Ottawa

Kimberley’s Homebrew Hijinks: You Can Do It, Too

Welcome to Homebrew Hijinks. In this series of posts Kimberley will be sharing lessons, stories and thoughts from adventures in homebrewing and maybe even a recipe or two (definitely some recipes!)

 

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From Trappist monks to bathtub gin, DIY booze has been a cultural mainstay since time immemorial — it used to be the only way. Now, beer and wine aren’t the only things you can brew at home and you’re not even limited to alcoholic drinks. The magic of fermentation lends itself to all sorts of great drinks — ginger beer, kombucha, shrubs — the possibilities are endless and each has its own unique challenges and joys.

When I first set out to start brewing at home, I was terrified. Was I going to give myself some sort of foodborne illness? Did I need to spend a ton of money? Was it going to be gross? Turns out the answers were pretty simple (unlikely, no, and definitely not). I’d made kombucha before (we’ll talk about it later, I promise) but had never explored the brewing world any further. This was about to change. After an inspiring trip to the Dominion City Brewing Company, I came home and immediately began devouring all the information I could find about brewing at home.

It took a trip to the library and another to DeFalco’s, an Ottawa wine and beer supply, but one copy of Wild Fermentation and $12 later I was ready to go. My very first brew was a batch of t’ej, a honey wine with origins in Ethiopia. It is the perfect beginner recipe, as all the equipment you need is large jar, a carboy (those big glass jugs) and an airlock. The airlock keeps air from getting into your delicious beverage while allowing the gas to escape. If you can’t find an airlock, you can do the same thing with a balloon, as long as you remember to vent it once in a while.

T’ej is traditionally made using the twigs and leaves of a plant called gesho, a plant similar in flavour to hops. Because I couldn’t find any, what I ended up making is closer to what’s called berz. The process is simple: if you have made a sourdough starter, you already know what’s up. First you mix three cups of honey and a gallon of water. After mixing well, allow it to sit in a jar with a coffee filter or something similar over the top (to keep out bugs) for several days. Stir it every day. The mixture will become bubbly. Much like what’s happening in a sourdough starter, the wild yeasts present in the mixture and the air are eating the sugars in your honey water.

Once it’s bubbly, transfer it to your (very well washed) carboy, put the (preferably sanitized) airlock on and leave it somewhere that you won’t be tempted to fuss with it. No such place existed in my apartment, but I somehow made it for a full three weeks. The longer you leave it, the less sweet (and more alcoholic) it gets. Taste it occasionally after ten days or so, and once you’re happy with the flavour, you’re done!

Now you bottle it. Transfer your wine to empty screw- or swing-top bottles. I used some old, well-washed wine bottles, but you can also get new ones at the same place you got your airlock. Now you can age it (it gets less sweet over time), or drink it fresh. Alternately, have a party to celebrate your homebrewed honey deliciousness and skip the bottling altogether!

Either way, it is easy and definitely worth it to try brewing honey wine at least once.

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