This is the story of making Raisinette a wine-like beverage made from raisins. Raisinette is supposed to be a cheap and quick way to produce consumable alcohol from ingredients that are easily available. It is a success on all fronts:
22 October, 2002, raisin must
Raisin mead, I have been informed, is a misnomer, as true mead is made from honey. I used to call that honey mead. Instead of calling fermented raisins raisin mead I'll call it raisinette.
Start with a 250 grams of raisins, soak them in 750 mL of water until they plump up.
Put the raisins and the water into a blender and grind the raisins.
Add water to make about a liter, then let it settle for an hour. Strain the puree into a clean glass vessle. Prepare the yeast by mixing a packet of Pasteur Champaign yeast (for dry wine) with 100 mL of warm (36°C) water, and add one teaspoon (5g) of sugar. Mix the yeast mixture and let it stand on the counter for an hour or until it starts fermenting the sugar (it will foam up.) Then add 50 mL of the yeast to the raisin must, and cover with plastic wrap.
Now we wait.
23 October, 2002, fermentation begins!
The convection pattern on the top of the must indicates that fermentation has begun twelve hours after initial innoculation with the yeast culture.
31 October, 2002, fermantation and bottling
When the rasin must was innoculated on 10/23, it was covered with an inert gas and sealed with plastic wrap. The bowl was kept at ambient temperature, 60-75°F.
Thirty six hours after the addition of half a pack of the yeast, the must was in full ferment. It gave off wonderful smells and made a fizzing noise.
Three days later, the vigorous bubbling stopped, and the bowl was placed in the refrigerator at about 35°F for an additional two days. Note the lees are at the bottom of the bowl, so the supernatent liquid could be decanted.
The clear red liquid has a strongly alcoholic, appley aroma. The three quarter full decanter was filled with inert preservative gas and left to settle in the fridge for a few days. No inhibitors such as sulfur dioxide (or bisulfite) were used to stop fermentation, so I will "test" the liquor soon.
6 November, 2002, the tasting!
The raisin beverage has been in the fridge for nearly a week now and it's looking pretty clear. Clear enough to drink anyway (although I wouldn't want to bottle it yet.) So drink it I shall, since it's election day, and this being Arizona, you can't buy so much as a beer. (The states founding fathers wisely saw that the politicians would get us all drunk on election day, so they dried up the state for a day.)
Here's the bottle of juice:
And here I am, tasting the stuff:
And liking it:
The beverage is acidic, almost as much as grapefruit juice. There seems to be no volatile acidity (vinegar) though, so it presents no fault. It is fruity yet too tart to be sweet, with a decidedly appley nose. The aforementioned acid dominates the first sip, but quickly gives way to a complex mix of fruit - citrus and plum - which dissipates into a roasted grassyness. It is not at all unpleasant, and if left to stabilize for a month or so, I'm sure the acid would have become tame.
Rather than just rely on my bare buds, I tasted the liquor with a number of foods:
Beef Jerky: acid overrides the meat but mellows quickly.
Celery: surprisingly, a nice accompanyment to this otherwise bland vegetable
Chese: it blends right in with a Colby, a sharp cheddar would also be nice
BBQ Chicken: I thought this would work, but instead it was a bitter clash.
Apple: no good.
I also tried Spanish Peanuts and the result emphasized the vegital finish of the beverage, quite nice.
Three bucks and two weeks for one bottle of very passable hooch. Not bad, and fermenting alcohol is one of the most spiritual processes a human can undertake. Now I want to hear about Andy's beer!
9 November, 2002, some notes on fermentation
The above illustration is from Yair Margalit's Concepts in Wine Chemistry published by the Wine Appreciation Guild.
Yeast secrete the enzymes that carry out these reactions. One yeast can convert one hundred thousand sugar molecules to alcohol per second. My raisin fermentation produced 90-120 grams of ethanol in about three days from 235 grams of sugar (from the raisin's nutritional label). I must have had about 10,000,000,000,000 yeast cells in the fermentation pot. Wow!
[This seems way too high. By five, maybe six orders of magnitude.]
13 November, 2002, epilog
One week after opening my bottle of raisinette, it is still consumable, although it tastes very well aged. I would not drink it at this point, except that it is my child, so one last glass goes down...
It delivers an intense buzz and is quite probably poisonous, especially now. The overwhelming acid has left the elixir, leaving it with fruit galore, yet the raisin taste is nicely suppressed. The lees at the bottom of the bottle impart a nutty, bread-like aroma and a decidedly not-sweet flavor. At three dollars (well, maybe four, but who's counting) for one 750 mL bottle, this is definitely the bargain drink I was after. The good taste is a surprising bonus, one that I will try to emphasize in my next batch.
One change I'm trying next time is to fine with dolomite prior to a second transfer. This will (hopefully) remove the cloudiness and (possibly) reduce the acid through direct neutralization, as dolomite is made of calcium magnesium carbonate, a mild base. I have never fined before, so this will be a new experience. I will report on the result here, but I have no timetable for a new batch of raisinette because it is almost time for Beaujolais Nouveau.
That now famous French experimental wine is made by a rather curious process quite unlike the quick fermentation I did to the raisins. Gamay grapes are harvested and placed whole into wine vats without crushing. Some of the grapes break under the weight of the pile and the juice comes in contact with natural yeast on the skins of the grape. An envelope of carbon dioxide fills the vat causing a curious enzymatic reaction to take place. Sugars are broken down within the whole grapes under the carbon dioxide atmosphere without the assistance of a micro-organism, such as yeast. This can continue up to about seven percent alcohol - at this point the vinters usually crush the grapes and ferment the rest of the sugar in the normal way. This process, called carbonic maceration, seems to be the origin of Nouveau's bubblegum-like flavor that we seek. Well, that some of us seek anyway.