Adding Sulfites To Homemade Wine

Sulfites Being Added To Homemade WineSulfites are added to wines to help protect them from spoilage and from the effects of oxidation. This is true for homemade wines as well as professionally made wines. Without sulfites the wine can eventually becomes host to a mold or bacteria growth such a vinegar, or lose its color and freshness.

When adding sulfites to wine we use either Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. Each is essentially the same thing in a different form. These sulfites are simple to add to a wine, but there are some things you should know about using them.

Sulfites Are Funny
In reality sulfites are a little funny in how they react to a wine or wine must. When adding a sulfite to a wine, not all of it wants to stay there. Some of the sulfite wants to leave – escape like as a gas, much like CO2 carbonation wants to escape from a bottle of soda pop. It take time for the free SO2 to leave the wine, but eventually the amount of free sulfite in the wine will be only minor.

The other half of this story is that while a portion of the sulfites leave the wine as a gas, known as free sulfites, there is another portion of the sulfites that want to stay. These are the sulfite molecules that actually bond to the wine and are quite comfortable where they are. This portion is known as bound sulfites.

Here’s The Twist
Even though some of the sulfites stay in the wine, you still need to replenish the wine with additional doses of either Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. This is because the bound sulfites that remain in the wine have no ability to protect it. They do nothing. They are just there.

Shop Potassium MetabisulfiteIt is only the free sulfites that have the ability to protect the wine from spoilage in any way, and they’re not hanging around for very long. This is why we recommend adding sulfites to your wine:

  • Before the fermentation
  • After the fermentation
  • Right before bottling

By adding sulfites at these three time you are making up for the free sulfites that have left.

Why Does All This Matter?
It matters because it is possible to add too much sulfites to a wine. Each time you add a dose you are adding more sulfites that will permanently bind with the wine. Add too many doses and your wine may become victim of an overdose. The result is a wine that has a permanent sulfur taste.

Here’s The Good News…
It takes a significant amount of bound sulfites to detectable within the wine’s flavor. If you only add the three doses mentioned earlier, you will never have a problem with flavor – it will be will below the threshold of perception – but start adding extra doses of sulfite to your wine after each racking or while your wine is bulk aging, then your wine’s flavor could start to suffer.

Shop Sulfite TesterIf you are concerned about your wines having enough free sulfite and want to add more sulfite doses than the three mentioned above, then the best thing you can do is to test. This can be done with a simple titration kit. The most popular SO2 tester for the home wine maker is Titrets by Chemetrics. These little test ampules also need a special hand-tool to perform a test.

By taking a small wine sample you can quickly determine how much free sulfite is in your wine. By knowing this you won’t be adding more sulfites than necessary to your homemade wine whether they be bound or free.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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.

What’s A Stuck Beer Fermentation, And How To Avoid It!

Stuck Beer Fermentation Hydrometer ReadingSo you’re sitting there with your beer in the secondary fermenter and expecting to bottle when what do you know – that beer you expected to finish around 1.010 on the hydrometer is still hanging out at 1.050. The beer yeast brought the gravity down by a mere ten points! What we have here is a stuck beer fermentation.

This is where meticulous note taking comes in handy. When things don’t go the way you want them to, your notes can point you towards the source of the problem.

Let’s see if we can figure out what went wrong.


What Is a Stuck Beer Fermentation and Why Does It Happen?

Fermentation is a process conducted by beer yeast, a living organism. Yeast requires certain conditions for the fermentation to take place, and if those conditions aren’t met, the fermentation can stop well before it should. Most beers will finish at 1.020 or lower, so if your beer stops fermenting at 1.030 or higher, you may have a stuck beer fermentation.

Here are a few of the reasons why your beer is not fermenting:

  • Not enough yeast – The yeast was under-pitched, so that is there weren’t enough yeast cells to fully ferment the wort.
  • Wort too hot when yeast was pitched – If the wort was too hot, it could have shocked or killed the beer yeast.
  • Wort in wrong temperature range – If your fermenter is too hot or too cold, it could kill the yeast or put them in a dormant state.
  • Under-aerated wort – Yeast needs oxygen in order to reproduce to a level where there are enough healthy cells to ferment the wort.
  • Old beer yeast (not viable) – If your beer yeast sat on the shelf for too long or was stored improperly, the yeast could have deteriorated. Check the dates on the yeast packets when you buy them and make sure they are stored in the refrigerator.
  • Yeast quit due to alcohol content – This could happen if brewing a very high gravity beer. Beer yeast commonly have a certain alcohol tolerance based on the strain. If you’ve exceeded the tolerance, then this could cause a stuck beer fermentation.
  • Lack of nutrition – Malt provides nutrition for yeast growth, so a stuck beer fermentation sometimes happens when brewing beers with lots of simple sugar adjuncts.Shop Beer Yeast Culturing


How to Prevent a Stuck Beer Fermentation

The first step towards fixing a stuck fermentation is prevention. These are three of the best ways to prevent a stuck fermentation:

  1. Use only fresh, healthy beer yeast – When buying yeast, check the date on the yeast packet to make sure it’s fresh.
  1. Prepare a yeast starter – Yeast starters are highly recommend when using liquid yeasts. (Check out our step-by-step guide to Yeast Starters.)
  1. Chill your wort to the appropriate pitching temperature – This will prevent any temperature shock. Check the yeast package for appropriate pitching temperature and allow the yeast to come to room temperature before pitching. (Read our post Why and How to Chill Your Wort for more information.)
  1. Thoroughly aerate your wort – Pour the wort vigorously into the fermenter and/or stir well with a sanitized stirring spoon.
  1. Use yeast nutrient – If brewing a high gravity beer or a beer with high amounts of simple sugars, yeast nutrient can give the yeast an extra boost.


How to Fix a Stuck Beer Fermentation

This is the hard part. It’s very difficult to revive yeast that isn’t doing its job, and it may take some detective work to figure out the best course of action. These are a few of the approaches one could take to fix a stuck beer fermentation:

  1. Check that the fermentation temperature is correct – Consult the yeast package for the optimal temperature range.Shop Liquid Beer Yeast
  1. Stir – Using a sanitized spoon, give the wort a good stir to see if you can revive the yeast that has settled out and get it back in to suspension.
  1. Pitch more yeast – You may want to pitch more yeast. (This is when having an extra packet of dry yeast in the refrigerator comes in handy!) It may help to try a different strain of yeast, especially for brewing high gravity beers.
  1. Pour your wort onto a yeast cake from another (recent) brew – This is a little unconventional, but it should do the trick. Pour your stuck wort over a yeast cake from a beer that you just racked to secondary. Just make sure what you’re mixing is relatively similar, if not identical. For instance, pouring a saison onto a witbier yeast cake will probably work out fine, but pouring a hefeweizen onto a Irish stout yeast cake will majorly affect your brew.


Now that you are familiar with a stuck beer fermentation and understand better the potential reasons why your beer is not fermenting, hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with one.

Have you ever had a stuck beer fermentation? Were you able to fix it? How did you do it?
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.

Which Is Better: Fresh Wine Making Juice vs Concentrate?

Wine Making Juice ConcentrateHow does the flavor of a wine made from fresh wine making juice compare concentrate? I know this is a broad question but are there any drastic differences?

-Matt W.
Hello Matt,

Thanks for the great question.

The advancement of concentrating wine making juices has jumped by leaps and bounds over the last few decades. It has finally gotten to the point that it is indistinguishable when comparing fresh wine making juice vs concentrate.

Today, the concentrating process is done by taking nothing more than water out of the fresh juice. This is accomplished by boiling the juice and causing the water to steam off the juice. Basically it’s distilling.

But here’s the twist: they are doing it at a very low temperature. In other words, they steam the water off of the fresh juice at room temperature. You may be asking yourself, how’s that even possible? And the answer is very simple. It’s done with air pressure… or lack of it.

You may remember from your high school science class that water boils at 212°F. But this is the boiling point for water at sea level, only. As you go up in altitude the boiling point becomes lower and lower. For example, water boils at 187°F on top of Pike’s Peak. This is because there is less air-pressure to hold the steam into a liquid as you go up in altitude.Shop Fermenters

The wine concentrate producers use this fact to their advantage. The juice is placed in a vacuum that is so strong that it begins to boil at ~76°F. The water literally steams off of the juice at this temperature keeping it fresh and free from the effects of heat.

Any aroma or other volatile elements that escape during this process along with the steam are later extracted from the steamed-off water and put back into the wine concentrate as an essence.

This is the real secret behind why there is no difference between wine making juice and concentrate. There is nothing done to the wine concentrate that is negative or harmful.

A second consideration as to why you may want to consider using wine making concentrate is the fact that the grapes used to make these grape concentrates are usually superior to what you have available to you otherwise. What’s available to most home wine makers is usually very limited compared to what wine making concentrate producers have to offer. Which brings me to the last point I’d like to make…

shop_wine_making_kitsYou have an incredible variety of wine making concentrates available to you. When comparing fresh wine making juice vs concentrate, it’s not eve close. For example, we carry over 200 different kinds of grape juices collected from all over the world. These concentrates afford you the opportunity to make wines from grapes grown as far away as Italy and New Zealand.

Matt, I hope this clears things up for you. One common saying among winemakers is that, “you can not make a wine that is better than you grapes used to make it.”. That is why this subject is so important. You have to start off with a good foundation of produce to end up with a stellar wine.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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.

Home Brewing With Wheat

Malted Wheat For Home BrewingWheat has been used in making beer for hundreds, probably thousands of years. In Germany, it was once such a popular ingredient that the government implemented Reinheitsgebot, which put a restriction on brewing with wheat to make sure there was enough wheat for making bread.

Modern home brewers have no such restriction. There are several styles of beer we enjoy today that call for the use of wheat:

  • American wheat beers, weizens, witbiers, and weissbiers are brewed with high proportions of wheat in the malt bill (sometimes 50 percent or more).
  • There are a number of other beer styles where we might see a smaller proportion (20 percent or less) of wheat used for body or flavor, such as in Belgian saisons.
  • Wheat may also be used in small amounts (up to 10 percent) to improve body or head stability in other styles, such as pale ales or stouts.
  • Lambics are often brewed with about 30% unmalted wheat.


Home brewing with wheat malt vs. barley malt

When home brewing with wheat, it’s important to think about some of the differences between wheat and barley:

  • Flavor – Compared to barley, wheat has a flavor that’s more, well, wheaty or bread-like. It’s often used to help make beers smoother in both flavor and mouthfeel. These characteristics often make wheat a good base malt for fruit beers.
  • No husk – Wheat also has no husk and a smaller kernel, which come into play when brewing all-grain beers. The lack of husk makes it a little more challenging when lautering, but on the other hand, no husk means less tannins.
  • Protein – Finally, wheat generally has a higher protein content than barley. This is why wheat is often used to improve head stability. The flip side is that the higher protein content can make the beer more hazy.


Different ways to go about home brewing with wheat:

  • Wheat extractShop Liquid Malt Extract – The easiest way to start home brewing with wheat is to us wheat malt extract. Use it in the same way you would any other dry or liquid malt extracts. Steam Freak Wheat LME is typically 65 percent wheat and 35 percent barley, whereas the Munton’s Wheat DME is 55 percent wheat and 45 percent barley. These ratios are important to keep in mind in terms of flavor and when converting an extract recipe to all grain.
  • Malted Wheat – Malted wheat needs to be mashed. Since wheat has no husk, it’s often recommended to us rice hulls along with it to improve filterability through the grain bed. We carry both Red Wheat Malt, which has an assertive wheat flavor, and White Wheat Malt, which is a little more subtle.
  • Flaked Wheat – Flaked wheat is unmalted wheat which has been processed through hot rollers. This process gelatinizes the starches so you don’t have to worry about converting sugars in the mash.
  • Torrified WheatTorrified wheat has been ruptured (sort of like popcorn) to make the starches in the grain more accessible. It should be mashed with a standard base malt for conversion to take place.
  • Unmalted Wheat – Raw, unmalted wheat is sometimes used for flavor, body, and head stability, but won’t contribute much in the way of fermentable sugars unless it is cooked in the brewhouse.

Do you like to home brew with wheat? What are your favorite styles of wheat beer?

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.

A Quick Wine Guide To Taking Hydrometer Readings

Taking Hydrometer ReadingsI have been making wine for a number of years and I’ve always had trouble taking hydrometer readings. When using the tube the wine hydrometer came in, the foam on the top of the must or wort and the moisture on the sides causes the hydrometer to stick to the plastic. When that happens, it raises the level of the liquid on the sides of the tube making a hydrometer reading pretty inaccurate. The obvious solution would be to use a larger container but I hate to waste that much material. I’ve tried to make sure the tube is level but the hydrometer always migrates to the side. Any suggestions?

Name: Rick S.
State: Michigan
Hello Rick,

From what you are describing, the plastic storage tube is what’s causing a lot of your problems with taking hydrometer readings. We always recommend to customers that they use something other than the storage tube to take readings. It’s really not what it’s designed to do. Some of them will even leak.

You will be much better off with an actual glass hydrometer jar that is designed specifically for taking hydrometer readings. The diameter of the tube is larger than storage container. The sides are smoother, and the line of sight is clearer. All these things add up to you being able to take hydrometer readings with much more accuracy and less problem.

The glass hydrometer jar can also be quickly sanitized along with the wine hydrometer before taking readings. You can do this by using a sanitizer such as Basic A. By sanitizing your equipment you don’t have to waste any of your wine. Just take the reading and pour the sample wine directly back in the batch. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing this.Shop Hydrometer Jars

As for the foaming, there is not much you can do about it. Some of the foam is caused by the natural surface tension of the wine. The agitation causes the bubbles just as if you were pouring a finished wine into a wine glass. Some of the bubbles come from CO2 gas that was made, or is being made, by the fermentation. You can wait a few minutes to see if some of the bubbles settle down enough for you to get a clean reading, but beyond that, I know of nothing practical you can do to rid yourself of all the bubbles.

Also, when you’re taking a hydrometer reading during fermentation, you can have problems with CO2 bubbles clinging to the side of the wine hydrometer. This is when bubbles form from the wine being disturbed and then attach themselves all the way up and down the wine hydrometer.

These bubbles can throw the hydrometer reading off by artificially raising it in the wine sample. One way to avoid this issue is to give the hydrometer a quick spin before taking a reading. This is to dislodge any bubble away from the hydrometer.

Shop Basic AOne other thing I would like to point out is that when you are actually taking the hydrometer reading, you would like you eye to be level with the surface of the wine in the hydrometer jar. This will allow you to obtain the most accurate reading. If you are taking your hydrometer reading from an upward angle, the surface tension of the wine will cause it to curve a little against the hydrometer, giving a bit of an optical illusion.

Rick, I hope this information about taking hydrometer readings helps you out. It’s just a few of the things I’ve learned along the way while taking my own readings.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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.

Getting Started: Essential Home Brewing Equipment List

Home Brewing EquipmentI’m frequently asked by craft beer fans what they need in order to start brewing their own beer. Is there a home brewing equipment list that one could follow? Luckily, E. C. Kraus has taken the guess work out of this question by offering a Starter Home Brew Kit, which includes a bunch of equipment and one ingredient kit for the homebrewer’s first batch of beer. The only thing not included is a large kettle, which you may have on hand already. (If you don’t, we can hook you up with a brew kettle, too!)

Now, let’s take a closer look at the list of home brewing equipment included in the Steam Freak beer brewing kit:

  • Home Brewing Book:
    Before even getting to the actual equipment, every brewer needs some literature to guide them through their first batch. The Complete Joy of Home Brewing is the perfect accompaniment for the beginning brewer. After getting a batch or two of homemade beer under their belt, homebrewers can upgrade to more advanced books. I recommend Marty Nachel’s Homebrewing for Dummies and Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers. More >>
  • 6 Gallon Primary Fermenter (Comes with airlock, stopper, and faucet):
    A 6 Gallon Fermenter is ideal for primary fermentation. Even though you will be brewing a five-gallon batch, the extra space allows for krausen, or foam, to build during the height of fermentation. The airlock and stopper allow carbon dioxide – a byproduct of fermentation – to escape from the fermenter, while the faucet makes it easy to transfer to the carboy for secondary fermentation. More >>
  • 5 Gallon Plastic Carboy (Comes with airlock, stopper, and faucet):
    The carboy is where the beer sits for a 10-14 day conditioning phase, known as secondary fermentation. A curved racking cane will make it easier to transfer from the carboy back into the fermenter for bottling. More >>
  • Home Brew Hydrometer:Shop Brew Kettles
    This nifty tool should on any home brewing equipment list. It allows brewers at every level to determine the alcohol content of their beer. Carefully place the sanitized home brew hydrometer in the unfermented wort to take the first measurement – referred to as the original gravity (OG). After fermentation, take another – called the final gravity (FG). The difference between the two is used to calculate the alcohol by volume (ABV)! More >>
  • Thermometer:
    Your fermentation temperature matters. Too cool, and the yeast won’t ferment; too warm and you are promoting bacterial growth and possible death of the yeast. More >>
  • 6′ Length of 3/8″ Vinyl Hose:
    Any home brewing equipment list is going to have this. The heat resistant hose facilitates transferring from one fermenter to the other. More >>
  • Bottle Capper  
    When it’s time to bottle your brew, you’ll need something to cap the beer bottles. The double lever capper is easy to operate and ensures a firm seal on every bottle. More >>
  • Cleaner/Sanitizer:
    Brewing can get a little messy, but with several cases of beer at the end, it’s well worth the effort. A cleaner is ideal for cleaning your home brewing equipment before and after brewing a batch of beer. More >>
  • Beer Bottle Brush: Shop Steam Freak Kits
    Homebrewers typically save beer bottles for when their home brew is ready. The beer bottle brush helps to clean the insides of the bottles, helping to make sure nothing contaminates the beer you’ve worked so hard to make. More >>
  • Beer Ingredient Kit:
    Choose from over 30 beer ingredient kits for your making your first batch of beer. The Steam Freak Ingredient Kits include all home brewing ingredients for a five gallon batch, recipe instructions, and caps. More >>

So what are you waiting for? Order a kit already and start brewing! It has a home brewing equipment list that is perfect for the first-timer. And, it’s something you can easily build upon as you progress in this wonderful hobby.
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He is a graduate of the Siebel Institute of Technology’s “Start Your Own Brewery” program and the Oskar Blues Brew School in Brevard, NC.

What’s The Best Temperature For Clearing Wine?

Clearing Wine TemperatureI keep my wine at 72-75 when fermenting. Do I need to keep it at those temps when clearing?

Name: Ron M.
State: MI
Hello Ron,

Great question! What is the best temperature for clearing wine?

Keeping your wine must at 70°F to 75°F is perfect for maintaining a vigorous fermentation. The wine yeast is very comfortable at this temperature range. However, once the fermentation has completed there is no reason to maintain this particular temperature range. The only reason for doing so is to keep the yeast happy so that they can do their job.

In fact, right after the fermentation the ideal temperature would be just above freezing. A range of 32°F to 35°F would be most beneficial to the wine for a number of reason:

  • It would allow proteins such as yeast, tannin, etc. to drop out of the wine efficiently and thoroughly, leaving behind a crispy clear wine.
  • It would cold stabilize the wine, meaning that any excess tartaric acid that may be in the wine would precipitate out of the wine as little flaky crystals. By enticing the wine to do this now, you won’t have to worry about these flakes forming later, after the wine has been bottled.
  • It would also keep the potential for any spoilage of the wine down to an bare minimum. Various little nasties like mold and bacteria will not thrive at such an inhospitable temperature.


While just above freezing my be the best temperature for clearing wine, there are two major downfalls with this Utopian temperature:Shop Bentonite

  1. It’s not very practical. This would usually mean dedicating an entire refrigerator to age the wine, and for winemakers producing 10, 20, 50 gallons, it would be almost impossible.
  1. The wine won’t age. Such a cool temperature would not allow the wine to age properly. Actually, it would suspend any aging activity to a undetectable minimum. Basically, your wine would never mature at this temperature. Most wine professionals agree that the optimal temperature for aging is 55°F.

So to answer your question, you do not need to keep your wine at 70°F to 75°F after the fermentation, but you do want to keep it cooler, not warmer. How cool is another question. The optimal thing would be to bring it down to above freezing for a few days, to cold stabilize it. Then bring the temperature up to 55°F for aging and wine bottle storage.

Shop SparkolloidIt’s completely understandable if you – as a home winemaker – are not able to do such a feat. Some things are just not practical. To that I say, do the best you can. Don’t store your wine in the hot closet. Think of a cooler place to keep it, like in a basement floor, etc. Just keep the wine out of the heat.

I hope this information helps you out. Now that you know the best temperature for clearing wine, realize that if all you can do is keep the wine in the 70°’s all the time, it wouldn’t ruin the wine or anything like that. I’m just giving you the optimal situation, so you can know what to strive for within the constraints of your situation.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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.

First Wort Hopping: A Cooler Way Of Adding Hops To Your Brew

Pour Hops Into WortWhile it’s most common to boil the hops or “dry hop” by adding them to fermenter, there’s another technique of adding hop aromas to your brew called First Wort Hopping. Hops are many homebrewers’ favorite ingredient. Aromas of citrus, pine, resin are unique, pleasing at first smell, and somewhat addictive. Once you get the hophead bug, it’s hard to turn back! Some brewers claim the first wort hopping provides a better overall hop profile than the typical bittering, flavor, and aroma additions.

Let’s investigate what first wort hopping is all about:


What is First Wort Hopping?

First wort hopping is a technique which involves pouring the runnings from a mash over hops. This is usually done by taking some or all of the finishing hops and adding them to the kettle as hot wort runs into it.

Some brewers claim that first wort hopping (FWH) improves the aromatic hops qualities in the finished beer. Marty Nachel points out that “In fact, one study among professional brewers determined that the use of FWH resulted in a more refined hop aroma, a more uniform bitterness (i.e. no harsh tones), and a more harmonious beer overall compared to an identical beer produced without FWH.”


But how does first wort hopping work?

According to John Palmer, “The aromatic oils are normally insoluble and tend to evaporate to a large degree during the boil. By letting the hops steep in the wort prior to the boil, the oils have more time to oxidize to more soluble compounds and a greater percentage are retained during the boil.”

In other words, the pre-boil steep helps to keep aromatic oils in the wort. Palmer recommends using only low alpha-acid hops for first wort hopping and at least 30% of the recipe’s hops for this addition.

As Bradley Smith of BeerSmith points out, there’s a lot of debate surrounding first wort hopping and its effect on beer. The best thing to do is try it out and decide whether or not it works for you.


First Wort Hopping Tips for HomebrewersShop Accurate Scales

  • Since most homebrew recipes only call for 2-4 oz. it may require a digital scale to weigh out the 30% or so of hops used for first wort hopping.
  • Use low alpha-acid hops, such as the noble hops for first wort hopping. These usually have a best aromatic qualities.
  • First wort hopping is mostly a technique for all-grain brewers, but that shouldn’t keep extract or partial mash brewers from giving it a shot. Either make a “hop tea” while heating water for adding extracts, or steep the hops at the same time as steeping specialty grains. It’s an experiment, so take notes on the results and decide for yourself whether the technique works or not.

Have you used first wort hopping in your homebrews? How did it turn out? Share in the comments below!

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.

Don’t Be Passing Out The Heartburn, When You’re Passing Out The Wine!

Courteney Cox Try To Get HeartburnI made wine from muscadines and gave a bottle to a friend they said that it gave them heartburn. Can you tell me what is in wine that would do that and can I make the next batch better..??

Thank you
Hello Chuck,

That’s a heck of a note. You give a friend a nice bottle of your own personal stock. You probably had put customized wine bottle labels on the bottles to make them look nice, only to have your friend belch and say, “Your homemade wine gave me heartburn.

Seriously, we don’t know for sure that your friend’s heartburn was caused by the wine or not. They may not have realized that it was something they ate, or it could have been the fact that they decided to guzzle the whole bottle during a single episode of Modern Family. We just don’t know. I’m also noting here that you did not say it gives you heartburn.

For some folks, alcohol can give them heartburn. There’s nothing we can do about that. However, another trigger is acid. All wines have acid. It comes from the fruit, such as your muscadines, and possibly from acid you added to the wine in the form of acid blend. The wine needs a certain level of acid to taste correct – to keep it from tasting flat – but too much acid can cause the wine to taste too tart and to burn a little more than necessary while going down. Too much acid in your homemade wine can give someone heartburn.

The only thing you can really do to help your wines – and your friend – is to take complete control of your wine’s acidity. This can easily be done with an acid testing kit. Simply put, this kit will tell you how much acid is in your wine; how much acid your wine should have; and how much acid blend you’ll need to add to the wine, if any, for a properly balanced wine.

shop_acid_test_kitHow it works is you take a reading with the acid testing kit before the fermentation to get the wine must into the proper range. Then you also take another reading before bottling to see if a final adjustment is needed.

The acid testing kit is particularly important when learning how to make white wines. By tradition white wines are typically higher in acid than reds. One has to be careful not to go over the edge, so to speak, when getting these white wines into a proper acidity range.

In short, take control of the wines’ acidity. Start using an acid testing kit, and the next time you pass out your homemade wine, you won’t here the cries of, “your homemade wine gave me heartburn.”

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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.

Calculating and Improving Mash Efficiency

Improving Mash EfficiencyIf you’re a homebrewer, you may have heard about mash efficiency in the brewhouse. But what is it and why does it matter?

Mash efficiency is a measurement of the percent of available sugars obtained through the mashing process. Brewing malt contains a certain amount of complex sugars, and the percentage which are extracted in a mash give us the mash efficiency. By improving mash efficiency, one can use less malt and save a little money, but the real value for the homebrewer is the ability to accurately predict the amount of malt needed when formulating a beer recipe.


Calculating Mash Efficiency

Later we’ll get into improving mash efficiency, but for now, here is one method for calculating mash efficiency, by using the gravity measurement of points per gallon (PPG):

Suppose that we use 10 pounds of two-row malt in a mash, and that this malt has a gravity rating of 1.037, or 37 points. After the mash and the sparge, we end up with 5 gallons of wort. If we were to extract all of the sugars from that malt (achieving 100% efficiency), the resulting wort would have a total of 370 points (37 points * 10 pounds). Divide by 5 gallons, and the resulting pre-boil gravity would have 74 points per gallon, or a gravity of 1.074.

But even the most efficient mashing processes can’t extract all of the sugars from the malt. The typical mash efficiency of a homebrewer will be in the ballpark of 60-80%, though this number can vary quite a bit depending on the brew, the type of homebrewing equipment being used, and number of other factors.

Continuing with the example above, suppose that the actual measured gravity of the wort when taken by a hydrometer is 1.050. We simply divide the measured gravity by the potential gravity to calculate the mash efficiency:

50 / 74 = 67.6%

Shop Barley CrusherThe challenging part of calculating mash efficiency is that we tend to brew with multiple types of malts, often with different extract ratings. As a result, calculations become a little more complicated.

Suppose we mash the following grain bill and end up with 5 gallons of wort:

Our total extract potential is:

[(37 * 8) + (33 * 2) + (34 * 1)] / 5 = 79.2

If our measured pre-boil gravity is 1.060, then our mash efficiency is calculated in this way: 60 / 79.2 = 75.8%

That’s actually a pretty good efficiency!


Improving mash efficiency

Beginning all-grain brewers may find that their mash efficiency is in the 50-60% range. With consistent note-taking, mash efficiency can be improved in the following ways:

  • Better grain crushShop All Grain System – If grain isn’t crushed enough, it will be difficult to extract the sugars from the grain. On the other hand, if the grain is crushed to much, the brewer risks a stuck sparge. It’s important to set the grain mill to get an appropriate crush.
  • Improved mash procedures (appropriate pH, temperature, water-to-grain ratio, length of mash)
  • Appropriate water chemistry
  • Improved sprage techniques – A slower sparge (30-60 minutes) will rinse more sugars from the mash than a fast one. Sparging with too much water will decrease your mash efficiency.

All of the above are effective ways to improve your mash efficiency. Get a handle on them and you’ll get more sugar from your grains.

Do you calculate the extract efficiency when you homebrew? Has your mash efficiency been improving?
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.