Saturday, July 11, 2015


I've been having a lot of fun with making mead at home but that's not the only alcohol I drink.  I'm also a big fan of flavored vodka.  Because the production of vodka involves distillation it isn't legal to make at home but it is legal to infuse flavor into vodka you purchase.

Vodka, if you weren't familiar with the recipe, is essentially wine made with potatoes and then run through a still.  The technical aspect is quite simple but there's a law against distilling alcohol by home brewers.  We can ferment it; we can't distill it.  In addition to vodka, the law takes other distilled alcohols like brandy and whiskey off the product lineup as well.

While distilling vodka from scratch isn't available, buying unflavored vodka off the shelf and infusing your own flavors into it is legal and super easy.  My girlfriend and I are members of a food co-op and occasionally have too much food.  Rather than let the fruit rot or toss it in the compost, I've taken to making infusions with it.  To do this yourself you'll need a half-gallon (roughly 2 L) empty growler, a 1.75 L bottle of vodka, and a handful of fruit.

First step, as in all home brewing operations, is to sanitize everything.  It isn't actually critical because you're not fermenting anything here but it's good shop practice.  Chop the fruit into pieces small enough to cram into the growler.  Some fruits, especially whole berries, need to be muddled to release their flavor.  Place your hand over the mouth of the growler and give it a good shake to lightly bruise the fruit.  Now pour in the vodka, cap the growler, and place it on a shelf out of your way.  Wash out the vodka bottle and save it.  Use a solid cap and not an airlock because, again, this is infusing and not fermenting.

The infusion should be complete in one week.  Give it a good stir to thoroughly distribute the flavor and pour off a sample.  If the flavor isn't strong enough, cap it and put it back on the shelf.  Check it again every couple of days until the alcohol has reached peak flavor.  When it's done infusing, pour the vodka back into its original bottle, straining out the fruit.  Keep the fruit though since it's now the same proof as the alcohol it was soaking in.

My first batch of blueberry was a big hit among my friends.  I have batches of melon, citrus, grape, and even apple cinnamon in the works.  Blackberries will be ripe around August and a peppermint infusion will be a big hit for the holidays.  Don't do pumpkin spice; just don't.

I've written this entire article specifying vodka as the alcohol but any unflavored drinking alcohol will work.  It's just that most other alcohols have a strong flavor of their own. Vodka is uniquely advertised on the basis of the purity of its distillation and is often the base for store-bought alcohols with novelty flavors.  Anyway, drink responsibly and enjoy a new dimension of alcohol.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It's Not Compelling

I've just completed a batch of mead following the recipe from Brewing Mead.  It's much better than the peach abomination I made last summer but it's still not as good as a commercial mead like Chaucer's.  The new technique to prep the honey paid off and the clarity is much better but my mead is quite dry.
Like I said in the previous article I made not mead but the more advanced metheglin.  The difference is the addition of a spiced tea before bottling.  I used Anaheim peppers from our local food cooperative.  The pepper tea reduced the clarity somewhat so I will need to work on processing the gruit.  Perhaps by extracting the flavor at a lower temperature.  I'll need a book on canning, I think.  Incidentally, the pepper pairs well with the dryness in this batch.  I think it is good but it's nothing like the mead you get at a Renaissance Fair.
Some time later, I'll try the sack mead recipe with more honey and sweet mead yeast.

Trademarks are the property of their respective owners and are used for example only and should not be taken as endorsement or advertisement. Please drink responsibly. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gizmo Likes Bread, Too

In the foreground is a loaf of the trencher bread I made.  In case you wanted to know what it looks like being eaten by a greedy cat.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Better Bread

My previous foray into bread making was not a resounding success.  Keeping with my new philosophy of follow the recipe, I found a few new bread recipes to try out.

First up is a simple two pound white bread recipe from a bread machine book.  Total easy mode.  Go out and get a bread machine and follow the basic white bread recipe.  Bread machines really make this easy but of course the ingredients can be combined in a mixing bowl and cooked in a regular oven just as easily.

Stepping it up, I found an historic beer bread recipe called trencher bread.  The ingredients include eight cups of rye flour, seven cups of spelt flour, and two cups of beer.  A half ounce of dry yeast is proofed into one cup of warm water.  I've talked about proofing yeast before.  The recipe finishes up with an additional quart of water and two tablespoons of salt.  My grocery store has many things but didn't have these varieties of flour but I found them at the food co-op.  To make this bread, mix the flours together and split off half of the mix to rise overnight with the beer, yeast, and water.  The rest of the flour gets salted and mixed back together the next day.  It rises and gets kneaded again and formed into almost a dozen small loaves which rise one last time before they're baked.  Of course, we should be able use our yeast starter to make an ale for the beer in this beer bread recipe.  I'll report back on how that goes.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Follow the Recipe

Metheglin is a variety of mead flavored with hops, herbs, or spices.  Capsicumel, a hot pepper flavored mead, would be a metheglin rather than a melomel.  Melomel is mead flavored with fruit, like the peaches I tried before.  I promised I was going to make a capsicumel earlier and so I've started one after getting a great deal on a large quantity of Anaheim peppers.  I've had some level of success with mead and also some peach orchard scented abominable failure.  The key is following a good recipe and this time I'm using one from Charlie Papazian's Brewing Mead.

This recipe starts with a well-tested effective basic mead that can be brewed and bottled on its own.  But I'll be adding in gruit, which is the flavoring that takes this brew from mead to metheglin.  I also changed up some of my brewing day technique following guidance in Brewing Mead and elsewhere.  This new process stirs together honey and water and heats it to a low boil before adding it to more water in the carboy for fermentation.  Later the gruit is boiled into a strong tea and added to the mead at bottling time.  I got the peppers early so they are seeded, bagged, and frozen until first fermentation is done.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Hundredth Episode Special

For everyone playing along at home, this is my one hundredth article on Blogspot.  It's been a great several years.

I've been trying to publish a couple articles a month or about two dozen a year.  Sometimes I'm successful in that endeavor.  My articles cover a wide range of topics documenting many of my various adventures and misadventures.  It's clear I'm not a writer by trade but I do like to turn in a good effort and I take pride in my work by trying to write clearly.  Again, levels of success vary.  
Thanks for reading and here's looking forward to the next hundred.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ale Aboard

Now that we're wrangling our own yeast for home brewing, let's talk a bit more about this.  For the home brewer, it's one less thing to put in the shopping cart when stocking up for brew day.  Just take the corral out of the refrigerator, boost the volume, and get ready for a new batch.  Of course, you'll either need to set up several flasks, one corral for each species you use, or you'll need to pare down the variety of beer recipes you use, selecting only those that use the species of yeast you're raising.  Who am I kidding?! You're opening a ranch.

But now think about what these starter flasks are.  It's yeast, water, and malt allowed to ferment.  That sounds like unhopped beer.  There's evidence that it may even be the original recipe for ale, dating back to Chaucer's day!  We're all used to the super hoppy IPA style common today but in 1483, the ale brewers in London wrote a letter to the Lord Mayor petitioning for a law to ban hops and spices from being included in ale.  From that, we can surmise that ale as it was made then was only yeast, malt, and water.  That's according to research by Lt. Colonel Gayre in his book Wassail! In Mazers of Mead.  As opposed to mead which is made with honey, ale is or at least was made with less expensive malt and didn't include hops until the 16th Century.  India Pale Ale, of course, dates only to the British colonial period where the excess hops acted as a preservative when shipping beer overseas.  So our yeast starters, effective for our regular brewing, are an historic brew in their own right.  That's definitely something I'll be exploring on a later brew day.

Wassail, by the way, is a fascinating book.  Published in 1948, it traces the history and etymology of mead, wine, and beer.  Pick up a copy if you can find it.  You're most likely to find it as Charlie Papazian's 1986 book Brewing Mead which appends chapters on equipment and recipes for several varieties of mead identified by Lt. Col. Gayre.

Wassail.  To your health.  Please drink responsibly.