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Beet Wine - My First Attempt

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 27 October 2016 at 07:24
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
TasunkaWitko - Chinook, Montana

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 October 2016 at 07:09
ADD moment -

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 that
will most likely have to wait until next year. These
beets are just regular beets, grown wonderfully at a
local Hutterite colony.

Anyway - fermentation seemed a bit stalled with this, so
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....
TasunkaWitko - Chinook, Montana

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Wing master Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 October 2016 at 08:20
I was just thinking the same thing about sugarbeets.

I was thinking you could use sugarbeets somehow to make
your sugar water. That would incorperate both into the
same wine.

Just a thought.

Wing master
I have always considered myself to be quite the bullshitter, But ocasionally it is nice to sit back and listen to a true professional......So, Carry on.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote RobertMT Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 October 2016 at 15:15
My grandma used to make root vegetable "wine" for "vodka". She would remove potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, from cooking water, add sugar and add to batch going on back porch, when it got full or stopped "working" or grandpa's stash run out, she'd "concentrate" it on stove and bottle it. Grandpa would add it top coffee cup and sometimes grandma would pour it over blackberries and let set for month "bouncing" it every day for blackberry bounce, tasted like koolade and would get you fast.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 November 2016 at 15:33
Hey, guys - sorry I haven't replied. Lots of things got
to happening the last few days, not all of them good. It
could be worse, though, so no complaints here, just busy.

Randy - one of my sons was going to look into some sugar
extraction from sugarbeets, just kind of a "for the hell
of it" project. If it works, I just might have to see
about doing something similar.

Robert - that concoction of your grandmothers actually
sounds somewhat familiar. I don't think it was ever made
in my family, but I have heard of it before, somewhere.

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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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 February 2017 at 08:29
Follow-up - 17 January 2017:

Between being busy and procrastinating, I was not able to rack this wine over until 17 January. I added 1 crushed campden tablet and topped the gallon off with some extra wine that I had from racking over into secondary. There was a surprisingly-low amount of lees, but fermentation had definitely taken place, and I am definitely ending up with wine, here.

There was enough left over for a small sample, so of course I tried it. This wine is very interesting and surprisingly good. The colour is simply beautiful, a jewel-like hue somewhere between magenta and burgundy, similar to yet slightly lighter than the “bucket” photo above. It is hard to describe, so I will get a photo next time. There is a definite flavour of beets, but not in a bad way - it is very slightly earthy and finishes with a nice “beet-ness.” Its over-all character has a slight alcohol harshness, as it is still a young wine, but if it does any maturing at all, I think I am going to have something really special here.

I’ll rack it one more time in a month or two, then bottle it a month or two later. By mid-summer or autumn, we’ll see what we end up with.

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

Ron
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 September 2017 at 17:04
Well, a late update on this -

Since my last posting, I racked this off the lees one more time, then put it away to bulk-age. For a month or so, I told myself to forget about it, and after a while, I did! Somewhere in that time, I re-filled the air-lock a couple of times, but that's about it.

Last night, I took a look at this wine. I noticed that the colour wasn't quite the same, but that was to be expected, as the particulates that made up the colour would eventually drop out, I figured. I noticed a lot of those particulates floating around, so I put the fermenter into the refrigerator, hoping that they will fall over the course of the next couple of weeks. If this does not work, then I will attempt to use some fining agent to achieve the same goal.

The wine smelled great; mildy of beets, but with some other quality that I liked -
TasunkaWitko - Chinook, Montana

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 October 2017 at 16:25
I bottled this wine on Monday evening, 2 October 2017.

I was able to get 4 full bottles and just a few tablespoons shy of a fifth bottle; that one will be a "sampler" over the next couple-three weeks, I guess.

The particulates in the wine had settled and it was very clear, very beautiful, and had a nice, hue between ruby red and burgundy. The first four bottles - held up to the light - were so clear that I could read fine print on a newspaper through them. The fifth picked up a tiny bit of lees that settled out afterwards.

I took a small taste, and was impressed. You definitely get the flavor of the beets, with only a hint of earthiness - just enough to make it interesting, and not obnoxious in any way at all; at least, to me. Having said that, I could see where some folks would want to add a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves and a few allspice berries - I think it would be an interesting (and very good) variation.

The only thing I would change the next time I make this would be to add some acid blend, just to liven it up a bit and bring it onto focus. I am not sure exactly how much I would add, but when the time comes I can consult the various recipes posted earlier in this thread and go with a reasonable amount.

All-in-all, I am fairly confident that I can report success! I hope that my efforts reflected well on my grandfather - and on my heritage - and I will make this wine again, with all certainty.
TasunkaWitko - Chinook, Montana

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