Brewing

Every good countryman should have a certain set of skills — how to use hand tools, how to grow crops and raise livestock, how to drive an old stick shift truck, etc.  Among these skills is the art of brewing.

This property has a lovely persimmon tree that has good fruit production.  Since we’re currently more or less at peak persimmon season, I decided to make a batch of persimmon mead.  For the uninitiated, mead is wine made with honey instead of sugar.  It can be made with just water, honey, and wine/champagne  yeast, but adding some fruit gives it character.  An added bonus is that the nutrients in the fruit will help the yeast to reproduce and metabolize the honey faster.

Persimmon skin is pretty gross and bitter, so I peeled all the fruits I collected.  They also have great big pits inside that I needed to get out.  Here’s what peeled persimmons look like:

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To get the pits out, I just mashed this against a strainer by hand.  It sort of worked.  Unfortunately, I had to lose a fair amount of the pulp in the process.  I’m not sure what a better method would be.

The pulp was mixed with water and honey, heated up to pasteurization temperature (I don’t have a thermometer, so that’s “darn hot but not boiling”), and poured into a 1 gallon jug that had been sterilized with boiling water.  The unfermented mead is, by design, an excellent habitat for microbes, so it’s very important to prevent contamination.  The only thing you want growing in the mixture is your yeast.  Other microbes can produce bad tastes and harmful chemicals (including methanol, yow!)  I always try what I brew first, before letting other people have any.

After the jug had cooled to room temperature, I added some wine yeast, put on an airlock, and put it away to ferment.  The airlock allows the CO2 produced by the yeast to exit the jug, but prevents outside contaminants from entering (it’s the same design as the S-bend in the toilet line).

I also decided to make a batch of muscadine wine since we’ve got some muscadine vines growing here.  They’re just for fun, we don’t grow enough to sell.  I collected a quart of grapes, put them in a muslin bag, and pressed the juice out by hand.  From the quart of grapes, I got a little over a cup of grape juice.  This would come to about 30% return, but that’s an underestimate since the original quart had a lot of airspace in it.  Anyways, I’m happy with what I got:

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I mixed it with some water and sugar, heated it on the stove to near boiling, and filled up a 0.5 gallon growler.  Then the cooling, yeasting, and airlocking.  The jugs are now sitting on top of my fridge, happily bubbling away.

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Now I wait a few weeks until the CO2 stops bubbling through the airlocks.  Fermentation stops for one of two reasons.  As the alcohol concentration increases, the yeast gets killed off or deactivated.  At some level (and this depends a lot on what yeast you use — wine yeast deactivates higher than beer yeast, for instance), fermentation will stop completely.  This is why you can’t buy 100 proof wine.  It’s also possible that the yeast will burn through all the sugar you gave it before the alcohol concentration gets high enough to deactivate the yeast.  Fermentation would stop because the yeast don’t have anything to metabolize, and so you’d have a very dry wine.  I usually add more sugar/honey than is necessary so that the end result is high ABV and a little sweeter.

When fermentation stops, I’ll filter out all the solids and pour it into a new bottle.  The solids are mostly pulp and dead yeast, which should be removed so that they don’t taint the flavor.  Then you can drink immediately, or let it age for a while if you’re a wine snob.

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