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Homemade Labels For Homemade Brew

No more naked bottles!

At last, I have finally tackled the troublesome task of learning how to label my home brew.  The challenge for me wasn’t so much that I didn’t know how to design the labels.  I design things all the time in Photoshop.  The pesky problem lie more with choosing the print medium and method of adhesion.

Scraping labels from recycled bottles ranks right up there with cleaning the refrigerator and doing sit-ups as my most loathsome tasks.  The last thing I wanted to do was add to my label scraping misery by putting homemade labels on my bottles using an adhesive that would evoke four letter utterances from my mouth.

But, I just knew that the Skeeter Pee project had to be the one that finally freed me from the bondage of presenting naked bottles to my humble guests.  The naked bottle vs. label standoff is finally over!   I vow to never again subject partakers in my home brew to indecent vessels or mystery brews!

My adhesive solution: milk.  Yep, milk!  I read about it on a wine making forum and I thought I’d give it a try.  It made sense really.  If you’ve ever cried over spilt milk you’ll know it has a lot to do with the sticky mess spilled milk can leave behind.  Maybe milk was just the adhesive I have been hoping for.  Something to keep the labels in place just long enough for our beverage consumption pleasure but without the major label scraping headache I am accustomed to.

Utterly energized with the hope of at long last licking this troublesome problem, I sent my design to my printer.

Then, with printed labels in hand I then pondered the problem of the milk potentially smearing the printer ink (alliteration at its best!).  My crafty instincts told me that I needed to seal the ink in some fashion before applying the milk.  So I grabbed my trusty spray acrylic sealer and sprayed the printed designs.  After allowing the paper to dry, I used my paper trimmer to cut out the labels.

The first round of labels did smear a bit as I was too heavy handed with the spray sealer and I used my fingers to apply the milk to the back of the labels.  So the next round of labels I merely misted the labels with sealer, and used a basting brush to paint the back of the labels with an even coating of milk.  And voila!  Virtually no smearing and the labels were perfectly adhered to the bottles!  Hooray!

At this point I do not know how well the bottles will stand up to the chill of the refrigerator or being packed in a cooler full of ice.  But rest assured I will post an update after my milk slathered labels have been subjected to more adverse climate conditions.

If all goes well and the labels do the job they were hired to do, I plan to invest in a better quality printer paper for my labels.  The el cheapo paper I used for these bottles was a bit flimsy and I don’t think the ink saturated the paper as deeply as I would have liked for the best possible print quality.  My dear family will be my guinea pigs for my first batch of Skeeter Pee this weekend so I will have an opportunity to test their endurance as well as the ease in which they come off the bottles when it’s time for recycling.

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Bottling Chardonnay

It’s doggon hot outside today, much too hot to work in the garden especially since I have a summer cold. Blah.  The A/C feels great and it’s a good day to tackle some jobs nagging at me from the wine closet: bottle the Chardonnay kit I started in March and rack the Skeeter Pee.

I purchased the Chardonnay kit from Amazon.  This is the second kit I’ve purchased from Amazon and both were Vino Italiano brand 4-week kits.  The price is excellent and the kits both seem pretty fool-proof.  The Merlot isn’t quite ready for drinking though I expect it will be in a month or two.  The reviews for both kits are very good even though they are so darn cheap.  This kit works out to be under $2 per bottle!  Add to that the dollar each I paid for the bottles and it’s still super stinkin’ cheap.  I only put labels and topper on a few of the bottles so they will be ready for gift giving or taking to events where presentation is a bit more important than simply serving the family.  This will save me from having to scrape labels before recycling for the next batch.

The bottles have all been sanitized and, using the bottling wand and my new auto siphon, bottling is a breeze!

Allowing the tip of the bottling wand to rest on the bottom of the bottle allows the wine to flow.  Once it’s filled to the bottom of the neck of the bottle it’s time to lift the wand and the flow stops.

Since corking takes both hands and my feet simultaneously, I wasn’t able to get a shot of that.  My little one even got in on the action by feeding the corks into the corker for me! He says he’s going to make wine too when he grows up.  I think he just wanted to get his hands on the cool corker gadget.  🙂

This batch made 25 bottles of wine.  Not too shabby considering I only paid $41 for the kit.  And by golly, this stuff is good!  I will probably give it a week before sampling a bottle.  Sounds like the perfect excuse to get the girls together for another wine tasting!

Skeeter Pee

This recipe has been on my to-do list ever since I read about it on one of the wine making forums a couple of weeks ago.  With a family reunion planned for the beach in July, I bumped it right to the top of my wine making to-do list.  Sipping this lemony concoction while lazily lounging next to the beachside pool just sounds like a little slice of heaven!  And I was totally tickled to discover it’s drinkable in a matter of weeks, not months or even years!  Perfect!

Though I’ve never used one before, this recipe calls for using a yeast slurry from the bottom of another batch of newly fermented wine.  The Skeeter Pee will take on a bit of the flavor of the mother wine so I decided to use the slurry from the peach and white grape wine I started last week.  I racked the peach wine into my secondary fermenter and put the slurry in a jar in the fridge for safe keeping.  It will hang out there for a couple of days until it is time to add it to the mix.

With that done, I dissolved 16 cups of sugar in 8 cups of water and 1/3 c. of lemon juice.  I simmered this mixture for half an hour.

Here’s what it looked like after the 30 minutes lapsed.

I dumped this sugary mix into my fermenting bucket along with two bottles of lemon juice, 3/4 tsp. tannin, and 3 tsp. of yeast nutrient.  This is when I discovered I didn’t have the required yeast energizer and, as my brew shop is a bit if a hike from my house I decided to order it from Amazon instead.  Fortunately two-day shipping on this item is available free to me as a Prime member and the yeast isn’t to be pitched for another 48 hours.  Hopefully this oversight won’t ruin my Skeeter Pee.  I plan to check with the wine forum to see if this will pose a problem with the batch.

I decided to kick the volume up to almost 6 gallons since my five-gallon carboy is busy working on my chardonnay kit.  The initial gravity reading was 1.054 but I needed it to be 1.070.

With the 1.070 target in mind, I added more sugar syrup until I got it where I needed it to be.  I also added 1 cup of additional lemon juice to compensate for the larger batch.

The mix now needs to sit for a couple of days before adding the slurry to allow the preservatives from the lemon juice to dissipate.  So I covered the bucket and put it in the wine closet with the rest of my fermenting wines.  I’ll add the yeast energizer as soon as it arrives and post updates here as the batch progresses.

You can find the original Skeeter Pee recipe here.

Amazingly, for less than $15 this recipe will make over 5 gallons of crisp, refreshing lemon wine!  That’s over 30 bottles of wine or nearly 60 beer-sized bottles of Skeeter Pee.  Time will soon tell if it was money well spent.

Skeeter Pee Batch Update May 28:  Feeling antsy about the Skeeter Pee still hanging out in the primary, I decided I should rack it into the secondary.  I am not sure if it was okay in the bucket, but I assume like most wines it’s best to keep the oxygen contact with the wine at a minimum.

Gravity reading is .094 and it’s ready for the next step of degassing and addition of Kmeta, sorbate, and Sprarklinoid, but as I am a bit under the weather that is going to have to wait for another day or two.

Another update in a couple days…

June 20 Skeeter Pee Update:

I finally got around to racking the Skeeter Pee and backsweetening.  There was a good deal of sediment on the bottom of the carboy, but it wasn’t completely clear yet.  The sample I tasted was pretty good, but still seems too young for drinking.  Hopefully it will mellow quickly as I am hoping to take some along with me to the beach in a few weeks.  I’ll check it again in a couple weeks to see if it’s ready for bottling.

July 9 Skeeter Pee Update:

Today was the day I finally bottled up the Skeeter Pee.  Yay!   I took a gravity reading right before bottling, but I probably should have taken one every day for a few days to make sure no fermenting was going on following the last addition of the sugar.  Today’s reading was 1.022 though I don’t yet know if that’s where it’s supposed to be.  It tasted a little “hot” and undersweet to me so I am poking around on some wine forums to try to get some insight and advice.

The appearance of some bubbles around the plugs on the kegs also has me a bit concerned.  I really hopes this isn’t an indication that my Skeeter Pee started refermenting with the last addition of sugar.  I am pretty sure the kegs will be okay because they allow a bit of the gas to escape, but the wine and beer bottles went out to the garage just in case there happens to be any unfortunate explosions due to an excess of gas.

I am not in love with Skeeter Pee at this point, but I think it might be because I skimped a little on the sugar when I backsweetened.  I don’t generally drink sweet wines and I figured I could always add a bit of simple syrup when I serve it if it’s not sweet enough for myself or my guests.  I also think it will improve a good bit when I try it chilled versus the room temperature sample I took prior to bottling.

I am planning to serve this at an upcoming family reunion so I’ll update the post once more with the final, final verdict.

Peach and Grape Wine

It’s the first of May and with a few weeks left before our last frost date here in Ohio, I’ve been busy trying to remedy my dangerously low stock of homemade wine.  Once summer is in full swing I daresay there will be little time to spend making wine.  I am working hard to fill my secondary’s so they can be busy working for me while I am busy working in the garden.

Today’s recipe is a peach and white grape wine that is adapted from Jack Keller’s Peach and Grape Wine recipe.  During my last trip to the local brew shop I picked up a couple of cans of Vinter’s Harvest peach puree.  I’ve never made a wine from the canned juice sold by the brew shop, though the variety of flavors always has me drooling at the thought of the fabulous wine I could make.  I decided it was time to give it a whirl!

Planning for a 3-gallon batch, I needed 3 cans of the puree.  However, only two cans of peach were in stock.  I did a quick Internet search and found Jack’s 1-gallon peach and white grape recipe using fresh peaches versus the canned puree.  Perfect!  I could use grape concentrate to make up for the peach shortfall.  It took a little noodling to come up with a plan to convert this recipe, which made me a little nervous.  In my short wine making “career” I’ve never made anything other than kits or recipes I’ve followed almost to the letter.  You see, there’s actual chemistry involved in making wine so one misstep can ruin an entire batch!  Yikes! If you don’t believe me have a gander at this.  Just seeing all those little hexagons, letters and numbers strung up together are enough to make my palms start sweating.  I’ve never taken chemistry and science in general gives me the heebie jeebies.

So once I drafted my recipe, I ran it by some wine gurus on a wine making forum.  I am really glad I didn’t skip this step because I discovered the Campden tablets were completely unnecessary.  Campden tablets are used to kill off any wild yeast present when using fresh fruit.  Since I was using canned fruit they were not needed.  Other than that, they said my adapted recipe should produce a fabulous wine!  Yay!

With the ingredients gathered and utensils sanitized, it was time to get to work.

I dissolved the 4 pound bag of sugar in some boiling water.  I wasn’t sure how much sugar it was going to take to reach my goal of 1.080-1.085 beginning specific gravity.  I figured I would need between 4-5 pounds to reach my target.  The plan was to start with 4 pounds and adjust from there.


Once the sugar was dissolved, I dumped it into the primary fermenter along with the 2 cans of peach puree and four cans of Welch’s white grape concentrate.  I then added water to equal 3 Imperial gallons.  Imperial gallons are a bit more than a US gallon and I wanted to have enough extra juice to top up after racking into the secondary.  It was time to take the gravity reading.  The mix was still pretty warm (100 degrees) and the gravity reading was 1.080, so after adjusting for the temperature of the must, it was darn close to where I wanted it to be, 1.086.  No need for number crunching to figure out how to make the adjustment (math also gives me the heebie jeebies).

I allowed the must to cool down to room temperature and mixed in the tannin, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and acid blend.  I then removed enough of the juice to leave just 3 US gallons in the primary.  I’ll save the rest in the refrigerator until the first racking.

The next step was to activate the yeast.  I had 3/4 package of Cote des Blanc leftover from my vanilla wine so I added this to a little lukewarm water, let it sit for about 15 minutes and then added a few tablespoons of the juice to feed the yeast.

Once it was really foaming I added it to the must.

With that done there was nothing left to do but put the jug of juice in the fridge and the must into the closet to ferment!

I did fit an airlock on the bucket prior to storing it away.

Here’s my adapted recipe:

Peach and Grape Wine

  • 2, 3 lbs cans of peach puree
  • 4, 12 oz can frozen white grape concentrate
  • 4 lbs granulated sugar (or to SG of 1.080-1..085)
  • 3 tsp acid blend
  • 1 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 3/4 tsp tannin  1/4 tsp tannin (received feedback on the wine forum that 3/4 tsp is too much.  Oh well, too late now.)
  • enough water to raise must level to 3 Imperial gallons
  • 3 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Cote des Blanc wine yeast

Dissolve sugar in 10 quarts of boiling water.  Add to primary along with peach puree and grape juice concentrate and pectic enzyme.  When must cools, add acid blend, yeast nutrient, and tannin.   Wait 12 hours and add the acid blend, yeast nutrient, and tannin. Activate yeast and add to the must.  Stir daily for 7 days, then rack into secondary and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days until fermentation completely ends and wine clears. Set aside two months and rack again into bottles. Taste any time after three months.

I can’t wait to try this wine!  Hopefully it will be mellow enough to enjoy by summer’s end.  I welcome all comments and especially suggestions by more experienced brewers.  Thanks for stopping by!

Update:  One of the winemaking forum members suggested that 3/4 tsp of tannin was too much and that the pectic enzyme and yeast should not be added at the same time.  I revised the recipe to reflect these changes.

Batch Update May 7:  Today I racked this out of the primary fermenter and into my new 3-gallon Better Bottle carboy.  The gravity reading was 1.002.  Here it is on the far left.

May 17 Batch Update:  I racked the wine into a new carboy to get them off the lees and took a gravity reading.  It’s looking good!  I’ll let it sit for a while to clear some more and rack again in a few weeks or so.

Vanilla Wine

Such a full and productive day today!  I’ve been waiting for weeks to finish my raised, square foot garden beds and I finally found the break in the weather I was waiting for.  I spent a good part of the day outdoors soaking up the sun and burning some calories!  I can’t wait to show you around my edible garden.  But that’s a blog for another day.  Today it’s all about vanilla wine.

When I saw this recipe on Jack Keller’s site I knew I had to make it… soon!  I just adore vanilla.  I love it so much that when I go to the ice cream shop with a kajillion flavors to choose from I almost always choose vanilla.  I know, I know.  Most of you are thinking, “B.O.R.I.N.G!”.  Not me.  I think vanilla is one of the most incredible and delicious flavors on earth.  So it was only natural that, when I finally kicked into gear and started making scratch wines again, vanilla would be at the top of my list.

Although the recipe is super simple, I did run to a problem right out of the starting gate.  My local grocery store doesn’t carry white grape juice concentrate.  I called around to a couple local grocers and, although I had to travel a bit further, I finally found some.  So if at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up.  My usual grocery store rep also said they would place a special order for me if I couldn’t find it, so that’s also an option if your store doesn’t carry it.

Fortunately I had the rest of the ingredients on hand so after dinner and a few errands I was able to knock out the first step in making this wine.  I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay (stay tuned to see how I monogrammed the glass myself) and got busy making some vanilla wine.

First, I put the water on to boil and measured out the sugar using an old postal scale.  (Now a note to all of you detail oriented geeks, ahem, I mean people: I did not put 30.9 oz of sugar into the mix.  I just took the photo of the sugar on the postal scale to show how I measure my sugar.  I removed about 8 oz of sugar from the bag before adding it to the boiling water.)It was all down hill after this step.  Once the sugar was dissolved I added the rest of the ingredients.  I cut the vanilla beans in half before adding them to the must thinking they might impart a stronger vanilla flavor if they were cut vs. whole.  I added the grape juice concentrate, pectic enzyme, acid blend, and yeast nutrient.  I put all this into the secondary fermenter, added enough water to fill the gallon sized jug and, this time,  I remembered to take a gravity reading!   

It measured about 1.094 which I believe means the potential alcohol for the finished wine will be around 12%.  You can go here for more information about all the gravity readings, potential alcohol, brix and other mumbo jumbo.  (They lost me at “Advanced Wine Making Basics”.  For now, I am happy to just stick with the Don’t-Make-Me-Do-Any-Math or Think-Too-Hard Wine Making Basics”

The only thing left to do at this point was to cover the jug with a coffee filter secured with a rubber band.  (That adorable creature in the background is my son, Tyler.)

So now the mix will chill out until tomorrow when I will add the yeast and then… let the fermenting begin!  I’ll rack and attach an airlock in about a week and rack a couple more time before bottling.  The recipe does not indicate how long before this wine is drinkable, but it will be all that I can do to wait at least 6 months before giving it a try.  I have a feeling this recipe with be one that will soon take it’s rightful spot in my 6 gallon fermenter!

VANILLA WINE

  • 2 cans (11.5 oz) Welch’s 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 4 vanilla beans (6-9 inches long)
  • 1-1/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • water to make 1 gallon
  • wine yeast

Bring 1 quart water to boil and dissolve the sugar in the water. Remove from heat and add frozen concentrate. Add additional water to make one gallon and pour into secondary. Add remaining ingredients except yeast. Cover with napkin fastened with rubber band and set aside 12 hours. Add activated wine yeast and recover with napkin. When active fermentation slows down (about 5 days), fit airlock. After 30 days, rack into sanitized secondary. Taste wine. If vanilla flavor is sufficient to your taste, discard the vanilla beans. If not, transfer beans to new secondary by remove after additional 30 days and rack, top up and refit airlock. Wait additional 30 days and rack again, top up and refit airlock. After additional 30 days, stabilize, sweeten if desired and rack into bottles. [Author’s own recipe]

Batch Update May 7:  Today I racked, sampled and took a reading.  The sample had a delightful vanilla flavor so I decided to remove the vanilla beans.  The gravity was down to 1.042.  Moving right along!  I am, without a doubt, planning for a much larger batch of this wine the next go-round.  It’s going to be fabulous!

Peach and white grape, mint wine, Skeeter Pee (in the bucket), Chardonnay (in the large carboy in the back), and vanilla wine on the far right.

Making Mint Wine

 

I woke up this morning to beautiful blue skies and thoughts of soaking up the spring sun working in the garden and cutting the lawn.  There’s nothing like the feel of the sun warming the skin after a long winter, however mild it might have been, in the early spring.  But a quick peek at the local weather forecast and all hopes for sun-pinked cheeks by days-end were dashed.  With an expected high of only 59 degrees (brrrrr…) I immediately changed my mind about working outdoors.  That’s much too cold for my bones!

What to do, what to do?  My first thought was to continue working on the spring cleaning I had begun. Nah!  Boring!  I had the itch to do something much more fun: start a batch of mint wine!  After zipping over to Jack Keller’s website for the recipe it was out to the garden to collect the lovely emerald stalks. With a fresh pot of Seattle’s Best and DIY network on the tube, I set to work removing the leaves from the stems.  With four cups of loosely packed mint leaves it was time to move on to the next step.

I measured out 2 pounds of sugar and 7 1/4 pints of water.  I put the mint leaves in a small saucepan and boiled the water in a large pot.  Once the water was boiling I added about 2 cups to the mint leaves and brought the mixture to a simmer, covered, and let sit for an hour.  Meantime, I added the sugar to the big pot of boiling water and stirred it until the sugar was dissolved, removed from the heat, and allowed to cool while the mint leaves steeped.

Tinkering away in the kitchen, I finished up a batch of Greek yogurt (a post for another day) and busied myself with some other cleaning projects.  At the end of the hour it was time to strain out the mint leaves from the liquid and add the mint liquid to the sugar water, squeezing out all the mint leaves to extract every bit of the luscious smelling juice.

The next step before adding the yeast was to add the tanning, acid blend, and yeast nutrient (available at any local brew supply and online).  Then it was time to wait for the mixture to cool to room temperature.  I decided at this point to try hydrating my champagne yeast.  I must admit that I am very new to the hobby of wine making and I’ve not made anything other than kit wine for at least two years.  I thought I remembered that it was good to rehydrate the yeast before adding to the must so decided to give it a try.  I mixed the yeast into a cup of lukewarm (about 100 degrees) water and let it sit for a bit.  I was so happy to see foaming action because my yeast had been around for 2 years since the last time I knocked around with some scratch wines.  I added a bit of the cooled must to the foaming yeast and let it go for a little while longer (sorry no photos of the yeast snacking on the must).

Once the temperature of the must was down to around 95 degrees I added the yeast mixture to the must.  I think I was a bit hasty with this step as room temperature is nowhere near 95 degrees, at least not in springtime in Ohio!  I figured (hopefully not incorrectly) that if the yeast could be started in up to 105 degree water then the 95 degree must surely wouldn’t kill it.  I suppose time will tell.

Once it was all mixed up, I put it all into my primary fermenter, loosely fitted the lid and stored it away in my wine cabinet (aka coat closet).  🙂

Now we wait.  In about 7 days I will rack the fermenting liquid into the secondary fermenter.  Then, more waiting, more racking, more waiting, etcetera etcetera, until it’s time to bottle and then…. we wait some more!  Yup, patience is the name of the game when making wine, something I am not known for.  But according to Jack the wine won’t be drinkable for a year.

So here it is hanging out with my 5 gallon batch of chardonnay that is almost ready for bottling.  Oh, by the way, if you’re new to this like I am don’t go getting any ideas about allowing that much air to hang out in your jug with your new wine.  It’s bad!  Shame on me!  But, alas I don’t have a smaller jug and, well it is what it is (don’t you hate it when people say that?).  I won’t let it hang out there for long.  Maybe another week and then into the bottles it goes.

So now I am off to see if I can turn a steak and some fresh arugula into something yummy for dinner, with a glass of wine of course!

P.S. Thanks for hanging out with me through my very first blog post as Sassy Susan!  Cheers!

UPDATE April 30, 2012: I realized after I made this batch that I made a huge rookie mistake.  I completely forgot to take the beginning specific gravity.  It’s now three days later and the gravity is 1.102.  It’s impossible at this point to know where I started before adding the yeast so determining the actual potential alcohol is out of the question.  However, I believe it should finish at at least 13% alcohol based on the chart available at Jack Keller’s site and will be a sweet, dessert type wine.  I am still learning so if you’re an experienced brewer I’d love to hear your comments and do please correct me if I am wrong about any of this.  I don’t want lead anyone astray.

I did take a tiny taste of the juice when I checked the gravity and it is delicious!  I think I may start another batch as soon as I get some other things rolling.  I have a feeling this wine is going to be a huge hit.

Mint Wine

  • 1 qt loosely packed mint leaves
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 7-1/4 pts water
  • 3 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • Champagne wine yeast

Wash mint leaves well and place in small pot with lid. Bring water to a boil and pour 1/4 of it over mint leaves. Bring mint water to a simmer, remove from heat and seep one hour, covered. Stir the sugar in remaining water until thoroughly dissolved and allow to cool. Strain liquid from mint into primary and add then sugar-water, tannin, acid blend, and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and allow to continue cooling until room temperature. Add yeast. Ferment 7 days, rack into secondary, top up and fit airlock. Rack again after 30 days and again 3 months after that. Stabilize, wait 10 days, sweeten to taste, allow to settle overnight, and rack into bottles. This wine MUST age at least a year before drinking, preferably in a dark place. Serve chilled.

May 7 Batch Update: I racked this from the primary into the secondary and the gravity was @ 1.060.  I think the fermentation is a little slow so I have asked on the wine forum if it would be wise to add a little yeast energizer.

May 8 Batch Update: Per a recommendation by a more experienced brewer, I added 1/2 t. of yeast energizer to this batch.  Fermentation seems to have slowed considerably, which isn’t unusual for herb wines so the yeast energizer should help get things going again.  To add the energizer I took a small sample of the wine, mixed in the energizer and added the sample back in with the batch.  Hopefully I’ll see some more vigorous fermenting soon.

May 17 Batch Update:  I’ve been so busy with the garden I’ve not had a chance to check the gravity until today.  Looks like fermentation is stuck even after adding the energizer.  Based on information I found on stuck fermentation I decided to try to get it going again by adding some Premier Cuvee yeast.  I inoculated it in a bit of warm water and some of the mint wine.  Hopefully I will be better able to check it again in a day or so and it will be rolling again.