Wild Booze II: Wine and Brandy

Half the reason I pick so very many berries is that I love blackberry wine. I don’t even bother with preserves- I can get excellent preserves at the Dane County Farmer’s Market with far less muss and fuss. What’s infinitely more difficult to find is blackberry wine. However, the recipe I used last year  is no more. So, I did some searching, and found another. This one intrigued me with the additional recipe for blackberry whisky. So I made both, although I blended last year’s technique with this recipe’s amounts. I was worried how the boiling water would affect the flavor of the berries.

Ten pounds of berries in one large bowl.

Ten pounds of berries in one large bowl.

Sanitizing

Sanitizing

A different kind of yeast for a sweeter wine

A different kind of yeast for a sweeter wine

Brown and white sugar

Brown and white sugar

I was also low on whisky, so this is more of a blended brandy, with a dash of Fireball and Jameson. Mostly Korbel.

I was also low on whisky, so this is more of a blended brandy, with a dash of Fireball and Jameson. Mostly Korbel.

Everything together

Everything together

Shaken vigorously

Shaken vigorously

Brown sugar syrup this time around, just for fun.

Brown sugar syrup this time around, just for fun.

Taking specific gravity so I know the alcohol %

Taking specific gravity so I know the alcohol %

The brandy will sit for up to a year, if I can wait that long. It’s on top of the fridge, so I hopefully forget about it, like everything else up there. The wine pulp will sit for a week or two before I strain it off into a carboy for secondary fermentation. It’s nowhere near as hot this year as it was last summer- we’re actually supposed to drop from our current high of 82 (as I write on Sunday) to the 70s all week. I assume that will affect fermentation quite a bit.

Home made wine and duck decoys.

I have off Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Given how much I’ve been working this summer, I planned to get a ton of things done during this downtime. Duck season starts Saturday, and deer is ongoing. If I don’t do it now, it will never get done.

So. I spent my Wednesday chipping away at my (still growing) to-do list. I picked up around the back yard- dog poo, lawn furniture, sticks, dog toys, dying flowers, the works. I mowed, front and back. I treated the lawn for bugs and fleas, bathed the dogs, scrubbed the bath tub and bathroom. Plus, doing laundry, washing dishes, and making a short run to the grocery store. I have more to get done Thursday (organizing the hunting room, cleaning under the bed, going through my closet/dresser, running to Goodwill, cleaning Matt’s truck). By the time I was hungry, it was about 6pm. I was going to make myself a nice dinner, and enjoy a glass of wine.

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Yeah, that’s my homebrew. It’s good. This particular bottle didn’t really carbonate. There’s the tiniest suggestion of fizz to it, which isn’t all that bad, really. It reminds me of a nice pinot noir. I’m no sommelier, though, to be going on about tannins and floral notes, though. So, I made a pretty tame dinner of acorn squash and chicken, and had a very healthily poured glass of wine.

Matt came home in the middle of it, and decided to start getting his decoys set up for the duck opener. So, my livingroom, my nice clean livingroom (albeit in need of a few passes of the vacuum), is populated with a flock of artificial waterfowl.

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At least they’re all nicely rigged now, and won’t tangle horribly like last year. I have to work Saturday and Sunday morning, but Matt’s plan is to take a couple of the other recruiters with him, to get out in the field for a day, shooting. They do spend entirely too much time cooped up in the office.

Wild Booze: Carbonating

I’d been checking on my homebrew off and on for the last couple weeks. It had been stubbornly bubbling along, until sometime around Tuesday. I checked in on it again, and there were finally no bubbles. I decided to give it a few days, to make absolutely certain fermentation had stopped, but also until I had a day off.

By now you know the drill.

By now you know the drill.

So, sanitize everything you plan to use, etc, etc. Since I’m carbonating this stuff, I opted to use eight 16 ounce swing top bottles. Had I just carbonated it in another gallon jug, I was concerned it would go flat, because I definitely can’t drink that much wine that fast. So. once they had been sanitized, I added the priming sugar tablets.

I used four, which according to the package, would have produced medium carbonation in a 12 ounce bottle. Here it should be light-medium.

I used four, which according to the package, would have produced medium carbonation in a 12 ounce bottle. Here it should be light-medium.

With that done, it was time to siphon. I got yet another healthy tasting of my wine doing this, and it’s good. On the strong side, too. I also stained my leg and the lower kitchen cabinets. And two towels.

Filling bottles is hard.

Filling bottles is hard.

So, once they were filled, I wiped down the mouth of the bottle and clamped the swing top shut. I swished each bottle a little bit to get the sugar tablets dissolved a bit more easily.

Not-yet-sealed bottles and the sediment in the jug.

Not-yet-sealed bottles and the sediment in the jug.

Capped good and tight.

Capped good and tight.

It should take two to three weeks for them to carbonate properly. And each bottle should be roughly 2 glasses of wine. Once I get a chance to drink it, I can report back on its potency, since I wasn’t able to get specific gravity measures before I fermented it. That taste I got tonight was a pretty strong one, though.

See the earlier parts of this process here:

Gone Pickin’

Starting the ferment on the pulp

Straining 

First racking

 

 

 

Wild Wine: First Racking

Racking when brewing refers to the process of siphoning partially-fermented fluid off of the sediment left behind by yeast as they complete their life cycle. This sediment is usually pretty bitter and smelly- not things you want in your wine (or whatever). So, I did that today, ten days after straining it. Fermentation had slowed considerably, and I had a mostly fully inflated balloon. So, more sanitizing and set up, then I was good to go.

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So, getting that siphon going proved to be a challenge. But the good news is that even for being quite unfinished, my wine tastes pretty damn good. Pretty strong too! The rest of the process was simple- after the siphon was done, add some syrup and seal back up.I was right- there wasn’t room for a pint of syrup in there. I filled it back to the neck, though.

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So, now it will sit until fermentation is done. Since I wasn’t able to add the entire pint of syrup, that may be shorter than planned. But- I’ll keep an eye on it, and then rack it a final time, then add conditioning tablets to carbonate it.

Wild Booze, Er, Food: Starting Blackberry Wine.

Between the two of us, Matt and I have been homebrewing off and on for several years. He started with his college roommates before they moved to Madison, and I started with a former boyfriend and some mutual friends before I moved to Madison. I’m fairly certain they stuck to beer. I had observed one batch of beer being made, and had made hard cider and mead from scratch. Not without mishaps- the hard cider was a bit watered down due to our flawed pressing method, and the mead exploded. We carbonated it before it was finished fermenting the first time. Whoops. Matt and I together had made one batch of a Kölsch beer, and one batch of hard cider. The beer was good, but the hard cider was too strong- I’m still hoping to turn it into apple cider vinegar.

Anyhow. Today was my first time at Madison Brew N Grow’s new location. It’s smaller and over on Willy Street, which is pretty fitting, honestly. I picked up the essentials there.

Yeast, sanitizer, ascorbic acid, Campden tabs, carbonating sugar tabs, a funnel, and a cork.

Yeast, sanitizer, ascorbic acid, Campden tabs, carbonating sugar tabs, a funnel, muslin straining bags, and a cork.

The only thing I forgot was pectic enzyme, but there’s still time. Anyhow. Our last batch of beer was probably two years ago, and it showed.

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I think I even used this to house a batch of sangria after we brewed beer. It’s been a while.

 

The sanitizer I bought works in cold water, so I did the whole deal out on the shaded front porch (seriously, it’s frickin hot, even more so in the sun) with the hose, after I washed the dirt and dead flies out with water and a tiny dab of dish soap. I made sure to rinse out the soap thoroughly. I’m no expert, but if you’re new to homebrewing, seriously, sanitize the everloving crap out of everything with actual sanitizer. It will save you much heartache. This isn’t like cooking where cleanliness can be half-assed because the heat will take care of it for you. This stuff will basically sit at room temp in a not-always-airtight container for weeks. Wild yeast, bacteria, or mold could all cause it to go off.

Every utensil, a carboy, and the bucket all at once, cause I don't mess around.

Every utensil, a carboy, and the bucket all at once, cause I don’t mess around.

My bucket water is brownish, because the sani was iodine based. It smelled like hospital. Once that was over, I started following this recipe, one of the very few I was able to track down online. I found a couple in some old books at my local Half Price Books today, but went with this instead. I won’t hash out all the measurements or whatever, because I followed it very closely.

Per the recipe, 4 1/2 lbs berries

Per the recipe, 4 1/2 lbs berries

Mashed with my potato masher.

Mashed with my potato masher.

Add the Campden Tablet

Add the Campden Tablet

Just one, then crushed, mixed with water.

Just one, then crushed, mixed with water.

All mashed, with the quart of water.

All mashed, with the quart of water.

Time to wake up, little yeasts.

Time to wake up, little yeasts.

B&G guys recommended Lalvin K1-V1116 to produce a medium sweet, fruity wine.

B&G guys recommended Lalvin K1-V1116 to produce a medium sweet, fruity wine.

Adding the "cooled" syrup (relatively- it was 95 and humid today), then I stirred to dissipate any lingering heat

Adding the “cooled” syrup (relatively- it was 95 and humid today), then I stirred to dissipate any lingering heat. I’ve killed yeast before. Never again.

I bake bread fairly frequently- any yeast is supposed to look like this when it's ready.

I bake bread fairly frequently- any yeast is supposed to look like this when it’s ready.

Go to work, yeasts.

Go to work, yeasts.

Covered with a thin, clean kitchen towel, and it's now camped out in a spare room where the dogs can't reach.

Covered with a thin, clean kitchen towel, and it’s now camped out in a spare room where the dogs can’t reach.

Per that recipe, it will begin fermentation on the pulp. It will sit like this, lightly covered, for a week. I’ll be keeping a close eye on it, and conducting frequent sniff tests. With how warm it is today, and the heat forecast for the rest of the week, I would not be at all surprised if it was good to go a bit early. No sense in letting the yeast eat themselves to death before I even strain it. So, next week, I’ll strain it through those muslin bags, and put the liquid in the glass carboy(s). I discovered I am also short one airlock, so to monitor fermentation, I’ll use a trusty balloon on the mouth of the jug. After that I hope to carbonate it, because I love fizz and fizzy blackberry wine sounds real, real good. Poured over ice. To top it all off, I was left with a little over a pound of blackberries! That means pie and cobbler once it drops back below 90 and I can bear to have the oven on. 

Where did I get all those berries? Glad you asked! Look over here.

Props also go to this site, which seems to have sadly fallen out of use.

Wild Food: Gone Pickin’

When I was a kid, my parents bought a small parcel of land about 3 miles outside of the town I grew up in. It was 7 acres, situated between some farmland, an old, disused gravel pit/pond (the site of much youthful trespassing, fishing, and swimming), and some rural residential areas. The back portion, away from the road, was low woodland, with a small creek flowing through it. We camped back there, fished, and dad hunted. The front half of the land was a bit higher, out of the flood area of the creek. The previous owner had done some demolition, and used it to dump construction refuse- old concrete, rebar, and lots of the red Barr bricks manufactured in my home town. So this part of the property was sort of a weedy, concrete-strewn meadow. My dad used it to dump wood chips from his tree cutting company there, but it was also chock full of wild blackberry brambles and black raspberry bushes.

Every summer, we would suit up in old jeans, tall socks, boots, long sleeves, and all the mosquito repellant we could get our hands on, and go out berry pickin’. I don’t really remember how much we would pick. It was enough for a couple pies or cobblers. But from then on, I was spoiled for store-bought blackberries. To this day, I don’t care for them- too big, and they only taste like water. They don’t bake up right, either. My eye was also trained. Out running on the trail at college, I could pick out blackberry canes, and I made more than one berry-eating pitstop, returning to my dorm or apartment with purple fingers. They grow along the bike path near our house in Madison.

Naturally, I also noticed the sheer abundance of berry brambles on the public land we hunt. Even in Fall, I knew I was sitting behind the canes of blackberry bushes while I waited for deer, and not just because I sat on their thorns. I resolved to get berries for the first time since my early teens.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Matt’s gone, and I can’t back up a trailer to save my life. Fishing’s out. However, factoring in the difference in agricultural zone between my home area in north-central Illinois and where I am now in southern Wisconsin, I had a feeling we were in about the right time for blackberries. My walk last Wednesday confirmed it- enough berries were ripe to justify going picking.

Saturday afternoon, I dressed in jeans, tall socks, my Chucks, a long sleeve, and a ball cap. I took two cans of bug spray with me, an old pillow case, and drove over to Sunny Slope.

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Pillow case turned berry sack.

Pillow case turned berry sack.

It was a lovely, warm day. I found berries before I even got to the fields.

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Dismayed at first to only find unripened berries, I wondered how much longer I’d have to wait. A few feet further along brought me to the glistening black beauties you see in the second photo. Pleased to have found any berries, period, I kept moving. However, the county had someone out mowing the clover. He was in the field where I scared out that turkey tom back in May. It was a great big hay mower, and I had no intention of getting in his way. I picked a different field. He would eventually catch up to me, though. He got out of the cab of the machine, and nervously asked what my plans were. He didn’t want to mow me down with the clover. Agreeing with him that such an outcome would suck for me, I also agreed to stick to the one he’d finished already. I’d already finished the field he was moving to. In spite of the heat and the skeeters, I had a pretty good time. I got a decent number of berries. But my day out berry pickin’ was cut short by the mower and an emergency call in from work. I cut out to head home after only two hours.

First sight of the mower

First sight of the mower

Half and half.

Half and half.

More than slightly grumpy about the whole work thing, and with only two pounds of berries, I decided to head back out on Sunday and hit the back fields. I arrived, and the gate was shut- at least there wasn’t a mower or a baler out today. I began the mile hike to the back of the property. It was a pretty slow process, because the number of berry bushes along the mostly shaded back half of the tractor access surprised me. I picked probably a pound or so before I even got to the back fields. 

I walked around the field counter clockwise from where I entered it. At first, I saw only red raspberry canes, which had few berries on them, if any. But as I walked up the hill a bit, there were more blackberries. More here were ripe than on the front of the property. Luckily, there was more wind Sunday as well, because I was standing in place a lot more to strip bushes, and it kept the mosquitoes at bay. The best bush I came across, though, was behind some wild beebalm. It was huge, and I would say about two pounds of berries and a lot of my scratches came from this bush.

Beebalm and blackberries.

Beebalm and blackberries.

In this part of the field, I didn’t end up stripping as many of the bushes of ripe berries. There were a lot I just couldn’t reach. The field margins here are a lot deeper for whatever reason, but I’m ok with leaving a couple berries for the birds and deer (or so I tell myself).

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Anyhow, I moved through this field much more slowly, as it’s both larger than any of the other fields, and it had an astonishing number of berry bushes. Before I knew it, I’d been out in near-90-degree weather picking for three hours. I was mighty thirsty, and the hand holding my berry sack was getting tired. I finished up this field, and did a quick buzz around the fourth field. There weren’t as many bushes there, so I headed home. I picked almost five pounds of berries.

Five pounds of berries.

Five pounds of berries.

As you can see from the photos, not all of the berries were ripe. I’m thinking that I may go back out next weekend to check out whether they’ve ripened or been eaten by then. And I’ll do it with a second set of hands, because Matt will be home. He doesn’t even like fruit, but he volunteered to help.

With now seven pounds of assorted berries (blackberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries), I plan to do some research to see how much juice I can get from them. If it’s a gallon, I’m going to make a trip to our local homebrew store to pick up some yeast, corks, and a few other things. We have glass carboys and other basics from previous forays into homebrewing. I want to make some wine, and possibly carbonate it, but I won’t rule out home-brewed blackberry soda. If I have enough leftover, or if we get some next weekend, I’ll make pie and cobbler. That’s if I don’t eat them all fresh before then.

Caught purple-handed.

Caught purple-handed.