Hey there, pumpkin muffins.
I’ve only met one of my grandparents, and none of my great grandparents. But according to the tale I’ve been told, a great grandfather on my mother’s side was quite the Moonshine makin’ man during Prohibition. Bathtub gin was on the menu, oh, pretty much every night. Until that fateful day.
(Asshat Neighbors pound on door. Great grandpa swears under his breath, gets up slowly–his knees just ain’t what they used to be–and hobbles over. He opens the door and sees Asshat Neighbors. Criminy, what do they want?)
Asshat Neighbors were all, “Give us some of that bathtub gin you make, or we’ll tell on you!”
And my great-grandpa was all, “No deal, Asshats! Make your own.”
Well, maybe he didn’t say “Asshats.” But who knows, he could have. He is related to me.
And do you know what the Asshat Family did? They told on him! To the cops! Now, where I come from, you don’t go tattling on neighbors, but I implore you to remember, dear readers, that these people were Asshats to the 10th degree. Maybe even the 11th degree. I’m not really sure what level of Asshattery happens at the various degrees. I’ve also never been too clear over what the various sexual courtship “bases” are. Which, actually, explains a lot.
Anyhow, the cops came and took my sweet little great grandpa to the slammer for making his sweet little bathtub gin and let him make one sweet little phone call to my sweet little great grandma, who had to show up to post his sweet little bail.
Wait…from what I’ve heard, there was nothing sweet, nor little, about the bail she posted. Great grandma be pissed at great grandpa. Great grandpa be pissed at the world. Great grandpa sweared on the family Bible that he would have his revenge, mwahahahHAHAHAHA!
Okay, that didn’t happen. But the bail part did, and the getting pissed part did. And you know what else happened? My sweet little great grandpa kept making his sweet little bathtub gin. ‘Cause you know what? Eff The Man! Who is he to come between me and my gin!?
I mean, between great grandpa and HIS gin.
Well, thankfully, Prohibition eventually ended (where alcohol is concerned at least. Did you know that weed was wiped out with alcohol when Prohibition began, and that it was never allowed back?) and when Jimmy Carter was President (remember my thank you to Jimmy Carter?) he legalized home brewing, making adventures like these (and The Boy’s career) possible!
Now, remember when I was talking about how I’m saving the pods from shelling peas in the freezer for a batch of peapod wine? Well, I also loaded up on beets when my CSA began trying to clear them out. Really, you don’t need too many–about 3 1/2 pounds will do just fine for a gallon of wine. AND you get to eat the beets after you’re done with the boil. AND it’s a great way to use up the beet boiling water that you’d otherwise have thrown out or tossed in with the compost!
People, this is free wine. FREE WINE.
Mostly free wine. I had everything home for this, but I was out of wine yeast. So The Boy picked up some wine yeast for me. For $0.36. Then came home. And went, Oh. I brewed all day. And now we’re going to brew some more. Okay. It’s fine. It’s not like I wanted to sit. Or anything.
Actually, The Boy isn’t passive-aggressive at all, nor would he ever turn down a brew project. In fact, I ordered him to the couch and slipped the remote into his hand, but he jumped back up to bring out his sanitizing buckets and fancy tools (which you will not need).
If ever you have lied to yourself and assumed that wine making would be, OMG like sooo hard!, you can forget it. This will take you an hour of active time to get started, tops (not at all like making beer, which, admittedly, can take kind of a while). Even less time than an hour if you count the beet boiling time as part of dinner prep.
Which I did. Because I like cheating the system. Also, because I forced mass quantities of beets down our throats last night and I feel like I should get some extra credit out of that.
In case you’re curious, the finished wine is like a deep, dry, earthy red. Or more like fuschia. I likeses that. I want to go to there. Do you want to go to there with me?
Then shut the blinds and cast a suspicious sideways glance at your neighbors! Gather round, children! It’s beet wine we be makin’ tonight! Bathtub optional!
No Asshats allowed.
Makes 1 gallon
3 1/2 to 4 pounds of beets, peeled, with the tops and a sliver of the bottoms cut off (I used a mix, which will influence the color somewhat.)
5 3/4 cups sugar (I myself think it would be kinda awesome to use beet sugar for this part. Just for parallelism. Or something. Whatever, I used evaporated cane juice. I’m betting you could also tweak this and use honey.)
Juice of 2 large lemons, or 3 small ones
1 1/2 cups strong, cold black tea
1 packet wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient (not strictly necessary, but recommended. Hit a home brewing store–I like Brew & Grow in Chicago.)
Stuff You Should Have on Hand:
1 gallon glass jug
Another glass jug or food-grade bucket
A siphon (or a ladle)
Wine bottles and corks
Cleanse, rinse, and sanitize any equipment that’ll be touching wine but that isn’t getting boiled.
Okay, so now you put those rough and ready beets into a pot, cover ’em with, oh, 12 cups of water or so, and bring it to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer the beets until they’re tender enough to eat (for me, this took about 30 minutes). Take out the beets and eat ’em or save for another use.
Stir in the sugar until it’s completely dissolved. Now cover it and let it all cool to somewhere in the area of 70 degrees F. When this happens, stir in the tea, yeast nutrient, and lemon juice.
Pour the liquid into your bucket or first jug (use a funnel if you need to), and fill with enough filtered water to make a gallon (but leave some room for 1/4 cup liquid). At this point you can take a hydrometer reading to determine the original gravity of your mix. Why? Well, ’cause if you know it, you can take a final gravity reading after fermentation and determine the exact alcohol percentage of your finished wine. Click here to figure out how to use one properly. But admittedly, this is a totally unnecessary step. We have a hydrometer that gets pretty regular use around here, so I took a reading. If all goes according to plan, my finished wine will be between 12 and 13 percent alcohol. Sweet!
Now mix the packet of yeast into about 1/4 cup lukwarm water…around 100 degrees F. Let it sit for 5 minutes and re-acclimate to the liquid world. There’s a science-y reason we do this, but I won’t bore you with that now. Scrape down the sides of the yeast bowl and pour it into the beet stuff.
Even Bad Mama Genny makes messes. It's okay. Calm down.
Stick a sterilized airlock (filled with a little water) into the jug’s neck or a tight hole in the lid of your bucket. The airlock allows CO2 to get out without allowing bacteria in. And you need to let CO2 out. Otherwise, I hope you like exploded glass.
‘Cause I know I heart exploded glass!
Put your jug in a dark place that’s between 70 and 75 degrees. Let the whole thing sit and ferment for about a week, or until activity slows down. What activity? you might be asking. Well, about 12 hours after the yeast is pitched, you’ll notice signs of fermentation. The jug may produce a gurgling or bubbling sound, or a clicking from the airlock. You’ll see lots of air bubbles moving around, perhaps some foaming up top, and lots of gas bubbles rising up out of the airlock. Once the little yeasties have eaten lots of nommable sugars, though, they’ll get tired. Their environment is full of alcoholic waste, and there’s no more food. Man, this really sucks! Fermentation slows. Some of the yeast will drop to the bottom of the jug and die.
<Sad trombone sound>
So after fermentation has slowed to a stop, use a sterilized siphon or ladle to move the liquid from the first container into another sterilized jug. Be careful to leave the yeast sediment and general STUFF on the bottom of the first container. You’re going for a clear wine, and muddy stuff does not aid this process. Stick that airlock back on top (again, with a little water inside), and put it back in its dark, happy place. You’ll want to leave it until the wine clears itself. If you’re not sure, there should be no signs of fermentation, and no air bubbles in the air lock. This usually takes about 8 weeks.
Dios mio, you mean I have to wait to drink this wine?!
Yes, yes, I do mean that. And you’ll have to wait longer: After that 8 week thingy happens, use that sterilized siphon (or ladle and funnel) to transfer the wine into sterilized wine bottles. Leave a little less than an inch of space at the top. You can take another hydrometer reading now–click here to figure out how to use one properly. Cork or seal the bottles and move them into a cool, dark place to age for ::drumroll::…
4 to 6 months! I know, I know, waiting to get drunk is NO FUN, DUDES. No fun at all. So I recommend having other alcohol on hand to meet your party animal needs. Don’t try to drink the beet wine before this time has elapsed, though, and leaving a little more time will generally make it even better. Wine that’s way too young? Not as tasty, my friends. Not. As. Tasty.
So whaddya think? Sure, it’s a wait, and sure you can buy wine, but this is fun! It gives you bragging rights, and it will make people at BYOB places think you’re a total badass. Not to mention it’s waste-preventing and almost free! How can you turn down free wine?
I’ll tell you, my sweet little cucumbers–you can’t. You just can’t.
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