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Vin d’Orange

15 Jun

I’ve had Vin d’Orange in restaurants as an apertif a handful of times, and only really knew that it was a tart, slightly bitter, orange-flavored wine (citrus + bitter: right up my alley).

Then earlier this year I read Samin’s description of making it and was inspired, during the brief window with sour Seville oranges were available at Monterey Market:

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After 40 days soaking a mix of rose wine, a little vodka, sugar, a whole vanilla bean, and sour oranges (tasting every few days), it was nicely bitter, and I strained and bottled almost 12 bottles of it.

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This gave me an excuse to buy a wine bottle corker, heat-shrinkable capsules to cover the corks, and with H design a label:

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I even made a small pint-size batch with the three Chinotto sour oranges we harvested from a container-bound backyard tree:

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After another 4 months aging in bottles it’s starting to develop– the initial bitterness has mellowed and it’s nice to sip / feels like it wakes up the taste buds. There is still a bit of bitter aftertaste a minute after you stop drinking it– but I’ve read I may want to let it age a full year or more to really come in to its own. I can be patient… I’m drinking some two-year-aged pluot cordial now…

 

Fermenting Fridge

21 Jan

This barely counts as a project because of how simple it was.

I wanted a fridge I could use for homebrewing in hotter months (keep beer at 60-70F, or cider at 50-60F), that I could use to homebrew lagers for the first time (control temperatures in the 35-55F range at different stages of fermentation), to slowly lacto-ferment vegetables (not really necessary, but to do longer, slower multi-week ferments around 60F even when it’s warmer), or even to retard bagels (rest in a cool place overnight to slow yeast growth while allowing lactobacilli a head start).

I’d read a bit about DIY ways to replace the thermostat on a conventional fridge… and then dug up a much easier way.

img_7744I bought a Danby DAR044 Compact Refrigerator (price varies, about $180 when I bought it) and an Inkbird Temperature Controller ($35).

The Inkbird temperature controller is a simple pre-wired alternative to custom temperature control relay boxes many people build– it has a temperature probe and two outlets, and turns on whatever’s plugged into the “heating” outlet whenever the temperature is below a certain setpoint, and turns on whatever’s plugged into the “cooling” outlet whenever the temperatures above a different setpoint.

I just plugged the mini-fridge into the “cooling” outlet, with the temperature probe threaded up through an existing hole in the back rear of the minifridge that leads into a drip tray. You remove these two screws to remove the drip tray:

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And use a drill to slightly enlarge the drip hole from the outside and fish the temperature probe up into the fridge:img_7742

That’s it. It just worked.

It worked so well I set up a second fridge, so I could be fermenting beer or pickles in one (at 60-65F) while lagering or long-term storing fermented vegetables (or keeping beer cool) in the other at 35F.

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As one example, here’s the temperature of the fridge over the course of brewing a lager– at 55F for the first few weeks, raised to 65 for a few days, then lowered to lagering temp at 35…

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And typical contents: fermenting chiles, preserved lemons, and sauerkraut:

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Umeshu-inspired Pluot Liqueur

20 Nov

This one’s a success– a slightly sweet, tart, fragrant liqueur made from unripe green pluots (in the vein of umeshu) that stimulates the taste buds. Good on the rocks or mixed with a bit of soda water:

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This wasn’t where I’d started– instead, this summer I was thinking about how I loved the flavor of Japanese pickled plums* (umeboshi). While I didn’t have a line on green ume plums in the Bay Area, Hannah had a tree covered in green pluots in her backyard– perhaps those could be used similarly? And once I decided to pickle some pluots, why not also try to make a pluot liqueur along the lines of umeshu?

 

I started from a few magazine articles and blog posts, including Umamimart’s past posts about making umeboshi and umeshu, but unfortunately, the salted pluots didn’t turn out well (too salty, not enough flavor– the much-larger-than-ume pluots may have drastically changed how the salt worked its way into the fruit)… while the umeshu side project was a surprise hit.

Starting off, the right three jars combine green pluots, sugar, and vodka, trying out ratios of 50% of the pluot weight in sugar, 25%, and 10% (50% is more traditional, but I like things on the less sweet side).

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After just a few days– the pluots were changing color, and to my surprise, appearing to naturally ferment (based on the smell and the bubbling), even when submerged in alcohol. (The left jars are the less successful pluot umeboshi with red shiso leaf.)

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A month or two later, the liquid around the pluots continued to deepen in color, though the vodka taste was still a bit harsh:

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Everything I read suggested you want to wait at least 6 months (and even better, a year) for the flavors to mellow and meld. Five months later I couldn’t resist giving the 25%-sugar-ratio one a try, and all the harshness was gone– it was balanced, delicious, even a bit floral. I’ll stow away some bottles to age for the next 6-18 months, and look forward to drinking it over ice next summer when the weather turns warm again…

 

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* I realize that Japanese ume are not technically plums, but are a distinct fruit in the Prunus genus, along with plums and apricots

Homemade Gin from Foraged Sticks, Flowers, and Berries

13 Nov

This summer we spent 5 days backpacking in and around the stunning Caribou Wilderness.

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Inspired by my past brewing with foraged plants (yarrow, mugwort) in lieu of hops, an afternoon vermouth class, and following Pascal Baudar‘s photos– everywhere I looked I saw components for beer, gin, or vermouth– such as sap and wild yeast on freshly-opened pine cones:

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Or juniper branches and berries in gnarled old trees overlooking glacial ponds:

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dscf0944Back home a few days later, I unloaded my foraging bag:

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I decided to try to make both a vermouth (more on that in the future) and a gin, using only alcohol and things collected in the woods. Older methods of gin production involve alcohol that’s distilled so the vapor passes through a basket of botanicals (notably including juniper berries) before re-condensing– but not having a still I decided the simpler approach of a cold infusion into a neutral spirit was good enough.

I submerged eight potential components (coyote mint, pine sap, juniper bark and berries, green manzanita berries, fresh pine tips, not-yet-open pine cones, and yarrow flowers) in both jars of vodka and jars of fortified wine (white wine bumped to 19% ABV with brandy, for vermouth):

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I had no idea what would taste good and what would be distasteful or overly bitter, or how strong a flavor would come from of each component over time, so rather than throwing everything into a jar with vodka and hoping for the best, I decided to infuse each component separately and then blend them to taste later (accepting that I’d throw away some of the vodka from the stronger-tasting components). If I were planning to do this again, I could record the ratio that tasted good and then directly infuse that mix of components– but even then I’d expect every individual pine cone, branch, and handful of berries to be a bit different.

Every few days I smelled and tasted each jar, straining them at anywhere from 3 days to 4 weeks as flavors developed and before they got too bitter. The pine sap smelled and tasted horrible within days so I poured it out, but everything else produced a distinctive and interesting (if sometimes harsh or intense) flavor.

Finally, about three months later, I tasted each of the infused vodkas again side by side. Some had taken on significant color:

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I tried a few different mixtures at thimbleful scale to balance components with powerful aromas and/or tastes, and found a nice ratio that relied heavily on juniper berry and green manzanita berry, with a moderate addition of pine cone, yarrow flowers, and juniper branches, and just a touch of pine needles (harshly pine-y) and coyote mint (a lovely mint but very strongly flavored).

Without a re-distillation step it’s not transparent, but I think this is an attractive bottle of homemade alcohol– and it will always remind me of walking through those woods with a compass:

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Making Vinegar

11 Nov

Making vinegar is easy. At a simple chemical level, alcohol + bacteria from the acetobacter genus + oxygen + time -> acetic acid (vinegar).

There’s acetic acid bacteria floating around in the air, so red wine or cider left open over time will eventually turn to vinegar (the sugars in cider first fermenting to alcohol), but unpasteurized and unfiltered commercial vinegars may already contain “mother” (a significant amount of acetic acid bacteria + cellulose) that can be harvested to kick-start a new batch of vinegar (and ensure the acetic acid bacteria quickly becomes the dominant player and lowers the pH to a range where they are heavily favored).

In my case, I mixed a small bottle of organic unfiltered red wine vinegar and the remnants of a few bottles of left-open-too-long red wine, swirled/shaken together in a jar with cheesecloth over the top.

After two months of checking in, it finally tasted like a good red wine vinegar– so I tapped off two large bottles (one for now, one to age another year+ before using), and what’s left will be the starter for future bottles of unfinished red wine.

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Homebrew #30! with Mugwort

19 Mar

It’s hard to believe I’ve brewed 30 beers (by the time I write this, 32) over the past few years. For this one I continued down the esoteric “sacred and healing herbal beers” route I’d started with the yarrow beer and brewed a gallon of beer with some wild mugwort foraged from the Oakland hills filling the role of the bitter, aromatic, antibacterial(?) herb instead of hops.

It’s related to wormwood (used in absinthe) and has some hints of similarity in taste– and is almost unbearably bitter on its own.

The “ancient beer” recipe I read was basically sugar and mugwort fermented, which didn’t sound pleasant– fermenting sugar is an easy way to get a hot, harsh alcohol. So instead I brewed a basic all-grain beer recipe I’d use for a pale ale (pale malt, a little wheat, a little rye, and a neutral dry ale yeast), mashed at the low end of the temperature range (149F) to hopefully give a dry beer, but replacing the bittering, flavor, and aromatic hop additions with mugwort. I just made one gallon since it’s both simpler to do stovetop and I expected the outcome might be… challenging, and bottled mostly in the 187mL champagne split bottles I’d picked up a few months ago, making it easier to just crack open a half-beer to taste it (in addition, the UV-driven rapid skunking of regular beers in clear bottles shouldn’t be a concern as that’s a reaction with the hops).

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Adding mugwort to the boil:

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Fermenting in a friend’s basement:

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And, a month later, the result, bottled– as usual having some fun with the labels: sunprint paper to expose photograms of some mugwort leaves, filled in with a silver paint pen loosely inspired by 60s psychadelic band posters.

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Oh, and the beer? It had a slightly-greenish yellow tint, with a tart slightly lemony and herbal smell– and a distinctive but intensely basically-undrinkable bitter punch in the face. I enjoyed sipping a bit of it like an apertif/digestif or fernet, but I have an unusual love of and tolerance for bitterness. It actually worked well splashed into soda water like a bitters rather than consumed straight, so I’ll save most of them as a cocktail mixer– and if I made it again I’d take a much lighter hand on the mugwort or combine it with other herbs or hops.

(more) Citrus Shrubs

5 Mar

Another winter, another bounty of local California citrus to preserve. I’ve made some marmalade, but shrubs (juice/oils from fruit+vinegar+sugar, shelf-stable) are my preferred form. Makrut lime, yuzu-chipotle-anise, and bergamot shrubs, all made with mostly rice vinegar to leave the citrus as the focus:

It was also a good excuse to strain, filter, and rebottle other shrubs from the past year with sediment that had settled out.