Wine & Dine Photo Contest

Most craft winemakers are pretty good cooks. Both activities are similar. Cooking a fine meal is just as satisfying as crafting a fine wine. They both require a certain level of craftsmanship and patience to produce sterling results. Then there’s the social aspect of it. Wine and food is best enjoyed together and with good company.

If you’re like me and most other winemakers that I know, I bet you enjoy matching wine with food. So let’s have some fun with it! From February 2  to March 31, 2012 we’ll be running a Wine & Dine Photo Contest on our Brewery Lane Facebook Page. Go to our entry page and upload your photo of a favourite dish and a complementing wine for a chance to win a $100 Gift Card! The gift card is redeemable at either one of  our Brewery Lane stores or online at our shopping site.

All photos must be original. This is a popularity contest. Our Facebook users will be doing the voting. The photo with most votes wins so try to make it eye-catching. Be creative using colour, light and texture. You must name your photo and add a caption. Giving it a catchy name or caption may sway voters your way.

The Brewery Lane Wine & Dine Photo Contest is open to residents of Canada only. You must be 19 years of age or older to enter this contest.

Go to our Facebook Page to enter now


Alternatives to Distilling Alcohol

Distilling of alcohol for consumption is illegal in Canada and the United States unless you have a commercial license. However you can make liqueurs economically using Top Shelf essences without distilling. You can ferment your own alcohol base which will produce  up to 20% alcohol by volume. Fermented alcohol without distilling will give you a slightly different flavour. It won’t be as clean-tasting as distilled alcohol but when you add the Top Shelf essence it’s barely noticeable and some people prefer it over the hotter alcohol taste.

Another option is to simply add Top Shelf essences to your purchased vodka or grain spirits. This is not as economical as making it from the alcohol base method but it usually costs a fair bit less than commercial liqueurs. If you wish to go this route you can follow the instructions on the Top Shelf bottle label.

Instructions for making a fermented alcohol base

You will need the following:

  • 30 Litre or larger fermenting pail & lid
  • 5 Feet of siphon tubing
  • 23 Litre carboy or pail
  • Sterilizer
  • Mixing spoon or paddle
  • Still Spirits Power Turbo Yeast
  • Turbo Carbon
  • Turbo Clear
  • 10.5 kg (23 lbs 5oz) of dextrose

1. Add 20 litres (21 Quart) water at 30°C (86°F) to the fermenting pail. Slowly pour in the dextrose while stirring. Stir well to make sure all the sugar is dissolved.

2. Add the Turbo Carbon by cutting off the top of the sachet and squeeze the contents into the mix. Use a little water to rinse out the sachet. This carbon will absorb fermentation flavours and give your fermented alcohol a cleaner taste.

3. Sprinkle Power Turbo on top of the mix. Fit airlock and leave it to ferment. This will take 7 to 10 days depending on the room temperature. The ideal room temperature is 18 – 24°C.

4.Once all fermentation has ceased we take the unusual step of stirring the whole thing up to remove all the gas from the mix. This mixing should start slowly at first so the mix doesn’t froth over, but increased to vigorous after five to ten minutes. This helps to remove most of the gas. If you don’t degas the mix you are likely to have problems getting it clear during the next process.

5. After all the gas has been removed, add Part A of the Turbo Clear pack and stir well to mix completely. One hour after adding Part A of the Turbo Clear we need to add Part B. Unlike Part A we want to try to add this to the top layer of the mix with as little disturbance as possible. Sprinkle it over the surface and try to gently stir it in to the first 25mm (1 inch) of the mix.

6. After 24 hours the wash should be brilliantly clear. If it’s not,  leave it for a little longer. Once it is clear then siphon or carefully pour the clear mix off the sediment.

7. The mix is now ready to be used to make liqueurs. The Liqueur recipes on the bottles and pack are all designed for use with 40 or 50% alcohol. Your fermented alcohol will be approximately 20% ABV so replace any water called for in the recipe with more of your alcohol. Add the Top Shelf base pack and essence and then top up to 1.125L with your fermented alcohol.


The Glad Hatter Is Conjuring Up Wine

RJ Spagnols recently launched a new series of wine kits under the Glad Hatter brand name. The Glad Hatter is a mystical character who has a penchant for conjuring up wine from his enormous top hat as he travels the countryside. It’s obvious that this brand is designed to be whimsical and a little irreverent.

Glad Hatter wines have been designed to attract a younger audience. Traditional wines have a reputation of being elitist or uppity and can be intimidating to novice wine drinkers. This is seen as an impediment to attracting new wine consumers so over the past few years some commercial wineries have been trying to change this image and it appears to be working. Wines with comical and irreverent names like “Goats do Roam” and “Fat Bastard” have been a great success and it seems like most new wines entering the market are following this formula.

Regardless of the success commercial wineries have experienced, kit manufacturers have been slow to follow. For the most part they have been sticking to the tried and true formula producing brands such as Cru Select and En Primeur—both RJ Spagnols products. These wine kits suggest elegance and appeal to the serious winemaker but the younger crowd who have been sipping “Marilyn Merlot” may find them a bit stodgy. With the introduction of Glad Hatter wine kits, RJ Spagnols is one of the first manufacturers to market a product that should appeal to the young and young at heart winemaker.

However don’t let the whimsical nature of Glad Hatter fool you. You’ll be making some serious wine with this product. RJ Spagnols is one of the top wine kit manufacturers in the world. They are a division of Vincor International which is owned by Constellation Brands—the number one producer and marketer of premium wine in the world. They know their stuff and you’ll be the beneficiary of this knowledge when you make a Glad Hatter wine. With wine kits representing the world’s leading vineyards you’re sure to find something that will appeal to you.

In the new year we’ll be making up one of the kits that this unicycling, big hatted little guy has conjured up for us. We’ll post the whole experience here. So drop back often or better again subscribe to our news feed so you won’t miss a thing. You can also follow us on Twitter or Like us on Facebook to get fresh up-to-date information.

Visit the Glad Hatter website to learn more.


How To Seal Wine Bottles With Natural Cork

Winemaking is an age-old craft so it’s no surprise that there is a lot of misinformation and lore surrounding it. This can be entertaining and even amusing at times but it can also cause  problems for novice winemakers looking for advice.

Sealing wine bottles with cork is one area where this is apparent. One of the most persistent fallacies is that you should boil wine corks before using them. Don’t do it. This will damage the cork structurally and could result in spoiled wine. Most wine corks today are surface treated for easier insertion and should be inserted dry. A floor standing corker is the easiest way to do this.

Here is a list of corking guidelines recommended by the Portugal cork industry. Some of this information is intended for commercial bottling but there’s lots here for the craft winemaker too.

  • Use corks with a surface treatment for a better insertion into the bottle. Never boil, or soak in wine or water before using.
  • If you cannot use all the corks from a bag at once, close the bag promptly and use the corks quickly.
  • Corks must be stored in a clean, well ventilated place, free of volatile and aromatic products that may contaminate them, at a temperature of 15 to 20°C and at a relative humidity of 50-70%.
  • Use corkers with slow compression and fast insertion rates. A cork must be inserted as rapidly as possible to avoid creating any creases at the lower end.
  • Compression should not exceed 15.5 mm for a 24 mm diameter cork.
  • Before laying bottles on their side, they must be kept in an upright position for a period of time that varies according to the humidity of the storage area and compression rate of the cork.
  • Leave a “head space” of at least 15 mm between the cork and the wine. This guarantees an appropriate head space to compensate for temperature variations that should not exceed 10 Celsius.
  • Ensure the compression of the jaws of the corker are set to the right diameter and are properly maintained.
  • The injection of carbon dioxide or the use of vacuum during bottling will reduce internal pressure near to zero and minimize the risk of wine leakage.
  • Do pasteurization before and not after bottling.
  • Prepare your stock of corks well in advance of utilization (6 months). Do not rush preparation close to the time of bottling.
  • Bottle in a clean, well ventilated area.
  • Keep wine cellars free of insects using atmospheric electrocution. Some insects will lay eggs on the corks whenever a little wine extract exists. This causes worm development in the channels between the cork and the bottle neck.
  • Avoid a wet neck during corking. Should this happen, the cork will expand over a film of liquid and could cause the formation of creases and microbiological growth on the extract of dry wine.
  • If using a capsule on top of the cork, avoid creating a vacuum space between cork and capsule.
  • Only buy corks from a supplier that can give you a guarantee of the hygienic history of their production.
I hope this information is helpful. Follow it and your cork sealed wine should stay sound for years to come.

Kit Ten: Selection Douro Tinto Update

I finally gave some love to my Douro Tinto this past few days. This is the final kit in my quest to make all ten special release kits from RJ Spagnols and Winexpert. I started this project late last spring with my intentions to have them all finished before summer. For the most part things went as planned except for this one. Summer came, vacations, yard work and the next thing I knew we were right into our crazily busy fall winemaking season. So the Douro Tinto did not get the attention that the other kits in this project received.

The instructions told me to transfer the wine after five to seven days—if the hydrometer reading was below 1.010—but I didn’t transfer it until the third week. It must be noted that I conducted the primary fermentation in a glass carboy under airlock so leaving it the extra time wasn’t a big risk. I started this wine on September 16 so it’s been sitting in the carboy unattended for almost two months. Nevertheless it’s now filtered and ready for bottling.

When I checked my wine earlier this week I could see that it had cleared on it’s own so I didn’t add the packet of finings that was supplied with the kit. I racked the wine into a clean carboy and added the sorbate and metabisulphite packets. I then proceeded to degas the wine. The wine had been sitting in warm temperatures for over two months so I didn’t expect it to have a lot of dissolved gas. I was surprised to find that this wasn’t the case. It took just as much effort to degas this wine as the previous ones. Overall I think there might have been less dissolved gas but it sure didn’t want to leave. It took just as much stirring and cajoling to get the gas out of this one as it did with my previous wines. I then left the wine overnight and filtered it the next evening.

If you recall from my last Douro Tino post this kit had five packets of oak. I was expecting the wine to be aggressively oaked but it wasn’t. As a matter of fact when tasting it I didn’t detect much oak at all. This could be because I had just filtered the wine and my allergies have been acting up lately so we’ll see when I’m ready to bottle if my opinion changes. I also conducted this fermentation completely in glass under airlock. I did this to see if I could notice a difference in the finished wine. Again it’s too early to make any judgement there. Bottling is scheduled for this weekend and now it’s time to get ready for the new batch of special editions starting in December. This wine is lighter bodied than I expected but again way too early to make a judgement.

So that’s the end of my project. I will be having an informal tasting over  the next few weeks of all the wines I made in this project and I’ll report back here with the results. Overall I’m happy with the wines I made. The extra attention given to these kits has really made a difference. Each of them are unique and have favourable characteristics. There is quite a difference between the Winexpert and RJ Spagnols kits. I found that the Winexpert kits were lighter-bodied and more refined whereas RJ Spagnols kits are more robust and fuller-bodied. I guess it comes down to winemaking  philosophy. Winexpert seems to favour the more delicate and subtle old world wines while RJ Spagnols are definitely leaning towards the bolder, more aggressive new world wines.

I’m glad that you joined me on this journey. If you want to keep updated on these wines you can follow me on Twitter or find us on Facebook. I’ll be making comments and giving my impressions over the next few months as theses wines mature.



Kegging Saves You Time and Money!

If you are anything like myself, the thought of bottling that beer you just made is your least favorite thing about brewing. After ruining a whole batch of my favorite red ale a couple of years ago by putting off this task I decided to look at kegging. Looking at the initial cost of starting a keg system can be intimidating but when you think about the time and money you will save in the long run it can be an easy decision.

You are easily looking at a minimum of two hours preparing bottles. After the cigarette butt hunt comes cleaning, sanitizing, removing labels and lastly rinsing; whereas kegging can be done in all of 20 minutes. Then comes the bottling and capping. After meticulously cleaning and preparing 66 bottles you have to fill them—I know what your thinking that is the most exciting part! So after 45 minutes of filling bottles and spilling beer on the floor you have to cap them which will take another 20 minutes. Compare this to kegging which takes 10 minutes to fill and a few seconds to snap the lid in place. Lastly you have to sit and wait for at least two weeks for your beer to carbonate in bottles whereas carbonating a  keg full of beer can be done in as little as 24 hours.

Another big plus for kegs is that you do not have to listen to “what is that stuff on the bottom of the bottle?” Beer served from your keg is crystal clear with no sediment.

So let’s review it. Bottling your beer takes approximately two hours while kegging takes about 30 minutes. The initial cost of a kegging system is around $300. To some this may seem like a lot of money but in my opinion my time and labour saved more than offsets the initial start-up cost. Then there’s the out of pocket savings. You no longer have to buy priming sugar, caps, and chlorinated cleaner.

I’m a big fan of kegging and highly recommend it. Once you start kegging your beer and you realize the time and money you’re saving you’ll wonder why you ever had any reservations.


To BC With Love

I think it might have been the basket of plump black cherries that the motel owner handed us when we checked in “ fresh from my farm this morning ” he said with a smile, or maybe it was the fragrant warm night air, but I know I fell in love with BC the moment I had arrived.  Bill and I,  his brother Ken and wife Anne, had just flown from the coldest and bleakest summer that had ever been recorded in Newfoundland history. After a twelve hour flight we were standing on a Kelowna sidewalk warmed by the tropical feeling air and enjoying a sweet basket of BC hospitality. Could it get any better? The next day, after a relaxing drive along Lake Okanagan, we arrived at Penticton Lakeside Resort to take part in a weekend conference of the RJ Spagnols Academy stores from across the country. It was touted as a chance for store owners to get together and exchange ideas and talk about any problems that they may have in common and see what the rest of the country was doing in this; the oldest of crafts and the youngest of industries.

That evening we were introduced to the latest product, Glad Hatter, with the help of uni-cyclists and a magician and top hats for everyone. I know our customers will love this new kit. It should put some levity into a sometimes staid and serious craft. That night we said good bye and good luck to Tim Lang, who was moving on in the Constellation family and we met and welcomed Ellen Johnson as the newest director of sales and marketing. It was a diverse group of people who gathered the next day. Most of the store owners were older people who started their business when there was no retail model to refer to and had to make up the rules as they went along. Now here we are at a supplier funded conference and we all want the same thing. We’ve come a long baby! From Good to Great! From the keynote speaker, to the break-out groups, to Chris Boyce and his True Colors session—where I discovered to my great surprise I was Green Blue—I am sure everyone came away with some treasure that will help them in their work.

Oh did I mention the winery tours and the delicious wines at NK’ Mip, See Ya Later Ranch,and  Jackson Triggs vineyards, ending at Sumac Ridge? There we were met with a glass of my favorite pink champagne and treated to a sumptuous meal—the oysters were to die for—and amazing views everywhere you looked.

At the closing dinner and ceremonies, awards were presented to outstanding retailers for sales and store decor, community service,  and innovation to name but a few. After almost 20 years of learning to become retailers in a business that was almost considered illegal or unspeakable we finally saw the recognition from our supplier who happens to be part of one of the biggest wine companies in the world.

It was wonderful to meet wine makers from BC to Nova Scotia and to know that we are not alone and that everywhere in this great country some one is telling a prospective winemaker about the pleasure and satisfaction of making and serving their own hand crafted wine to family and friends.

I wonder if it’s BC cherries used in Orchard Breezin’ Black Cherry Pinot Noir? I know every summer when I sip my favourite Orchard Breezin’ I’ll remember my BC trip and the wonderful people I met. I’ll recall the picnic we had on a hillside near Surrey enjoying delicious local wine while hoping our Newfoundland weather wouldn’t be too cold when we returned.


Five Rules To Make Your Next Winemaking Experience More Enjoyable

We all agree that the most labour-intensive and least liked part of winemaking is cleaning. We frown at the thought of having to wash and sanitize bottles and equipment. However if you follow these five rules your next winemaking experience will be more enjoyable.

1) Rinse your bottles immediately after using.

If you don’t rinse immediately, beer or wine will dry in the bottles leaving a hard-to-clean residue. Rinsing your bottles after use will eliminate long soaking and heavy-duty bottle brushing.

2) Drain your bottles after rinsing.

Even rinsed bottles will develop mould if water is left in them during storage.  Mould can be extremely hard to remove and if left in the bottle it will spoil your wine or beer. Drain your bottles in a dish drainer after rinsing. If you’re rinsing several bottles you can drain them on a bottle tree.

3) Clean your carboys and fermenting buckets immediately after use.

This is important. If you don’t clean all that sludge and grunge out of your carboys and buckets you’re asking for trouble. If this stuff dries on it will be very difficult to remove. It’s a daunting task to roll up your sleeves and start cleaning that nasty looking bucket after you finish bottling your wine. You may decide to leave it for the next day but unfortunately this often doesn’t work. You forget about it and go back a week later and then you have to face a monumental task. Clean it now and you’ll save yourself a ton of work.

4) Let your chlorine cleaner do the work.

Backbreaking work with a brush is not necessary to clean your buckets and carboys. As soon as you’re finished racking your wine or beer, fill your carboys and buckets with warm water and add 1/4 cup of chlorine cleaner (pink stuff). Let this stand overnight and most of the gunk will magically disappear. All you need to do the next day is empty the water and rinse. Make sure you drain your fermenting vessels before storing them.

5) Everything in it’s place.

Make sure you have a place for all your wine and beer making equipment and keep everything in it’s place. Clean and dry everything after using it and put it where it belongs. This will make your next brew day more enjoyable and less stressful. If you don’t follow this rule you may find yourself looking aimlessly for a missing hydrometer on brewing day, only to discover it an hour later and after much frustration encrusted with the remains of the Merlot you bottled last month.

So these are my five rules for a more enjoyable and less strenuous brewing or winemaking day. Do you have any ideas that you can add? If you would like to share something, please leave a comment.


Think Green! Drink Green!

We are more conscious of the effect our consumption has on this planet and the carbon footprint we leave behind. Over time we’ve become aware of how important it is that we leave our planet intact for future generations. What was once considered a “tree hugger” crusade has now gone mainstream. The environment is a concern for most of us and consumers are looking for greener alternatives. This has caught the attention of commercial wineries and there are efforts being made to reduce carbon output. There is also a trend caused by consumer demand to produce organic wine or wine made from grapes that have been biodynamically farmed.

Wine makers face many challenges when it comes to making eco-friendly or “green” wine. Some growers use large amounts of chemicals and pesticides—and there’s the carbon dioxide problem. Fermenting wine produces carbon dioxide gas. Yes, that’s the bad stuff blamed for depletion of the earth’s ozone layer. During fermentation yeast converts grape sugar to roughly 50% alcohol and 50% carbon dioxide. If you can imagine all the wine produced and drank throughout the world you realize this is not small stuff! Then there’s the heavy oil consuming machinery needed to harvest the grapes plus the energy used to transport those hefty glass wine bottles—sometimes right across the continent.

Can you imagine the cost to our environment—not to mention our pocketbook—it took to bring  that bottle of Australian wine to your local liquor store shelf?

Commercial wineries are trying to meet these challenges; however they’ll never come close to making wine as ecologically friendly as you. Crafting wine in your home is far less damaging to the environment and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint.

Here are some of  the reasons why making your own wine pays big dividends for our planet:

  • Juice for manufacturing wine kits is shipped in large tanks instead of individual bottles thus greatly reducing the shipping weight.
  • The kits are then packaged and shipped to the consumer in light-weight plastic bags and cardboard boxes.
  • Most wine kits are shipped concentrated which requires water to be added by the consumer further reducing the shipping weight.
  • Craft winemakers recycle their bottles. I have bottles that I’ve been using for 20 years!
  • Our wine is made, bottled and stored in our homes. No costly trips to the liquor store.

These are some glaring examples but I’m sure you can find many more reasons why your home crafted wine is infinitely more green than any commercial product. Crafting your own wine is beneficial to our planet. We want people to keep this in mind so we coined this catchy slogan: “Think Green, Drink Green!” Please pass it on to your fellow wine drinkers.


Kit Ten: Selection Douro Tinto

The journey is almost over. This is the final kit in our Ten Wine Kits: One Winemaker Project.  We’re finishing up with a Portuguese Douro Tinto from the Winexpert Limited Edition series. Let’s see what the manufacturer has to say about this kit.

A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, the names may be unfamiliar, but Tinta Roriz is the same grape as Spanish Tempranillo. Together they make an intensely aromatic wine with an impressive depth of fruit and complexity. Black fruits such as cassis along with mulberry and raspberry predominate and are complemented by plums and tobacco, followed by the resinous aromas of violets and rockrose. High tannin levels and good natural acidity mean that the wine has an excellent potential for ageing without loss of
structure or balance.

Sounds good to me! The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the many packets of oak. Five in all. They were a mix of shavings and powder with different levels of toasting. I guess they’re trying to impart layers of toasty oakiness to this wine. It will be interesting to see how it works. Whenever we sell a wine kit that has four or more packets of oak we’re sure to get a few calls asking us if it’s a mistake. It’s not a mistake. If you want to  make your wine like the manufacturer intended then use them all.

The juice smells real nice. I’m going to ferment this kit with the EC-1118 yeast that was included. In all previous kits I changed the yeast but not this time. I want to stick as close as possible to the manufacturers instructions for this one. However I will deviate just a little. I’m going to rehydrate the yeast instead of sprinkling on directly as the instructions say and I’m also going to add 1/2 teaspoon of fermaid at 1/3 sugar depletion (at gravity 1.060)

This time I decided to ferment in glass so I’m using an Italian “23” Litre glass carboy. Italian glass carboys are more like 24 litres so that will leave a small bit of headroom for foaming. In my experience, modern wine yeast is low foaming so I shouldn’t have a problem but I’ve attached a blow-off tube in case there is some overflow.

So that’s it. The Duro Tinto is off and running. I’ll update you when it’s ready to be racked.