Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

August 6, 2013

Water Quality still Medieval

Filed under: science, Soapbox, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:57 pm

Batch after batch of mead and brown-sugar based herbal beer was coming out tasting like band-aids. I moved my fermentation to the most temperature-stable spot in the house (under my desk, right next to the thermostat), switched from dish soap to hand soap to rinsing with water and sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide only, threw out my old bottles, and scratched my head.

Then, in Michael Pollan’s newish book “Cooked,” I came across a reference to band-aid flavored beer. A local brewer told Pollan that the flavor is caused by the chemical chlorophenol, and that lowering the fermentation temperature would eliminate it. Since I had lowered the temperature to the minimum my A.C. and cold-prone body could take, I knew that that particular solution would not work in my case. However, I did learn a highly specific tag for my problem, “chlorophenol.”

I used the search term in a homebrewing forum, and found my solution right away. It turns out that yeast make some phenols for their own metabolic purposes, and if there is chlorine in their environment, the yeast will incorporate chlorine atoms into their phenols. The chlorophenol products are typical of what the chemical industry provides for Lysol disinfectant and the microbial inhibitors in medical supplies.

Many of my beer and wine recipes call for boiling up some wort, but then topping up the fermenting jug with water from the tap. This is totally inappropriate — even the top-up water needs to be boiled to drive off the chlorine.

The water out of my Detroit tap is great by municipal water standards — not too hard, not too soft, nor too polluted — but it is chlorinated and tastes and smells kind of like a swimming pool. Now that the idea of chlorine in the water is linked in my head to the ruinous batches, mouthfuls of band-aid, I really don’t like the taste of my tap water.

I need to boil the water before I imbibe it — it’s no longer potable out of the tap in my view. Now wasn’t the point of chlorinating the municipal water supply to clean it up so that you wouldn’t have to filter or boil out the nasty things water can carry? Boiling won’t even remove the fluoride, which most Americans are overexposed to, which causes the softening of tooth enamel and potentially more serious problems (41% of 12-15 year olds suffer from dental fluorosis, caused by overexposure to fluoride through toothpaste and drinking water. Fluoride is also known to soften bone, cause diabetes and other endocrine problems, and decrease IQ, although this is not proven to happen with exposures typical for Americans.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to treat my water with the precautions as a medieval living in a horse-manure-filled, no-sewage-treatment-plant, cholera-infested city. As for the fluoride, that requires more sophisticated interventions (maybe the filter Alex Jones hawks on his radio show. Or mounting a political campaign, tilting against the dental establishment and the industries which sell their fluoridated industrial waste to the water department.)

Okay, it’s better than people dying of dysentery, and I don’t know of a better solution than chlorination. I’m just saying, boil all of your brewing water, and don’t take too much pride from the idea that you might be living better than a peasant living in the superstitious, technologically simple Dark Ages.


April 15, 2012

Day of the Dregs

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 2:44 am

The day before yesterday, I took an exploratory look at three gallons of cider I’d left in the basement and forgotten about all winter long. For several weeks last fall, I’d let the stuff ferment in its plastic milk jugs, venting the caps when native microbes had puffed up the jugs with carbon dioxide gas. Then I just left ’em there. I figure that they experienced temperatures from 55 to 75 degrees F (two of the gallons were near both the furnace and an exterior wall), over the months.

I siphoned the cider off the sediment (aka lees ) by mouth, taking a drastic risk in the process. Would I be sucking hard cider, vinegar, or some sort of unspeakable spoilage? It turned out to be hard cider, some sour, flat, alcoholic cider. Thank goddess I hadn’t lost gallons of potential booze. The cider is off the lees, in new jugs under a cap or fermentation locks.

Gallon jugs and mug if cider

The cider that lived!

The cider hasn’t resumed fermenting, despite the addition of some sugar water and a few granules of yeast nutrient. I think that the yeast in it is truly dead, and it needs a new surge of freeze-dried microbial troops to get going again. A good second fermentation with the right additives might make this into a really nice batch. One of the gallons might be turned into vinegar, by inviting in aerobic bacteria. It seems like a shame to destroy perfectly potable booze, but hard cider goes by the glass, cider vinegar by the tablespoon.

In the meantime, I am left with a big blob of sediment: it’s the sort of deceased yeast that vegans use as a nutritious substitute for Parmesan cheese, and New Zealanders press into Marmite. I remembered that Sandor Katz used it in “Wine Dregs Soup:” when I looked it up in Wild Fermentation , the idea of the soup is to substitute out 1/4 of your veggie, chicken or beef stock with wine dregs (“dregs” = the lees and left-behind wine/cider after siphoning). Katz suggests French onion soup.

I nabbed a recipe for Onion Soup from Mark Bitman’s “How to Cook Everything,” and promptly bastardized it into something I could manage on a day’s notice (no “real croutons” or homemade beef stock.) I took 6 sweet onions and sliced them up as thin as I could, then melted 1/4 cup of butter in a cauldron and tossed the onions in. I cooked them about 40 minutes over medium heat, turning them occasionally so as to have less browning and more turning-into-jelly.

Cooked Onions

Cooked 'em Onions!

Next, I dumped in a quart of Kroger beef broth, a pinch of dried thyme, three chopped sprigs of fresh parsley, and a bay leaf. Finally, the scary ingredient: the leftover stuff from the cider production, the sediment at the bottom of an old milk jug. I swirled the dregs into a homogenous cloudy substance, then measured out a cup and a quarter into the soup. I brought it to a simmer for fifteen minutes, during which time it gave off a most awesome smell of apples, onions, and alcohol.


Do you really expect me to eat that?

After the simmer, I tossed store-bought croutons, shredded mozzarella and parmesan from a can onto the soup, and stuck the cauldron in the oven at 400 degrees F. After awhile, the top resembled a well-baked pizza (this isn’t the authentic way, but Tamara said that if she was eating the crud from the bottom of that jug, she was going to get a proper American proportion of cheese!)

Although she had to block out the memory of the jug, Tamara liked the soup, and I did, too. It’s very rich. In the future, we’ll use a better quality beef stock, and a little more liquid. I’m satisfied with the experiment: I learned that there is really nothing wrong with the dregs!

August 3, 2011

How Wild is Wild?

Filed under: Vinting — Tags: — paragardener @ 9:06 pm

I recently bought “Making Wild Wines and Meads” by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling. It has lots of recipes for “melomel,” mead with fruit in it, something Tamara wants to try. It’s also handy if you have some random ingredient you want to turn into wine, ’cause odds are this book has a recipe or two for it.

Concepts of what is wild vary a bit from vintner to vintner. I couldn’t help but compare “Wild Wines and Meads” with “Wild Fermentation,” a book I raved about in a previous post.


Wild Wines and Meads: “A few purists still think that the only good wine is grape wine.”

Wild Fermentation: “I do not dispute that these [refined European] practices can yield sublime and wonderful products. But I knew from my African travels that far more accessible methods existed.”


Wild Wines and Meads: “Let in bacteria, and there goes the neighborhood!” … “Some winemakers make wine with nothing but grapes, but only because grapes already have yeast on their skins.”

Wild Fermentation: “A honey wine called mead is generally regarded as the most ancient fermented pleasure… When by chance or intention honey is mixed with water, fermentation happens. Yeasts surfing through the air aboard particles of dust find their way to that sweet, nutritious honey-water.”


Ingredients for apple wine, Wine Wines and Meads: 5 pints apple juice, 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme, 2.5 pounds sugar, 1 tablespoon citric acid, 1 (optional) Campden tablet, and 1 package wine yeast.

Ingredients for apple wine, Wild Fermentation: a gallon of cider.


Wild Wines and Meads is way off, to claim that grapes are the only magical fruit which can be made into wine without packets of yeast. I think the authors are a little divorced from nature… they also claim that mulberries are “pesky” and that “if a wine makes a bad visual first impression, a real wine lover may never taste it at all.” Wouldn’t a real  wine lover try drinking as many different wines as they could find? Overlooking the book’s lack of wildness, there was some good information in there about wine chemistry. To summarize:

Yeast nutrient contains compounds of nitrogen, and maybe phosphorous or other elements needed for life. It can help carry a fermentation a little further in a low-nutrient must, such as plain honey water. Even white sugar in tap water will support a good deal of fermentation, so this is not a must-have. Vargas and Gulling add a teaspoon of nutrient to every one-or-two-gallon batch.

Pectic enzyme is used to break down pectin, a form of carbohydrate that makes fruit juices cloudy.

To get the fullest possible flavor, there must be acid in the wine balanced with its sugar content. “Wild Wines” recommends citric acid for brilliance, or winemaker’s acid blend for balance, but acidic food ingredients are little trouble to improvise. Acid can be added at the end, by taste.

Tannins add zip to wine, and too much makes wine taste dry and astringent. Tannins can be introduced via raisins or grape leaves. I have a grape vine in the back yard that doesn’t produce anything but leaves, so I’m glad to realize a use for it! Grape leaves are also used to enhance the crispiness of pickles.


“The methods used by one man may be faulty. Better to use the methods of two men.” ~- Chinese proverb

July 23, 2011

Starting a fermentation journal

Filed under: Vinting — Tags: — paragardener @ 12:39 am

I’ve turned out some fermented beverages which, in my opinion, were pretty tasty. I learned some things, such as: if you require clarity in your wine, use very clean conditions, wine yeast from an envelope, and start that yeast growing in body-temp water or O.J. before you add it to the jug. Wild microorganisms or bread yeast are going to have you sipping something with texture, though it may be delicious once you drop your preconceptions. Campden tablets don’t seem to be necessary either way.

Now I’m looking to remember more of what I’ve done and try some recipes which require keeping track of dates, so it’s time I start a fermentation journal. The journal will always be accessible up in the sidebar. Right now it has notes on just two projects, the maple and mulberry wines fermenting for me right now.

October 7, 2010

Time for Cider

Filed under: Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 9:45 pm

The Wheel of the Year indicates: time to celebrate apples.

I have got my store-bought caramel and candied apples sitting up on the shelf for now, but making hard cider is by far the more exciting part. I purchased the unfinished “cider” at the Grosse Pointe Farms Kroger, for which I paid $5 even per gallon. There was exactly one type of cider available for purchase, Litehouse, “blended with GALA APPLES” and pasteurized.

Pasteurization sucks as it kills the yeast which naturally live with the apples. I left the jug open out-of-doors for an hour hoping for some yeast to drift on in… the jug is now sitting in my basement under a fermentation lock, which needs to start bubbling soon or the baker’s yeast I have on hand is going in. In that event, I might as well add some brown sugar, too.


Cider fermenting.

Nothing says class like fermenting it on the plastic.


Before the season is out I’ll start a second batch for conversion to applejack. The process is to put your hard cider out on the coldest day of the year, then throw away the ice that forms and take the remaining liquid back inside to bottle or drink. The result is, of course, more concentrated cider, or applejack. It’s nice to have things to live for during the winter…

Remember that every apple is Goddess-stamped with a pentagram, and that apples are so good they are traditional symbols for temptation. Peoples of temperate climes, may you enjoy apples this Fall!

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