Libation Sensations

Give DIY beers, wines and infused liquors a try.

 

There’s nothing more manly than creating something with your bare hands—which explains why homemade wine, beer and infused liquors are soaring in popularity as spirits enthusiasts take up the delicious hobby of crafting custom libations at home. Basement breweries and garage wineries are becoming as commonplace as man caves, and liquor infusion jars filled with colorful fruits and herbs have become a staple of kitchen décor. And why not? It’s cheaper than buying specialty booze outright—and there’s a glib satisfaction (and a bit of mad scientist) in serving a glass of fine wine that you can casually explain you made yourself.

Master Your Brew

You’re not a true beer connoisseur until you’ve tried your hand at crafting your own microbrew. Beer brewing kits provide all the equipment, ingredients, guidebooks, recipes and directions you need to get started. They’re readily available at local homebrew supply shops like St. Louis Wine and Beermaking, which is also a great place to get some extra advice. We tapped long-time home brewer Dan Orms for the lowdown on how to get started. First, assemble your equipment and ingredients. Toss your malt extract, hops and water into a pot and brew for two hours; then add yeast and allow it to ferment for seven to 10 days. Next, bottle your brew and let it condition and carbonate for two to three weeks. Refrigerate, drink, gloat. It’s that simple. It takes about four weeks in all before you can enjoy your own artisan beer, but it’s well worth the wait. Once you’ve got the hang of it, the possibilities are endless—from bock to stout to pale ale. Small changes in barley and hops can make a big difference, and you may even decide to experiment with added flavors like honey or fruit extracts.

HOW TO MAKE BEER FROM A KIT

Getting Started
The first step in home beer making is to assemble your equipment from the kit you purchased. You’ll read a lot about sanitizing everything, but Dan Orms, advanced home brewer, points out that only items that will come in contact with the beer after the boiling process needs to be sanitized. Then remove all the items from the ingredient kit you purchased.

The second step—and this is the most important—follow the directions that come with the ingredient kit. Ingredients, the specific process and times involved will vary from kit to kit depending on the brand and type of beer you are making. Each ingredient kit will make two cases of beer.

Making the Wort
Put about 2 ½ gallons of water, whatever your recipe specifies, in a large aluminum or enamel cooking pot and bring to a boil. Tap water is fine, but it must be dechlorinated with either campden tablets or powder or by pre-boiling. If you are using any specialty grains, put them in cheesecloth or an old stocking and steep them in the water as it warms for 30 minutes, but don’t let temperature of water exceed 170 degrees. Continue to bring water to a boil and add the cans of dried malted extract (DME) to the pot, mixing well. You should remove some of your boiled water before to rinse the cans of DME into your pot.

Again, bring the DME liquid—now called wort—to a boil for 1 to 2 hours, adding any hops or fermentables at times specified by the recipe directions from your kit. Do not allow to boil over.

“Boil overs suck,” Orms warns. “Just watch it. As soon as you turn away it’ll foam up and over the top. It’s a mess.”

Once your wort has boiled for an hour, place pot in an ice bath to cool as quickly as possible. From here you’ll pour the wort into your sanitized fermenting bucket or carboy, add yeast and any other ingredients or specialty hops in the order and at temperatures specified in your recipe, stirring continuously. Don’t worry. The recipe will spell everything out.

You will also take a hydrometer measurement which tells you what the sugar content is. Later, another reading will tell you how much of the sugar has been consumed by the yeast and thereby, whether your wort is ready.

Fermentation
Now place your fermenting bucket in a cool dark place where the temperature is 65-70 degrees. The yeast will start the fermentation process and after 10-14 days, the wort is ready to be siphoned—called racking—into your carboy. Pace the hose a couple of inches above the bottom of your wort to leave as much sediment (dead yeast) as possible behind.

Racking Your Brew
Once in your carboy, put the airlock in place, fill half-way with water, and allow to sit for about 2 weeks, adding any finishing sugars as directed. Take a hydrometer reading to know when it’s time to bottle using the bottle filler that came with your kit, and again, take care to leave any remaining sediment behind. First you’ll siphon the beer from the carboy into your bucket, then into bottles.

Bottling
Let it the newly bottled beer sit for a couple of weeks to allow carbonation to develop. Then place in refrigerator to cool if desired, pop the top, and enjoy your very first homemade artisan beer. Although times will vary depending on a variety of factors, from start to finish the whole process has taken from 4-6 weeks.

Know Your Vino

You don’t need a vineyard to get the satisfaction of creating your own signature wine. Just like their beer brewing cousins, novice winemakers can use starter kits for both equipment and ingredients. We asked David Denton, owner of St. Louis Wine and Beermaking, for tips on creating great vino at home. First, combine the condensed grape juice and bentonite from the ingredient kit with water to start the fermenting process, which takes a week or two. Then, siphon the fermented juice into a glass carboy, add preservative and antioxidant, make a few timely chemical adjustments and, voila! Soon enough, you’ll be bottling, slapping on your own labels and stocking your cellar for aging. One batch produces up to 30 bottles of the good stuff—whether it be Riesling Ice, Cabernet Sauvignon or Wildberry Shiraz. Denton suggests using homegrown fresh fruits like peaches and strawberries when you’re ready for something a little more advanced—and eventually move on to the big boys: real grapes (which require destemmers, crushes and presses). After about two months, pop the cork and take a sip. “Ah,” you’ll say. “November was a very good ‘year.'”

HOME WINEMAKING

Getting Started
Just as with home beer brewing, it’s best to begin the satisfying hobby of home winemaking by purchasing an equipment kit and an ingredient kit for the type of wine you wish to make. Spread all the equipment and ingredients. The timing of tasks is critical so you need to be ready. Each ingredient kit yields 30 bottles of wine.

We consulted with David Denton, owner of St. Louis Beer and Wine for the ins and outs of home winemaking.

Sanitize anything that will come into contact with the wine and get in the habit of washing things out immediately after use. If you allow them to sit around they’ll be much harder to clean later.

Beginning winemakers should follow the recipe that came with the ingredient kit exactly. It will tell you exactly what to do, when to do it, and every other detail. As you gain experience, you may wish to improvise a little.

Typically, a wine ingredient kit will include one bladder pack of juice concentrate, one or two packets of yeast, and three or four numbered additive packets.

Starting the Fermentation Process
Add the juice concentrate to your fermenting bucket and the first group of ingredients. The recipe will be very specific, and will include water, sugar if necessary, acids tannins and nutrients. Stir them very well with your spoon and sprinkle on the yeast.

Take a gravity reading with your hydrometer and notate it on your recipe sheet. Reds should be fermented at about 80 degrees, and whites from 72 to 75 degrees. Again, check the recipe, which may also direct you to lower the temperature at a certain stage.

Fermentation will begin in 2-3 days and will be completed in about 7 to 10 days depending on a variety of factors. Taking a hydrometer reading will tell you when it’s ready to be transferred to your carboy.

Racking Your Wine
Siphon (rack) the wine from the fermenting bucket into your sterilized carboy, leaving behind as much sediment as possible. This is a process often done three to four times, from carboy to carboy to get the wine as sediment free as possible. Only one carboy comes with the equipment, so you’ll need to purchase one separately if you wish to rack from one carboy directly into another.

Once your fermented liquid has been racked into the carboy, stir it well and put the airlock onto the carboy, filling it half way with water. Leave it for approximately a week. Your hydrometer reading will tell you when it’s ready to rack again. Rack into your second carboy, or if only using one, into your cleaned and sterilized fermenting bucket, then back into the cleaned and sterilized carboy. Wait for another week.

Repeat the process above and add additional ingredients to clear the wine as indicated in your directions. Now move the carboy to a cool place and let sit for about another week. Then you’ll be ready to bottle your wine. The specific hydrometer/gravity reading will tell you when it’s time.

Bottling
Fill your clean, sterilized bottles to 2 inches below the mouth of the bottle, allowing room for the cork and ½ inch of airspace. It’s a good idea to label the bottles so you know what kind of wine it is and when you bottled it. Store the bottles upright for about a week so the corks can expand, then lay them flat until you’re ready to drink them.

What are you waiting for? Open your first bottle of homemade wine and toast yourself for a job well done.

Infuse Your Booze

You don’t have to be a chemistry whiz to know that soaking fruits, herbs and spices in spirits has delicious results. Liquor infusions are easier than you think, but there’s plenty of room for creativity. We checked in with vodka guru Dustin Parres of Sub Zero Vodka Bar to learn how to best achieve complex, nuanced flavors. Parres says that vodka is the most common liquor for infusions, but gin, tequila, rum and brandy are also quite popular. Put all of your ingredients into an infusion jar with a spigot, and let them soak. The timeline depends on what ingredients you’re using—soft fruits and vegetables like cucumbers and strawberries have to be removed after three or four days before they start breaking down, while firmer ingredients may need longer. Never leave the ingredients in for more than two weeks, or you can end up with some bitterness. Infusion is not an exact science—your best bet is to conduct taste tests along the way. Try cinnamon vodka, cucumber gin, jalapeno tequila or pineapple rum—your imagination’s the only limit.

STEP-BY-STEP INFUSING LIQUORS

Infusing liquors at home is really quite simple and can add an extra level of flavor to your cocktails. Vodka is the most common choice due to its neutral flavor, but other light spirits such as gin, sake or light rum also make for wonderful infusions. Dark liquors are slightly more difficult, but they can work well when paired with a complimentary ingredient, such as making cherry, apple or peach brandy.

1. Choose Your Ingredients
The great thing about infusions is the opportunity for experimentation. Try different herbs or spices. Think about flavors you enjoy in your food and then what kind of spirit would compliment it. Also consider what type of drink you will make with your infusion. If you are making vodka for Bloody Mary’s, those ingredients will be different than if you will be making martini’s. Then give it a try. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t invested too much money.

2. Selecting a Jar
It’s advisable to purchase an infusion jar, available on-line or at stores like Crate and Barrel. These glass jars allow you to see inside so you can keep an eye on the condition of your fruit, and they have a spigot on them, good for extracting taste samples to check progress and then to serve when it’s ready. You may also use a mason jar, but it’s harder to work with. It’s also possible to infuse the liquor directly in the bottle. Sprigs of herbs, jalapeno slices or strips of fruit peel will slip right into the mouth. Whichever you use, agitate it about three times a day.

3. Removing the Ingredients
Vodka guru Dustin Parres of Sub Zero Vodka Bar says the best way to determine when the fruit or other ingredients need to be removed from the liquor is to keep your eye on it. “When the fruit starts to deteriorate and gets bleached out, remove it. Otherwise it will ruin the whole batch.” Parres removes his by straining it through a cheesecloth, then squeezing the cloth to get the liquor out and returning the liquor to the infusion jar.

4. Knowing When It’s Ready
Parres does offer some approximations of how long individual ingredients can stay in the spirits before they need to be removed. Soft fruits will need to be removed after 2 or 3 days, hard fruits will last up to two weeks, and things like chili peppers or sprigs of herbs can last for a month or more. Another consideration is how strong the flavor is. Taste the liquor to see when it reaches the flavor profile you desire, then remove the fruit. Let your eyes and taste buds tell you when ingredients need to be removed.

Ideas for Infusions:
Chamomile infused rum
Coffee infused bourbon
Lemongrass ginger infused tequila
Garlic and basil infused vodka.
Pomegranate infused brandy

What infusion ideas do you have? Share your own ideas, tips and home-brewing experiences by sharing this story on Facebook or Twitter, or email us at letters(at)alivemag.com.

Apothecary beverage jar available at Sur La Table, Plaza Frontenac, 314.993.0566. Architec end grain cutting board and classic paring knife available at Kitchen Conservatory, Clayton, 314.862.2665. Photo shot at The Laurel Apartments.

 

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Libation Sensations

Libation Sensations

 

Photo credit: Photo by David Ayres

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