12:00pm, 27th October 2016
Homebrewing the Easy Way
Homebrew wine is way easier than you think it is. I mean, you can go down a rabbit hole on it, buying specific varieties of yeast and carefully measuring the specific gravity of the must at particular times, or you can just chuck everything in a demijohn whilst loudly declaring "eh, I'm sure it'll be fine".
This is a post on the latter technique, from first principles.
Seeing as I'm UK based I'm going to link to a UK shop for where to purchase bits and pieces, but it'll give you an idea of what you need to buy. Remember the method we're using here: close enough is good enough.
This will get you started. It looks like a fair chunk of investment up front, but once you have this stuff, you are good to go for ages. It lasts forever. And you can have multiple demijohns (aka jars) of wine on the go at once, of course.
- Big plastic tub. I like this one because you can also make beer with it from the kits that give you 40 pints. Any plastic/metal container a couple of gallons big will do though, you just need something to mix the ingredients and boiling water in.
- Two demijohns. You always need one extra demijohn on hand for racking wine off (I'll explain this later). Want to make four demijohns worth of wine? You need five. You get the idea. You probably don't need to buy these either; everyone has an uncle or neighbour etc. with demijohns lying around that they'll happily give you. I think I have ten, and I've never bought a one.
- An airlock for each demijohn.
- A funnel (which you probably have in your kitchen anyway).
- A siphon tube.
- You don't need these two, but it's helpful in the long run to also have A BIG SPOON and a thermometer.
- Steriliser. There are two reasons my homebrew comes out okay every time; one of those is I always clean my kit. Use steriliser fastidiously and you'll avoid that weird homebrew fustiness.
- Yeast. This is where some people are wailing and gnashing and loudly declaring me a heretic, because this is cheap, generic yeast rather than a strain developed specifically for wine. But you know what? It does the job and it does the job fine. I've brewed wines near 20% with it. It gives me a dry wine, as per my preference. And--again--this is the "sod it" method of homebrew.
- Yeast nutrient. You don't always need this, but it never hurts, so I always chuck it in because thinking about what I'm doing makes my head hurt.
That's the stuff you'll need in general and for all wine you make. The yeast and nutrient will last you something like 20-30 demijohns worth of wine; there's probably a homebrew shop in town where you can buy it.
Total cost for getting started in this hobby: about £35-£40. £20, if you can scrounge the demijohns from someone you know (which you probably can).
Strawberry Jam wine—ingredients
Right, onto making this wine. Strawberry jam is the cheapest wine I know how to make, the easiest wine I know how to make, and it's tasty to boot. You actually can't lose.
You will need:
- Three jars of strawberry jam. Tesco do value jam for about 30p a jar. That'll do.
- 500g of sugar. Bog standard granulated sugar is fine. You can faff about with fancy sugars, but remember the brewing method here. About 50p a bag.
- 1 litre of white grape juice. You can't normally get just white grape juice, but something like white grape, apple and pear is fine. About £1.
- Some lemon juice (about a tablespoon's worth). You've probably got some lurking in a baking cupboard.
- A mug of black tea. You have teabags already. Who doesn't.
Total cost? Less than £3. You'll get 6-7 bottles of wine out of this. 50p a bottle for a dry rosé wine is good times.
Brewing wine the easy way
- Sterilize the things you're going to use. You need a teaspoon of steriliser per gallon of warm water, and about 10-15 minutes for it to do its thing. Shake it about a bit in that time, cos it settles. Sterilize your big plastic tub with a gallon of warm water (no point filling it, cos you'll only use a gallon's worth of space at the bottom) and then siphon that into the demijohn you're going to use; that way you're sterilising the siphon as well. Give it a quick rinse out with cold water before you use it.
- Empty the 3 jars of jam into your plastic tub and dissolve in 3 litres (about 2 kettles) of boiling water. Use some of that boiling water to brew a mug of strong black tea, and use some to rinse out the jars to get every last bit of jammy goodness. It works better if you smoosh the jam up tiny; you need it all dissolved properly.
- When the tea has brewed for five or ten minutes--by the time the jam has dissolved--take the teabag out and add the tea to the mix. Black tea has the tannins that make for a nicer wine.
- Pour the grape juice in. Grape juice, btw, is the second reason my homebrew always comes out okay--makes it that little bit more like wine, and maybe it reduces the variety a little bit, but it evens things out and results in a more predictably tasty wine.
- Add some lemon juice. 1 or 2 tablespoons, or just "a bit out of the bottle". Just to make it acidic enough for the yeast to prosper.
- Pour 500g of sugar into the bottom of the demijohn (use the funnel, makes less mess). Pour the strawberry-jam-water on top. Shake it about until it's all dissolved.
- When the temperature's between 18-24C--or, if you didn't buy a thermometer, after a couple of hours--add a teaspoon of yeast into the demijohn and a teaspoon of yeast nutrient to help it along.
- Bung the airlock in and wait (you need a splash of water in the airlock btw). By the next morning it should be bubbling away enthusiastically, if not out-and-out making a mess all over your kitchen side. This'll carry on for about a month (it'll slow down after a couple of days).
- Once it's stopped fermenting, get the second demijohn and siphon the wine into it, leaving the layer of yeasty sludge behind in the first demijohn. The cleaner you can keep it the better; try not to get any of the yeast into the second demijohn. You'll never get it perfect, but better to leave half an inch of wine in the first demijohn than have the entire second demijohn taste yeasty. You can top up with a bit of cold water in the new demijohn anyway. This process is why you need one more demijohn than you're actually using, so you can rack wine off like this.
- Move the airlock over to the new demijohn & put it somewhere dark & room temperature.
- After three months--so four months total--it's probably about ready. Sterilise seven empty wine bottles and siphon into them from the jar. It'll probably be about 10-12%. If it's still a bit sweet, leave it in the bottles for a couple of weeks. It'll be good up to six months old, and probably still drinkable after that, but I've never kept a bottle long enough to find out.
Easy peasy :)
Confession: I actually prefer raspberry jam in place of strawberry, as it's a bit drier. Raspberry jam costs an entire pound a jar, though, which pushes the average price up to a heady 80p a time. Easy there, big spender.
I imagine blackberry jam with red/purple grape juice would probably make a decent red wine, but I've always had enough blackberries in my garden to make it fresh.
If you can, buy seedless jam, just because it results in less mess at the bottom of the demijohn, but it doesn't actually matter in terms of the wine. Buy whatever looks tasty. Experiment! That's half the fun of homebrew, the mad ideas that surely can't work out but somehow do (I just finished some carrot wine that was very nice, for example... though I recommend against the mint).
You can also use fruit juice instead of jam. Use two litres of your preferred juice, one litre of whichever grape juice seems most appropriate (i.e. are you making red or white wine), and one litre of boiling water (including the mug of black tea). Everything else is the same as above, and because everything is liquid already, you can make it straight in the demijohn without needing the plastic tub, so there's even less cleaning up after (pour the sugar in first though, so it mixes in, then pour the juice in before the boiling water so you don't crack the demijohn).
There you go! Homebrew wine for beginners and lazy arses like myself. I know that looks like a wall of text up there, but it probably takes less than half an hour of time and effort over the four months to get your six or seven bottles of wine for Â£3. Can't be bad, eh?