Beet Wine - My First Attempt

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TasunkaWitko

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Beet Wine - My First Attempt

No, i'm not crazy ~

My grandfather would make different wines: chokecherry, bullberry, apple, crababbple...and beet. This makes sense, since he was German and Swedish; beets are integral to the foodways of both cultures, not to mention Ukraine, where my German ancestors lived for a few generations before emigrating to North Dakota.

I was out at my parents' place a few nights ago, and talked with my dad about how Grandpa would make this beet wine. Grandpa's "method" (although he probably never would have referred to it that way) consisted of re-purposing a large glass battery case, which would have looked something like this:





He would wash and peel the beets, then pare them (like a potato), then cut them up into small chunks. He would then toss them into the battery case and add the sugar and water. As to the amounts of beets and sugar, Dad didn't know for sure, but he was certain that Grandpa made wine 5 gallons at a time. Grandpa would then pitch the yeast (bread yeast) and let the magic begin. When it was done working, he'd bottle it, and that was that.

I'm not much of a "real" wine drinker, but I am enjoying these home-made "country" wines more and more, made from the bounty of the land. True connoisseurs might shudder at them, but they taste great, they look wonderful, they are a tie to the land and - for me - have the added bonus of being a connection to my past and a continuation of a family tradition.

I figured to myself, why not? I am a food historian, I'm very keen to explore and preserve my "Germans from Russia" heritage, and it's a tie to one of the greatest men I've known in my life. I should give this a try....I mean really, the more I think about it, what could be more "German-from-Russia" than beet wine?

So - for all of the Doubting Thomases out there, this one's for you!

This is a pretty easy story to tell, so far:



3.4 pounds of beets, sugar and spring water; not pictured are a package of Montrachet wine yeast and a campden tablet (to protect the wine from infection and to ward off oxidation). You can read more about campden tablets and their purpose in winemaking here:

http://www.midwestsupplies.com/purpose-of-campden-tablets

Note: The (very) few recipes that I found for beet wine contain several additives that probably "balance" and "improve" the wine to something a little more in line with modern practices. Pectic enzyme is presumably not necessary; however the biggest benefit that I can see would probably be some acid blend. I do not know for sure if this is the case, but I suspect that it might be. On the other hand, some reports stated that beet wine made the "right" way - that is, with the additives - has been lackluster and even inferior. I will most likely experiment with some of those additives at some point, but for this first attempt, I chose to stick with just the campden tablet, and called it good.

Moving forward, I cut off the tops and roots of the beets, then pared them with a carrot peeler:



Some recipes said that paring the beets is unnecessary, but my grandfather did this, so I did, too. The peelings, roots and tops of the beets were buried in the garden, to keep the land happy.

This actually left me with exactly 3 pounds of beets:



I was estimating that I would have anywhere from 2.5 to 3 pounds total, so this was just fine.

My grandfather would then chop up the beets into small pieces with a knife; however, I am either too lazy or too busy to do that, so I cut them into medium-sized pieces, then pulsed them through my food processor:



This seemed to work quite well.

Some recipes call for cooking the beets at this point, in order to extract the juice. This seems unnecessary to me, and could, in my opinion, result in some sort of off-flavor. Would it? Won't it? I don't know. But the thing is, my grandfather did not cook the beets; my father insisted on that - so I didn't cook them, either.

Meanwhile, I heated my gallon of spring water on the stovetop to the point where it would easily dissolve 3 pounds of sugar. This amount of sugar was arrived at after reading the recipes referred to above, and should be a good amount.

By this point, I was starting to wonder if I was the recipient of some family joke, but I kept with it anyway, and am glad that I did.

The next step was to put the beets into a fine mesh bag, then pour the warm sugar water on top of the bag in the fermenting bucket, along with a crushed campden tablet. The water turned beet-red (no pun intended) immediately:



Truly a beautiful colour!

I loosely covered the bucket with a clean tea towel, then set it in a dark, temperature-stable place for 24 hours. After that, I stirred the mixture and pitched the wine yeast.

Since then, I have been stirring the must periodically, and using the large spoon to squish down the bag in order to continue to extract juice from the beets. this project is cruising right along; we're definitely making wine, and that's a good start.

Ambient temperatures have been a bit on the low side, in the mid 60s; I'm not too concerned about this, but it is something that should be noted. I try to keep temperatures around 69-71, but my "temperature control system" consists of a closet lined with clothes and a space heater, so it's not going to be an exact science. No worries, though, as I am pretty sure most farmhouses that made this stuff didn't have a laboratory nearby.

The beet aroma is coming through nicely, without being over-bearing or obnoxious. I have managed to sneak a couple of very small samples clinging to the spoon after stirring the must; early impressions are that I am onto something really good here, and I am thinking that I will end up with some very interesting wine. It's too early to really describe it, but it is definitely good, and for the most part unexpected.

And...the colour is simply beautiful - I can't say enough about that!

We're past the halfway point for primary fermentation; this weekend, I'll most likely transfer the must over to secondary, unless I see a reason not to.

That is all for now - more as it happens, etc. &c....

Ron
 

Stressbaby

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+1 for the pics
+1 for the nice narrative

We only request that you follow this thread through to the very end. Too many recipes and other threads document a wine through the "assembly" but never past the end of primary fermentation.

What yeast did you use?
 

TasunkaWitko

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Montrachet.

I would have followed my grandfather's example and used bread yeast; however, I had none on hand.

We'll see how it turns out!
 

TasunkaWitko

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This is still going well, as far as I can tell. Fermentation may or may not be slowing down a bit, but it definitely seems to be taking place. I am loving the colour and even the beet aroma, which brings me right back to my grandfather's garden in North Dakota.

On the other hand, I have been second-guessing myself (dangerous!); therefore, I have a couple of questions for those who might be able to shed some light on the issues.

First and foremost, I am absolutely not hung up on making this wine taste like anything that it isn't; I want to get the "beet effect," but I also want it to have the best chance for optimum development. Things such as healthy fermentation, as well as retaining the colour and flavour, are my top priorities.

With that in mind:

A) Should I have added acid blend or tannin?
B) How about yeast nutrient or energiser?
C) If the answer to A and/or B is "yes," is it too late to add it?

Once again, I would rather not add anything, if possible. I have no problem at all running this one "as-is" and using it as a learning experience, so if it is too late, that's not a problem. Having said that, if any of the above will help it retain its own natural properties longer or in better fashion, then I may add it.

Thanks -

Ron
 
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cintipam

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You can get by without the tannin or acid blend right now. Both of those are mostly taste issues, and can be added later. But if I were you I'd get some nutrient in there as quickly as possible. It is not good to add nutrient late in the ferment, but lack of it could stall your fermentation process. Fermentation usually rolls along pretty swiftly the first 3-4 days, then slows down quite a bit. It seems you are on day 2 and already slowing, so I think you need that nutrient, hopefully within the next two days.

Montrachet yeast is well known for being a very hungry yeast needing lots of food or it starts developing stinky issues. For this batch at least, use the nutrient. If you want to try next time without nutrient I'd suggest Lalvin EC1118 yeast. That yeast just keeps going without any problem.

Pam in cinti
 
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TasunkaWitko

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Hi, Pam, and thank you for the feedback on this. I am still very much a novice and have no "formal" wine training, so I am always looking to learn, especially with these "country wines."

I actually started this project on Saturday, 23 October (I neglected to add that in my opening post) and pitched the yeast on Sunday, 24 October. With that in mind, would you say I am doing alright, for now?

Thanks again -

Ron
 
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cintipam

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I still say for this wine because you used Montrachet I would get a 1/2 dose of nutrient in there right away. If it were a different yeast I'd say wait and see, you'll probably be fine. But once the dreaded smell hits the wine it is very hard to clear up safely. So switch yeasts next time to EC1118 and then you can gamble with a possible stalled ferment. This time I wouldn't call it gambling waiting for a problem, with Montrachet it's almost a sure bet for at least the dreaded sulphur smell.

Pam in cinti
 

TasunkaWitko

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Thanks, Pam - I'll add a half-dose when I get home from work and stir the must. I am planning on transferring it to secondary on Sunday, but we'll see how it goes.
 

wineforfun

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I haven't seen a hydrometer mentioned anywhere. Did I miss it? If not, get one NOW.
I have a feeling you are past the point of adding nutrient. You are 4 days into ferment. Of course the main problem is, I/we have no idea what your starting SG was and what it currently is.
With that said, Pam is right on with that yeast you used needing nutrient, I am just not sure if it will still work.

And yes, as Pam stated, acid and tannin are more taste/mouthfeel, and can be added later, if need be.
 

TasunkaWitko

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Hydrometer? :?

SG? :?

:? :? :?

Just kidding - I do have one, and I know how to use it. And I agree that it is the only way to be sure.

But with 1-gallon batches, I've encountered many problems using one - all were probably due to operator error. The hydrometer is too tall for the fermenting bucket, and for the 1-gallon carboy. Using a turkey baster and a sampling tube made a mess, and the only other option seems to be to sample it until there's not much left to bottle. On top of it all, I am pretty sure that I infected a good batch of wine messing taking sample after sample, even though I thoroughly washed everything in 140-degree water and sanitized everything every time. Maybe a wine thief would make a difference.

I don't mean to sound condescending or to belittle your suggestion. I absolutely agree that it is the best practice, and it is highly likely that I should be doing it anyway. But speaking only for myself and for 1-gallon batches, until I have a better way of using one, the risks and hassle out-weigh the benefits, in my opinion.

I'll add a half-dose of the nutrient; if it works, great. If not - well, I am sure that no harm was done and that one way or the other, we'll end up with wine. :ib
 

wineforfun

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@TasunkaWitko No offense taken here. Not sure why you are having issues drawing a sample. I do it all the time and was an inexperienced winemaker when I started. I use a baster to draw sample, and hold a test tube/vessel right next to whatever I am drawing out of, ie: bucket, carboy, etc. May spill a drop or two at most.
I check my SG two to three times while fermenting and never had any infection issues. Not sure what you did. I take sample, reading, dump back into bucket/carboy, then rinse everything off with very hot water and dry.
 

Stressbaby

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I agree with winfeforfun, you can and should dump the must used for sampling with the hydrometer back into the pail or carboy.
 

cintipam

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Ron, I also agree that you need to start using your hydrometer. If you are having trouble with your baster, maybe it's the baster. I started out using a cheap baster from a discount store and did fine. then I "upgraded" to an expensive high end baster and hated it. It was a pain to attach the bulb, it dribbled and didn't hold pressure well at all. So I went back to the cheap one.

I'd suggest buying and trying a few different ones. I now own a wine thief, but it is still in the pkg. That cheap baster has been replaced, but only with a new one of the same brand. It might help to test the basters using plain water to minimize mess and frustration. Once you find one that seems to work right for you, then do the job over the fermenting bucket like winfeforfun does, and return the sample to the bucket when done. Tho later in the process I have been known to pour a little into a cup to taste test.

I bet your wine will be a stunning color. BTW, tannin in primary fermentation also aids in color retention in wine, so you don't really need it, but it would help your wine look as lovely in a year as it does today.

Pam in cinti
 

TasunkaWitko

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I've been thinking about it, and it definitely might have been the turkey baster itself, since that's where I seemed to be having the most trouble. As far as I could tell it was a decent baster (brand new), but it didn't seem to "hold" the must from bucket to sampling tube, and I would end up dribbling around all over everything, even though the bucket and tube were side-by-side.

I'll give it another try and see if that's the problem.

Thanks to all, and a second thanks to Pam for the information re: the tannin.

Ron
 

cintipam

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Sounds like a bad baster to me! I actually hold my tube over my bucket while I pull samples. I keep reading you guys saying next to the bucket, but I know I'm not that neat. I hold it over so the drips have a good place to go.

Don't forget to spin the hydrometer in the tube to knock off any carb bubbles that would change your reading.

Pam in cinti
 

JohnT

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my dad always talked about sugar beets. they were so sweet, they made sugar out of them. this is probably what they used?
 

cintipam

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If sugar beets are easy to grow this sounds like a great experiment. They would also add great color to wines that you think should be pink, but often wind up pale. Like rhubarb, strawberry, etc.

I'm betting my clay soil wouldn't be the best location tho.

Pam in cinti
 

TasunkaWitko

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Funny thing is - I live in Chinook, Montana. Sugarbeets as an industry and - surprisingly - as a culture have been a "thing" here for a very long time. We had a thriving sugarbeet production here up until the late 1970s or so; we still have a "Sugarbeet Festival" every year, and our high school mascot is...the SugarBeeters.

Sugarbeet wine is on my list of things to try, but these beets are just regular beets, grown wonderfully at a local Hutterite colony.

Anyway, when I got home from work last night, I added 1/2 dose of yeast nutrient. When I stirred the must this morning, I noticed a little more evidence of fermentation than in the past couple of days, so I think things are going well.

I'll probably transfer this to secondary tomorrow; then, the wait begins....
 

cintipam

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Ron, I'd love to hear your report on reg beet wine vs sugar beet wine. sounds like you live in the perfect spot to try both. While I don't have high hopes on the overall flavor for this wine, I do think it could be an excellent blender wine to improve the visual appeal of some other wines.

Folks on this website have made wine from everything from onions and garlic to herbs and flower heads. I'd try the onion and garlic but they say not only does it reek to high heaven during fermentation but also the fermenters they used never lost the smell and they had to stop using them for wine. However the wine was ok, and proved excellent as a marinade or slow roast liquid.

Pam in cinti
 

TasunkaWitko

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I transferred my beet wine to my secondary fermenter last night, 31 October. The wine looked wonderful and smelled nice and "beety," in a good way. As far as I can tell, everything is going just fine.

I'll try to forget about it for a couple of weeks while it finishes fermenting and clears a bit. After that, we'll take a look and see what we have.
 

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