Plum Wine 2016

Some notes on my plum wine making for 2016 (learnings for next time)

Fruit – picked approx 60kg of fruit – 4 times my harvest of 2012 (the last time I made plum wine). The tree was loaded this year. I picked the ripe plums between 5th and 12th Jan, that’s later than usual for the plums to ripen. I ended up discarding about 25% of the fruit due to being smushed, broken skin, not ripe enough – made jam and cordial with some of that.

Batch 1 (started 12 Jan)

  1. washed approx 20kg fruit in bath of warm water & washing soda (sodium carbonate) – not sure of ideal qty
  2. rinsed fruit in bath of cold water
  3. slit fruit with sharp knife to make easier for mashing
  4. mashed with potato masher
  5. added 4 campden tablets crushed and mixed in warm water
  6. let sit over night and added pectic enzyme next morning (best to wait at least 8 hours as SO2 retards action of pectic enzyme)
  7. separated juice from pulp – not easy! First tried my large BIAB bag but not easy to squeeze liquid out. So then did smaller batches in a muslin bag. Messy and time consuming – don’t recommend this approach again – just ferment on the whole fruit instead. Ended up with 13 L of pulpy juice.
    • SG: 11.5 Brix
    • PH 4 approx (litmus paper)
  8. Used chaptalization calculator to determine how much sugar to add. Added 1.4kg sugar dissolved in 1L of hot water. This brought Brix up to 18.5 but my desired Brix was 21. Added 400g more sugar which brought Brix up to 20 and left it at that.
  9. Added 12g yeast nutrient and 1 yeast activator tablet crushed. The latter was probably unnecessary but I had them on hand so why not.
  10. 13 Jan: Pitched 2 pks of Vintners Harvest VR21 Yeast. Pitched dry as recommended in the yeast instructions.
  11. Added more 2L plum juice after fermentation had kicked in
  12. Added 5L wine from batch 2 on 20th Jan
  13. 5 Feb (day 23) – racked to glass carboy

Batch 2

The approach used for batch 2 worked out less troublesome and quicker so recommend this method for next time – i.e. ferment on the whole fruit instead of trying to separate the juice from the fruit

  1. Prepped the rest of the fruit approx 30kg over 2 nights (14th and 15th Jan) and placed it into my 50L stainless steel brew kettle (with bazooka screen in place).
  2. Removed 2L juice from tap on kettle and added to batch 1. SG was 11 Brix.
  3. Added 2.3 kg sugar & 5L water. The Brix was now up to 20. Also attempted to check SG with hydrometer but too much solids to take a measurement.
  4. Pitched 2 packets of dried yeast ( VR21 – same as batch 1)
  5. Fermented for 5 days in ss kettle. On 2oth Jan transferred wine from kettle into fermenter – 24 L into batch 2 fermenter and 5L to top up batch 1 fermenter. The wine poured freely from the tap on the kettle leaving mostly solid fruit residue behind. Liquid losses were pretty low and it was a lot easier than trying to squeeze out the juices so I recommend this approach for next time I make plum wine.Measured SG at 1.012.
  6. My written notes were a little disorganised – I added 2.3 kg of sugar & 2 L water on 20th Jan when I transferred the wine from SS kettle to fermenters. I thought at the time that I had not added sugar to batch 2 but according to 3. above I had!

Update (April 2016)

Racked on 3rd April. Both batches very clear. Just a small amount of sediment/lees in both cases. Taste is ok but quite sharp – will need back-sweetening. Batch 2 is tasting the least sharp which is another tick in favour of fermenting directly on the fruit. Racked batch 1 into plastic fermenter, added oak staves. Racked batch 2 to glass carboy (full up so very little head-space).

Update (July 2016)

I bottled batch 1 (the one I had in plastic fermenter with oak staves). I treated it with campden tablets potassium sorbate to kill off the yeast, left it for a day or 2 and back-sweetened it, then bottled it. It tastes pretty good, a bit sweet as it took quite a bit of sugar to balance the sharpness. (I need to find my notes and fill in amount used!) A little sediment made it into the bottles so appearance is a bit cloudy. Perhaps if I take more care when racking batch 2 I can end up with clearer result.

Batch 2 is left to bulk age for longer in the glass carboy.


Etching volume markings on brew kettle

I added permenant volume markings to the inside of my brew kettle using a simple electrolytic acid etching technique that I discovered on the Home Brew Talk forum. Here’s how I did it:

1. Mark 10 litre volume increments in the kettle using electrical tape. I measured the water volume accurately by weighing it (1L = 1Kg). The side of the kettle needs to be dry for the tape to stick so I carefully dried it to the water line with paper towel and then line up the electrical tape with the water line.

_P1010617 Continue Reading »


BIAB All Grain Brewing Process

This is the process that I use for brewing all grain beer. I used to do this in the kitchen as a split boil in smaller pots before I got my new 50L brew kettle and a gutsy gas burner. But now that I have better equipment it is a much smoother process and it doesn’t steam up the whole house since I do the boil outside on the deck. I use an electric urn as a HLT for heating strike water and sparge water.

Prep prior to brew day

  1. Print out recipe and double check all ingredients
  2. Make sure equipment is clean and available:
    • grain bag
    • brew kettle
    • sufficient gas
    • immersion chiller
    • fermentor and fermentor parts
  3. Crush grains

Brew Day

  1. Put water for mashing grains on to heat up in brew pot or HLT. Use at least 3L per kg of grain OR determine water volume from brewing calculator. I usually go with a wetter mash and less water for sparging. For an average grain bill I use 22L.
  2. Continue Reading »


How I started a nanobrewery in Venezuela!!!

I found this fascinating story on a homebrewing forum. Venezuelan brewer, Daniel López, tells a great yarn about overcoming the challenges he faced making craft beer in his country. It was published in 6 parts which I’ve reproduced here. The English is not perfect but that just adds colour to the story, giving it the authentic feel of a story being told by a Spanish speaker.

Part I

Hi to all, this is the history of how i became a home brewer and how i make my nano brewery here in Venezuela. I think that this can help some homebrewers to reach their beer dreams ;D .

I will try to write in English but maybe it will be some errors in my writing, because my English is not perfect, so I hope that you can understand this post.

My name is Daniel López, right now in 2014 I have a little microbrewery (or nano brewery) here in Venezuela, the name of the brewery is Old Dan´s, you can find us in twitter as @olddans.

The idea of write this history in some way is to share with others brewers my dream of make good beer in Venezuela and build from nothing a microbrewery, I think that I will write in parts and post it here one part at a time.

When, why and how all started

Back in 1995 I think that make beer in your house it was something impossible, I think that only big breweries has the equipment to make this wonderful drink, this is the most popular drink here in Venezuela ( 83 liters of beer per capita in a year), in that time my father works in a international organization here in Venezuela, and he has to travel a lot, in one of his travels he find in a bookstore in Quito, Ecuador, the Dave Miller´s Home brewing Guide and Karl F. Lutzen Brew Ware (great books to become a home brewer and build your own stuff). These book inspire my father to make beer here in Venezuela, this idea was one of my father’s dreams, in the next 2 years my father read all the books and find another lots of book, make a big research about the making beer science.

In this time I was finishing my high school studies and prepare to begin my university career as a biologist, so in that moment I prefer to drink the awful commercial beer find in Venezuela than make my beer. I never imagine that several years later I will begin my brewery.

In 1997 I make a vacation trip to the US, and in that time I bring with me a Hydrometer, 3 airlocks, 3 rubber stoppers, a bottle capper and a few books. My father think that find the ingredients in that time in Venezuela it will be an easy task, but no, it was the greatest mistake in his brewing career. After a year of looking all over the country for the ingredients my father decide to put away the home brewing project.

Thirteen years passed and all the stuff that I bring to make beer was in the bottom of a box, in that time I always talk to my friends about make home beer as an interesting topic in some conversations, but I really never think to start home brewing in all that time. But this talk whit the friends it was an important point in all these story.

In September of 2010, one of these friends that lived in Ireland brought me a great gift, 500 gr of saaz flower hops and 4 packs of dry yeast, these was a special moment because after these, my life change in an excellent way.
Continue Reading »


Craft brewers to share secret to a good pint

The following article appeared in the Nelson Mail newspaper on 4th March 2014. It’s about the upcoming Marchfest beer festival, where I’ll be one of 12 home brewers giving a home brewing demonstration.


The home brewers who will be doing brewing demonstrations at Marchfest 2014 (I’m 3rd from left)

In what might be described as a beer lover’s heaven, 12 home brewers will make beers simultaneously at Nelson’s MarchFest.

Organiser Mike Stringer isn’t sure if it has been done before but he’s not short of volunteers.

While the craft beer and music festival will have 16 regional craft breweries offering their beers to festivalgoers at Founders Heritage Park, the 12 home brewers will show enthusiasts there how they, too, can make good beers.

Mr Stringer said he started out using a homebrew kit and it was only when he searched on the internet trying to get better results that he saw others taking brewing to the next level.

“Some people are used to what their old man did or what they did at university unaware that they can take a different approach. We’re trying to get that awareness out there.

“If you really get into it you can spend thousands on equipment but you can just as easily and effectively improvise solutions and still make fantastic craft beer,” he said.

Eleven Nelson home brewers will each do an all-grain brew, using malt, barley and hops in the same sort of process that commercial breweries use, and another will do a partial mash using a malt extract, some grain, adding hops then doing a mini-boil.

Mr Stringer will also demonstrate making beer using fresh wort kits from Mapua’s Golden Bear Brewery.

At the last MarchFest he and a few others demonstrated home brewing and had beer enthusiasts dropping by looking for ideas on how to get started and find out what was involved.

This time the home brewers will be in the centre of the event by the Granary with their demonstration going between noon and 4.30pm.

He said home brewing was growing in popularity.

“It’s incredibly popular and getting more so. We have Nelson as the craft brewing capital in New Zealand, and people are well aware hops are grown in this region.

“The fact I am able to put a shout out asking 12 people to go to the effort of bringing their kit and making a brew shows how keen they are to share their knowledge.”

MarchFest, Saturday, March 22, Founders Heritage Park, information and tickets online marchfest.com


Alas, no plum wine this year either!

After having my crop of plums demolished by the birds (and my procrastination) last year I was determined to harvest enough plums this year to make another batch of plum wine. So as the plums were starting to ripen I had the idea of putting up some netting over part of the tree that I could access by climbing up the tree. Unfortunately I decided to take action on this idea after a few ciders had diminished my sense of caution. So up into the tree I climbed with netting in hand. I was up fairly high in the tree, about 15 ft, and I attempted to cross over onto another limb. As I committed to cross over, the stump of a branch that I placed my foot on gave way and down I went. Time slowed during the fall, it felt like a couple of seconds, enough time to think oh shit this not going to be good and how stupid of me. I whacked my back on a wooden fence before hitting the ground. I didn’t hit my head so remained concious and was able to call out for help but unable to move although, to my relief, I could wiggle my toes. I got taken by ambulance to the emergency department and spent the night in hospital. Fortunately there were no obvious serious internal injuries or bone breakages so I came off lucky from what could have been a whole lot worse. So the birds got all the plums again this year. Maybe next year I’ll come up with a safer strategy to beat the birds to them.


A bad batch, a good batch and a change of plan

My Amarillo Ale is not tasting good so far, it has a harsh astringent taste, not really drinkable, at least at the moment. I did get a bit of this type of taste from the Hope Ale that I brewed previously, but with a bit of time that taste disappeared and beer became quite good (actually managed to get a bronze award in a local homebrew competition). In this case though it is much more severe, but still I’m not dumping it yet, I’ll give it a chance to see if time will heal it. I had one of the more experienced local homebrewers who is also a beer judge try a sample and she thinks it may be an infection. She also detected something in the Hope Ale so we came to the conclusion that my harvested yeast may have been to blame. The yeast I pitched in the Amarillo Ale was harvested from the Hope Ale. So, for the moment, I’m giving up on the yeast harvesting and sticking with new packets of yeast for each batch.

On a more positive note, I have high hopes for the batch that I bottled last night, a dark IPA that I call Shot In the Dark. It tasted quite amazing at bottling time, roasty, malty and hoppy all at the same time. The dark malts hide the hops a bit because there was a hell of a lot of hops in it but it didn’t taste super hoppy to me, just hoppy. I’m looking forward to trying it again in 3 weeks time.

I’ve been busier than usual with the beer production. After bottling last night, tonight I brewed up another batch. I had a porter planned, recipe and ingredients all ready to go. But at the last minute I decided I had a more urgent need to knock out another Skinny Blonde. Summer is upon us and this is just such a great thirst quenching summer beer, the porter can wait.


Freedom Of Information Act Invoked For Obama’s Beer Recipe

Did you know that they brew their own beer at the White House? The beers include White House Honey Ale, White House Honey Porter and White House Honey Blonde Ale. All three use honey from Michelle Obama’s White House garden.

A home brewer has formally requested recipes for the beers made by White House staff under the Freedom Of Information Act. Here’s a copy of the request: Continue Reading »


First day of BeerAndGarden.com!

Welcome to the new site! I had previouslystarted a gardening blog hosted on WordPress.com – http://aidansgarden.wordpress.com. I recently got into home brewing and decided I would like to blog about my experiences in that area as well so today I set up this new website, Beer And Garden, to blog about both of these interests. Continue Reading »