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Making Ice Cream At Home

Hey! Isn’t this a winemaking blog?

I don’t know about you, but in my little corner of the world it’s been hot. And while all this heat has Western Washington grape growers looking forward to their best year in a long time, it has me forgetting all about making wine and trying to remember where my old ice cream maker is.

A little like winemaking

You can still buy the old style ice cream makers, even hand cranked ones, but the newer counter-top appliances are a better choice for most people. With those it really can be as simple as mixing four or five ingredients together, pouring it into the machine and turning it on. As with winemaking, there are more advanced recipes that require more work but promise richer ice cream. And for really great ice cream, you need to use really great ingredients like fresh cream, good fruit picked at peak ripeness and used right away. That sounds a bit like winemaking too, but as long as we’re talking about ice cream and winemaking, what about incorporating alcohol into our ice cream?

Not available at any price

It’s not just a tasty combination that makes this so tempting, it’s that you won’t find it on store shelves at all. So can we just add brandy to an ice cream recipe and pour it into our ice cream maker? Not quite. Alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature than water, so adding to ice cream is a bit like adding anti freeze. You’ll just end up with cold, slushy not-ice cream.

The trick is to stabilize the alcohol with gelatin. It’ll still be softer than ordinary ice cream, but it will be ice cream! You might try adding 1 packet of gelatin and 1-1.5 cups of beer/wine/spirits. But modifying ice cream recipes can be a double edged sword: you might make something much better than the original, but you might not. Problems can be as simple as the new larger volume might not fit in your ice cream maker. Or maybe the ice cream will not be sweet enough (because the amount of sugar is proportionally lower). Or not creamy enough (reduced proportion of milk fat). Or … that’s why it might be best to start with proven recipes. Jenise Addison and Valerie Lum have done the work for you in their Ice Cream Happy Hour: 50 Boozy Treats That You Spike and Freeze at Home. It includes 50 recipes, and is definitely worth a look. Chocolate Guinness ice cream, anyone?

Blueberry Wine: High maintenance but worth it

Blueberry Wine: High maintenance but worth it

Ah blueberry wine! One minute its fermenting up a storm, then next it’s a lifeless half-finished must that wont get going again. What’s really frustrating isn’t just that the old tricks don’t work – move it to a warmer room, make a fresh starter, apologizing (even if you don’t know what for) and so on – but that there was nothing wrong. It’s not an uncommon story on winemaking forums, and it happened to me recently. So what is it about blueberry wine that causes so many stuck fermentations?

It’s not Kryptonite

Or sorbate. Or any other substance in blueberries that are toxic to yeast. If there were something in blueberries that inhibited yeast, then it would become harder to ferment as you increased the concentration of fruit. 6 lb/gallon would be more difficult to ferment than 3 lb/gallon, for example, and 100% blueberries would be the toughest of all. But my own experience, and that of the only commercial blueberry winemaker I’ve talked to, is that 100% blueberry wines are the easiest to ferment.

Another thing: if it were some toxin or inhibitor in the blueberries, then it would be hardest on the yeast early on – when it’s struggling to come out of dormancy and grow. But when my blueberry wines have stuck, it’s been after a vigorous start. The large established colony of yeast then sputters at around SG 1.020 – 1.040. The question is, what changes between the promising start and the all too common fizzling out?

I’m trying to create an easy blueberry wine recipe, like my Apple Wine From Store-Bought Juice, and ran into this problem. My hope is to solve this problem and create a reliable and easy way to make blueberry wine.

Win her heart with constant attention. And pH management.

The first time I had a blueberry wine stick on me, I got it going again by adding nutrient. So I began to think that blueberries were low in nutrients. You know, if adding X fixed the problem, then there must not have been enough X to begin with, right? Not so fast. I wasn’t measuring pH back then, but I’ve since noticed that pH drops to dangerous levels as blueberry wine ferments. I now believe that my nutrient addition raised the wine’s pH  and that – not the availability of nutrient per se – got the yeast going again. That means you can’t just adjust the pH and other parameters at the beginning and think you’re done. You need to ensure that the pH stays optimal all the way through your fermentation.

Trouble-free blueberry wine: two ideas

I haven’t got this licked yet, but I have two things I want to try. Since there’s something about blueberry wine that’s causing stuck fermentation, blending with something else ought to help. And if I’m right about it being a problem of too-low pH, then blending with something else that tends toward high pH would help even more. Cherry wine is the obvious choice here because it settles at a high pH even when the titratable acidity is high. Like blueberry juice, cherry juice is readily available in grocery stores – it would fit right in with the easy recipe from juice that I’m trying to create.

The other idea is to keep this a 100% blueberry wine, but to attack the pH problem directly. What I want here is something I can add to buffer the fermenting wine at a higher pH. Sodium citrate or potassium citrate might do the trick. They are salts of citric acid, which is the dominant acid in blueberries, and are used as flavorings and buffering agents in the food industry.

Maybe one of these will do the trick. Maybe something else, but I feel like I’m getting close.

About the photo

It wasn’t just the color cast that made me think of blueberry wine. There’s something about the photo, from the exposure to the model’s pose and expression, that’s enticing but just out of reach. Blueberry wine can be like that. Herman Layos did a great job with this photo, and I really appreciate him making it available under a Creative Commons license – thanks Herman!


^BackNitrogen Fertilizers ~ Penn State Extension: this is an in depth look at using nitrogen in agriculture. What got my winemaking antenna quivering was this quote:

Anhydrous ammonia, urea, diammonium phosphate, and nitrogen solutions, when first applied, greatly but temporarily increase soil pH

I think the same thing can happen when we add DAP, or other nutrients, to our wine musts.

Leslie’s Apple Wine – Bottled!

Leslie's Apple WineTen months ago I posted a simple recipe for apple wine, at the request of a reader:

I really want to try making apple wine. I know pretty much nothing about wine making. I know of a homebrew shop about 45 minutes from me. I need to know everything I will need to make a sweet apple wine, and I also need step-by-step instructions.

I created an easy recipe for Leslie on the fly. Now, it’s one thing to say that a recipe is easy to make, but how do you know until you try it yourself? That’s what I did, and I’m very happy with the result: an easy to make wine that was ready to bottle quickly and tastes good. What really jumped out at me from this experience was the importance of choosing between unfiltered and clarified juice.

Make wine fast with clarified juice

I’ve made a lot of apple wine, but this is the first time I used clarified juice. I would always buy unfiltered juice; it’s cloudy with a visible sediment at the bottom, and a lot of people (including me!) expect it to taste better than the bright clear juice that next to it on the grocery store shelf. To find out, I’d need to make two batches, as identical as I could except that one used clear juice and the other unfiltered, taste them blind and see. I haven’t done that, so I don’t know.

But I do know that if you want to make good wine quickly, the clarified juice wins hands down. I bottled bright clear wine ten months after pitching the yeast without fining. Doesn’t sound quick to you? It had been bulk aging for four months and hadn’t thrown sediment – not a hint, even after agitating. So I could have bottled four months earlier – that’s only five months after pitching the yeast.

Even accounting for delays or snafus, I’m confident I could bottle bright clear wine in six months every time. Faster with a fining regimen.

Be patient and take notes

Ready to bottle and ready to drink aren’t the same thing. It’s good now, but I’ve seen apple wine improve up to two years. So if you make this, try to spread it out. Drink some now, and open a bottle every few months. Take notes – even if you don’t think you have much to say. Was it smoother (harsher) than you remember? Is the aroma more or less pronounced? Or different in some other way? How about the color? Write it down! You’ll want to know this when you bottle your next batch.

Running the numbers

You’ll also want to know how the wine analyzed out. If you haven’t looked into the nitty gritty of calculating the alcohol content from specific gravity readings, you’ll be surprised at how complex and inexact it can be. I plugged in my original and final gravities into a number of online calculators, and got a range of 13.3% – 13.7%. I’ll save the discussion of just what goes into these calculations, and why different online calculators might not agree for another time. For now, I’ll just call it 13.5% alcohol. It had a final gravity of 0.994 and a TA of 6.5 g/L, as tartaric. pH was 3.5. On paper, it looks like a crisp, dry white.

How does the apple wine taste?

And that’s exactly what it tastes like. Apple wine can be fruity or neutral or anything in between. This one has good flavor, with a hint of apple, and a nice finish. I’ve tasted country wines that seemed watery, and others that were full bodied. This one was right in the middle with a just-right medium body. The aroma was muted and it had a refreshing acidity that wasn’t too tart.

About the label

A good wine deserves an attractive label, and for that you need good artwork. I struck gold when Courtney Bell agreed to let me use this image. The color scheme, the apples, and the first rate photography make it perfect on an apple wine label.

Since there isn’t a lot of room when it comes to the text, what you leave out is as important as what you put in. My labels usually have a header, “Apple Wine,” in this case. At the bottom goes a footer, and here I included my website url and a copyright notice from Courtney. Informational text includes the batch number, so I can refer to my notes, and some basic measurements.

What about your own labels? Think about wine that you’ve bought. Were you curious about something, but couldn’t find it on the label? Put that in yours. What about things that you glossed over? Don’t clutter up your label – leave those sorts of things out.

A great way to start

If you’re thinking about making wine, this recipe is a great way to start. By using clarified juice, you save a lot of steps like processing the fruit and fining the wine. That makes it an easy recipe that’s ready quickly. Another good choice is Welch’s Wine. So stop thinking about it and do it!

Plum Wine Recipe: From Grocery Store Plums

12 lb of store-bought plums
My bonsai orchard yielded some terrific plums, but not enough for wine. So when Safeway offered plums at $0.99/lb I jumped at the chance. Here’s how I made 12 lb of plums into a gallon of plum wine.


Plums 5375 g (11 lb 13 oz)
Sugar Syrup 1250 ml (5.25 cups)
Water 800 ml (3.33 cups)
Pectic Enzyme 2 teaspoons
Sulfite 1 campden tablet equivalent

If you’ve looked at other plum wine recipes, you’ll notice I’m using a lot more plums and a lot less water than most people. I’ve made plum wine the traditional way, and I liked it. It was thin, however, and rather than adding bananas, raisins, glycerin, or anything else to give it more heft I decided to just use more plums. I go into more detail about how much water I added and why in the measure and adjust section.


I’m making this plum wine a lot like you’d make a rose. One way to make rose is to juice red fruit (or fruit with red juice), and make it like a white wine. So the plan is to juice the plums, add acid (if the titratable acidity is too low) or water (if it’s too high), then pitch the yeast.

The big difference from a conventional wine from grapes comes from the sugar and acid content of plums. That will mean bigger adjustments than for a grape wine.

Juice the plums

I juiced the plums by freeze-thawing and got a 56% juice yield (3 liters from 5.375 kg). That’s a lot higher than for the apples, but I took too long to do it. It was four days from thawing the plums to getting settled juice, and by then I noticed signs of fermentation. Wild yeast or some other unwanted microcritter was helping itself to my plums, so I needed to check the infection and introduce my yeast of choice. I added sulfite immediately, and my yeast had been growing and multiplying in a starter – they should have no trouble dominating the must.

This method can work pretty well – I juiced almost twelve pounds of fruit and more than 55% juice with Ziploc bags and buckets – but you’ve got to stay on your toes. Be quick (do as I say, not as I do!), clean an sanitize thoroughly, and use sulfite.

Measure and adjust

I took the usual measurements of the juice: SG: 1.057, TA: 10 g/L, pH: 3.31. These will be off because of the infection, but it’s better to have data that’s a little off than to go in blind. I decided on a target of 1.100 for the specific gravity and 6 g/L for the titratable acidity, and used the Wine Recipe Wizard to determine the amount of water (0.8 liters) and sugar syrup (1.2 liters) I needed. Adding this to my 3 liters of juice got me 5 liters of must.

Haven’t I forgotten something?

Most of the work is done. It’s been two months, I’ve racked twice, and there is no sign of off tastes or smells. There will be some waiting while the wine clears and ages, and I’ll need to rack (and measure and taste) a time or two. I might adjust one more time, depending on how the wine tastes and what my measurements show. I expect to bottle some very nice plum wine in six to twelve months.

Oh, and the harvest from my bonsai orchard? I thought about tossing those plums in with the store-bought fruit, but I have a better idea. There may not have been enough for plum wine, but that little harvest was just right for a half-gallon of plum liqueur! I’ve made liqueur before, but haven’t talked about it on this blog before – watch for it in an upcoming post.

Washington Winemaker Goes Mobile

I’ve made some changes that (hopefully!) improve the experience for mobile device users. You shouldn’t notice a difference unless you visit the site with a Blackberry, iPhone, Motorola Droid, or other such gadget. If you do, you’ll see links to the ten most recent posts, followed by a list of pages – things like the About Page or the Recipe Wizard that you’d normally see in the horizontal nav bar. The sidebar, with its navigational shortcuts, was jettisoned to save space. So was the beautiful (if I do say so myself) header graphic. What brought this on?

The Lady of the House Bought a Motorola Droid!

This is the first “smart phone” for the Washington Winemaker household, and we’re very excited about it. One thing we were really looking forward to was the navigation feature. It uses GPS, mapping data, and a voice synthesizer to give you spoken directions. We recently moved and we’re doing a lot of driving in unfamiliar territory. Well it works beautifully, exceeding our very high expectations, and it means that both of us are less anxious when the other goes somewhere alone. On top of that, we can access the internet from almost anywhere. Neither of us knew how valuable this was until we tried it; now we don’t want to be without it. All in all, the DROID is an expensive little gadget that’s worth every penny. Oh yeah, it’s a pretty good cell phone too.

I’ve seen the future and it is mobile

All this got me thinking about how we will use the web in the future, and I think these small mobile smart-phone/net book thingies are only going to become more popular. What would that mean for Washington Winemaker? When I first looked at this site with the Droid it was all there: the lovely header, the nav shortcuts in the sidebar, and it all worked. But it was a little awkward to read and use. In updating the site for mobile devices, I wanted to pick the low hanging fruit first and see how people liked it. Do you use a smart phone? Have you looked at this web site with it? What do you think? What other improvements are worth doing?

Well I best be going now. I don’t know how much more playing research and usability testing the Lady of the House will let me do before she takes it back.

Mulled Wine

Adding sweeteners and spices to wine then serving it hot – sounds a bit like herbal tea with alcohol, doesn’t it? – was something I never understood. I’m giving it another look this Christmas season because I happen to like herbal tea, it’s something new (to me anyway), and I’ve got some bland wine that I don’t know what to do with. I was excited when I made wine from supermarket grapes, but in the end I didn’t want to drink it. Sweetening didn’t help, but maybe mulling will.

Mulling Spices

In researching mulled wine (in cookbooks, Wikipedia, search engines, my Mom), the same ingredients keep coming up:

Ingredient Amount per Bottle of Wine
cinnamon 1-2 sticks
cloves 6
citris (juice and/or zest) from half an orange or one lemon
sugar or honey about half a cup

Also common are vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamon. You sometimes see pepper, peppercorns, nuts, and raisins too.

Making Mulled Wine

Dissolved sugar or honey in water (about half a cup to a cup – enough to dissolve and cover everything, but no more), bring to a boil, take off heat, add spices, and cover. If using citrus juice, use a little more sugar/honey and a little less water. Let sit on low heat for about 20 minutes. Strain and add wine. Heat the combined mixture (but don’t boil) and serve hot.

This ought to work just as well with mead or cider – maybe even beer.

You can omit the water and stir everything into the wine, then heat the wine – I’ve seen recipes take either approach. I prefer to do the dissolving and extraction separately to guard against boiling the wine.

Straining out the spices might be easier if you use a tea bag or tea ball.

Citrus juice might help by adding flavor if your wine is bland. If you’re going to be zesting, for mulled wine or anything else, a dedicated zesting tool is a godsend.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited about making mulled wine this year. I haven’t decided on a commercial mix or making it from scratch – maybe I’ll try both. I’d love to hear about your experiences with mulled wine – triumphs, disasters, better methods. If you’re having trouble finding supplies, check out my new mulled wine store.

Update 12/13/2010 – A great eggnog recipe!

Eggnog is another tasty treat for the holidays, and this eggnog recipe won’t disappoint!

How To Make Bland Wine: Use grocery store grapes

Click here for a larger image and technical details about the shot
Wine from store-bought table grapes

I like to experiment. It’s a great feeling when a crazy idea turns into an enjoyable wine. Crazy ideas are unpredictable, though, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. The wine I made from store-bought tables grapes falls into the “don’t” category. What went wrong? Nothing.  I got a balanced dry wine with no faults or off flavors. But its so bland I don’t want to drink it. Sometimes sweetening can tease out a little fruitiness in a wine. I tried that and wound up with sweet bland wine that I still don’t want to drink.

Make Welch’s Wine Instead

If you’re looking for winemaking ingredients at the grocery store, go to the freezer section and buy concentrated frozen grape juice. It’s easier to make wine from frozen concentrate because you don’t have to process the grapes. It’s cheaper too:

Cost of table grape wine
Item Quantity Unit Cost Total
Grapes 20 lb $0.88/lb $17.60
Sugar 20 lb $0.50/lb $17.60
Corks 6 $0.35 $2.10
Total $17.60

I got six bottles, so that works out to just under $3/bottle for bland wine that I don’t like compared to under $1/bottle for a lively, enjoyable Welch’s wine.

Improving table grape wine

I know that some people regularly make wine from Thomson Seedless (Sultana) grapes, and they often cold soak to extract more flavor. If I make this again, I’ll probably do that. Fermenting on the skin, like a red wine, might be worth a try too. Another approach is to add flavorings: vanilla and chocolate extract come to mind. Have you had better luck making wine from grocery store grapes? I’d love to hear about it.

About the label

The best thing about this wine is the label, and I want to thank Mark Hammergren for letting me use his The Truckstop artwork. The idea for putting Lost’s Dharma logo on the wine came to me after I realized I couldn’t rescue this batch. Mark’s take on it combined femininity, humor, and a new Dharma station concept that’s perfect for this wine – thanks Mark!

Update 12/3/2009 – Can I fix it by making mulled wine?

If the problem is bland flavor, then maybe mulling spices will liven it up. Using spices like cinnamon, cloves, and citrus zest (ok, I don’t think zest is technically a spice) in wine, then serving it warm goes back a long way. I’ve never made mulled wine before, so I’m really excited about it – might be a new Christmas tradition for me!

Overlake Cabernet Sauvignon

Overlake Cabernet SauvignonI was happy enough with the Fetzer Cabernet from Trader Joe’s to give another of their budget Cabernets a try. Like the Fetzer, this comes recommended by Jason, and it set me back $6.

Running the numbers

Couldn’t find any information about this wine, so the only reported measurement I have is 14.75% alcohol. My measurements are:

SG: 0.994, pH: 3.72, TA: 3 g/L

There aren’t many winemaking books that tell you to shoot for a pH of 3.7 or a TA of 3 g/L. What do you get when you put that together with high alcohol and low sugar?

An easy drinking red

“Buttery.” So said the Lady of the House, but I didn’t pick up on that. She didn’t say, but I could tell she was thinking, that it wasn’t the only thing I didn’t pick up on! But getting back to the wine, this is a simple big red that goes down easy. We both liked it with spaghetti and sausage, and I’m going to add it to my list of superbowl wines.

Welch’s Wine: Cheap, quick, and surprisingly good

Welch's WineI just bottled this wine made from concentrated frozen Niagara grape juice – yep, wine from Welch’s grape juice. With good winemaking technique, you can turn this humble ingredient into a crisp dry white wine that’s surprisingly good and perfect for summer.

From a starting gravity of about 1.090, it fermented out to 0.992 and I did not sweeten. I know a lot of people will want to sweeten, but I advise against it. Mainly because it’s very good as a dry wine, but also because I’m afraid that sweetening will bring out a “grape juice” flavor. In fact, if you’re making fruit wine and want it taste more of raspberries, strawberries, or whatever you made it from, sweetening will bring some of the that fruit flavor out. That can be a good thing, but not in this case.

It’s acidic, with titratable acidity (TA) of 7 g/L and pH of 3. It may not look like it from the numbers, but this dry acidic wine is easy to drink – even at five months old.

How much does Welch’s wine cost?

From time to time, the concentrate goes on sale for $1/can. When it does I buy 12 cans, add about 6 lb (2.75 kg) of sugar and water to six gallons (23 liters). This gets me at least 5 gallons (19 liters) of finished wine. Here are the details:

Cost of Welch’s wine
Quantity Unit Cost Total
12 cans concentrate 1$/can $12
6 lb sugar $0.50/lb $3
25 corks $0.35/cork $8.75
Total $23.75

Less than $1/bottle! To simplify, I didn’t include the cost of yeast, acid, or nutrient. They would add a tiny bit to the cost. Using cheaper closures (bag in a box, crown caps) would push the cost down.

Every winemaker should make Welch’s wine

Keeping yourself stocked up on Welch’s wine means never having to worry about topping up. Come up a little short on today’s racking? Pop open one of these.

You can also use a wine like this to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth from other wine. Store bought or homemade, they all should pass this simple test. Is it convincingly better than this $1/bottle wine in a blind tasting? If not, then why spend $10 on that Chardonnay or $150 on that high end kit? Don’t get me wrong; some will be better, but now you’ll know which ones.

But it’s a good wine in it’s own right, and that’s the best reason to make it. Crisp but easy to drink, it’s a good simple wine that you’ll want to have on hand.

About the label

When I started making this wine the headlines were pretty dire. This wine went from fermentation to bottle in less than six months and it cost less than 1$/bottle – and that includes 35 cents for the cork. Throw in easy drinking good flavor and you’ve got the perfect wine for hard times. So I decided to call it “Bailout Blanc.”

To label a wine like that, I wanted artwork that conveyed the stress most people are feeling in a lighthearted way. There are lots of way to do that, but Ferrell McCollough’s photo Chris Overworked really stood out. The composition and the post processing come together perfectly, and he was gracious enough to let me use it on my label.

You see a larger photo of the bottle here.

2006 Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet SauvignonJason mentioned this wine favorably on his blog, and I decided to give it a try. I bought it at Trader Joe’s for $6.50. That’s a good price to go along with the good recommendation. Now lets have a look under the cork.

Running the numbers

I’ll start with the usual analysis. Fetzer didn’t have information on the 2006 vintage, and they ignored my e-mail asking for it. They indicated 13.5% alcohol on the bottle and reported this for 2007:

13.49% Alcohol • Titratable Acidity (TA) 6.3 g/L • pH: 3.47 • RS: 0.6g/L (dry)

and here are my measurements of the 2006 vintage:

Specific Gravity (SG): 0.994 • pH: 3.5 • TA: 5 g/L

I like to include these measurements so you and I can compare them with our own homemade wine. If a commercial wine tastes particularly good and well balanced, I want to look at the measurements to see how they did it. The most important measurements, of course, are the ones you do with your nose and your palate. How did the Fetzer measure up?

Going back for more

Jason, I owe you one. This is a nice wine that’s great with pasta or steak on the grill. The Lady of the House and I enjoyed a bottle with dinner of ziti and meatballs. It would also make a terrific Superbowl wine. I don’t rate wines on a 100-point scale, but I can tell you that you get more than you pay for with this wine. I’m going back to buy more.