To the English version of the blog of Leven in de Brouwerij. Here you can find a diversity of stories about wines, cheeses, and beers that I have made. And I am also not afraid to share the failures that I created. Perhaps these are even the most informative. They are surely the more entertaining stories.
I do not want to discredit myself, but I have to mention that I am an amateur without any training in the three arts. However that does not stop me from making very nice wines, cheeses, and beers.
A few years ago I bought myself a present: A wine refrigerator!
I was very happy with it but also a bit ashamed of this snobbish piece of equipment which nobody really needs. You don’t get the combination of these feelings very often.
Shortly after buying it I realized that it is a great place to let cheeses ripen. Only at that moment I started making cheese. The refrigerator was suddenly a tool that I could not miss.
A few months ago I noticed that there was something wrong. It became more noisy and the motor would not stop running. The motor was also very hot. It even had big problems to keep the temperature at 18C.
I googled to see if I could find out what the problem could be. The motor was running, the thermostat was working… Many more options are not available and based on my research I concluded that the coolant had leaked out of the system.
On some Dutch “do it yourself” sites I saw the advice “Throw it away and buy a new one!” because the repair would be too expensive.
I was pretty angry about it because it is only 4 years old! It is an AEG so I expect German quality. Unfortunately the German quality was “made in China”.
The first thing I tried was kicking it very hard but that did not help. I googled some more and I found some movies that showed that it is not so difficult to refill a refrigerator. Nobody mentioned anything about fixing the leak but after some more googling I read somewhere that the leak could be extremely small.
I decided to have a look for the equipment and try to fix it. I found a site with a copper filler tube which you have to solder to the refrigerator, a gas bottle and a tap for the bottle. That looked promising so I ordered them. I decided that I could find a tube needed to connect the filler tube to the tap in a hardware shop.
That was a mistake. The thread of the copper filler tube mentioned ¼” but it definitely was not the G¼” that is available. It turned out to be SAE which is not used regularly. But luckily I found a website that sells a tube with this thread. By now I spent 100 euro without any guarantee.
Now was the moment of truth. I cut the filler line and soldered the filler tube in it. This went surprisingly easy considering I have not soldered before.
On the refrigerator is mentioned that I should get 25 gram of the gas R600a in it.
I connected the can, the tap, and the tube to the filler and opened the tap. I could hear the gas flowing but it was not much. I weighed the can and it was only about 12 gram lighter.
Then I remembered that the motor should be running!
I connected it again and switched on the refrigerator. This time I could hear that the motor sucked in more gas.
I disconnected everything and closed the filler with its cap.
This time approximately 30 gram went in. I did not have any patience so I let the refrigerator running. It worked great! The outside became warm and the temperature in the refrigerator dropped really quick.
It is working for 2 months now and I am sure that it is working better than when it was new. It is cooling faster and it is not as noisy. And the funny thing is that the filler is still there! I have enough gas for 10 more refills so if it happens again I can simply fill it again.
You can believe that I am really happy with the result. I can make cheese again.
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In the beginning I was unsure. I did not know what I was doing. Maybe I still do not know what I am doing.
I am sure that I don’t know what I’m doing but the world can forgive me.
As is the case in the wine and beer making hobby. There are many ways to achieve wine and beer and as long as that is the result, the way it got there is less important.
When I started making wine I did not know anything. Even the simplest things I had to learn. I read books and followed their advice to the letter. For example racking: According to some sources you should rack wine every 2 months until it is clear enough to put it in a bottle. Other sources are easier and say for example every 4 months.
Well I changed my mind about that a long time ago. I rack as little as possible. In some cases only 2 times. I have several reasons:
So my schedule is roughly like this:
Although it seems simple there are some tips that I would like to give:
Racking is not too difficult but it is also very easy to make a small mistake and if you do make a mistake you probably have to rack an extra time.
(All the mistakes have been described out of personal experience.)
P.S. Visit the brouwstore of Leven in de Brouwerij. The Braumarkt with the best blog of all Brouwland!
Personally I do not like white wines with “wood” taste. As a matter of fact I don’t add anything to white wines except of course sometimes acids if needed.
I would not call acids additions because acids are necessary for wine. Oak chips, tannin and vanilla I would call additions.
This week I was drinking a white wine (From the supermarket) and I could taste a big mistake that I also have made in the past. Too much wood! Really a huge mistake for a professional winemaker.
In the past I tried a few things and I have learned that it is very easy to add too much. It sounds very logical but the mistake is easily made.
Here are some examples of my wrong train of thought.
I prefer red wine, however I am not able to get wine grapes. So I tried making wine from red grape juice from the supermarket. Unfortunately it ended up as a very watery light red without body. I thought that I should try it again but then add some oak chips for a woody taste and also some tannins.
Again a big failure. The wine would not taste like wine at all but just like wood. Although I did not think I added a lot of chips it gave very much flavor.
According to the package you should add 5 to 30 grams per 10 liter. This seems very little but I have to agree that this amount of oak is correct.
The second thing I tried was vanilla. American oak gives a slight vanilla taste to wine which I also like. So I used 1 stick of vanilla for 25 liter wine. I did not think that it would give much flavor but again I was very wrong. The wine taste was completely overpowered with vanilla. I haven’t tried it since but if I would try it again I would use maximum 20% of a stick for 25 liter.
Another addition you can use is tannin. It does not do very much for the taste but it has a special mouth feel. I guess you can say that it turns the inside of your mouth to sandpaper. I like it in red wines. It makes them a bit more powerful.
I have 2 kinds. One for white wines and one for red wines. I think the only difference is the color. I like the one for red wines. It gives them a little extra.
I also wanted to try it in a white wine but that was a disappointment. I prefer white wines to be fresh and young. Like springtime. The tannin takes that away and turns the wine in a grumpy old man. So no more tannin in white.
The package says to use half a teaspoon per 10 liter but I think that this is not enough. I use ten times that amount.
For red wines a great addition is banana. I have no idea why but I have the feeling that it gives red wine body. Mash them with some water and add to the wine. I use 1 or 2 banana’s for 25 liter wine.
Another thing I like to use are dried elderberries. Fresh elderberries are perfect for red wine. I make it every year. Unfortunately they are only available for a short period. When they are not available I used to make red wines from kits. Which I will not do anymore because they are not good enough.
To upgrade these kits I added some dried elderberries which I bought. Not too much. 50 to 100 grams per 25 liter. (Which is a lot of dried berries) It made the wines a lot better. It really adds something interesting.
It is very difficult to find out what ingredient you can add to improve your wine. And unfortunately you will find out the result only after many months of waiting. The best advice I can give you is to use small quantities.
P.S. Visit the brouwstore of Leven in de Brouwerij. The Braumarkt with the best blog of all Brouwland!
Scherven brengen geluk! (The Dutch version) I had no idea that this also is a saying in English. And apparently also in German: "Scherben bringen Glück".
The Dutch experts on language seem to have different thoughts about the origin and meaning, and I am not going to speculate.
One thing is for sure; shards usually do not make beer or wine makers happy.
Which brings me to the failure of today:
I found this picture on the internet. I have not made this failure but other people did so I fit it in the failures series.
The person wanted to clean several old dirty demijohns. By the writing style I am going to assume it is a woman. (Excuse me if I’m wrong) She used boiling water and one of the demijohns broke. She explained that she did not use the hot water on the outside of the demijohn but only on the inside. Her advice therefore is: Also use the hot water on the outside.
Well, here is my advice: DO NOT USE HOT WATER TO CLEAN DEMIJOHNS!
They are not made for it. They are not meant for hot water and you also cannot put hot wort in them! You will not be the first who has to clean the best beer ever made from your kitchen floor.
I have to give her credit for one thing though. She found that cleaning the demijohns with vinegar and uncooked rice worked very well. I have not tried it myself because I never had any problems with stubborn dirt in demijohns but I will definitely try it if needed.
Today the first wine failure: Topping up. What is it? Why? How?
Years ago I started making wine. I had no idea how, but I bought some demijohns and other equipment. To make it easy I decided to start with some kit wines. (Actually that was the first mistake.) They come with everything you need, and a manual.
Making the wine was not difficult and very interesting. I enjoyed it. Fermentation started and finished. I racked it and made my first mistake: I did not fill the demijohn but I left a lot of empty space above the wine.
Empty? No. It is filled with wine’s worst enemy! Air!
Or to be more specific: Oxygen. Oxygen reacts with wine and it causes off tastes and flavors.
In small quantities Oxygen is not a problem and actually improves (red) wine when it ages, but this was not the case.
When the wine is fermenting it is no problem to have empty space because the CO2 that is formed is heavier than air and forms a protective blanket above the wine. Thinking about this image gives me a warm, save feeling.
But we were already passed this stage. I had no idea that I was damaging the wine and I racked it again and still another time. Destroying the blanket and each time the wine was supplied with fresh Oxygen. Which sounds nice if you are human, but is killing the wine.
I used Sulphite to protect it but it was not going to help against my ignorance.
After 6 months or so I bottled the wine and it did not taste well. There was something wrong. I read the manual and finally found out what “Topping up” means. Very simple; fill the demijohn.
So, what should I have done? Well there are several options:
At the moment I have changed my racking strategy a bit. Actually a lot. Many people have the idea that you should rack quite often. Some say even every 2 months. I disagree with that.
I rack from a fermentation bucket to a demijohn when the fermentation is almost finished, after a few months when the wine is practically clear, and once more one day before bottling. I try to rack only a few times to have as little contact with air as possible. I will come back to this in another story in the failure series.
Believe it or not: I even have something to say about something as simple as the airlock!
As beer or wine maker you cannot do without some kind of airlock. It has several functions:
The airlock is used often as indication that the fermentation has stopped or not. But beware! There are some traps!
There are several types available. I tried 2 and ended up with the classic model. The downside of this air lock is that it is not easy to clean once it has gotten dirty inside. The other air lock I had consists of 2 parts making it much easier to clean. This air lock is also available in bigger sizes and can be used for bigger quantities.
However, I prefer the classic model. You can see the level of the water and the movement of the bubbles. It takes a very long time for water to evaporate. And, most important, it makes a very relaxing bubbling sound.
This is different for the other model that I used. It is not so easy to see whether there is still water in it. It has happened to me several times that the air lock was dry. Therefore I decided to stop using it.
If you are making bigger quantities and need a bigger air lock it is very easy to make one. I will post about this another time.
The point of measuring the Specific Gravity is to determine and correct the amount of alcohol you will have in the finished beer.
I think beer is a bit more difficult than wine because you are not able to predict the S.G. after fermentation very well. (In wine it is always practically 0 if you let fermentation finish) Since it is not exact science you will have to estimate this.
You want to make 10 liter beer with 6% alcohol. You expect that the specific gravity after fermentation will be 1010.
The hydrometer measurement before fermentation is 1040.
In the table (see below) you can see that there is 100 gram per liter sugar and that the alcohol percentage after fermentation will be 3,9%.
This is obviously very little. Maybe something went wrong. In the table you can see that you need 135 gram per liter to reach 5,9% alcohol.
So you need to add 135 - 100= 35 gram per liter. So in total you need to add 350 gram sugar to your wort.
In case you want to know how much alcohol your beer contains and how much sugar is left, you have to make a measurement after the fermentation as well.
The fermentation is finished and you make another SG measurement. It turns out to be 1014 instead of 1010. You can decide to wait for 10 days to see if the SG will decrease or, if you are very sure that fermentation has finished you can decide to add some more sugar.
In the table you can see that your beer has 5,3% alcohol and that there is 35 grams of sugar left per liter.
So, if you want to get an alcohol percentage of 5,9 % you need to add 35 – 25 = 10 gram sugar per liter (So 100 gram in total) and wait for this to be fermented before you can bottle.
Some things about the table that you don’t really need to know:
I have not found a book that describes the formulas that define the table. For some reason the books that I have, do not make the link between S.G. and amount of sugar. (Or Plato or Brix values)
The table is made by me by combining a table that is in one of my books and some other information that I found on the internet.
This simple tool is essential for wine makers and beer makers. It measures the so called “Specific gravity”. To put it another way; it measures the weight of a liquid compared to water.
This number by itself does not mean anything for a wine or beer maker but with tables or formula’s you can say something about the amount of sugar in the liquid.
However a big ATTENTION here. Sugar is very heavy and it is of great influence on the specific gravity. Usually other influences can be more or less discarded. But keep in mind what you are doing. You are NOT measuring sugar contents, you are measuring “weight”.
I found that out when I was measuring a juice that I bought from a supermarket. On the box it mentioned that there should be 110 gram sugar per liter in it. When I measured it the hydrometer reading was around 1037 which means, according to the table that I use, only around 80 gram sugar per liter!
I did not understand what was happening because I did not believe that the manufacturer could be wrong by this much.
Luckily I also have a refractometer (which measures sugar in a completely different way) so I also measured the juice with it. The refractometer said that the package was correct with its 110 gm/l.
Then I noticed something on the package. The keyword was carbonated! There was CO2 dissolved in the juice. Since CO2 is much lighter, the specific gravity of the juice was much lower than expected.
So be aware that other factors (like alcohol) can influence the SG.
Another point that is worth mentioning is that there can be more scales on the hydrometer. It can also have a scale for potential alcohol and / or sugar contents. Do not use these! The hydrometer can be used for beer making and wine making and you can imagine that these liquids have a different amount of sugar in them at the same SG.
So use the value for SG and use a table or a software program to determine the sugar and alcohol amounts.
Now that we have that out of the way; let’s measure something!
It is very simple. Just put some of the juice in the measuring cylinder and put in the hydrometer.
Read the value at the surface of the liquid.
Check in the table what the amount of sugar is and how much alcohol will be produced. In case you want more alcohol you can use the table to find out how much sugar to add.
Please note that the tables for wine and beer are different!
How do you use the tables? Find out in the following stories: Wine table and Beer table.
In the previous story about pH I used tap water to see how much Citric acid I would need to change the pH to a level suitable for beer. I realized that there is not much point to this story if you don’t know what the pH of your water is. Well, to all the people who do not have a pH meter I have some good news: After reading this you will not need one!
Of course you can forget about all of this if you do not care too much about the details. You will still make beer if the pH of the water is not perfect. If you don’t get enough sugar out of your malt just add some sugar afterwards. No problem.
But I can tell from my own experience that the pH does influence the efficiency of the enzymes, resulting in more sugar.
Time for a new experiment.
I got some Turkish waters and measured the pH of these waters. Here are the results:
Sirma 7,4, Erikli 7,9, and Saka mini 8,2
Let’s say that water in general will have a pH between 7 and 8. The pH should be a bit lower for beer making (Between 5,2 and 5,6) so a little acid should be added.
As I wrote before I do not have the acids that beer makers generally use but I have citric acid. Since the quantities are extremely small it will not influence the taste of the beer.
I bought a more accurate scale so I could do measurements a lot more accurate than last time.
The test was as follows:
Now I have a very accurate solution of 2 gm Acid in 500 gm water which is the same as 4 gm/L.
The pH of this solution was 2.8.
Then I threw away 100ml and added tap water to 500 ml. This solution contains 4/5 of the original 2 gm Acid. (1,6 gm in 500 ml = 3,2 gm/l) The pH of this solution is 2,9.
I repeated this until the pH was 8,0 which happened with 0,00618 gm/l citric acid.
Here is the graph that I made from all these measurements. There are a few conclusions:
So in conclusion; if you use around 0,2 gm citric acid per liter water the pH is about right for making beer.
This is the best tool that any beer or wine maker can buy. Especially for beer makers.
I don’t like bottling. It is not much fun and it seems almost like work.
But this simple tool makes life a lot better. It is cheap, simple and works perfect.
When I started making wine I bought a bottle filler that was a bit more complicated. It would stop when the bottle is full. MOST of the time that is what it does. Unfortunately it would not work sometimes and you can guess what happens next. That’s right; precious wine on the floor.
On some bottles it would not fit properly which also resulted in spilling wine.
While making beer it was even more useless. It filled the bottles from the top and the beer splashes in which result in a lot of foam so it was not possible to fill the bottle in one try. It takes a long time to wait for the foam to disappear.
Then I found this thing.
It is hard to believe but this simple tool works fantastic. You attach it to the racking hose. When you push the filler to the bottom of the bottle it opens and the beer or wine will flow. When you lift it again the flow is immediately blocked.
Lift and it is closed
Place on the bottom and it is open
And the best part; it fills from the bottom of the bottle. This prevents foaming in beer bottles so you can fill them in one go. Filling bottles does not need to take longer than racking.
Since there is no splashing, the contact with air / oxygen is also minimized.
Seriously; no beer or wine maker should have to live without it.
I think that guy has made a nice movie about the bottling process.