Saturday, February 26, 2011

For the Beginner

My first few batches of wine were very rudimentary, and before those I even gave it a whirl with the old bread yeast. The end product smelled like feet. So the first investment I made was in a few packs of Lalvin brand yeast, strains EC-1118 and K1-V1116. Lalvin furnishes all kinds of information on their site about the yeasts, and in their PDF forms you can find the yeast kinetics and everything (how long fermentation takes at any given temperature, etc.). The reason I picked these two out were because it's winter here, and the house gets cold during the day, and these yeasts will continue to ferment at colder temperatures, albeit at a slower rate. Other key features were that they are quite competitive yeasts (especially EC-1118), meaning that they multiply rapidly and compete heavily with wild strains of yeasts for the nutrients in your fermentation vessel. Another great feature of these yeasts are their high sugar/alcohol tolerances. EC-1118 goes right up to 18% alcohol and K1-V1116 is near 16%, maybe even higher. Of course, you don't actually want wines with alcohol this high (too much alcohol in a wine can really throw off your flavor and the balance of the wine), but this does mean that if you've added too much sugar or you don't have a hydrometer, your yeast has you covered and your wine will ferment. Lastly, with these yeasts you are unlikely to get a stuck fermentation, in fact these are the kinds of yeasts that you might add to a stuck fermentation to get it started back up and finished (usually as a last resort). All in all these yeasts are widely used and very popular among both large-scale and small-scale winemakers, and make an excellent yeast for the beginning winemaker who has yet to acquire all of the equipment, and they can give a little boost of confidence, knowing that not too much can go wrong if you've got a tough yeast in the vat!

So, what happened when I used wine yeast instead of good old bread yeast? No more wine that smelled like stinky feet for one thing! My first batch of hooch (hillbilly wine, beginner's wine as I like to call it) which comes from frozen concentrated grape juice, was with the bread yeast. My second one was started on December 18 of last year, and has turned out much, much better. Drinkable. I like it a little better than a few of the Chilean wines I've gotten in the bargain bin at the local wine shop, believe it or not. (I'm not balking at the bargain bin, sometimes you get gold, sometimes you get... well... vinegar). Anyway, the point of it all is, that at about $0.50 a pack, wine yeast will go a long way. Your local home brew store is a great place to pick this up without paying a little shipping, and they can usually steer beginners in the right direction, but there are also a plethora of brew stores online, and even Amazon carries the stuff!

p.s. I began another batch of pumpkin wine yesterday, a two-gallon batch that I'm splitting into two one-gallon batches to try EC-1118 in one and K1-V116 on the other. I'm excited to see which does a better wine, and I'll try to mention it from time to time and post some photos. I like the idea of pumpkin wine as a light fall cider, or spooky Halloween-time drink!

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