Saturday, December 26, 2009

Limoncello Redux

Well, I was unsatisfied with the quality of the ingredients for the batch I started a couple weeks ago. This is meant to be a birthday present for my Dad so it needs to be the best.

My friend Nicole sent me a facebook message the other day that a local grocery had gotten in some organic meyer lemons. I was there within an hour picking through the pile (and leaving no decent ones for Nicole!). I stopped by their liquor counter to see if they had the better 100 proof vodka and - lo and behold - 190 proof Everclear! Seems my info about not being able to get that in New Mexico was just plain wrong.

Yesterday, while waiting for my holiday carne adovada to cook, I started zesting the lemons. I didn't have another wide mouth jar big enough but it turned out to be fairly easy to poke the big pieces of zest through the mouth of a gallon jug.

Here's the thing, though. Meyer lemons, while quite nice, just don't smell as good to me as the regular lemons. I think I recall reading that they are a cross between a lemon and an orange. Sounds like a good thing but in practice, maybe not. I didn't like the juice as well either. I will say they were a lot easier to zest with the vegetable peeler. The skin isn't nearly as tough and the shape was also easier to handle.

Everclear is looking like it might just live up to it's rep for limoncello. After 24 hours, the color of the Everclear is as yellow as the vodka is after 2 weeks. Of course, it's twice as much volume of vodka so it may be illusion but I don't think so.

So the new plan is to eventually blend the two batches. Doing that, I can use the Everclear batch to boost the alcohol content of the vodka batch. I will keep them separate all the way through sweetening for comparison purposes. With a big disparity in alcohol content, I don't think a side-by-side taste test will work but a side-by-side aroma test ought to tell me something. Then, if I decide not to blend, I can just dilute the Everclear batch down to a more palatable level. I think I should shoot for an ABV of about 45%. That shouldn't go slushy in the freezer.

Boy, you'd think the only thing on my mind was alcoholic beverages. I'm sure my mind will turn to other things after I have a nip of this Bailey's a professor gave me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Primitive Blackberry Melomel

The melomel may be in trouble and the Winepress forum is down. I could have a dozen good answers in an hour otherwise but I am just going to have to flail about on my own. I'm probably worrying too much but I thought I would document the process of worry, test, tinker, worry some more, tinker some more, etc. That's what makes wine making so dang fun!

I just got the first jug of Joe's Ancient Orange and Spice Mead bottled and it's really very good despite being quite sweet. Not enough spice, though. I decided to start two more jugs and up the spices, play with slightly reducing the honey.

After getting the first jug going, I recalled the pounds of Oregon blackberries in the freezer. Well, I know others have tinkered with Joe's recipe so I figured I'd try a blackberry melomel (mead with fruit) instead of the orange and spice. The forum was down then, too, but I figured I had a handle on things.

I thawed a pound of berries, put them in a nylon straining bag and mashed them up well in my small fermentor. I dissolved the honey in some warm water and poured it over the berries, adding a bit more than 3 pounds to get the specific gravity up to 1.114. That's a potential alcohol content of 16% but I'm using bread yeast and expecting it to finish lower than that and still sweet. That what makes it early-drinking. I left out Joe's raisins because I think they are meant as food for the yeast and the blackberries should fill that role. For some now unknown reason, I decide to wedge one quarter of a lemon and toss that in with the juice and zest of another quarter lemon. Well, lemon tastes nice. I think that's why. I don't think it'll need the acid because blackberries are acidic enough.

So I have this all in the fermentor. I whisk it up good to aerate, toss in a teaspoon of Fleishman's Rapid Rise and put the lid and airlock on. I left the bucket (that's the fermentor) in the kitchen next to the gas stove.

Next morning, the kitchen is maybe 60 degrees and of course, there's no activity. Too cold. I moved the bucket to the living room next to the electric heater where I can now get it up to 72 or even 75 degrees F. Pretty soon, we have bubbles through the airlock. Yay!

Next day - nothing. Well, that's not right! The jug of orange and spice right next to it is sputtering and gurgling constantly. I check the pH.: 3.67 - fine. I aerate some more and pitch in another teaspoon of yeast in the morning. 11 hours later - nothing.

Ok. Thinking. So maybe there isn't enough food for the yeast in the blackberries after all. I have yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. The little bottle of energizer specifically mentions stuck fermentations so I go for that one. Whisk it on in. This morning - nothing.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have put in that lemon. Maybe it doesn't like being in the bucket. Maybe my pH meter needed calibrating and it's really below 3.00. Maybe it's just being a slow starter. Maybe any number of things, really.

I checked the SG this morning and it was at 1.099 but that doesn't tell me anything as it was fermenting for a little while. I'll check it again tonight. PH, too. If we still have nothing, I'll consider hydrating some Lalvin D47 and pitch it in. Most likely, that'll take it to full dry and I'll be looking at more than a year of aging time instead of three or four months but that's better than losing the batch. Rather not do it though. That takes it out of the realm of primitive.

It's such a pretty color and smells nice, too. One way or another, it's going to happen.

Update 6:30pm: The SG has dropped to 1.092. Though I thought the addition of fruit would cause vigorous foaming, this doesn't seem to be the case for me. It's fermenting just fine. I'm going to leave the fruit in there for a few days, then move everything else to a jug. The photo may not look pretty to some, but it's sure pretty to me!

Update 12/19: I just transferred everything but the fruit to a 4 liter jug and it's fizzing away with heavy bubble traffic through the airlock. My tentative conclusion is that the large headspace in the primary bucket combined with the quieter activity of bread yeast just made it hard to tell it was fermenting without the aid of my trusty hydrometer.

The berries had broken down to a mushy pulp. There's a lot of berry suspended in the mead so I imagine it'll take a while to fall clear. Or not. The experiment continues...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making Limoncello

The one and only time I had Limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur) was a year and a half ago at a friend's house. About 3 months ago, though, my Dad starts raving about some he had. I'd seen several posts about it on the Winepress forum but it's not wine, so I wasn't overly interested.

But, if Dad wants Limoncello, I am by God going to make him some! Dad's 80-something now and complains he no longer can have anything but he admits to an occasional careful nip of this or that. I wish I'd started it right then; it'd almost be ready now but at least it'll be ready when the warmer weather comes.

2 evenings ago I find myself at the liquor store looking for 100 proof vodka. Almost all the vodka was 80 proof including (and especially!) the cheap huge bottles. I left with 1.75 liters of what I believe to the same stuff I often find empty in the alley behind my house. Might be prudent to use better quality vodka next time!

What is recommended is Everclear - pure grain alcohol (ethanol) at 151 or 190 proof. I know you can't buy the 190 proof here without a license. The school has one because they use ethanol in the labs but I'm pretty sure they'd frown on me ordering a couple liters for personal use. Too bad. If I ever see any anywhere, I'm getting it.

The reason for the high proof is that it is best kept in and served straight from the freezer. The lemon peel that is steeped in alcohol will get sweetened by using a sugar syrup which dilutes it. If the alcohol goes too low, the limoncello will freeze. Not as nice. Rock bottom final alcohol content is 30 percent and I'm only starting at 40 so I'll need to dissolve the sugar in as little water as possible. 50 percent would really be better. They (them that knows) say the color and flavor extraction is better with ethanol, too.

I think the nectar I made for the hummingbird feeder was 4 parts sugar, 1 part water. That's what I intend to try.

Yesterday I got 4 pounds of nice looking lemons. More than I needed but the loose lemons didn't look as nice so I ended up with two 2 pound bags. Lemon juice in and on everything for a while! I used a brand-new sharp vegetable peeler to remove the zest of 14 lemons without cutting into the pith. It took almost 2 hours plus I had to finish up the last 2 this morning. I have a blister but I also have nice big pieces of zest, not fine little grindings. Zest and vodka are in a sun tea jar and will be there for about 40 days before I strain it and sweeten it. Then another 40 days until I can bottle. That gives me plenty of time to locate a nice stoppered bottle for Dad.

Umm. I'm keeping some of it.