Just How Organic Is Your “Organic” Wine?

As much of the world attempts to incorporate more sustainable methods into their production processes, you may wonder what your options are when it comes to drinking organic wine (or beer). Can you tell from a wine label whether it is truly organic?
There are only two farms noted as the first growers to be certified organic, which was based on an inspection of their raw materials, production methods and records by the California Department of Health Services. Only a handful of other wineries have since become certified processors of organic wines.
There are four levels of organic that winemakers can claim to help consumers know what they are really drinking (definitions from USDA guidelines):

  1. 100% Organic.  Wines claiming to be 100% Organic must be made from organically grown grapes and give information about the certifying agency. It can have naturally occurring sulfites, but the total sulfite level must be less than 20 parts per million, and it cannot have any added sulfites. When labeling your product as 100% Organic, it must contain 100% organically produced ingredients and have been processed using organically produced processing aids.
  2. Organic.  Wines claiming to be “Organic” must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt. In addition, they must not contain added sulfites and may contain up to 5% non-organically produced agricultural ingredients (provided the accredited certifying agent has determined the ingredients to be not commercially available in organic form).
  3. Made with Organic Ingredients.  Wines claiming to be “Made with Organic Ingredients” must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt. In addition, wine may contain added sulfites and may contain up to 30% non-organically produced agricultural ingredients and/or other substances.
  4. Some Organic Ingredients.  This level is identical to “Made with Organic Ingredients” but must indicate the presence of non-organic grapes in the “made with Organic…” statement on the label to qualify.

While it might be difficult to make your own organic wine at home, you can still read “Home Winemaking For Dummies” and come up with some creative wine recipes.

Top 5 Fall Beers Not to Miss

Fall is a great time for beer. There are plenty of pumpkin flavored beers, Oktoberfest and college and pro football to celebrate. Check out one of these world class brews the next time you’re cruising your local beer store.
Buffalo Bill’s “Original Pumpkin Ale”
Buffalo Bill’s was the first brewery in modern times to brew with orange squash, which is starting to become the official vegetable of fall and with Halloween and Thanksgiving, the demand is just increasing over time. It has been said that their Original Pumpkin Ale is modeled after the pumpkin ale George Washington is believed to have brewed. This beer has a golden orange color and a spicy nose reminiscent of the first whiff of a freshly baked pumpkin pie; it is pumpkin pie in a bottle.
Gordon Biersch’s “Weizeneisbock”
Part of Gordon Biersch’s Braumeister Selekt limited release series is the German Weizeneisbock beer. Dan Gordon, the co-founder of Gordon Biersch, speculates that his brewery could possibly be the first in the world to brew this unique style of beer. Weizeneisbock is made primarily from malted wheat, and is transformed through a process of freezing the water molecules and then removing the frozen portion. This results in a concentration of alcohol and flavor, making the alcohol strength more noticeable at 10% and with a rich dark roasted malt flavor. Gordon notes the black licorice flavor is rounded out with a banana and clove flavoring that compliments the top fermenting Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast strain. Get this soon because production was limited to only 3,500 cases!
Harpoon’s “Octoberfest”
Harpoon’s Octoberfest is brewed with two festivals in mind; their own Octoberfests in Boston, MA and Windsor, VT. Harpoon “loves the style” of its Octoberfest beer and feels it’s a great beer for the fall season. The Harpoon Octoberfest is their malty tribute to fall, balanced by gentle hop bitterness. It is a Marzen-style beer, brewed with an abundance of munich, chocolate malt and pale malts. These malts provide a solid, full body and create the beer’s deep color. It is a rich, flavorful beer. Many people especially like this beer because it’s still hoppy, while being careful not to taste too much like pumpkin pie.
Clipper City Brewing Company’s “Heavy Seas Marzen”
In 1994, Hugh Sisson, turned his brewpub (Sisson’s) into the Clipper City Brewing Company. The brewery has scored big with their Marzen offering, capturing seven medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup from 2006-2012. Typical for a Marzen, it pours a copper orange color and is well balanced with just enough Noble hops to allow the Crystal, Vienna and Munich malts to dominate with flavors of caramel and toasted bread. This beer is not watery and has a lot of carbonation that gives it a satisfying feel.
New Belgium Brewing’s “Dunkel Weiss or Dunkelweizen”
Dunkelweizens is a darker and more robust version of their German hefeweizen cousin. New Belgium Brewing’s adaptation of the German wheat beer style bumps up the alcohol to a nice 9% ABV. Adding black pepper gives this beer its Belgian-like character. Earthy, toasty and chocolate notes are derived from dark malts, making this beer a big strong dark Weiss beer that is a worthy companion for the cooler fall temperatures. The Dunkelweizen has a deep amber brown appearance and a dense off-white head. Focusing on its environmental side, New Belgium Brewing has become the first brewery in the U.S. to purchase 100% of its electricity from wind-generated power.
While these are just some of the great fall beers, this is by no means a comphehensive list. Visit your local beer store and talk to them about their favorite beer for the fall. Everyone will have an opinion on this topic and don’t forget you can always make your own special fall beer by brewing beer at home.

Selecting the Right Type of Glass for Your Beer

Just like wine, different beers have different characteristics that require special glasses to fully capture the flavor profiles of each type.  As soon as the beer hits the glass, its color, aroma and taste is altered – the subtle and hidden characteristics can become more pronounced, colors begin to shimmer and aromas burst.
The shape of glassware will impact head development and retention. The main goal of the glass is to promote a healthy foam head and enhance the trapping of certain volatiles. As different styles of beers have different foam levels, different styles of glassware should be used accordingly. So which glassware do you use to achieve that maximum level of enjoyment?
The original purpose of the shaker pint glass was originally used to shake cocktails, but in the 1980’s it started to be filled with beer. Due to its straight sides and large mouth this glass is ideal for most ales, however, it also allows the beer to get warm and flat fast, which can show off the malty notes of some English-styled ales. Many bartenders love to use this glass because they are sturdy and easy to stack and provide an equal serving size for each beer your pour.
The tulip pint is the classic glass for Guinness beers and other dry stouts. Named appropriately after the flower it most represents, it is easily identifiable by the way it flares above the center before gently tapering near the mouth. This glass does a good job of capturing a beer’s aromas than a more straight sided glass or one that flares towards the top because the deep bowl shape helps trap aromas. According to Guinness, a perfect, two-part pour that lets the head rest before topping off should take exactly 119.53 seconds.
The nonic pint glass bulges out a couple of inches from the top. This is partly for an improved grip, and to prevent the glasses from sticking together when stacked, and partly to give strength and stop the rim from becoming chipped or nicked; the term “nonic” even derives from “no nick”. The major benefit from this glass is that they are cheap to make, easy to store and easy to drink out of. The nonic pint glasses are frequently marked with a fill line, to encourage pouring with a 1-inch head. This wasn’t always the case and bartenders would fill them usually to the rim of the glass.
The snifter glass (also known as the balloon glass) is a short-stemmed glass whose vessel has a wide bottom and small mouth opening to concentrate aromas while minimizing the amount of foam. The snifter glass is perfect for barleywines, quads, eisbocks and big stouts. This type of glass helps allow the beer to warm a bit while the glass is in your hand. The snifter glass can also be used for brandy and cognac, volumes will range in these glasses but they all provide room to swirl your drink and allow aromas to burst.
Not to be mistaken with the tulip pint, the tulip glass has a bulbous body but has a flare out at the top to form a lip, which helps head retention. The tulip glass not only helps trap the aroma, but it also aids in maintaining large heads, and creating a visual sensation. This glass is recommended for serving Scottish ales, double and imperial IPA’s, barleywines and Belgian ales – anything flavorful that you wouldn’t drink a lot of.
The goblet glass is shaped to keep your grip low in the step to help the beer inside keep cool. A wide mouth dissipates the carbonation fast, letting strong abbey beers show off their flavor. Goblet glasses range from delicate to long stem to heavy and thick walled. The more delicate ones may also have their rims laced while the heavy boast sculpture-like stems. Some goblets are designed to maintain a two-centimeter head. The best aspects of these glasses are they are designed to maintain head and are wide mouthed for deep sips.
Now that you have a basic knowledge to the differences between the different beer glasses, you should be able to hold a party for your own home brewed beer. Just remember when you’re at the bar; never accept a frosted glass from your bartender. As the beer hits the frosted glass, condensation will occur and dilute your beer, while at the same time altering the serving temperature.

3 Most Popular Types of Beer

Our previous blog discussed the most important ingredients needed for brewing beer at home; now it is time to define the different types of beer you can make with your home beer brewing kit.

Ale is the oldest type of beer made and is brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewers’ yeast. The yeast will ferment the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste. Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter herbal flavor that balances the sweetness of the malt nicely. Varieties of ales include brown, pale, scotch and mild.
Brown ales tend to be lightly hopped, and fairly mildly flavored, often with a nutty taste. Brown ales first appeared in the early 1900’s, with Newcastle Brown being a top example of what brown ale is. Brown ales became the most popular beer to home-brewers in North America in the early 1980’s.
Pale ale was a term used for beers made from malt dried with coke. Coke had been first used for roasting malt in 1642, but it wasn’t until the early 1700’s that the term pale ale was first used. Pale ale is a beer, light in color, which uses a warm fermentation and predominantly pale malt. The pale ale is one of the world’s most popular beer styles. Different brewing practices and hop levels have resulted in a range of taste and strength within the pale ale family.
Stout is a dark beer made from using roasted malt or barley, hops, water and yeast and sometimes bitter in taste. Stout is traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters. Other types of stouts are made with oatmeal, which usually produces a sweeter beer. Like ales, they come in many variations including dry or Irish stout, imperial stouts, porters, chocolate stouts, and oatmeal Stouts.
Oatmeal Stouts are probably one of the most popular stout versions. The oatmeal stout is a stout with a proportion of oats, normally about 30%, added during the brewing process. Oatmeal stouts usually do not specifically taste like oats but the smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins, lipids, and gums imparted by the use of oats. The gums increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of smoothness.
In the early 1900’s when oatmeal stouts were being predominately made outside of the United States, Samuel Smith commissioned Charles Finkel to make its own version. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout has become a template for other breweries’ versions of the oatmeal stout.
Lagers are a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures. In certain countries lagers contain or often feature large proportions of adjuncts, usually rice or maize. These were added as a means of thinning out the body of American beers, balancing the large quantities of protein being introduced by high amounts of barley.
There are two main types of lager: pale lager and dark lager. Pale Lager is a very pale to golden colored lager with a well-attenuated body and noble hop bitterness. The brewing process for the pale lager was quickly picked up by breweries around the world and has become one of the most popular beer types to drink. It was until the 1840’s that lagers in general would typically be darker in color. They typically ranged in color from amber to reddish brown, and could have been termed dunkel, schwarzbier, or Baltic porter depending on the region or brewing method.
Now you know the main types of beer you can make it’s time to get together your beer making equipment and ingredients and brew away!

Home Beer Brewing 101: Yeast, Hops and Barley

There are literally hundreds of different styles of beer. The basic ingredients that ever homebrewer needs are water, malted barley, homebrewing hops and beer yeast. It’s the types and combination of these ingredients that determine the result.
The amount or type of yeast used during the fermentation process can be the deciding factor between a lager or ale. To obtain a broader range of beer types, many brewers will use specialty grains in a certain way to change the color and flavor of the beer without having to add sugar during the fermentation process. Brewers will also use anything from spices to candy to fruits to help flavor their beer a certain way.
Yeast is responsible for converting carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohols. Yeast can be classified in two different ways: “top cropping” and “bottom cropping.” Top cropping yeasts create foam at the top during fermentation, and typically create ales. Bottom cropping yeasts are typically used to produce lager type beers although they can also produce ale type beers.
Hops are female flower clusters, primarily used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, and typically impart a bitter or tangy flavor in beer. Before hops, many brewers would use spices or fruits as their primary flavoring ingredient.
There are also a number of different kinds of hop varieties. These include Amarillo, Centennial, Cluster and Tettnang among others. Tettnang hops are the original noble hop from Germany, although they are now grown in the U.S. in Oregon and Washington State. The tettnang hop is ideal for your finest lager and wheat beers.
Barley is the seed part to the barley plant, a grain similar to wheat in appearance. It is the specific types of barley used in the production of beer that make one different from another. Each strain imparts a unique characteristic taste and body to each of the different beers. Malted barley is barley that has been allowed to germinate to a degree and is then dried. Sending a barley seed through a germination process converts the seed to a starch. The seed’s stored energy turns the starch into a simpler sugar that is used in its initial growing stage. The germination and drying stages capture fermentable sugars, soluble starch and diastase enzymes for beer brewing. Malted barley is the eventual source of the fermentable sugar consumed by the yeast. Eventually the barley becomes a malt extract becoming a suitable ingredient for beer.
We will discuss the different categories of beer – lagers, ales and other specialty brews – in our next post.
Brewing Your Own Beer at Home 
First, you need a beer brewing kit.  Then it’s time to order your beer brewing ingredients and figure out what type of beer you’ll make!

White Wines vs. Red Wines: What’s the Difference, Really?

white wine and blush wineThere are many wine enthusiasts who can attest they like drinking wine, and may even prefer white over red (or vice versa), but many can’t really put into words the difference between a red wine and a white wine. That’s okay – we’re here to help.
A key difference between red wine and white wine is tannin. Tannins are natural, organic compounds found in grape skins, seeds and stems, which help give wine its structure and texture. They are what can lead to the pucker feeling in the moth and back of the throat.  Tannins are also used for wine preservation – the more tannin, the longer the wine should age.
White vs. red is the general level of wine categorization, but there are six standard types of wine: white, red, rosé, sparkling, dessert and fortified wines.
White wines are wines that contain little or no red pigmentation and are almost always made from white grapes without their skin (with a few exceptions). Popular white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
Red wines are made from red or black grapes and have a red tint. Due to the fact that grapes have a colorless juice in order to make red wine the grape skins, which contain nearly all of the grapes pigmentation must remain intact with the juice during all or part of the fermentation process. Popular red wines include Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
A rosé wine has a pink shade to it and can range from a soft, subtle hue to a vibrant pink depending on the grape used and how long the grape skins were in contact with the juice. The majority of rosé wines are made from a red grape. Sparkling rosés are traditionally made with a blend of red and white grapes. Rosé’s are typically served chilled and are very refreshing in the summer months.
Sparkling wines will have a significant level of carbon dioxide allowing the wine to have a fizzy aspect. The carbon dioxide may be a result from natural fermentation or as a result of carbon dioxide injections. Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé but there are red sparkling wines as well. The sweetness of a sparkling wine will range among the different kinds. The best example of a sparkling wine is champagne.
Dessert wines are typically very sweet, full of flavor and served with dessert (hence its name) and they include port and sherry wines. Dessert wines are typically thicker and come from grapes picked later in the harvest to preserve sugars.
Fortified wines are typically made from adding additional alcohol during the fermentation process. The usual alcohol content of a fortified wine is usually much higher, 17-20%. They can be either sweet or dry in flavor. Similar to dessert wines, the most common types of fortified wines are ports and sherries.
Home vintners can enjoy and experiment with the different grades and flavorings of wine on all ends of the spectrum with their own wine making kits and wine making equipment.

How to Choose the Right Wine Glass

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You’ve finished making your own wine and now want to serve it – but do you know which glass to serve it in to maximize its flavor? With wine glasses, size and shape does matter.
In general, red wine glasses are characterized by their rounder, wider bowl, which increases the rate of oxidation. As the oxygen from the air chemically interacts with the wine, flavor and aroma are subtly altered. The height and bowl of the glass help direct the wine to the back of the mouth giving you a better tasting experience.  White wine glasses, on the other hand, generally have thinner, smaller bowls, which preserve a crisp, clean flavor while keeping the sparkling wine desirable during consumption.
Here’s a short guide to wine glasses to help you prepare for your next wine tasting party (and links to get you started on making your own):
Pinot Noir – The pinot noir glass is designed for fruit-forward noirs. The glass has a wide bowl and a turned out rim, which allows for the drinker to direct the intense flavors immediately to the palette. The stem of the Pinot Noir glass will also have a shorter stem then other red wines.
Chardonnay – These glasses have a wide bowl and a slightly tapered top. Chardonnays with good acidity thrive in oversize bowls, which allow plenty of air into the glass to coax out its nuanced flavors. Chardonnay glasses also tend to have a longer stem to allow you to keep the wine as cool as possible while drinking.
Sauvignon Blanc – The perfect Sauvignon Blanc glass will be tall and slim, offering the freshness and aromas of the wine on the nose. The narrow glass along with a tapered top concentrates aromas.
Burgundy – These wines are best served in tapered glasses that swell in the middle allowing the bouquet to develop fully. Try making your own burgundy wine with our at home wine making kit.
Stemless White Wine – Stemless glassware has a casual appeal that many people like and actually works in the drinkers favor. While holding the stemless glass you are inadvertently warming the wine, which will help unleash its flavors.
Rosé– The flared rim directs wine to the top of the tongue, to temper acidity, while the moderate width was designed to emphasize the fruity aspect of the rosé.
Syrah – The Syrah glass was designed for rich new-world reds; it tends to be smaller than the other red wine glasses. The wide shape bowl allows for the fruit aroma to be presented first to the drinker followed by the tannin flavors.
Champagne – The champagne glass is usually a tall, slender glass designed to concentrate the bubbles of a liquid on the tip of the tongue. The shape conveys the rich scent of the Champagne immediately upon sipping; the wide base of the champagne flute provides stability to the glass.
Port – Due to the sugars, high level of alcohol and intense taste of port, the port glass is finely tuned with a small and slender shape. This style of glass helps mask the overwhelming alcohol odors emitted and instead focus on the bouquet on the subtle oak and other prevalent flavors.
Want more information on making your own wine? Narrow down your choices and pick the right wine for you with our wine selector tool.

How To Make Homemade Applejack

Interested in home wine making or beer brewing but want something that offers more of a kick?  Applejack is a time-tested classic with a temperament that makes it the ideal exploratory option for any aspiring home brewer.  All you need is a finished apple wine, extremely cold temperatures, and a lidded plastic container.
To begin, be sure to use a plastic container – not glass – to reduce the risk of cracking as a result of the subzero temperatures your wine will experience during its transformation. Any subtle fruit wine can be used to achieve the same delicious results for a distinctive experience.  Using homemade wines will give you the most control over your final product and are just as easy to make.
The most difficult step is often just finding a place to store your wine at below freezing temperatures.  This enables a process to occur known as fractional crystallization, in which the water in the wine will freeze and rise to the top, while the alcohol remains in liquid form.  Scooping off the ice buildup everyday will result in more concentrated alcohol content and a more intense apple flavor.
The initial alcohol content of your wine has no bearing on the final levels that will be expressed in your Applejack. The temperature at which the wine is stored directly determines the amount of ice that will ultimately form, which determines the resulting alcohol concentration.  At zero degrees, ice will appear until 14% alcohol by volume is reached, and at 30 below you can attain an alcohol concentration of 33% (66 proof).  That is substantially higher than the 5% alcohol per volume championed by hard ciders and the 10-12% offered by apple wines.
So, how did this ingenious beverage come to be? Applejack reached its peak popularity a few hundred years ago in the New England colonies, who had barrels of apple wine that would freeze during the winter and thaw come spring – being a heck of a lot stronger.  After using your wine making kits to develop the perfect apple wine, celebrate history with some homemade Applejack!

Beer or Cocktail? Yes, Please. The Maturation of Beer Cocktails

Late summer is in full swing and you may find yourself in quite a dilemma as Happy Hour rolls around and you are again stuck deciding between a refreshing beer and a tasty cocktail.
Not to worry my friend, a new era has dawned and it is now acceptable to have both – at the same time! That’s right, beer cocktails have burst onto the bar scene with their vibrant creativity, diverse flavors, and serious ability to pack an alcoholic punch.
The surge in popularity stems from the nostalgia of shandygaffs, which is a mixture of beer and soda popularized by old Englishmen and the more recently nostalgic car bombs, sake bombs, and Jäger bombs popularized by college students across the nation.
These beer cocktails are not the fist pounding, unceremoniously plunged together, and gulped down drinks of the past. The creators of alcoholic bombs have graduated and matured into adulthood and so have their palates.
Recipes that have hit mainstream include:

  • Black Velvet: a mix of stout and champagne
  • The Boilermaker: a combo of quality beer and a shot of whiskey
  • The Groundskeeper: a medley of ale and single-malt scotch
  • Michelada: a beer, lime juice, and hot sauce mixture served margarita style with a salt rim

Quality ingredients and flavor seems to be the main criteria of beer cocktail mixology. Aficionados and novices alike are ordering beer brewing kits, hoping to create the perfect blend of hops, barley, and other accompaniments to produce the perfect base for their savory beer cocktails.
Beer brewing at home has become a pastime for these beer cocktail diehards who are never satisfied with the status quo.  Some opt for brewing with flavor profiles such as chocolate and orange, coriander and rosemary or lemon pepper. Effectively producing the perfect craft beer requires marrying together of spirits and shaping the next bar room staples.
Texture, complexity, and flavored beer cocktails are now the sophisticated choice. So next time you find yourself stumped on what to order at your local bar, get the best of both worlds and indulge in a craft beer cocktail.

Tell Us Your Wine Making Story!

Man with Wine at Computer Do you have a wine operation that you are proud to show off?
If so, we’d love to hear from you! Simply submit a picture of your wine setup and tell us a bit about it (i.e. What is your favorite wine to make? What pieces make up your operation? What makes you/your setup unique?). We will also feature your submission on our blog where you can share it with your family and friends!
We can’t wait to hear from you, so upload a picture and tell us about your wine making operation now!

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