Tag Archives: wine

An exchange

A roadside stall in Kalaw, displaying dozens of dust bottles, gleaming in the dwindling sunlight.  The sky is grey-blue in the east, cinnamon in the west; it is a gloomy, but dignified wet-season sunset.  I screech to a halt in the slush, position the front doors of my beige hatchback over dry, rather than wet, mud and hoist my longyi.  Albert follows as I assess the area.

“Pineapple wine? Apple wine? Plum wine?” I ask, pointing to the array of bottles.  A young boy scurries out from the gloom within the stall nodding.  “What’s that one?” I ask, pointing to a bottle with more dust than usual, obscuring the writing and image on the label.  The boy replies with a word I don’t understand.  We go back and forth until realisation dawns: damson.

“Do you know who makes this wine?” I ask.  The boy doesn’t know.

“Where do you buy these from?” I ask.  The boy doesn’t know.

“Is it a company or a family?” I ask.  The boy stares at me.

“Is this all you have?” I ask.  The boy hesitates, then ducks inside.  He is gone twenty seconds.  Yes, that’s all they have.

I ask Albert, my partner in wine business, which he would prefer.  An enthusiastic drinker, he declares that they all sound wonderful.

“We’ll buy one of each.”

The boy calls out and is joined by another, older teenager, who looks around for something.  He pulls out six gleaming white cardboard bottle bags, the kind ubiquitous in Australian and high-end Yangon bottleshops, and carefully puts each of the dusty, dirty, aged bottles into their own crisp, clean gift bag.  As he does so, I go through the basics.

“Do you drink wine?” I ask.  The boy does not.

“Do you drink beer?” I ask.  The boy does not.

“How about cigarettes?” I ask.  The boy thinks for a moment, and then says no.

A motorcycle splutters past.  Then another.  Kalaw’s rhythms are foreign to me, but it is a town of domestic migrants, of opportunity and of tourists.  I can categorise it: and Albert and I at least fit in here, there is a role to play, unlike many other idiosyncratic villages and towns across the country, down potted roads and one-lane “highways”.

The sun descends.  Cinnamon turns to peach.

We load the boot of the Kia up with our mysterious wine, pay and leave.

Case Swap: New Brown

This post is part of a series of twenty-three discussing beers brewed by members of the Merri Mashers brewing club for their 2015 case swap celebration.

This is a sour beer by one of the club’s aficionados. The label states that it is a 5.6% ABV fresh tart brown ale with French oak and Pinot noir, brewed from 2-row, Caramunich, Special B, Wheat, Saaz and fermented with Lactobacillus Plantarum and WLP575. Then additions of medium toast French oak and 2014 Dead Mouse Pinot Noir. Sounds interesting!

The beer slid into the glass hesitantly with delicate carbonation and a muted red EBC. No head was present at all, nor any hops on the nose. The aroma was vinegar and lumber, with a bit of cherry or something behind the wood. Slightly citrusy flavours and generic malt tried to make themselves known on drinking, but to my palate these notes were hammered into submission by an aggressive sourness that was definitely to the detriment of the beer.

I am not a huge sour beer drinker but I know the ones I’ve loved – for instance all Russian River and Berlinner Weisses. I struggled with this particular beer – I think it’s the vinegar, which reminds me too much of pediococcus infections I’ve had in the past when brewing.

Date & Berry Wine

I still haven’t posted much brewing content to this blog, but rest assured I am planning to! In the meantime, I thought I would write a little about my first experience making wine.

No, not grape wine (leave that to the pros … for now!) – but date and berry wine.

Date wine has a venerable history as nearly all wines do, with recipes dating back at least two millennia. I ignored all of those recipes and followed my instincts.

Given this was my first wine, I kind of expected it to be a catastrophe, so I wasn’t particularly fussy with ingredients or process. Surprisingly the finished product turned out to be delicious – and I have been assured by others who make date wine that these drinks really benefit from age, developing complex date flavours in one to three years. I have no idea what complex date flavours taste like but I suppose I will find out if I am patient.

Without further ado here are the ingredients and processes I used:

Family Date & Berry Wine
1099 OG, 1011 FG. 12% ABV.

Fermented at ambient Australian summer temperatures from the following sugars:

60% :: Brown Cane Sugar
3.7% :: Strawberries
3.3% :: Raspberries
2.3% :: Blackberries
1.7% :: Blueberries
11% :: Dates
18% :: Apple Juice

I used dried dates from a local Chinese grocery store. First, I chopped each dried date in half, then added them to a saucepan. I poured in enough water to only just cover the dates, brought it to the boil and added the brown sugar. I boiled the mixture for thirty minutes, then took it off the boil to cool. I covered the pot and let it stand overnight until it hit room temperature.

The next day I minced the mixed berries – bought frozen – in a food processor and put them in a large stock pot. I poured in the apple juice and then added the brown sugar and date syrup. Finally, I pitched a fruity dried ale yeast (M79) on top, covered the pot with glad wrap, put it in a corner and forgot about it for two months.

Well – that’s not entirely true – I didn’t forget about it. I looked at it quite a lot to be honest, because it fermented for literally sixty days and I was constantly checking for it to finish. The yeast frothed up into viscous white bubbles, rippling and overturning the floating berries, which reduced in vitality day by day as the little funghi went about leaching out their sugars. This vigorous, long fermentation I can only attribute to having something to do with the solubility of the berries and dates and the ability of the yeast to access the residual sugars buried deep in their tissue.

If I hadn’t boiled the dates beforehand fermentation could have potentially taken six months, or even a year, who knows!

Unfortunately I did not take photos of the winemaking process itself, but I do have some of the finished product.

As you can see it is a clear, robust red wine. I tasted a small glass fresh on bottling day.

It poured a fine, still copper rum red and smelt tannic with high alcohols. When I tasted it, however, tannins were barely present. It is an extremely sweet wine, reminding me a little of fortified wines. There are hints of tartness from the berries in there, but no flavour I could identify from the dates. It goes down super smooth with a very soft mouthfeel and a dry, slightly acidic finish. I think this is a warming, winter’s drink – it would go well with cheeses (in place of quince paste).

It carbed mildly in the glass when left for half an hour – pointing to residual sugars I will need to ferment out of the bottles. I said it earlier but I was extremely surprised and pleased with how this wine turned out. So soft! So smooth! So drinkable! I can’t wait for it to age – and I can’t wait to make more wine.

For Beer Stupifies

On the distinctions between wine and beer, quoteth Athenaeus circa 200 CE who in turn quoteth Aristotle from around 400 BCE:

Men who have been intoxicated with wine fall down face foremost,
whereas they who have drunk barley beer lay outstretched on their backs;
for wine makes one top-heavy, but beer stupifies.

Does this imply a higher mortality rate for beer drinkers, given the danger from choking on their own vomit? If this is the case, could we have seen a kind of natural selection taking place in beer drinking countries over the preceding 10,000 years? Does this extend all the way to the present and help explain the rise in wine consumption in mature beer markets?

The answer is no. Oh Aristotle, you goose.