Home Brewing Beer: A Pictorial Overview

Recently, I blogged a guide to get started in making wine at home, with entries on the equipment you need to make your own wine, as well as the process of brewing wine at home.

Well, aside from making our own wine at home, my husband is an avid home beer brewer! We’ll be posting some of his recipes, but first… we tackle the basics! Beer making has a lot in common with homemade wine – including a lot of the same equipment and ideas – but also requires some different ingredients, techniques, and handling.

Beer brewing itself is a fairly simple process. While complexity of equipment and process can vary wildly between small home brewers to large commercial breweries, the concepts remain fairly similar across the spectrum. Here’s our quick guide to what goes on with making beer, as it first appeared in issue #10 of Drink Me Magazine:

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Homemade “Cuties” Orange Mead Recipe

This is the first mead that we ever made, and it turned out so amazing… everything else has pretty much paled in comparison. Definitely one of our top 3 favorite homemade wine recipes!

If you’re going to make a batch of this, act fast – we used peels from “Cuties” oranges, which are only in season for a few months each year. Love them… I can snarf a crate by myself, in a sitting, if left to my own devices. Yum. Anyway, I think their season end is coming up, so stock up! This starts out incredibly fragrant – almost like a delicious, fruity tea – but don’t drink much of it before fermenting! The finished product is even better!

Another nice thing about this wine is that it is very good when fairly “young”, compared to many meads – At only 6 months old, this tasted amazing. Age it if you like – we haven’t been able to keep any long enough to see how it ages. Our first 5 gallon batch was almost all gone LONG before the next Cuties season had started!

The ABV on this came out to about 8%. If you haven’t read our primer to home brewing, it starts here, with parts 2 and 3 here and here.

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Homemade Mango Wine Recipe

Here we are: finally posting an actual wine recipe!

When we first started making wine, the first few batches had to rely on recipes we found online. It didn’t take long before we figured things out on our own, and started coming up with our very own recipes. This wine is not only one of the very first recipes we created, it’s one of our absolute favorite wines to drink, and also one of the cheapest/easiest to make. In other words, a damn fine foot to start out on!

This wine starts out very orange, thick, and pulpy. It won’t look anything like wine for a few months, as the pulp and yeast slowly settle. When all is said and done, you will be left with a crystal clear, pale, straw colored wine. Sweet, fruity, delicious wine that goes down a little too well… and costs only $1-2/bottle!

Another nice thing about this wine is that it is very good when “young”. Unlike many recipes, this one is tasty and ready to drink in only about 4-5 months! Age it if you like – we haven’t been able to keep any long enough to see how it ages!

The ABV on this comes out to about 15-16%.

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Wine Making at Home, Part III : The Brewing Process

So now that you know why wine making is a great hobby, and know about the equipment you need to get started, all that’s really left to address is the actual brewing process. After that, I can start plying you with yummy wine recipes to try!

The nice thing about wine making is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

On one end of the spectrum, you can take some fruit concentrate, add water and yeast, and let it do its thing. On the other, you can extract the juice from fresh fruits, combine them in many ways, add herbs or spices to add flavor. You can age them with wood chips, you can carbonate, you can use special ingredients to help clarify your wine…

At its heart, however, wine making starts with a very simple concept.

You start with fermentable sugars in a liquid, introduce yeast, and let it do its thing. The yeast digests the sugars, and alcohol is the byproduct – this is fermentation. The yeast reproduce and stay suspended in the wine as it ferments. As the alcohol content in the solution goes up, the yeast cells are less able to tolerate their living environment, and they die off.


A 6 gallon batch of our mango wine,
on day 1. Yum!

As the yeast die, they settle on the bottom of the fermenting vessel. Throughout the fermentation process, the wine is removed from the layer of fruit & dead yeast sediment on the bottom, being transferred to a clean fermenting jug (carboy) every few months. This process is called “racking”. When fermentation is complete, the wine is left to clarify as the last of the yeast settle to the bottom of the fermenter. The wine is then bottled, and aged (if desired).

.. and then, you drink it. Yum! Read on for more information about the brewing process..

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Wine Making at Home, Part II : Equipment to Get Started

Now that we’ve covered the subject of Why you would want to make wine at home, it’s time to address equipment!

Wine making is a hobby that you can definitely build on. You can start out with a basic set of equipment, and build from there. I recommend making a batch or two of wine, deciding if it’s a hobby you can see yourself sticking with, and THEN worrying about rounding out your equipment collection. I’m just thrifty like that.

So, where to start? Here is the basic equipment that we recommend for a first SMALL batch. Each item is linked to the company that we buy our supplies from (Midwest Supplies, for visual aid and more information. (That is, NOT as a paid advertisement!). They are a great company to deal with, they ship all over the place… but all of the equipment we’ll be listing below should be easy to find in any brew supply store.

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Wine Making at Home, Part I : WHY?

As I mentioned in a recent blog entry, my husband and I enjoy wine making together. It’s just such a fulfilling hobby, and works on so many levels:

– It’s teamwork. We really enjoy sharing a hobby that we’re both interested in, and engaging in all of the different stages involved is a really great bonding activity. We designed our recording sheets together. When one – or both! – of us has an idea for a new batch of wine, we plan out a recipe, and shop for the ingredients together. We prepare the wine together, make a “date” of racking it every few months, and even work together to bottle, cork, and label them.

– It’s cheap. Actually, this point gets made on a few levels, as well. Putting on even a 5 gallon batch of wine can cost less than two movie tickets and concession popcorn/sodas!

In addition to the money saved by spending a “date night” in, there is also the cost saved with the finished product. Many homemade wines can come in at $1-2/ bottle, and even our most expensive batch – Lingonberry – came in at around $4 for a 750 ml bottle.

– It gives us something to look forward to. In this culture of instant gratification, we’re not immune to – or innocent when it comes to – rushing, lacking patience, etc. It’s kind of nice that when we start this project, we have to look ahead 6 months, a year… maybe even more, before we’ll get to enjoy the final results. Anticipation can be enjoyable!

– It’s science! Yes, we’re both nerds. Along the lines of the first point… it’s just so much fun to be able to work projects together. We start with an idea, plan around it, chart what we do, track the results, discuss variables, and experiment with changing up different elements of a recipe. When getting creative with it, wine making can be a very pleasurable mental stretch!

– It’s rewarding. It’s great to be able to pour a glass, and consume it with the smug satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that YOU MADE THIS. It’s a powerful feeling, and it feels doubly good when it’s a product that is generally seen as something that you’d have to buy at a store.

– Also? Homemade wine makes a GREAT gift.

– Making wine gives you a lot of control over your final product. While dry wines are very popular, we tend to prefer our wine to be “diabetes in a glass”. We know what we like, and what we don’t like, and we … well we can do whatever we want. Use whatever grape you want. Use grapes with some other fruit. Use NO grapes. Toss a vanilla bean or two in there, whatever. Prefer an earthier flavor? Toss some oak chips in there for aging. The sky really is the limit when it comes to options!

If you’ve read this far, then I’m glad that I haven’t lost ya! Once you have the basic equipment and information, this is a very easy endeavor to partake in. I hope you’re inspired, pumped, and ready to get started. Tomorrow will be Part II: Equipment to Get Started

Home Brewing: The Genesis of our Favorite Hobby… and a Gift Idea!

Picture it… Minnesota, October of 2009. It was our second year in our new house, and -unlike the year before – the giant apple tree out back was fruiting.

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The giant apple tree out back was loaded with hundreds of pounds of apples, with even more apples on the ground rotting. We’d never had to deal with an apple tree before, so between a lack of experience, a lack of planning, and a shortage of time – we were woefully unprepared to deal with the onslaught of apples.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to have my best ideas while I’m sleeping. My husband really shouldn’t have been surprised when I woke him up that Sunday morning with the words he has grown to dread: “I have an idea!”. He *claims* to dread them anyway, saying that whenever I utter that phrase, it means money or effort. Well, true… but it also means things like doing something crazy for a cake competition, making pretzels stuffed with jalapeno poppers, or – in this case – making hard apple cider.

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Hop Flavored Beer Lollipops Recipe – LolliHOPS!

This morning, I took a pretty nasty fall. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been dealing with a particularly stubborn hip injury. Long story short, I spent the day first in extreme pain, then high as a kite on Codeine.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it had a big part in inspiring today’s recipe! They say “In Vino veritas” (In wine, truth). Yeah, well… In Codeine, Inspiration!

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