Monday, April 7, 2014

Beet Wine

On my way to looking up something else in a cookbook self-published by a social club, I saw a recipe for beet wine. I was intrigued. The recipe said it was like sherry. The instructions were simple. Put beet juice, sugar, and yeast in a bottle. Put a balloon over the neck of the bottle and tie it on. Poke a pinhole in the balloon. And let it ferment.

Well, okay, but what, exactly, did they mean by beet juice? Was I supposed to juice some raw beets? Squeeze the juice out of cooked beets? Drain the liquid from canned beets? Use the cooking water?

I bought four huge beets at the farmers market with the plan of making beet wine. Like, each one was the size of two of my fists. I don't have huge paws, but that's not a teeny beet.

And then I started looking up recipes, hoping to find something more ... uh ... trustworthy.

I found everything from recipes that required wine yeast to those that floated a piece of bread on top slathered with bread yeast. Some used a lot of sugar, some used less. Some included tea. Some added citric acid or lemon peel.

Some fermented in an open crock, some in a jar with an airlock.

In the end, the only thing they had in common was the use of beet cooking water. Because they even used different kinds of sugar in the recipes. No consistency at all.


But then again, I figured I couldn't go wrong with my own recipe, if all of those were right. So, I cooked my beets and measured the liquid to see how much I had - just short of 1/2 gallon. I thought I had a spare 1/2 gallon bottle, but then I realized it wouldn't fit, since I still needed to add sugar and I needed room for foaming yeast.

So, I poured the sugar into a gallon-sized crock. I figured that would leave me plenty of room. I added the hot beet water and stirred until the sugar dissolved. then I added the juice from 2 small lemons. I liked the idea of adding lemon. Then I waited until the liquid was below 120 degrees and added 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast. I just sprinkled it over the top.

I covered the crock with a paper towel and put a rubber band around the jar to hold the paper towel in place. I figured that would let it breathe while keeping creepy-crawlies out.

And hoped for the best.

The plan was to hold it for 2 weeks - or until it stopped bubbling - and then ladle out the clear liquid at the top, leaving the dead and catatonic yeast at the bottom of the crock. The clear liquid at that point should have fit into a half-gallon jar.

And then a second ferment for a month or two before drinking or storing. I've read that it still shouldn't be capped tightly at this point. We'll see how it goes.

Edit: I wrote this while the whole thing was in process, so I wouldn't forget what I did.

So, I did manage to transfer the clearest part of the liquid to a half-gallon jar I capped it loosely. It wasn't super-crystal clear, but it wasn't foaming, either. It sat for a couple months, and it got more and more clear and there was just a little sediment at the bottom. After a couple months - oh, let's say three - I ladled that into bottles for storage.

The resulting wine was was a little sweet, but not super-dessert-y sweet. It tastes nothing at all like beets. At this point, it still has the tiniest bit of effervescence. Almost not noticeable, except that the bottle "whooshed" a bit when I opened it.

I'm thinking it might be fun to carbonate some of it with the PureFizz soda maker that I reviewed here. But that's the sort of thing I could do just before drinking. No need to plan for it or anything.

Beet Wine

1/2 gallon cooking liquid from beets
4 cups white sugar
Juice from 2 small lemons
1 teaspoon active dry yeast

Transfer beet cooking liquid to a 1-gallon crock. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add lemon juice and stir. Wait until the temperature of the liquid falls below 120 degrees. If you aren't paying attention and it gets to room temperature, that's fine. You just don't want it so hot it would kill the yeast.

Cover with a cloth  or paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Set aside in a cool, dark place until the liquid stops bubbling and the yeast has settled to the bottom. This will take a few weeks, minimum.

Ladle the clear liquid into a clean jar. Cover the top with a clean cloth and set aside in a cool, dark place, to age for at least a month - longer is better - the liquid should be crystal clear.

Transfer to bottles, but don't cap tightly as it might still be fermenting. Or serve right away.