Thursday 31 January 2019

Home Brew IV

So the kit has arrived. Not the gear I was originally toying with, but - following a discussion with PK - a starter pack from Lovebrewing, containing a Beaverdale Cabernet Shiraz ingredients box as well as a couple of demijohns, a siphon, a thermometer, hydrometer, all sorts. And he's acquired the same set, too, so that we can both attempt the same muck and compare our results.The tension is palpable.

Slightly moreso when I get round to watching the DVD which comes included. In this, an affable bloke called Richard stands at his kitchen sink and tells you how to make your own wine. Fair enough, except that his starter pack contains one enormous plastic bucket instead of two plastic demijohns; and he's bustling through the techniques required as if he's late for a train. I have difficulty keeping up. I sit there wondering whether to use the hideous old bucket in the laundry room to make wine in - and is there any way I can get it clean enough - as he flings materials and tapwater around on screen. Then I realise that his washing machine is in camera shot and that it contains some laundry. I become transfixed by this, trying to decide what's actually in the wash. Bedding, I reckon after a while, or towels. Finally I settle for bedding, at which point he's already tearing open sachets of yeast and additives as fast as his hands will let him and I realise that, just as in chemistry classes at school, I have strayed intellectually, could not tell anyone what I have witnessed and consequently have no faith that when I try the experiment it will come out anything like it's meant to.

The good news is that Beverdale tell you what to do on a single sheet of pink paper packed with the plastic bladder of concentrated grape juice that is their stock-in-trade. This is more like it. I sterilise my gear, failing to use warm water, with the result that my hands are blocks of ice by the time everything's clean. I then admix grape juice and tap water in a demijohn, add some kind of ground-up oak powder for that fine oaky flavour at the end, chuck in the yeast, agitate, examine the resulting purple treacly foam with the hydrometer (bang on 1080, two successive readings). It smells a tiny bit rank, so I seal it up with an airlock and stand back. For some reason I am now mournful that it all should have taken so little time.

Of course, it's not over. There's a lot of jaunty chat from DVD Richard about the right temperature at which to ferment your brew. It is alarmingly high: 23ºC is acceptable for much of the time. We are in the middle of the coldest snap of the winter and anyway, our house tops out at 21.5º during the day, before dropping off noticeably at night. Richard (who's wearing a T shirt, I mean it's clearly high summer at the time of filming) suggests various ways to keep your brew up to temperature, among them an electric thermal belt to wrap around the bucket/demijohn, a electric hot platform and an immersion heater. He also mentions cladding the thing in a blanket, which is what I go for - a blanket of bubblewrap, the stuff the demijohn was packed in, a nice symmetry, no extra cost and better for the planet, I factitiously assume.

So there it is, in the shower at the top of the house where the air is warmest. If the demijohn explodes for any reason, the wreckage will be contained by the shower itself. There's also a heated towel rail nearby to keep things toasty. The demijohn is swathed from top to toe in bubblewrap. It looks oddly vulnerable on the floor of the shower. I leave the thermometer on top of the bubblewrap to let my wine know that I care. 21º it's saying, which I can live with. There are one or two lethargic bloops of gas coming up. The longer the fermentation takes, supposedly, the better the wine. At this rate, I will be bottling at some point in 2021. But you know what? PK hasn't even started.


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