Out of all the miracles recorded in religious texts, history and fiction, I think Jesus' first miracle is my favorite. After all, what is better than turning water into wine? This got me into the most rewarding hobby I have every tried – home brewing.
Turning water into wine is hardly a miracle, though it will take you more time than it did Jesus. The equipment to get started is around $75. Any home brew store can help you get started. You can use a lot of this same equipment to make beer as well, though beer is a little more difficult than wine to make.
There are many ways to make wine, but the basic ingredients are water, yeast and something for the yeast to eat (sugar). Traditionally grapes are used, though you can experiment with pretty much any fruit. Home brew shops have kits that make the process easy. They come with grape concentrate that come from vineyards as well as all the finishers, stabilizers and the yeast. These kits cost anywhere from $50-$125 dollars and make 6 gallons of wine (30 bottles!). Many of these kits have been used to win home brewing awards, so the quality is quite nice.
Once you get the kit home, you simply follow the directions in the box. If you can make chocolate milk, you will find making wine easy as well. Unlike beer, there is no boiling. It will take about a month before you can bottle your wine. The most difficult part is waiting for 1-3 more months for the wine to mature. After you are done waiting, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and become the most popular person on your block.
The wine will keep for up to 1 year in the bottle, unless you add sulfites to prevent oxidation. However, as many know all to well, sulfites can cause headaches. If you choose to drink your wine within a year, you will enjoy a hang over free experience. You only need sulfites if you are going to cellar your wine, but who wants to wait that long!
Kits are only the beginning. Many home brewers use ingredients grown in their own back yard (plums, apricots, even honey). You can add a touch of mint or strawberries or any other culinary experiment you wish to explore. Home brew shops are always helpful to someone getting started and can get you brewing in no time.
When I decided to first attempt to brew, I went to the nearest brew shop with no clue how to even get started. The person working asked how he could help me and I simply said "I have never brewed and want to get started." From here he explained some of the basics and showed the equipment I would need and equipment I may want. There was no pressure to buy anything that was not necessary and he even suggested I check my kitchen for funnels and a long stirring utensil so I did not spend any more than necessary.
When I left I had the basic wine equipment and a kit to make 6 gallons of Piesporter wine. The directions were much easier than I thought. After I sterilized everything with a weak bleach solution (making sure to rinse well), I got started. I added the grape concentrate to the glass carboy (giant glass jug) and then topped it off with water to the 6 gallon mark. The instructions walked me through adding the other ingredients, which were cleverly labeled in big color coded numbers. Packet "1" I added then. Packets labeled "2" were added the next week and so forth. The process was so simple I was sure I did something wrong.
Bottling day was exciting, though waiting for the wine to mature was quite the exercise in patience. When I poured the first glass I reminded myself it was my first attempt and not to be disappointed. The caveat wasn't necessary as the wine was delicious. A couple hours of work and I had 30 bottles of wine that I would have easily paid $15 a bottle for at the liquor store. The best part was (not including the equipment) I paid about $3.50 a bottle. If you like wine, are cheap or want new creative ways to "recycle" glass bottles, you should give brewing a chance. Your friends will be glad you did.
Rob Pray for the Grateful Web
Photo Credit: Cornell University
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