When to Aerate A Wine

Primary FermentersAt what point do you aerate your fruit wine?
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Jason,

Aeration should only be done during the primary fermentation. This is the first 3 to 5 days of when the wine is in a primary fermenter and most active.

The only reason aeration is done is to give the wine yeast more ability to multiply and establish a solid colony. When a packet of wine yeast is put into a 5 or 6 gallon batch of wine, it has the monumental task of growing itself 100 to 200 times that little packet. That’s what causes all the beige-colored sediment you at the bottom of a fermenter. To readily do this the wine yeast need air. Without the air the colony size may suffer resulting in a sluggish fermentation.

Ironically, after the yeast colony is well established and the fermentation is starting to slow down, air is the enemy. For the rest of the wine’s life you want to keep air exposure time short and splashing to a minimum. The major concern here being oxidation of the wine.

What all this means for the home winemaker who is making 5 or 10 gallons is that the primary fermenter should be left exposed to air. This can mean doing something as simple as leaving the lid completely off a bucket fermenter. Cover it with a thin tea towel, nothing more. Or for a winery dealing with 500 gallon vats, this could mean continuously pumping and recirculating the wine back out on top the fermentation surface, much like a fountain.

There is a second element to this as well. Regardless of how much you are fermenting, you will always want to make an effort to keep a dried cap from forming on the surface of the fermentation. The pulp will want to rise during a primary fermentation. If left undisturbed it can dry and form a solid cap, choking the wine yeast off from the much needed air.

To prevent this from happening you will want to punch the cap back down into the wine. For most home winemakers with their 5 and 10 gallon batches, once a day is plenty. You can use something as simple as a potato masher for this purpose or you can stir it until the cap is dispersed. For larger batches you may need to punch down the cap several times a day.

Hope this information helps you out.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Summer Beer Recipe: Making Radler Beer

Radler BeerHow would you react if someone suggested that you cut your beer with lemonade or soda? Would you raise your eyebrows in shock? Gasp with horror? Well, that’s how you make a radler beer.

In many parts of the world, mixing beer is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, many years ago in the US, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of people drinking shandy – a mix of beer with soda or another non-alcoholic beverage. Though shandy all but disappeared in the late 20th century, in recent years it has made a comeback as beer drinkers continue to search out new and exciting alcoholic beverages.

 

What is a Radler Beer?

In Germany, one of the popular beer-soda hybrids is known as radler. Radler means “cyclist”, and legend has it that radler was invented by an innkeeper who when faced with a beer shortage, blended his beer with a lemon soda and marketed it as a thirst-quenching, low-alcohol alternative for bicyclists who passed by his establishment.

Making radler at home is a fun experiment for blending homebrew. There are a couple ways to do it:

  1. Brew a beer and a lemon soda, bottling them separately, and then blend them together in the glass, or:
  2. Brew the beer and the lemon soda, blending them in secondary and bottling or kegging them together.

If you’re just starting out with radler, I’d recommend the first option. This way, you can control the ratio and blend the two together just the way you like it. But if you’re serving for a large group, the second option may be more convenient.

Traditional radler is made with about a 50/50 blend of pilsner beer and lemonade or lemon soda. A popular variation is made with hefeweizen in place of the pilsner.

To make your own radler beer, follow the instructions below.

 

How to Make a Radler Beer Shop Steam Freak Kits

  1. Brew a batch of your favorite pilsner or hefeweizen. Some beers you might try include American Platinum Lager, High-Flyin’ Derwitzer Wheat, or Pilsner Urkel. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try using a pale ale or IPA as your base beer.
  2. Bottle or keg this beer as you normally would.
  3. When the beer is finished and you’re ready to make a radler, brew up a batch of sparkling lemonade:

Mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in 3/4 cup lemon juice. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, mix in 1 can club soda. (If you have a draft system, you can also force carbonate your lemon soda. In this case, you can scale up the batch and force carbonate like you would any homebrew.)

  1. When ready to serve, blend the beer with the lemon soda into a glass at about a 50/50 ratio. Adjust to taste. Optionally, serve with ice and a slice of lemon and enjoy your delicious summer sipper!

This is just a basic radler beer recipe. There are many ways to make a radler beer. The options are only limited by your imagination. Shop Draft Systems

 

Have you every tried a radler beer? How do you make your radler beers? Do you have a favorite radler beer recipe? Share it in the comment section below…

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David Ackley is a writer, brewer, and craft beer marketing consultant. He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

When To Pick Your Grapes: Taking Readings (Pt. 2)

Refractomer, pH Meter and Acid Titration KitThis is part 2 of a 4 part series on when to pick your grapes. Part 1 went over why timing is so important.

As the grapes start to become fully mature what you’ll want to do is take periodic readings. First with your refractometer, then with the pH meter and then finally with the titration kit. These three readings will be considered all together to determine when to pick your grapes.

 

Readings With Refractometers

Refractometers will give you a reading in a scale called Brix. This scale simply represents the amount of sugar in the grape juice as a percentage. For example, if your refractometer is reading 20 Brix, this means the grape juice is 20% sugar by weight.

As the grape matures the sugar percentage rises. This is important because during a fermentation the yeast turns about half of the sugar into alcohol. So the more sugar the grape juice has the more alcohol it can make. The other half of the sugar is turned into carbon dioxide gas (carbonation) and dissipates from the fermentation. In our example, this would mean that if you have a Brix of 20 when picking your wine grapes, you would have enough sugar to potentially make 10% alcohol.

Using refractometers to take Brix readings is very simple and instantaneous. All that is needed is a drop or two of the juice squeezed from the wine grape. Place the drops on the glass prism of the refractometer and then close the cover plate. Look into the lens while pointing it to a good light source, preferably the sun. You may have to adjust the lens to bring the Brix scale into focus. Wherever a brightness change occurs across the scale on the lens, that is the Brix of your wine.

 

Readings With pH Meters Shop Wine Hydrometers

Now it’s time to take a pH reading with your pH meter. What pH is telling you is the total strength of the acidity in the grape juice. As the grapes mature their acidic strength becomes weaker and weaker. If it becomes too weak then there is an increased potential for microbial action, spoilage. Having a low acidic strength can also weaken a wine’s color richness and lower its fruity impression.

The pH scale is a backwards scale. What this means is that the higher the number, the lower the acidity. So it’s important to understand that even though the acidic strength is weakening over time, you should be experiencing higher pH readings as time goes on. A typical pH reading might be 3.2.

To take a reading you will need to squeeze the juice from a hand-full of grapes into a cup or similar. The idea being, you need enough grape juice to completely submerge the entire probe end of the pH meter. Give it a few seconds, and you should get a reading on the display.

 

Readings With Titration Kits

A titration kit measures the total volume of acid in the wine regardless of its strength. It will give a reading as percentage of mass. While this reading does play a roll in the stability of the wine, it is more directly tied to the flavor of the wine. To much acid, the wine is too tart. Not enough acid, the wine if flat and lifeless. A typical reading might be .70%. This means the acid in the wine is 7 tenths of a percent by mass.

To take a reading with the titration kit you can use the same juice sample used to take the pH reading. Basically, what you’ll be doing is adding a solution to the wine until it changes color. By knowing how much solution it took to change the color of the wine sample, you can determine the wine’s total volume of acid. Shop Refractometers

 

Read More >>

Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

How and Why to Brew With Yeast Nutrient

Glass Of Homebrew Sitting In GrainsIf you’ve ever thought about using yeast nutrient in your beers but haven’t, then you may want to reconsider. There is little-to-no downfall in doing so and the additional costs are minuscule.

Yeast is the magical microorganism responsible for turning sugar into alcohol. Without yeast, we would have no beer, wine, or cider. And in order to do their jobs well, those billions of yeast cells have certain requirements. They’re not about to do all the hard work of fermenting your beer without a little something in return!

Though yeast are happy to eat up a bunch of sugar in just about any situation, there are some conditions that affect just how well they thrive. Temperature, for one, is important. Yeast can be killed when either too cold or too hot. When it comes to beer yeast, they tend to do best within a relatively narrow temperature range. Luckily for homebrewers, the ideal temperature for ale yeast is right around room temperature.

Another important factor in yeast performance is yeast nutrition. Since malt provides most of the nutrients yeast needs to ferment a batch of beer, yeast nutrition is usually covered when homebrewers progress beyond the basics.

In order to thrive, yeast need not just sugar, but also elements like nitrogen, fatty acids and sterols, amino acids, and vitamins. When yeast lack these ingredients, such as when brewing with large amount of adjunct grains and sugar, we begin to think about using yeast nutrients in the beer. Personally, I’ve found that yeast nutrient is a worthwhile addition to every batch of beer I brew.Shop Yeast Nutrient

 

Types of Yeast Nutrient and How to Use Them

  • Brewer’s Yeast Nutrient – One of the chief contributors to a healthy fermentation is nitrogen. It is most often lacking when brewing a beer with a high proportion (more than 10%) of sugar or rice. Nitrogen-based yeast nutrients are usually added to a beer before fermentation, though they may also be helpful in resolving stuck fermentations. Typical dosage for beer is 1 tsp. per three gallons.
  • Yeast Energizer – Yeast energizer is specifically designed for enhancing and speeding up fermentation. It has a slightly different mix of ingredients than yeast nutrient, providing what yeast needs a little later in the fermentation process. So, it is often added part way through fermentation and is especially useful in a stuck fermentation situation. Typical dosage is 1/2 tsp. per gallon.

Shop Yeast EnergizerProperly using yeast nutrients when brewing beer will frequently reduce fermentation time and produce cleaner tasting brews. Many brewers are in the habit of adding yeast nutrient to every batch.

 

Are you in a habit of using yeast nutrient in your beers? Why or why not?
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David Ackley is a writer, brewer, and craft beer marketing consultant. He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

Getting Started With A Beginner Wine Making Kit

Wine Making Kit For BeginnerAlthough you do a good job of explaining the beginner wine making kits, I’m still not sure what I need to purchase.  I’d like to start making fruit wines and was looking at the Your Fruit Necessities Box.  I don’t have any wine making products at all so I would like to know what I need to buy in addition to this kit.  Let’s say I want to start with strawberry wine.  I have the beginner wine making kit in my shopping cart and now I need to add . . . bottles?  strawberry fruit mix (how many cans)? any sanitizing equipment for the bottles? Anything else?

Chris
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Dear Chris,

Using the Your Fruit! Necessities Box is a great way to start making wine. Regardless if you’re wanting to make strawberry wine from whole fruits or from your  County Fair canned strawberries, this will be the best way to start out. The wine making process will be the same as well, regardless if you choose to go with fresh or canned strawberries.

In the case of making strawberry wine you can go by the 5 gallon strawberry wine recipe in the center of our mailing catalog, or you can use the strawberry wine recipe listed on the wine recipe page of our website. The directions for making the wine can be found in both places as well. We call them The 7 Easy Steps To Making Wine. The wine making kit already has all the ingredients that are called for in the wine recipe.

As for any additional wine making products or wine making materials you might need, wine bottles is a fairly obvious one. The reason these are not included with the kit is because so many of our customers already have used bottles piling up from their commercial wine purchases.

The sanitizer you asked about is included in the beginner wine making kit. It’s called CleanPro SDH. It work great on all kinds of surfaces: glass, plastic, metal, etc.

If you think you’ll want your wines to be sweet, you may want to purchase a bottle of Wine Conditioner. You will add this to your strawberry wine to bring the sweetness up to the desire level. Just add to taste before bottling the wine.Shop Wine Conditioner

Some people do like to add a second plastic fermenter, but it certainly is not necessary. During the wine making process you will need to move the wine off the sediment a couple of times. This is a process called racking. Having a second fermenter makes the process a little easier. You can just go back-and-forth from one container and to the next as needed.

So as you can start to see the Your Fruit! beginner wine making kit is fairly inclusive, yet economical. While there may be an item or two you may want to add, for the most part this wine kit is complete.

Best Wishes,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Fermentation Vessels: Buckets vs. Carboys For Homebrewing?

Homebrew Fermenting In CarboyIf you’ve ever shopped around for a new fermenter, you’ve probably asked yourself this question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of fermentation buckets vs. carboys?

As a beginning homebrewer, it may be hard to find a definitive answer to the question. Ask other brewers, and you’ll probably get a range of opinions. It seems that everyone has their preference.

But there’s a reason that homebrew equipment kits include a bucket fermenter for primary fermentation and a carboy for secondary fermentation. It all comes down to a few pros and cons:

 

Buckets

  • Wide mouth offers easy access – The design of a fermenting bucket makes it easy to pour into from the boil kettle – you don’t have to mess with a funnel. It’s also easy to open the lid to pull hydrometer samples or add dry hops or other flavorings.
  • Lots of headspace – Buckets offer lots of room for krausen during primary fermentation.
  • Plastic is lightweight and unlikely to break – Buckets are easier to move than glass. Plus, if you drop one, it won’t shatter and send you to the ER.
  • Easy to clean – It’s easier to get inside a bucket to clean the insides. If you need to, you can really get in there and scrub.

 

Carboys

  • Great for bulk aging – With carboys, it’s easy to minimize headspace. Reducing the amount of beer that comes in contact with air greatly reduces the chances of oxidation and infection.
  • A window to your fermentation – Carboys are clear, so you can see what’s happening inside.
  • They come in glass and plastic options – Some brewers feel like they get better flavor when fermenting in glass.Shop Fermenters
  • Don’t provide much space for primary fermentation – To give the krausen room to grow, you may need to rig up a blowoff tube.
  • Can be difficult to clean – Since the opening at the top is so small, it can be hard to get inside for a deep clean. We recommend using a carboy brush or an automatic carboy washer to really get inside.

 

Conclusion

Though both fermentation buckets and carboys work well for fermenting beer, buckets tend to be best for primary fermentation and carboys for secondary fermentation and aging. If you anticipate needing to get inside the fermenter during fermentation (to add dry hops or to stir a mead), a bucket may be your best bet. If you plan to age a beer for a long time after primary fermentation, consider using a carboy to minimize headspace. So as you can start to see there is some commonsense arguments for using a fermentation bucket vs using a carboy.

Which do you prefer: fermentation bucket or carboy?
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David Ackley is a writer, brewer, and craft beer marketing consultant. He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

Can I Use Welch’s Grape Juice To Make Wine?

Welchs Grape JuiceHello Kraus,

I would like to know if wine can be made from Welch’s grape juice that you buy at your local grocery store if you use yeast and go through the process of wine making? Will the Welch’s grape juice ferment into wine?

Curtis
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Hello Curtis,

As a beginning winemaker, using Welch’s grape juice is a great way to learn how to make your own wine. The resulting wine may not necessarily be prize-winning, but it will be well worth the effort.

The really neat part about it is you can make a few gallons of grape wine without having to worry about crushing the grapes and dealing with using a grape presses. You will still need, however, regular wine making materials such as wine yeast, yeast nutrient, wine tannin, etc.

You can use other brands besides Welch’s. The main thing to remember is that the grape juice can not have any preservatives that would interfere with a fermentation. Examples of these would be: sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. All of Welch’s products are fine for fermentation.

Here’s a basic Welch’s grape wine recipe. It is for making one gallon. If you want to make 5 gallons, just times everything by 5, expect for the yeast. Each packet of yeast is good for 1 to 5 gallons of wine:

 

Welch’s Grape Juice Wine Recipe (1 Gallon)
2- 64 oz. Welch’s Grape Juice
1/2- lb. Cane Sugar
1- Package of Yeast (Red Star Montrachet)
1- Teaspoon Yeast Nutrient
Shop Wine Making Kits3/4 – Teaspoon Acid Blend
1/8 – Teaspoon Grape Tannin

 

If you prefer, you can use Welch’s Frozen Concentrate, you can do that as well. Just reconstitute the Welch’s concentrate with water as the directions from Welch’s indicate, and start from there.

You can follow the 7 Easy Steps To Making Wine that are listed on our website. We also have other wine recipes you can use with these Easy Steps on our Wine Recipe Page.

This should be all the info you need to make some Welch’s grape wine. If you have any other questions just let us know.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Belgian Abbey Single Recipe (Extract with Specialty Grains)

Glass Of Home Brewed Abbey SingleIf you’re a fan of Belgian Abbey beers, you’ve probably heard of dubbel, tripel, and witbier. But what about Belgian Abbey single? If you like these beers you’ll love brewing the Belgian Abbey single recipe below.

You may have a hard time finding a beer in Belgium called single. You’re more likely to hear it referred to as table beer or just Belgian ale. But with the stronger Belgian ales referred to as dubbel and tripel, many American brewers have grown accustomed to calling the most sessionable one a single.

These Belgian pale ales are routinely brewed for daily consumption, often by monks. They are usually about 5% ABV, pale or light amber in color, and very complex and aromatic due to fruity and spicy characteristic from Belgian ale yeast. A single is the type of beer you might enjoy with lunch. As such, it shouldn’t be too heavy or alcoholic, but still features the aromatic complexities of Belgian ale yeast. Two of the best American interpretations I’ve come across are made by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Starr Hill.
Continue reading

When To Pick Your Grapes: The Importance Of Timing (Pt. 1)

Man Picking Grapes For WineKnowing the optimum time to pick your grapes for wine is a crucial skill that must be mastered before any vineyard can become successful, yet the “knowing when” seems to be the one thing that eludes many amateur vintners.

What’s At Stake
The timing of the harvest plays a serious roll in the resulting wine. Basic features such as flavor, acidity, body, color, as well as stability are all tied to this decision. One should think of the harvest timing as the first decision to be made in the wine making process.

The Goal
Grapes are no different than most fruits on the face of this earth. As they mature through the growing season, they go from small and tart to big and sweet. In general, we want the grapes to be as sweet as possible but without risking the loss of too much acidity or acidic strength.

The sugars are what the yeast ferment into alcohol. The more sugars there are in the grape juice the more alcohol you will have from the fermentation, so we always want more sugar. But we also don’t want the acidic concentration and strength to deplete too much. This will cause the wine to be less stable and less likely to be able to protect itself from flavor deterioration, loss of color intensity, and potentially spoilage. We also don’t want the wine to be too acidic. This will make the wine too tart or sharp in flavor.

The Tools
Shop RefractometersAs a vintner there are three key pieces of equipment that are necessary to determine the when to pick your grapes: a refractometer, an acid titration kit, and a pH meter. Refractometers measure the amount of sugar in the juice. An acid titration kit measures the amount of the acid in a juice. The pH meter measures the strength of the acid in the grape juice.

I would also strongly recommend getting a wine hydrometer for doing a final check of sugar levels before actually picking the grapes. The hydrometer actually floats in the juice to determine the Brix level. Having a wine hydrometer will also be handy later on when you’re actually making the wine.

Read More >>
Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years. #picking

8 Tips for Taking First Place in a Homebrew Competition

Judges in a homebrew competition.Those homebrewers with a competitive mindset will naturally be drawn to participating in homebrew competitions. Those that aren’t should still consider participating. Not only is it a great way to get feedback on your beers, it’s a fun way to interact with other beer lovers and an opportunity to have some pride in your hard work.

If you’re ready to compete with other homebrewers, consider these tips for winning in a homebrew competition. Use these 8 pieces of advice to improve your chances at winning top prize.

 

Know Your Competition

  1. First, keep in mind that there are generally two kinds of homebrew competitions: Those that are judged by the BJCP Style Guidelines, and those that aren’t. Your approach may vary depending on what kind of competition your participating in.

 

Tips for BJCP Homebrew Competitions

  1. Brew to style – This is one of the most important tips for a homebrew competition I can give you. Judges will likely be reading directly from the style guidelines as they’re judging your beer. To be successful in these types of competitions, it’s crucial that your beer is an exceptional example of a given style. Designing Great Beers is a good starting point for developing recipes according to style guidelines. If you have a beer that just kind of fits in a category, you’re better off submitting it in the Specialty Beer
  1. Plan aheadShop Steam Freak Kits – Ideally, you’ll have plenty of time before the competition to formulate a recipe based on the style guidelines. Better yet, brew the beer more than once so you can really dial it in.
  1. Watch out for the 2014 Style BJCP Guidelines – The BJCP announced changes to the BJCP Style Guidelines, that went into effect in 2015. Some competitions may be quicker than others to transition to the new guidelines, so be sure to check with your competition organizer. Review the changes at BJCP.org.
  1. Become a BJCP Judge – Learning to become a beer judge will help you become very familiar with how these competitions work. It will also expose you to a wide range of styles and improve your sensory skills.

 

Tips for Festival Style Homebrew Competitions

  1. Be creative – For non-BJCP homebrew competitions, you can throw the style guidelines out the window. Sometimes the competitions will have other qualities they’re looking for: best beer with local ingredients, best beer name, best IPA, best Belgian beer. The goal here is to simply make the best beer you can make. Many of these types of competitions will also have a People’s Choice Award or a Best In Show decided by celebrity judges. In this case, it often helps to showcase an unusual technique or ingredient that will make your beer stand out from the crowd. So, the number one tip in these types of homebrew competitions is to be creative.
  1. Market your beer – Colorful, easy to read signs are eye catching and let people know what you’re pouring. Creative, tongue-in-cheek names will often get people’s attention.
  1. Market yourself – Smile and invite people to come taste your beer – the more people try your beer, the better your chances at a People’s Choice Award. Above all else, have fun!Shop Beer Growlers

 

For many, homebrew competitions are one of the most enjoyable aspects of homebrewing. Hopefully, these tips for winning a homebrew competition will make it even more fun. Have you participated in homebrew competitions before? What tips would you add to the list?
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David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.