Today is the sixth anniversary of my brewing obsession. On January 7, 2007, I brewed my first batch of beer, an extract Red Ale kit I bought from Bet-Mar Liquid Hobby Shop in Columbia, SC. It wasn’t a great beer, or even good, but it wasn’t terrible and showed me that I might be capable of making good beer.
To celebrate my brewing anniversary, I wanted to do something completely new, so I made wine on Saturday! I got a Pinot Noir kit from Midwest Brewing Supply and went to work.
Well, calling it “work” was a stretch. As a brewer, making wine was so ridiculously easy it almost feels like cheating. Literally, it’s a five-step process:
- Sanitize a bucket, spoon, thief, and air lock.
- Dissolve yeast nutrient in warm water.
- Pour in the grape juice concentrate.
- Add water up to 6 gallons and take a hydrometer reading.
- Pitch yeast and close the lid with an airlock.
It took 30 minutes.
From here, all I have to do is rack to secondary after 5 to 7 days and add sulfates and clarifier. Then after another 10 to 14 days, I bottle. That’s it.
Now, that’s not to say that making great wine is easy and that’s there’s no art to it. While the work of the brewer is in the formulation of a recipe and in the brewing process itself, the labor of the vintner is in the cultivation of the grapes. I just happened to cut all that out.
I’ll write a full review of my first batch once it’s bottled and matured in a couple months. We’ll see if it’s any good!
However, not all was happy and merry on my brewing anniversary weekend. After making my first batch of wine, I went into the basement to take a hydrometer reading of two 10-gallon batches of lagers that I had brewed the Friday before Christmas. I had intended to move the beer into secondary for lagering in my chest freezer for 8 weeks, ready just in time for Spring.
To my horror, fermentation both batches of beer stuck about half way to where I wanted them, at least 20 gravity points off.
My heart was broken as my fears from brew day were realized. It was a brutally cold day, under 40 degrees when I started that morning. I tried to compensate by increasing the strike water temperature, but I didn’t go high enough.
To compound the problem, my digital thermometer was flaking out, so I had to use my old-school analog thermometer, which takes about 5 minutes to get a good reading. Either way, I wasn’t able to get much over 145 degrees, if it even got that high.
It was a fiasco, I felt rushed, and I just crossed my fingers that it would turn out ok. Turns out my conversion didn’t complete and I was unable to get enough fermentable sugar in the wort.
After an hour, I came to grips with the incomplete fermentation. Seeing no way to remedy the situation, I made the difficult choice to put my beer down. It’s the first time in six years I’ve had to dump a batch of beer. I felt like I had just shot Old Yeller.
(Last year, I wrote about a sour mashed Berliner Weiss that I dumped because it smelled like a dirty diaper. Actually, I couldn’t bring myself to dump it, so I let it sit in secondary for about three months. Lo and behold, the beer turned out ok. It was actually drinkable, though nowhere as tart as I wanted it.)
It’s a tough lesson to learn, but we learn the most through failure. I can’t wait to brew again and get my mojo back. My confidence is shaken, though I will return!
In the mean time, toast a glass to the beer that never was.