The Accidental Vintner

For those of you that I haven't told, a while back, I took up brewing beer, wine and the like as hobbies. So far, I've had a pretty fantastic run of things with only a small handful of failures, none of which were terribly unexpected.

My first brewing was sometime last September or October. With the help of my friend Paul, I brewed an Irish Red style Ale. Being our first brewing experience, we used a pre-prepared kit. Earlier on the day we brewed, however, I had gone apple picking with some other housemates so we decided to modify the recipe by tossing a few apples into the wort. The result we obtained after 2 or 3 weeks fermenting and 2 weeks aging/carbonating was really quite good. We had created a nice, smooth Irish Red style Ale, with a mild but notable taste of apple. While we made our way through the first 24 bottles, which had been refrigerated after 2 weeks aging, the remaining 24 had been left in the basement continuing to age. After finishing the first 24 we moved on to the second to discover that they were even smoother but had lost a little of the apple character.

Having succeeded at brewing a tasty beer, I decided to try my hand at various other fermentations so I picked up a number of dry yeast packets at my local brewing store and set at it. I made up three 1 gallon solutions with equal quantities of fermentable sugar: one with cane sugar, one with molasses and one with maple syrup. These were each given a number of weeks to ferment. After fermentation, I gave them each a try and discovered that the molasses "wine", although alcoholic, was totally undrinkable; the sugar "wine" was alcoholic but completely bland (a good result for less than a dollar in raw materials); the maple "wine" was actually rather tasty but not tasty enough for its cost.

After the experimental "wines", I decided to give proper wine a shot (by proper I mean grape flavored, not high quality). I proceeded to make up two large buckets full of wine from Welch's grape juice and sugar (as an adjunct, if you will). the buckets were allowed to ferment for a number of weeks. The wines' fermentation cycles coincided very nicely with the scheduling of a Mardi Gras party my house was throwing. Myself having 8 gallons of really cheap, but not all that bad, wine and throwing a party made for an obvious combination. I set aside 2 gallons of the wine as my "Special Reserve" and used the remainder to produce sangria for the party. The sangria went over very well, tasting so good that it prompted a number of individuals to question whether or not it was alcoholic. Tasting of the wine prior to sangria production and latter consumption of my "Special Reserve" confirmed that the wine was plenty alcoholic. Consumption of the "Special Reserve" also proved quite tasty on a latter date.

My next attempt, which was started whilst the Welch's wines were fermenting was also my greatest failure, a sake. I didn't feel like dealing with koji-kin (it'd take a while to explain, so you can look it up independently) so I decided to go with the old-fashioned way and masticated a whole lot of rice. It was a bit of a gross thing to masticate my way through two gallons of rice but it was an interesting exercise. After adding yeast and waiting a number of weeks, the concoction was a terribly smelling, undrinkable mess. In retrospect, I probably should have pasteurized it before adding the yeast.

Prior to starting the wines, I started my second and third batches of beer. The second was the result discovering that I could disassemble empty beer kegs and fill them with my own beer. That discovered, I set about designing a cross between a Hefeweizen and a Belgian Tripel Ale (two of my favorite beer styles). The Belgian Tripel Weizen designed, I enlisted Paul's aid once more and we set about brewing 18 gallons of beer. The beer was allowed to ferment for two weeks and then the specific gravity was checked. The gravity had not decreased sufficiently so another week was waited, then another and then finally 15.5 gallons of the beer were moved into the keg (Tripel Ales take a long time to ferment due to high sugar content ). It was about two or three weeks ago that the ale was kegged and I am waiting until April 3rd to tap it; I'm giving it plenty of time to condition and this way I can make it a birthday present to myself. All preliminary tests seem to indicate that it will taste fantastic and I am waiting with bated breath.

My third beer attempt started shortly after my second. I figured that the cold Minnesota winter would likely make some place in my house cold enough for lagering. The decision of what sort of a lager didn't take too long; I went with the classic, albeit a little boring, Pale Lager style. Wanting to take the purists approach, I decided to base mine on the original Pale Lager style beer, Pilsner Urquell. This beer has finished its fermentation and just recently finished (as far as I'm concerned) its lagering and was bottled. Preliminary testing suggests that it'll turn out well enough, time now to wait for carbonation.

These, of course, have been all of my intentional brewing adventures. Now, don't get me wrong, I very much enjoy my intentional brewing and have been meaning to mention it here for a while, but this post was inspired by a recent bit of accidental brewing. As a result of preparing and drinking some leftover frozen juice concentrate as plain juice. More specifically, I've been drinking lots of white grape juice and variants thereon. A few days ago, I made up a pitcher full of white grape-pear juice and brought it up to my room. I was drinking the juice slowly and then a few days ago it started to taste a little off. The taste wasn't off enough for me to think anything was amiss but then, two days ago, I noticed some funny spindly things that looked like mold in it. I decided to throw out the spoiled juice but it was late and I was tired so I put off doing so until the next day. Yesterday, the next day, I forgot about the juice for a while, remembering only at a time when I didn't feel like doing anything about it. By yesterday, the spindly things had settled into a beige mass at the bottom of the juice that looked an awful lot like what grows in intentionally fermented beverages. Putting the matter off again, I went to sleep. Today, when I went to check on my pitcher of juice, I noticed that it was bubbly and smelled of alcohol. Without adding yeast, in fact by doing nothing more than leaving a pitcher of juice in my room, I had created wine. This interests and amuses me greatly because it was quite likely the way in which alcohol was originally invented.