16 October 2010

Lilac wine tutorial

Last week I finally bottled (and drank some of) the lilac wine that I began work on back in May. At that time, I promised a tutorial on how to accomplish such a task.
First thing you need is lilacs. May and June are the months in which lilac sex happens--that means you will need to get your bags and baskets and get out there and pick some flower parts.
The next step is to painstakingly remove the lilac flowerets and wash them. There may be tiny bugs in these that you will need to do your best to remove. But if you don't get them all, don't worry. They will eventually settle out and be left behind in the monthly syphoning ritual.
Before you do anything further (and each time you handle the wine), you will need to sanitize everything that will touch the wine. I like to use One Step sanitizer as it is easy to use and does not require rinsing.
Next, you will need what is called a primary fermenter. You can use a food-safe 5 gallon bucket with a lid.
You will also need to have a recipe as a general guideline for what to do. The one I used can be found here:

Put 3.5 quarts lilac flowerets and about 7.5 pints boiling water into the primary and let them steep for about two days. Tip=it will make your life easier if you put the flowerets into cheesecloth before putting them in the water.
After the lilac tea has steeped, remove the cheesecloth full of flowerets.

Add your yeast (you can use any kind, even bread yeast) to the lilac tea. I used a combination of three different yeasts I had on hand. Add a little yeast nutrient (found at your local home brew store or online). Finally, add a huge, huge amount of sugar. The yeast will eat the sugar, producing alcohol. Thusly, the amount of sugar you add as well as the vigor of your yeast will both affect the resulting amount of alcohol in the wine.

Stir everything, cover, and let ferment for a week.

Next, you will need to syphon your wine from the primary into a secondary--usually a glass carboy--where the sediments will settle as the wine continues to ferment.
Make sure you cork the secondary and use an airlock so that gasses can escape from the wine (so your bottle doesn't explode--that would be bad).

Let ferment for one month. Then "rack" the wine. This is a fancy way of saying that you will syphon the best wine out of your secondary into another secondary.
I do not have another secondary at this time, so I put my wine in bowls, quickly rinsed out my secondary, and poured the wine back in to the secondary. Some people say this is a bad thing to do because it exposes the wine to more air, oxidizing it, which can mean that the wine will loose some of its potency. I did not find this to be the case with this particular wine.
Rack the wine each subsequent month until you reach a full six months of the wine being in the secondary. Each time you rack the wine, you should have less sediment in the wine, and it will reinvigorate the yeast to convert more sugars into alcohols. You should expect to see some occasional bubbling in the secondary after you rack the wine. You will also notice subtle changes in color as the wine ferments.

The last step is to bottle the wine. You can do this by syphoning the wine out of the secondary into sanitized bottles. Because they were what I had on hand, I used Grolsch beer bottles, making sure I used new and sanitized seals.
While bottling, pour yourself a glass of your finished product--you deserve it for all of your hard work, and it will be a welcome companion as you will have a massive amount of cleanup to accomplish following the bottling of the wine.
Like I said, it's not hard to do. It takes a little time, and a few pieces of key equipment and ingredients. But, not being a purist when it comes to home brewing and wine making, I will also encourage you by saying that you do not always have to have the prescribed tool for a task--if you think you can make it work using something else, try it. The main two things you MUST do is keep everything sanitary and make certain the wine is not exposed to air as it ferments.


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