Saturday, December 11, 2010


So I'm gradually taking a liking to my dark, malty, brown sugar ale, and I have five gallons of plum wine fermenting in a water bath to keep temperatures low enough to prevent the formation of harsh fusel alcohols. The other empty fermentation vessels in my office, though, are a depressing sight, and I decide I need to start another project. Normally I'd start a mead, but I almost always use the 6-gallon container for that (which I then rack into smaller containers to which I add different fruits/spices to experiment), not to mention honey is expensive. What could I do that's cheap and fast, scalable to small batches? On one home brew forum I occasionally visit, there's a permanent thread about "Apfelwein." The Wife and bought a bottle at EPCOT when we visited Disney last summer, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Apfelwein is essentially German apple wine, distinct from cider because it is drier and made with wine yeast as opposed to beer/ale yeast. It has a modestly higher alcohol content as well. It struck me that this would be just right for my 2.5 gallon fermenter, so I set to work.

In the fermenter I combined 2.5 gallons of Tree Top Apple juice (no preservatives!) and a pound of table sugar (the recipe calls for dextrose corn sugar, but I didn't have any and didn't feel up to a run to my local homebrew supply), along with two teaspoons of yeast nutrient, 1.5 teaspoons of yeast energizer and a packet of Montrachet wine yeast (which I'd started in a glass of water/apple juice earlier). Once everything was well-mixed, I closed it up, put water in the air lock and set the whole thing in the water bath next to the plum wine.

The water bath has been an interesting experiment. I've got the vessels wrapped in towels, and pour cup fulls of water over the towels to keep them wet. I add ice to the water every night, and the ceiling fan in my office keep the air circulating to aid in evaporation. The result is that my fermenting wine musts are significantly cooler than the surrounding temperatures. Having come into homebrew via ales, which ferment at much higher temperatures than other beverages, I never gave much thought to temperature issues before--which is probably why so many of my early mead attempts were so incredibly harsh. Wine yeasts ferment faster at higher temperatures, creating fusel alcohols that take months or years to break down. Fusels aren't harmful to drink, but they are harsh and unpleasant. By fermenting these at a water bath-aided lower temperature, the resulting wines should be drinkable at a much younger age and simply be a better drink overall. Also, by fermenting more slowly at lower temperatures, fewer fruity flavors and aromas should be "blown off" due to overly aggressive fermentation. Plus, unlike other projects I've had, there's been no foaming blowouts while using the water bath. Cool.

Will post an update when it's time to rack.

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