Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wine HACKING part 1... Using Kits and Concentrates to make great wine at home.

So obviously here at Counter Brew we are mostly focused on beer.  But,  I also have a passion for great wine.  Not just drinking it, but also reading about it, and making it.  For most beer dudes, wine has kind of a negative stature.  After all, we all know the "fake ass" wine snobs who claim they can detect a hint of "lemon balm softened by a touch of french milk chocolate" in a glass of average Cabernet.   But, you'll find that people who actually know and love wine, are kinda like home brewers, they are happy to talk and share what they know about wine.  And they are happy to help you appreciate wine more completely.  And wine appreciation is a blast.   You really can pick out all kinds of flavors if you learn how.

But this time of year we wine makers are playing the waiting game.  The harvest is months away.  Oh sure we could just grab kits at the LHBS, and there are some great kits out there.  But kit wine is kinda like the extract beer of the wine world.  It is good, but it just isn't the same.  In truth,  Home made wine is almost always delicious,  and it can be great (think Grand Cru, world class stuff).  But making kit wine is not the same as crushing the grapes, punching down the cap, pressing the wine and adjusting the acids to make the exact wine you want.  I should stress again the high end kits make world class wine, wine that would cost you $35 to $80 a bottle at the liquor store (it's that good).  But it just isn't the same as making wine from grapes.  So let me assure you if you can make beer, and you or your SWMBO enjoys good wine, you can easily make great wine from a kit at home.  Don't worry, you don't have to become a wine snob to enjoy good wine.  But you shouldn't be an anti wine guy either, you'd just be depriving yourself of a lot of fun.

freezing strawberries and using them
as ice cubes in a Strawberry wine
So what is a guy who likes to make wine to do in the summer months?  What can I make to get that wine making kick?  The answer: fruit wine.  Strawberry Moscato wine.  And that is just what I did.  I am also making a 1 gallon wine expert Pino Noir, and a 1 Gallon Merlot with Blackberries and Raspberries.  Pino Noir and Merlot are very drinkable young, so I will probably drink a bottle and age the rest for 6 months.   (UPDATE I got a hold of a Wine Expert Trinity White Kit and made it too).  In a later post I will talk about what to age and, what you don't really ever need to age.

When you make fruit wines (as we have before here on Counter Brew) you can just use the fruit to give the wine flavor and color, and table sugar to get the fermentables that you need to make the alcohol.  And that process is the standard way to make fruit and country wines.  But those wines are kinda hit or miss, and without a grape wine base, fruit wines can be kinda thin and flabby. (Even with tannin additions.)

So when I make fruit wine I generally start with a wine concentrate base or a 1 gallon kit. This gives the fruit wine more interest and rounds it out. To give you a beer comparison,  think of it this way- it is like adding 20 and 30 minute hop charges so there is no hollow area in the taste of a hoppy beer.  For strawberry wine, I usually use Moscato or Savignon Blanc ( Reisling is incredible with green apples).  I usually make 3 gallons with a can of Alexander's wine concentrate.  Alexander's Muscat will give you the gravity you need for 2 gallons of great fruit wine, you'll add sugar for the remaining gravity.   And for those of you who already make wine, yes I know Alexanders is not vintage level concentrate, but it works really well for this practice.  To be fair, I sometimes just make 1 gallon of fruit wine with a Wine Expert Kit.  Both approaches make great fruit wines.

Now it is important that you know that wine is easier to make on brew day than beer, but where beer is all about the skill of the brewer, great wine is all about the quality of the ingredients.  "World Class" wine can take years to make and age and it will never be better than the grapes (fruit) you start with.  And there are advanced techniques in wine making just like brewing.  So, if you are trying to make world class award winning wine you need to purchase the highest level kit you can afford ($175 - $200) or learn to make wine from actual wine grapes and frozen grape must and skins.  Just like brewing, you will need to learn how to adjust the acids, pH, and sugar level of your wine to make a world class wine.  Just like brewing and blending sours, you will need to learn to blend wines to make a world class wine. But have no fear Mark Anthony and I will be doing that for you all in the fall.  But today is not about world class wine, it is about the best strawberry wine you have ever had.

For easy drinking delicious fruit wines... this is the way to go.  So here is what you will need need to make a great summertime strawberry wine.  Everything is available at your local home brew store.

Memories Last - a Strawberry Moscato ( Alternatively titled - Soccer Mom)
1.074 OG
.980   FG
1.014 Back sweeten level
12%  ABV
.65 g / 100 ml  Acid Titration Level
Profile - Sweet and loaded with Strawberry flavor - Smells like fresh berries.
Color - Red and clear


  • 1 Can of Alexander's Moscato (Alexander's Muscat)
  • 4 lbs of frozen mixed berries (this will provide some interesting flavor and  deeper color Strawberry wine can turn kinda orange over time)
  • 5 lbs of fresh or frozen strawberries (very ripe but not rotting, I prefer frozen berries and it took me years to accept that they make better wine)
  • 2 - 2.5 lbs of sugar (you will have to use a hydrometer to figure this out)
  • 2 crushed Camden Tablets
  • 1.5 tsp of Pectic Enzyme
  • 1.5 T of Bentonite
  • 1 tsp of Yeast Nutrient
  • 1 tsp of Acid Blend (or exact amount needed if you can test.  Adjust wine to .65 / 100 ml acid level)
  • 1/2 tsp of wine tannin
  • Wine Yeast - Lalvin 71B 1122 is my go to for this one
  • Brewer's Gelatin or Super Clear KC - fining agent.
Equipment needed
  • 5 Gallon Food Grade Bucket with a lid and air lock. (good idea to add a racking spigot if you will be racking your wine)
  • 3 Gallon hardware store PET water jug ($7 at Walmart by the primo water)
  • Hydrometer
  • Auto siphon and tubing
  • Wine Thief or Sanitary turkey baster, or .75 inside diameter silicone tube.
  • Wire Whisk or wine whip
  • Air Lock for secondary fermenter
  • 3 1 gallon jugs with screw caps.  or 6 half gallon jugs.  
    • I am not recommending you buy an Italian floor corker quite yet.  Lets see if you enjoy this first. (I suggest the 1 gallon jugs because you can use them for pico batches of beer as well)
    • Plus if you really get into wine you will need to make 1 gallon batches of wine for blending with larger batches.
Acid Test Kit (worth it, and necessary if you get into wine)

Brew Day -
  1. Add .5 gallons of water to your sanitized fermenter add the bentonite, and with a sanitized whisk get it dissolved. 
  2. Add the Muscat concentrate 
  3. Add 2 gallons of water to the fermenter stir with whisk to get the Muscat Concentrate mixed in, check your gravity.  It will be around 1.050.   
  4. In the remaining water dissolve enough sugar to bring the gravity up to 1.070, the fruit will provide the rest.  For me it is always 4 to 5 cups of table sugar.  
    1. Remember when you are doing this you will have to account for the additional water as well.  So 2.5 gallons at 1.050 means that if you just added water to full volume your gravity would drop to 1.042.  (Because you are going from 2.5 gallons to 3 gallons.)  2.5 is 83% of 3 gallons. 1.042 is 83% of 1.050 (roughly).   So you need to add enough sugar to get your gravity up 28 points per gallon.  1 lb of sugar has 42 gravity points per pound per gallon.  so you need to add .66 lbs per gallon.  28 / 42 = .666   or 1.9998 lbs of sugar = 2 lbs.  or 4.5 cups of granulated sugar, dissolved in the .5 gallon of remaining water.
  5. Add the sugar and water to the fermenter - check gravity  you should be at about 1.070, the fruit will provide the remaining gravity points. 
  6. Add the berries to a disposable brew bag (nylon paint straining bag, 4 for 2.50 at my local ACE Hardware store in the paint area).  Tie the top closed.  If you are using frozen berries, thaw them first and don't lose that precious juice as they thaw. 
    1. I like frozen berries for this.  Half the work is done for you already and I have to tell you they tend to make better wine.  You need 3 to 3.5 lbs of berries per gallon of wine you are making.   For this batch I used fresh berries, well see how it turns out.
  7. Crush the berries with your clean and sanitized hands - get them well crushed.
  8. Add the berries to the fermenter
  9. Test the acid if you can, if not just add a tsp of acid blend.
    1. Adjust as necessary to get to .65 / 100 ml. 
  10. Add the pectic enzyme
  11. Add the wine tannin
  12. Add the crushed camden tablets (crush between two spoons) - 
  13. Cover your fermenter with a clean towel, hold it in place by setting the lid on it.
  14. Walk away for 24 to 36 hours.  Why isn't this precise?  well you have to wait for the Sulphites to off gas.  When the sulfur smell is gone, you can pitch your yeast.  
Day 2
  1. Uncover fermenter
  2. Check gravity with sanitized hydrometer, it should be deep enough to float in the must, just hold the fruit bag off to the side with a sanitary whisk. Record the Gravity
  3. Add yeast nutrient - stir in to dissolve 
  4. Add the yeast (follow the manufacturer's instructions for this) You may need to re-hydrate.
  5. Cover with towel and lid
  6. Walk away for 24 hours
Day 3-7
  1. Uncover Fermenter
  2. Check Gravity and Record
  3. Remove fruit bag to a sanitary bowl
  4. Whisk the wine - you are de gassing as you go, this isn't beer don't worry about adding oxygen at this phase.  
  5. Add the fruit and any juice that drained off back into fermenter.  Give the fruit a squeeze- I usually press it against the fermenter wall with the whisk.
  6. Cover with towel and lid
  7. Repeat
Day 8 - 1st Racking
  1.  Use your auto siphon to transfer wine to a clean and sanitized 3 gallon fermenter of your choice.
    1. This is not a wine you will age.  So PET works just fine.
    2. Make sure you squeeze all the yummy goodness out of the fruit, before you start your transfer and stir it in.   
    3. The wine is safe to taste, so go ahead and try some.
  2. Fill it as full as you can - leave only an inch or so under the air lock.  If you need to add wine, choose a light fruity wine like White Zinfandel.  I use other wine or mead I have made.
    1. Now we care about oxygen. So go easy and don't aerate the wine.
      1. This is not always the case...some big red wines you actually want to aerate at this point. 
  3. A fix and air lock and walk away for at least 2 weeks
Day 21 - 2nd - 4th Racking (OPTIONAL)
  1. If you want to clear your wine naturally (no fining agents)  you will need to let it sit and rack it a couple of times, and it will take a couple of months minimum. 
  2. Each time it is clear and lees develops on the bottom of the fermenter, transfer the wine to another 3 gallon fermenter - top it up if necessary with other wine.  I use bottle I made previously, but if you don't have those just use a cheap White Zinfandel. 
Stabilizing and Fining Your Wine
  1. Check your gravity, it should be around .990-.980
    1. If it is not, it is not done. 
  2. I do not rack fruit wine more than once - it's fruit wine not Grand Cru. If you are like me you will probably choose to stabilize and fine the wine in secondary. 
  3. To stabilize your wine you will add 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite and 2.25 tsp of potassium sorbate.  
    1. Stabilizing will stop fermentation. 
      1. When a wine is stabilized you can then back sweeten the wine. 
    2. Stabilizing wine will provide preservatives for the long term storage of the wine
  4. At the same time you stabilize your wine you will want to fine the wine.  Fining makes the wine brilliantly clear.  
    1. Since you are a brewer I suggest you consider using Brewer's Gelatin to clear the wine.  
      1. Do it just like you would a batch of beer
      2. Dissolve 1 tsp Gelatin in cool water, then heat it to dissolve. Then add it to the wine.  It will clear just fine at room temperatures. 
  5. Add your fining agent to the wine and stir / degas.  this is when you degas the wine.  This is when you hook the whip up to your drill and go to town.  Your goal is to get all of the CO2 out of the wine.   You may need to rack a gallon of the wine to another container while you de gas, so that there is room for the bubbles and the spinning wine. 
  6. Walk away for a week.  When you return the wine should be brilliantly clear.
Back sweetening and Bottling
  1. Transfer the wine to your sanitized bottling bucket.
  2. Fruit wines taste best with some sweetness.  I generally back sweeten to 1.014. You may prefer more or less.  
  3. To do this you have to calculate how much sugar to add, just like above.   
    1. Most of the time you are going from 0.0098 to 1.0140, that is  .0042 gravity points per gallon.   1 lb of sugar has 42 gravity points per gallon.   So you need to add .1 pound of sugar per gallon, or .68 cups of sugar dissolved in a warm liquid of your choice, I actually usually use another wine I have made for this but you can use water.
  4. When the wine is back sweetened to your liking, it is time to bottle.
  5. Drain your wine into the 1 gallon (or half gallon) glass jugs.  Put the screw cap on the jugs. 
    1. If you are able to cork, then really you probably already know how to do this. 
  6. Fruit Wine is ready for drinking as soon as you bottle it.
Well beer nerds, that's it.  That is how you make awesome wine from fruit. It is a lot of fun, and it makes a reliably delicious batch of home made fruit wine. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

But first a HOP BOMB!

I have always loved Raspberry Wheat beer. Say what you will
but when it is done right, it is truly awesome!
I miss the craft beers of my misspent youth. Honey Brown, Raspberry Wheat, Cream Ale, Pale Ale,BDSA, Belgian Blonde, and Steam Lagers.  Don't get me wrong I still love the newfangled IPAs and Sours, who doesn't love a juicy NEIPA, or a complex Bret Beer aged on whiskey soaked oak or an Oud Bruin aged on Cabernet soaked currants? (we have 20 gallons of complex sour beer fermenting right now) But recently I find myself missing the more basic beers of my younger days.

I think what is motivating this is my need to make beer that more people will appreciate.  Sure it is nice to drink interesting craft beer with beer nerds, but it is also nice to be able to give your bud drinking uncle Leroy a beer he will enjoy.

So I am putting out a series of recipes and brew days called... wait for it... younger daze.  (I'm so damned creative.)  In this series I am going to brew 2.5 gallon batches of the beers we loved in the mid 1990's and early 2000's.  These are beers that anyone could make well. These are beers that didn't require a pressurized fermentation system and oxygen free transfer. There was no water chemistry required.  And these were beers that always tasted better when you made them your self.  These are all beers than can be kegged or bottled, and they will taste just fine.

Who doesn't love the beer and the TV of the
1990s and early 2000s
Heck I may just put these beers back into rotation full time.  I like them... that's right, after years of cognitive therapy and home brewing, I'm able to stand before you right now and say... I like basic craft beers.

I invite you to brew along with my younger daze series.  Return to basic awesome beer that all of your friends and neighbors will enjoy.   If you have never tried all grain, well now is the time to get started. None of these beers require advanced equipment or advanced water adjustments.   Although, making water adjustments is certainly an acceptable practice. I will certainly be starting with RO water and making adjustments.  (Remember sports fans, John showed us all an easy way to adjust water for a low IBU beer last week, mixing RO water and tap water 50/50 and using 5.2 stabilizer.)

So over the next few weeks I will be posting the recipes for these beers.   All 6 of them, I'll probably brew the BDSA first so that it can age properly before the fall and winter.  But I'll probably brew 2 a weekend.  And I am returning to Step Mashing all of the time.  That's right every single beer get's step mashed.   I may be crazy, but I am more and more convinced that (overall) we made better beer in the early days of home brewing. Not as complicated, but better over all. Our mash process was more complete. We made beer with real head retention, and real mouth feel.   I am pretty sure my millennial brewing partners would agree with me on this controversial claim. The beers we step mash are more complete.  They have real mouth feel, and real head retention.

We've been brewing August Hyppo for years.
It is our version of a Classic West Coast IPA.
We always shoot for about 75-80 IBUs.
That is the range where we really feel like you can
get the best taste, and still experience the bitterness.
But before I do any of that, I will be brewing a hop monster, well a hop hyppo.   Why?  Because I happen to have the ingredients for one, and because I really like this recipe.   Here it is feel free to brew along with me.

By the way the Hop Bomb is the last of the 2 hour beers I will be making for now.  I will only be mashing until the mash is done, and boiling for 30 minutes on this beer. update: I mashed for 45 minutes, and boiled for 40 minutes. the dang 1oz package of Warrior was only .7 oz, so I had to extend my boil. Still brew day was only 2:48.   The recipe is for 5 gallons, but I will only be brewing 2.5 gallons.   Enjoy.

August Hyppo 3.0 Classic West coast IPA
1.051 OG
1.007 FG
6.7% ABV
76     IBU (1.25 IBU /OG)
5.5    Gallons
72.5% efficiency on a step mash no sparge

3.8 #  6 Row Brewer's Malt
3.8 #  2 Row Brewer's Malt
1.0 #  Cara 20
1.0 #  Pale Wheat
  4 oz  Acidulated Malt

Mash at 150 F until the mash is converted then raise to 168 F to denature enzymes.

1.6 of Warrior  (16%) at 30 minutes
2.0 of Cascade (7%)  at 5 minutes
1.0 of Centennial (10.5%) whirlpool (175 F for 20 minutes) update a neighbor stopped by so whirlpool lasted for 25 minutes.
1.0 of Cascade (7%) whirlpool (175 F for 20 minutes)
1.0 of Simcoe (13%) whirlpool (175 F for 20 minutes)
1.0 of Centennial (10.5%) dry hop 3 days
1.0 of Cascade (7%) dry hop 3 days
1.0 of Simcoe (13%)  dry hop 3 days

US 05 yeast

Make a vitality starter - 1 cup of sanitary water + 3.5 Table spoons of DME at the beginning of brew day.  Should be around 1.035 to 1.040 (I use my refractometer and get it in this range).  Performance will be as fast and easy as liquid yeast. update with the vitality starter the beer took off.  It is Now Tuesday and the wort is at 1.014...arent sample ports great!

I will be adding 1 g of Gypsum to my water pre mash.  I will be adding .5 tsp of Gypsum to the boil (late).   I will be using yest nutrient, and whirlflock.

The beer has been fermenting for 8 days, and has dropped to 1.012.  It is not clear at all.  I think because of the massive whirlpool hopping and dry hopping.  The beer is bracingly bitter and the hop flavors are well defined.  It explodes with Citrus, Grapefruit, and citrus Juice, but there is enough bitterness to balance.  It reminds me more of a NEIPA than a WCIPA, It actually really reminds me of Boulevard "The Calling".  I will bottle on Wednesday night.  It is what it is at this point.  I am not going to fine the beer.  I don't want to lose any of the precious hop flavor. I am not surprised by the cloudiness of this beer.  Remember I shortened the boil, and threw a lot of hops into whirlpool I think I will call this a MidWest IPA.  MWIPA.  I wont know for sure until I bottle, but right now this is the best IPA I have ever made.  This oneis getting naturally carbonated.  Cheers brew nerds.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The wedding brew day... featuring Cargil IdaPils

Saturday the crew gathered at John's brewery / garage for a special brew day.  You see Mark's brother is getting married to an awesome girl.  (how awesome?  she loves beer... and not just beer... the girl loves Sour and Funky beer).  And we were asked to brew something for the wedding.   Now the wedding is coming up soon, so there wasn't time to make a sour. (yes I know we could have done a Berliner Weiss, but this is a wedding, how many Bud guzzling muggles do you think would actually enjoy that beer).

We were joined by a whole bunch of Mark's cousins.   And it made for a fun brew day.  Mark and John explaining the process, and why we were doing what we do.  Great beers were sampled, and hi-jinks and shenanigans ensued.

On this brew day we were making Biermuncher's classic Centennial Blonde ale.   If you have never made it, well to be honest if you have never made it, where have you been?  It was the number 1 recipe on home brew talk.  It is a home brew classic.  Equally loved by craft beer fans, and beer muggles alike.  Medium gravity (1.046 target) and low bitterness (21 ibu)  make this beer a home brew classic.  At my home I always have Centennial Blonde or Cream ale available for beer muggles.

Now one thing to know about brewing 10 gallons.   Step mashing is usually faster than single infusion mashing.   Yes, you read that correctly.   Step mashing is usually faster.   Why?  Well use your common sense.  It is much faster to heat smaller volumes of water, and it takes less time to get your mash going.   The entire brew day for 11 gallons of Centennial Blonde, only took  a little over 3 hours, and that included clean up.
infusion mashing won't be
equalized unless you stir it
to make it even out
 On this day we were doing a no sparge 4 step infusion mash, with rests at 132 F, 146 F, 156 F, and 168 F. Now, remember we brew a lot, and we have our process down.   John chose to do a simple water profile for the day.   He mixed tap water with RO water 50/50 and used 5.2 stabilizer to buffer the pH.  Worked like a charm  We were at 5.46 for most of the mash.  His chief aim was making the water softer to let the malt shine a little more.  But we sometimes make Centennial Blonde with tap water and a basic acid adjustment, and it comes out just fine.  Great beer for new all grain brewers.

stir your infusions to equalize
and to get better efficiency.
We doughed in at 142 F, and the mash stabilized at 132 F.  We loose 10 degrees this time of year.  In the winter we pre heat the mash tun, and we still lose about 12 degrees Fahrenheit.  As soon as we doughed in we started our next water heating.  1.3 gallons of nearly boiling water would take the mash to 146 F The 2nd rest is our long rest, it lasts for about 35 minutes. At the end of that rest we added 1.7 gallons of nearly boiling water to get to 156 F.  where we rested for 15 minutes.  Finally we added 3.3 gallons of boiling water to get to 168 F where we rested for 10 minutes.   The smell of the Cargill IdaPils dominated the garage, and driveway.  You can use IdaPils for German Beers, American Lagers, heck you can even use it for Belgians.  Although we prefer the Dingeman's Pilsner for the Belgians.   It really is excellent malt.  An iodine test and taste test confirmed that our mash was complete.  One note on Brewing with John, don't leave an open bag of IdaPils near him, he eats it like pop corn.

There are so many advantages to a step mash, not the least of which is the ability to manage your proteins more effectively. We breakdown long proteins into medium length proteins.  What is left behind gives great head retention and great silky mouth feel. It's the way beer used to be, it's the way beer should be. Have you ever experienced a creamy meringue like head on a Belgian beer? Well, they step mash.  Step mashing also gives you very complete and predictable conversion of your starches.   The multiple temperatures are a more reliable methodology for conversion than just a long single infusion mash.   John collected 11.5 gallons of delicious pilsner wort.

The boil was uneventful.  Our 12" Banjo Burner quickly brought the 12.5 gallons to a boil.   John added .6 of Centennial at 60 minutes, .6 of Centennial at 35 minutes, .6 of Cascade at 15 minutes, and .6 of Cascade at 5 minutes.   That's it.  It is that simple of a beer.  The deliciousness of the beer has much more to do with it's simplicity.  The combination of Centennial and Cascade is the key.  Don't over do them.  Your target is 20-22 IBUs.  Do not half ass this thing into an "almost pale ale, or a "not very hoppy IPA".  Although these hops work for those styles just fine, do your self a favor, and just follow Biermuncher's recipe.  If you want to mess with something mess with the malt.

step mashed wort has lots of protein break.  That is a good
thing, that is what you are trying to created.  RDWHAHB
At the end of the boil, the wort was quickly chilled with our Jaded Hydra immersion chiller.  This thing is a beast.  The wort went from 210 F to 74 F in 5 minutes.  John and Mark then transferred into carboys, and put the beer in the chamber to continue chilling to 64 F.   When they got home from the Sporting Kansas City match (a Champions league 3-0 drubbing of Minnesota United)  John pitched Fermentis S-04.   The original gravity was 1.046 (spot on). Now, one important note, when you step mash you will have lots of protein break in your wort.  Don't freak out, it will settle out.

the proteins have settled
This beer will ferment fast, and will easily be ready in time for the wedding.  It will serve to protect the "special beers John has created for Rob on his big day.  But I suspect it will be enjoyed by all.