Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lessons in hooch-making

When the girls and I talked about firing up the still, I thought, "Great blog fodder, I can do a whole bunch of tutorials. If there's one thing I know, it's how to make w(h)ine ("h" optional)".

But, I totally slacked on my blogging duties when we started, and photographic evidence, while good, is sadly lacking in the instructional areas. OK, I admit it; I was rather pickled.

Today, I was not. Though I should have done it two weeks ago, I moved everything from the primary fermenter (aka bucket) to the carboys (aka glass thingamajiggers) for secondary fermentation.

So, let me start with a little bit of general advice about wine-making (or any sort of booze-making, actually).
There are several different kinds of alcohol (I'm not going to link it. Google is your friend). Some will cause brain damage, blindness or even kill you.

We want to produce the alcohol (obviously) that is the happy, sociable, flirty kind of alcohol. We want to make ethanol (I will leave the current production/supply/fuel/political issues for another day. Maybe never).

Making ethanol is very simple. Take some plant material, add bacteria and wait for the bacteria to convert the sugar in the material to alcohol. It's actually very simple chemistry (chemistry is way high up on my list of geeky things I love. Math will always be number 1).

In order to make ethanol safe for human consumption (and this is where my common sense steps in) it has to be prepared in a food-safe environment.

In other words, keep your stuff clean. Sanitize, and then make sure the sanitizer is rinsed away (in a clean, non-threatening way)

Whenever I do anything wine-related, I bastardize that old carpenter's rule to measure twice, cut once. I say, and I cannot stress this enough, sanitize once, rinse twice.

I have tools and equipment that have never seen soap. Soap leaves a residue, and normally, that's fine. But I don't want to influence the taste of the product. That's the tricky thing about wine.

If something is going to touch the grape, it will not touch soap. Ever. Instead, I use a product called Sani-brew, which is actually a mild, food-safe bleach.

I mix the Sani-brew powder with tepid water, consisting of ice-cold tap water and just-boiled water (your hot-water tank harbours bacteria, and not the good kind). Best to boil cold water.

And to rinse, I use cold water from the tap. It's usually, after running for a bit, about 7 - 8 degrees C. About the same temperature as your refrigerator.

This is how serious I am:

No soap. Or anything else. Ever.

Sanitizing away

Letting the aftermath flow away. No soap or detergent has ever touched those buckets. But let's not talk about how thoroughly I cleaned the bathroom earlier today.

Coming soon: very pretty, and clear, wine.

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