Saturday, 23 October 2010

Meditations on fermentations

We have been hard at work here during 2010; and after 9 months of hard slog; or rather a few hours light work spread over 9 months, I have a new baby:

It's not quite finished and needs to rest in the bottle for a few more months, but here is the 2010 vintage parsnip wine. We have been brewing our own beer for several years, which is Nick's domain (previously referred to here as OH, but apparently he is ready to come out now from behind the acronym to show the world his booze); but the wine only got started in earnest in February, by myself. This is my first bottling and I am ridiculously pleased with myself.

I can recommend brewing, winemaking and even seasonal liqueur making as excellent hobbies for simple living types for several reasons. Firstly, the start up costs are low - most of the (minimal) equipment and chemicals required can be purchased cheaply and in stages, if they aren't already lying around the house. We managed to get most of our demijohns from Freecycle and most of our empty bottles from our more hedonistic friends. All of my books have come second hand. The raw ingredients in the case of winemaking can be seasonal gluts or even foraged fruits and some cane sugar, as well as a handful of inexpensive chemicals. Beer is a little more demanding as most people don't live near malting houses or grow their own hops, but with the magic of the Internet it is still achievable for most people. Whatever way you go about it, the finished product will have cost a fraction of the price of any commercial product and can be of higher quality and character.

The basic principles behind both beer and wine making are simple to grasp and apply; but afterwards you can go as deep into the art, science and technology as you wish. You can start with tinned extract kits or start from raw ingredients. The finished product will be better with each attempt, although there will be mistakes along the way, most of which you won't know about until you have taken a mouthful of the foul brew.  

I love the process of making wine. It is a lot slower than brewing, but I love the alchemy of watching pulp ferment, watching bubbles flow through airlocks, racking the wine over and over into clean demijohns and seeing that it is clearer with every month that goes by. If you are less than patient by nature (which is usually me, I have to say), you can buy extra chemicals and filters to speed the process up. But why rush?

If it is something that interests you, a quick google search will bring up a range of forums, advice pages, blogs and recipes. Even better, try to find a local home brew shop (there are more around than I realised, certainly in the UK) as the staff are generally keen to pass on their knowledge and advice (and of course their wares, most of which you may or may not actually need). Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher is a bible of beer making, tasting, culture and history; with humour to boot. First Steps in Wine Making by C.J.J. Berry is a classic beginners text. A peruse of the library, second hand book stores and eBay will often turn up some older treasures.

Soon after the parsnip wine was first racked, a friend and I started a 15 litre batch of rhubarb wine which is making good progress. This past week Nick and I walked to the common and collected a sackful of wild rosehips, which are fermenting now in a bucket. This time next year I hope to be toasting autumn and Halloween with a few friends and a wine that is allegedly second only to grape wine in quality. Which brings me to yet another reason to ferment-it-yourself. The end product inspires good feeling and good times, whether you give it away as a present or host a party, or even brew with a buddy. So long as the alcohol doesn't flow too freely, of course...

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