Thursday, January 22, 2009

Finally bottled my merlot

This was an easy one. There was very little work involved. The most labor intensive part was the bottling (unless you count the writing of this post which took MUCH longer than everything else put together). I started with a 6 gallon bucket of wine juice. These are probably only available seasonally and you'll have to do some research to find out where you can get your hands on them. You can always just get a wine kit from your local homebrew store but it'll end up being more expensive. It will still be a lot cheaper than buying the wine in a liquor store, though. Anyway, I dumped my juice into an 8 gallon bucket that I use as a primary fermenter. If you don't have an 8 gallon primary you can just take the lid off of the bucket that the juice comes in, drill a hole in the lid, pop in a grommet and attach an airlock. Just pitch your yeast and stir it until it's dissolved. Then attach the lid to your fermenter and put your airlock into place. Leave it for a few days to a week.

Over the course of the next few days the liquid in your airlock will continue to bubble. That's the fermentation taking place. Once the bubbling has stopped then the fermentation is mostly finished. At that point you'll want to check the specific gravity with a hydrometer. This step isn't necessary but if you're serious about wine (or beer or any liquor) making then you'll want one. If you don't have one then you can just skip to the next step when you think your must is finished fermenting. I would give it at least a week in the primary just to be sure. I like my wine strong, though, so it would probably end up being more like 2 weeks. If you do have a hydrometer then you can take a measurement to make sure that your must has fermented enough so that you can move on to the next step. Once your must has fermented sufficiently then you'll want to transfer it into a secondary fermenter.

At this point you'll want to transfer your must into a secondary. I use a glass 5 gallon carboy (a big bottle). You can also use another bucket, a plastic 5 gallon water bottle or anything else that's big enough to hold all of the liquid. It just has to be easy to sterilize and you must be able to attach an airlock to it. You can add things like clarifiers, oak chips or other finings that are used to add different flavors and attributes and stop fermentation of your wine at this point. There will still be some fermentation going on even if the airlock isn't bubbling so you'll want to add some sodium or potassium metabisulfite. This will sterilize the wine and stop the fermentation without adding any undesirable flavors. I added oak chips to this batch of merlot since most merlot is conditioned in oak casks (too rich for my blood). I also added some bentonite which is just a neutral clay that will attach itself to all of the undesirable particles in the wine and pull them to the bottom, thereby leaving you with tasty, clear wine that just needs some time to condition properly. Attach another airlock and leave it be for another month or so.

At this point you'll have some tasty wine in your fermentor that just needs some more time to condition before it's ready for bottling. There should also be a cake of all of the extra crap that the bentanite attached itself to and pulled to the bottom. Because I'm paranoid about getting too much of that crap mixed in when I do my bottling I transferred it to a third, well sterilized fermentor which left most of that crap on the bottom of the original. I also transferred my oak chips along with the must. If you do have an oak cask then this is when you'd want to transfer the wine to it. Again, I attached an airlock and let it be. This time I left it for a couple of months to give it plenty of time to condition properly.

After letting it sit for a couple of months I transferred my liquid gold into a bucket with a plastic spigot drilled into it near the bottom. Before you get to this point you'll want to make sure that you have plenty of empty, sterilized wine bottles on hand and ready to go. You can collect them yourself, ask friends to save them for you, make friends with a chef at a restaurant and have him save them for you or just buy new ones. Anyway, after transferring the wine to my bucket I let it sit overnight to allow what was left of all of the undesirable particles to settle to the bottom. Once I was ready to bottle I attached a 3/8" food grade hose to the spigot with a bottle filler attached to the other end. The bottle filler is just a plastic tube with a piece of plastic sticking out the end. When you push on the little piece of plastic on the end it allows the liquid to flow through it. When you release pressure then the flow stops. Press it to the bottom of a wine bottle and the bottle fills up perfectly. When the bottle is full you just pull it out and the flow stops. Wash, rinse and repeat until all of your bottles are full. At that point you'll need some corks and a corker.

The corker I use is just a double level corker that cost about $25. You fit the bottle to the corker, drop in a cork and push it in. I use the cheapest corks that I can get my hands on. They're about $4 for 30 of them. Cheap corks have a tendency of falling apart when you uncork your bottles so you need to be careful. Either that or you can get corks that are more expensive. Remember to leave two finger widths of space between the cork and the wine. I make sure that my bottles are filled up just past the base of the neck before corking them. That seems to be the sweet spot. I ended up with about 30 bottles of delicious merlot at the end of the day. The cost, including all equipment, was substantially less than what I would have paid had I bought 30 bottles of even the cheapest merlot available in a liquor store. If you drink a significant amount of wine then you'll probably end up paying for everything with just one batch.

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The most important thing to remember while brewing is to make sure that everything is sanitized. You can screw up a lot of things and still end up with a great brew but lack of proper sanitization can quickly result in a wasted batch that is completely undrinkable. You'll want to sterilize everything from your fermentors to your airlocks to your corks. if it touches your wine then make sure that it's sterilized! If you don't have the equipment needed and you don't have a local homebrew store in your area then I'd suggest giving Do Your Brew a call. It's a one man operation but it's ran very well. It's also where I go to get my equipment and ingredients. The guy is very knowledgeable and will treat you right with very fair prices, fast shipping and advice whenever you need it.


Cygnus MacLlyr said...

Too cool! Homebrewing is definitely on my crafts-to-learn list (especially Mead...)
Any good websites on the topic you can recommend?

ghost booze! said...

guy this is fucking rad.

we have tonnes of huge food-grade plastic buckets at work, i just worry about scratches in the plastic that might hold bacteria.

i'm doing mine pretty cheap right now, i don't even use a secondary fermenter i just transfer straight to the bottle when it's done. or when i want some booze.

i plan on using clarifiers and what not in future, but right now i'm thinking more along the lines of like, if i'm making booze after, you know...zombies or whatever. i want to get a good process down that i can use whenever, wherever.

i'm pretty fastidious about sterilizing everything though (BLEACH EVERYTHING OKAY NOW WE BLEACH THE FUCKING CAT!! MORE BLEACH!!), so, i know nothing's going to go rotten at least. the tap water in toronto is pretty decent so sometimes i don't bother boiling it if i only need to add a liter or so.

anyway, what do you think about scratches in plastic buckets holding bacteria? i can get them for free with lids and everything.

ghost booze! said...

oh yeah, to "cygnus macllyr"...


i've talked to a lot of people with no experience in homebrewing who've successfully made this mead. it looks good and i'll probably try it at some point, but i'm way too fucking cheap to buy $40 worth of honey.

The Urban Survivalist said...

I don't see how tiny little scratches could be a big deal. I probably wouldn't use a bucket that had huge gouges in it, though. Just make sure that you sanitize the hell out of it. Clarifiers are ridiculously cheap and it doesn't take much so putting back enough to last you a while is pretty easy. Solkeloid is a great one because you can add it in the final stages of the conditioning if whatever you're brewing hasn't clarified enough to your liking. It's VERY effective. When I added it to my dandelion wine it was nothing but a big vat of brown sludge. After a couple of days it had cleared up perfectly and was ready for bottling. If not for the solkeloid it probably would never have been drinkable.

Cygnus, I don't really have any links saved. I just use google to try to answer any questions that come up. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is a very good book on homebrewing that answers a lot of questions and has a ton of information.

ghost booze! said...

i ended up getting some 16L buckets from work. i grabbed the newest ones i could and the insides are pretty much perfect. anyway i transferred my banana wine to one today, after washing and bleaching and rinsing the fuck out of it. there weren't any lids yet (i told them at work to save them for me haha), so for now i just tied a transparent garbage bag around the top.

if this one stays dark, i'll probably use a clarifier.