Advanced beer brewers routinely make yeast ‘starters’, growing a culture of yeast up from a few hundred million live cells into a powerful, seething mass of hundreds of billions of cells, ready to launch a vigorous, thorough fermentation in their brews.
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When brewing beer, cider, or wine you are going to need to use a hydrometer. The hydrometer measures the amount of sugar that is dissolved in water. This sugar is what the yeast turns into alcohol during fermentation.
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.
The day I was waiting for finally came: my shiny new Master Vintner Small Batch winemaking supplies arrived!
An interactive wine tasting brought you by Northern Brewer and Winexpert’s Tim Vandergrift. Tim leads us through his “Wine Component Tasting” presentation.
Big, bold tannin bombs, sweet and fruity blush wines, Italian Primitivo, American old vines: Zinfandel is a grape that has many labels, and bears them all well.
Zinfandel was the pride of the early, pre-Prohibition California wine industry. Like many grapes that made the trip from the old world to the new, the origins and lineage of Zinfandel were surrounded in misconception and mystery. For years Zinfandel was thought to be native to California, but modern research has showed that the grape is in fact descended from an obscure Croatian grape and is identical to the more well-known Italian grape Primitivo, which is used to make intense red wines in the warm Puglia region.
Zin often exhibits strawberry/raspberry notes, which shift into cherry when the grapes are picked later, and can have notes of anise and black pepper, or even cinnamon. Compared to its Italian brother, American Zinfandel is much more focused on fruit flavors and less on earth and spice. Though most of the original Zinfandel vines were ripped out and destroyed in favor of cheaper varieties during the prohibition, some “old vines” still remain and produce excellent wine.
The grapes can be incredibly high in sugar content, and must be managed to ensure that they do not shrivel and concentrate their sugars to an unfermentable point. Even so, Zinfandel often starts out as a very high-sugar content must, and thus results in a high-alcohol wine (up to 15%). The intensity of the alcohol flavors is tamed by the high tannin levels of the thick-skinned grapes. A good amount of aging is required before this sort of Zin is mellow enough to drink, and it is possible to lay down bottles for many years. The high sugar content of Zinfandel also contributes to the popular White Zinfandel blush wine. Originally made by accident, the blush version of Zin is very light and fruity and is a pinkish color.
Zinfandel can successfully be paired with many of the same dishes as the similarly robust Cabernet Sauvignon, such as grilled steak. It is also a good match for Indian food and heavy egg dishes.
A grape that can display incredible balance and complexity while still being immensely enjoyable and versatile, the venerable Riesling is a wine-lover’s dream.
Riesling is the very definition of a classic grape: it has been cultivated and vinified in its homeland of Germany for over 500 years and is arguably the best aging wine in the world – bottles over a hundred years old are not unknown! The grape is used for dry, sweet, and semi-sweet wines and provides balance in each with a bracing dose of acidity. Instead of the citrus and tropical fruit flavors associated with Sauvignon Blanc, expect more stone fruit (such as peach) and mineral notes, floral tones, and even “petrol” in very fine aged examples. Riesling is considered one of the most terroir-expressive wines, and thus presents a challenge to the vintner. The best soils for growing are sandy and dry, with significant mineral content. Colder climates allow the grape to slowly refine its flavor, and cold fermenting temperatures keep the taste crisp and clear. Wild or natural yeasts are often preferred for fermentation, and the use of barrels is restricted to those that add no oak flavors.
The Rhine Valley of Germany is known for producing some of the finest Riesling, but the nearby Alsace and Mosel regions have excellent examples as well. Using the grape to produce sweet or semi-sweet wines in addition to dry is traditional in these areas, usually through the means of the “noble rot”. Canada’s colder climate is well suited for the production of Riesling ice wines, by leaving the grapes on the vine through several frosts, which increases the sugar content. The acidity of dry Riesling makes it an easy match for a variety of dishes: try it with roasted chicken with lemon, mild fish in Béchamel sauce, or spicy Thai or Cantonese food.
A deep, sensuous shade in the glass; a grape that offers up a fruity bouquet; the most accessible of the red wines. Merlot is all of these things and more: it is one of the most widely planted and popular varietal grapes and is enjoying some time in the spotlight after being overshadowed by its big brother Cabernet Sauvignon for decades.
Merlot is one of the classic grapes in the Bordeaux blend, where it provides a mellow and fruity backdrop to Cabernet’s powerful intensity. Bordeaux’s winning combination and growing techniques have been emulated around the world, from cool, moist New Zealand to warm California, but more and more vineyards are offering up fine examples of 100% Merlot wines. At their simplest these wines are very enjoyable, with dark, fruity notes such as plum and berries immediately prevalent. Some more complex aged examples incorporate oak flavors such as vanilla and tobacco and have more tannin. Merlot is often described as being “round” or “soft” due to its naturally low acid and tannin contents. The fruit grows best in clay soils and benefits from intentionally keeping yields low. Merlot is a very adaptable grape, but growers must balance temperature and picking time delicately to ensure the ripe, fruity flavors most often desired from the wine.
Due to the lack of tannins and acidity, Merlot can easily be overpowered by strong cheeses or spicy Thai and Indian foods; try it instead with seafood like Salmon, Mahi Mahi, or shellfish, and greens or mushroom-based side dishes.
What can be said about Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps the most discussed and exalted wine of them all? The King of Reds, with a loyal following and adoring mass of devotees, continues its decades-long reign over fine wine. As so many vintners and wine-lovers will attest, no other grape has such a high potential to reach the upper echelons of complexity; Cabernet Sauvignon can astound the drinker year after year.
The grape is small and thick-skinned, which gives it a high proportion of tannic seed and skin to sweet flesh. The prominent tannins give Cab a characteristic astringency that, coupled with formidable acidity, makes it a powerful wine. In the Bordeaux region, where the grape is thought to originate, this intensity is usually tempered with the addition of Merlot or other sympathetic blending grapes; but the depth and potential of Bordeaux is largely credited to the Cabernet grape, which is usually the centerpiece of the flavor, if occasionally used in proportions smaller than its companions.
Cabernet Sauvignon has proven to be extremely adaptable to different conditions and has been successfully cultivated around the globe. Good disease resistance and hearty growth mean very consistent crops. It is a late-ripening grape, which tends to favor warmer climates but can also be grown successfully in cool areas, where slight under-ripening can produce green pepper/mint like flavors. At hot temperatures the flavors run more towards intense cooked fruit and jam, but in a warm climate, like California, the resulting wine is balanced enough to stand on its own without blending.
Good Cabernet Sauvignon needs to be aged to tame the strong tannins and bring out the transcendent best in the wine. The near-universal use of oak not only contributes complementary flavors like vanilla and tobacco, but also helps smooth the wine by replacing harsh grape tannins with softer wood tannins. Expect to lay these down in the bottle for at least a year; very good Carbernets should be aged for several and can improve beyond a decade. When it comes to food, Cabernet can happily be paired with strong meats that would overwhelm a lesser wine. Grilled steak, in all its juicy glory, is an excellent choice, as are lamb chops.
Something of an incubator for offbeat or forgotten varietals, the vintners of Argentina and Chile have a way of making a grape their own.
Carmenere is a forgotten constituent of classic Bordeaux that has found a new home in the high vineyards of the Chilean Andes. A bearcat in the vineyard but a delight in the glass: umami flavors of soy sauce, grilled meat, leather and coffee wink out from beneath Merlot-like richness of black cherry, plum, blackberry, and spice.
Malbec, once regarded as a lowly blending grape, has come into its own in Andean vineyards. Lots of high-altitude sun makes for a long, steady ripening, which in turn makes for a big and intense – yet supple — wine of inky color, oozing deep bass notes of plum and spice.
More well-known varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir …) also thrive in South America, known for their pronounced expression of sumptuous and juicy fruit flavors and aromas.