because that's how we roll.

Rack, because that’s how we roll.

Checking the hydrometer reading, I saw that it was good.

Remember, look across the surface of the wine, not the edge where it touches the glass.

Remember, look across the surface of the wine, not the edge where it touches the glass.

The reading was 0.992–my wine was finished fermenting. Time to look at the instructions, where I wrote down the gravity from day one.

Every word, poetry.

Every word, poetry.

We started at 1.090 and finished at 0.992. With a little math, we subtract the finishing gravity from the beginning, multiply by 131 and we get 1.090 – .992 = 0.98 and 0.98 x 131 = 12.838, or just shy of 13% alcohol, perfect for our Merlot.

Of course there was also the necessity for a quality control test.

The moment of truth . . .

The moment of truth . . .

Smelled young, but very good, with nice dark cherry notes. As for the taste . . .

I'd say he's happy. Or getting tasered. One of the two.

I’d say he’s happy. Or getting tasered. One of the two.

The taste was impressive for such a young sample–it’s going to be pretty good!

The last thing to do was to put the cap an airlock onto the jug and clean up all the equipment I used–well, after I finished racking the other three wines!

Oh little wine jug how I love thee!

Oh little wine jug how I love thee! Note the small amount of fizz–that’s CO2 gassing off, not fermentation.

I’m sold. It’s one thing to develop a kit in the laboratory and taste bench samples, but it’s another (and completely necessary) thing to do it right in your own kitchen, among the cats and cabbage rolls to see how it’s going to work in the real world. I’m happier with this kit than with anything I’ve done in a long time, and in 12 days I’m going to get it stabilising and cleared and then it’s off to bottling. Hurrah!

Blend your creations for entirely new experiences!

Pump up your fermentations with some creativity! A really fun method of creating something unique and bold is as simple as blending different types of beers, wines, and meads. A beer-wine hybrid, a “vineale”, or a mead-beer hybrid, a “braggot” is one way to produce interesting new flavors and subtle nuances to your creations. Blending beers, wines and meads is a centuries old practice going back as far as the ancient Egyptians, and has continued to be practiced today. There is no limit to what you can create with different blends of your fermentations.

This can be as simple as combining some beer wort and wine must and letting them ferment, but the real fun comes in when you are looking for that perfect balance of flavors in your finished product. A great experiment that you can easily conduct at home is to run some blending trials of some different beers and wines. Want to make a robust porter with a cabernet sauvignon character, or a saison with some fruity riesling in the background? Let the trials begin. First, ferment out your two base products for blending later, and keep in mind that the final blended product will only be as good as the base beers, wines and meads used to make it.

Once you have finished your batch of beer and wine, the tasting begins! Try mixing various proportions of your wine into the beer, and then taste them to determine what tastes best to you. You may find that a porter only requires 20% cabernet to really have a great flavor, while you may use up to 50% riesling blended into a saison to come up with something truly memorable. When doing blending trials, it is a good idea to have some basic graduated measuring cups available and a pen and a pad.

Make yourself a few different blends of the same two base beers/wines at varying proportions. For example, blend one beer with 10% wine, one with 20% wine, one with 30% wine, and so on. Be sure to keep good notes of how much of each base beer/wine before tasting. Doing small trials like this will enable you to pinpoint the exact proportions of your beer and wine to really get the flavors balanced out.

Once you determine the perfect blend, you can measure out larger amounts of the base beers and wines to blend into one large batch for bottling. The sky is the limit here, and there is no wrong blend to make, it’s all a matter of your preference. Try a hard pear cider with a Chardonnay, or blackberry mead blended into an American brown ale.

 
Comments from Chris Farley, Founder

I’m very proud of the work Northern Brewer has done to help people make better beer at home. In 1995 I published the first edition of the Northern Brewer catalog. This catalog has since become the most famous showcase of brewing products in the industry. The Northern Brewer Homebrew Forum launched in 1997 and became a hugely popular place for homebrewers to get their brewing questions answered in near real-time. More recently, I created BrewingTV with a mission to create unique and fun videos about the culture of homebrewing. It is Northern Brewer’s mission to help you make the best possible beer.
That’s why we are so fond of saying,
“We won’t rest until you brew your best.”

The day I was waiting for finally came: my shiny new Master Vintner Small Batch winemaking supplies arrived!

One full equipment kit, three extra Big Mouth Bubblers and three extra wine kits!

One full equipment kit, three extra Big Mouth Bubblers and three extra wine kits!

How happy am I? I’m ecstatic! How proud am I of the Master Vintner project? So proud that I put my name right on the box!

My mother is so proud

My mother is so proud!

I’ve been working with my friends at Northern Brewer for the last year to make this happen. It’s been an amazing time, and a lot of fun working with the crew there. Designing a new wine kit might seem easy at first blush. After all it’s just a matter of putting some stuff in a box and a bag of grape juice and away you go.

Only not really: there’s a lot of logistical and technical issues that need to be solved. Ordering grape materials has to precede the harvest by months in order to ensure you get the best of the vineyard. Then you need to formulate, get the juices cold stabilised and ready to blend, make and test blends (like all wineries, kit manufacturers blend for character and consistency) and then test your packaging protocols to make sure they will arrive to customers in good condition.

Beyond that, it’s a whole new world of equipment, specific to the 1 US-gallon size, that needs to be integrated to make sure it works well together and makes the best wine possible. Lucky for me there’s a great team doing the sourcing and manufacturing, making me look good!

It's like a treasure chest for winemakers

It’s like a treasure chest for winemakers

My Master Vintner equipment and supplies arrived this week and I got cracking right away. Step one, unbox and check the contents.

box-contents

All present and accounted for!

The equipment kit contains almost everything you need to make a one US-gallon (5-bottle) batch of wine. You’ll have to supply the wine bottles, which can be saved from the recycling (hurrah environment!) and labels, which are fun to make for yourself.

The first step is to read the equipment list, make sure everything is there–pretty much a sure thing from Northern Brewer. Next, we need to pull out our wine kit and check out that puppy. The first one I laid hands on was a Merlot.

Small package? Good thing!

Small package? Good thing!

California Merlot is going to be rich and soft, with warm berry and dark cherry fruit and supple tannins. Mmm!

Next, let’s take a look at the ingredients, and most especially the instructions.

The good stuff

The good stuff

The wine kit has yeast, finings, stabilisers and a fabulous set of well-written and lucid instructions (yes, I wrote them).

Hi-yo Mylar! It's shiny, but I'm more interested in those brilliant instructions

Hi-yo Mylar! It’s shiny, but I’m more interested in those brilliant instructions

I dove into making the kit immediately, but that’s only because I wrote (and re-wrote, and edited and re-wrote) the instructions myself. Everyone else should immediately put everything back in the box, seal it up and sit down and carefully and slowly read the instructions from beginning to end–if you’re not sure of anything, don’t start until you get it straight!

But don’t worry about that too much: ultimately, if you can make a cup of coffee or a bowl of cereal, you’re qualified to make your first batch of wine without any problem–I promise.

After reading the instructions, the first step is to mark off Little Big Mouth at the one-gallon line. LBM’s aren’t pre-marked because it’s a tricky process, and some folk’s jugs might not be completely standard, or the markings might get altered in shipping and handling. Better to do it in your own winemaking area so you’re confident you’ve got it right.

The best way to do it is to fill your gallon jug right up to the neck, about two fingers below the tippy-top.

Any fingers will do: mine are fat, but skinny fingers work equally well.

Any fingers will do: mine are fat, but skinny fingers work equally well.

You then pour the jug into your LBM.

Note the water mixing with Oxygen Cleanser in the bottom of the LBM.

Note the water mixing with Oxygen Cleanser in the bottom of the LBM.

Because the next step is to get things clean and sanitised (cleanliness is next to goodliness for winemaking), I put my winemaking cleaner right into the LBM, to save a step. The Oxygen Cleanser included in the equipment kit a great product–you can’t use home cleaners because they have too much perfume and other weird chemicals, which can leach into the wine and leave strange flavours.

Next step is to mark off the 1-gallon level. I used some white Duct Tape and a permanent marker.

That's the spot.

That’s the spot.

And then it’s into the sink with the other items needed for day one: hydrometer and test jar, wine thief, lid, spoon, bung and airlock.

Scrubbing and soaking, the Tim Vandergrift way

Scrubbing and soaking, the Tim Vandergrift way

While the equipment comes brand-new, so it’s not stained or dirty, it’s still a good idea to give it a very good cleaning before you use it–just like you would any new plates, glasses or cups you brought into your kitchen.

After a 20 minute soak and a scrub to remove all surface debris, I rinsed everything thoroughly and then sanitised with a metabisulphite solution.

Now that's a product shot

Now that’s a product shot

Metabisulphite solutions are the second part of cleaning and sanitising. While Oxygen Cleanser leaves your equipment clean enough to eat off of, it’s not ready to use for winemaking. For that you need to treat the surfaces with a solution that will suppress bacterial activity, and in winemaking the easiest stuff to use is a solution of three tablespoons (50 grams) of crystalline sulphite powder in 4 litres (one gallon) of water. Note that absolute accuracy isn’t crucial here, because you’re shooting for a solution that will yield 1250 Parts Per Million of free sulphite and the difference between one gallon and 4 litres or three tablespoons and 50 grams won’t move it more than a few dozen PPM.

I didn’t take any pictures of sulphiting the equipment because a) I didn’t know how to make that look exciting, and b) I always have a spray bottle of the stuff under the counter and I just grabbed it and sluiced everything down, waited 5 minutes and rinsed. By the time I remembered I was photoblogging I had already started the wine. Whoopsie. In any case, I went on to the next step, grabbing the bag of winemaking concentrate.

juice-bag

Grey and wrinkled, but still has a sparkle, like the winemaker

The caps on these bags fit extremely tight–they have to to exclude oxygen and spoilage organisms. If you’ve got long fingernails, or issues with grip strength (which is to say, if you’re not built like an ogre like me) you can pry them up with the edge of a butter knife (nothing sharp, please!) or use a bottle opener on the edge (works like a charm) or invest in a bag decapper. This doohickey fits exactly over the standard cap and levers it off in a jiffy.

Works like a charm, and saves that manicure

Works like a charm, and saves that manicure

Fortunately for me, I am built like an economy-version ogre, so I just pull it straight off. I am also good with opening pickle jars and other applications of brute-force and ignorance.

Yoink!

Yoink!

Careful, though: the juice is very high in sugar and red varietals can really stain fabrics–easy does it.

Next, pour the bag contents into the LBM.

Smells fantastic

Smells fantastic.

Rinse the bag out with two cups of lukewarm water and add it to the LBM as well.

Good to the last drop.

Good to the last drop.

An important word on temperature: the kit has to be between 72°F and 77°F (22°C and 25°C for non-Americans). This is crucial for the success of the kit, because the yeast need to get fermenting quickly so your wine can stay on schedule. That means a bit of management: if the kit is coming in from a cold garage you’ll need a bit warmer water to make it up. If you’re in a heat wave in Florida, you’ll need to cool that water down a bit.

But it’s not terribly tricky. To hit my target temperature I ran the water in my sink for a minute until it hit 77°F and topped up the fermenter to the 1 gallon mark with that. When it was at the right level, it was time to stir.

Stir like it's 1999.

Stir like it’s 1999.

You have to stir hard. Pouring the water into the juice makes it look like everything is well mixed, but that’s an illusion: concentrate and water have very different coefficients of viscosity and left to themselves, they’ll settle out. I gave it a darn good whipping with the shiny stainless steel spoon that came with the kit.

Next up, some measurements. First, the temperature check. I pasted on the Fermometer on the LMB and had a look.

Looking good!

Looking good!

With the temperature well in hand, it was time to check the specific gravity. I assembled the three piece wine thief and used it to fill the test jar.

Fill 'er up.

Fill ‘er up.

With the level of the wine relatively low, it takes about three trips with the thief to fill the test jar. When it was full enough to float the hydrometer I popped it in and checked it.

Sight along the surface of the wine--that's where the reading is accurate.

Sight along the surface of the wine–that’s where the reading is accurate.

If you’ve never read a hydrometer before, there’s a trick to it: don’t look at the wine where it meets the hydrometer. Surface tension will pull it up the glass tube and give a false reading. Instead, look across the surface of the juice and draw an imaginary line from that surface across the hydrometer markings. In this case it was a solid reading at 1.090–perfect.

Next up, time to pitch the yeast. There’s a lot of information out there about rehydrating yeast and stirring it in and suchlike. For the Master Vintner wine kit, follow the instructions and just rip the package open and pout the yeast onto the surface of the juice.

As soon as the yeast goes in, the juice is considered to have become wine.

As soon as the yeast goes in, the juice is considered to have become wine.

Go my little yeasts! Be fruitful and multiply and make wine.

Go my little yeasts! Be fruitful and multiply and make wine.

And that’s it for day one. The only thing left to do is to wait 8 days for the next step.

Well, not quite. I had three more kits to make up!

So beautiful.

So beautiful, each in their own ways

I’ll update when it’s time to rack the wine from the LBM’s to the jugs. In the meantime they’re bubbling away merrily, making alcohol and smelling better every day. Yum!

Brad shows FOX31 in Denver how easy it is to brew your own small batch kit. Funny how this guy sounds like he’s selling something on a cable shopping network!

Fermenting with German Wheat Beer Yeast -  Hefeweizen FermentationAs the season changes from frigid temperatures and snow flurries to the blooming flowers and sunny days of spring my thoughts swing from heavy barley wines to the refreshing thirst quencher German style Hefeweizen.  This is one of my favorite styles to brew and enjoy all summer long.  The variations you see from batch to batch have a lot to do with not only the type of yeast you use but also the way you treat it during fermentation.  Varying certain aspects of fermentation will produce varying amounts of the characteristic esters of banana and phenolic clove (spice) flavors and aromas in the beer.  The main things you should take into consideration when fermenting German wheat beers are fermentor design, yeast pitch rate, level of aeration and fermentation temperature.

Most traditional German wheat beer breweries used a large shallow open fermentation vessel which promotes the production of both the banana and clove (phenol) character.  On a homebrew scale a plastic bucket, either a 6.5 gallon or the 7.9 gallon, used without the lid can emulate the traditional vessel.  When using a 6 gallon carboy with standard bung and airlock will produce moderate amounts of banana and high amounts of spice.  Conical fermenters will produce low banana and low spice character.  The taller and narrower the fermentor gets the lower the ester and phenol production.

The amount of yeast you pitch along with the amount of aeration you use work together to regulate Weizen characteristics.  When using a high yeast pitch count and high level of oxygen you will experience low levels of banana, fruit and spice.  If you maintain the high yeast pitch rare but reduce the oxygen level you will see moderate fruit and banana production along with low spice character.  If you intentionally stress the yeast and under pitch but add higher levels of oxygen the fruit level will increase but the banana will remain low and the spice will be moderate.  Finally if you use low levels of yeast and oxygen you will get high fruit and banana and moderate spice.German Wheat Beer Yeast Recommendations

As with most any beer yeast the fermentation temperature is also critical in controlling the final outcome of the beer.  Generally lower fermentation temperatures will produce a cleaner beer with lower ester and phenol production.  As you increase the temperature you will see an increase in both banana and spice production but will see a decrease the other fruity esters as the temperature reaches and exceeds 72F.  Fermentation temps can range for 60-75F and will vary based on the strain you choose.

There are a number of strains to choose from in liquid form and even a few dry options.  The most used strain is the original from Weienstephan which is Wyeast 3068 or White Labs WLP300.  This strain is the most responsive and is relatively easy to handle.  Others that I would recommend would be the White Labs WLP380 Hefeweizen IV which has lower banana production and Wyeast 3638 that produces more fruit esters and a unique banana character.  Fermentis Safebrew WB-06 Dry Wheat Beer Yeast and Danstar Munich German Wheat Beer Yeast are the dry options available.

Page 1 of 5612345102030...Last »