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Wine Wisdom

  • What to Know Before Entering Your First Homebrew Competition

    Posted on July 11, 2013 by admin

    As a result of homebrewing gaining popularity across the country, homebrewing competitions are cropping up more often. These contests are a great way to meet other local homebrewers, develop bonds and perhaps, most importantly, sample some high-quality beers. When an experienced homebrewer invests in the high quality ingredients for a homebrew, the results can surpass anything you'll find in a grocery store.

    Although the sense of community is one of the greatest draws of a homebrewing competition, everyone is there for the same reason: to have their beer sampled and judged by professionals, as well as by fellow brewers. Everyone wants to do his or her best, but a homebrewer's first foray into competitive homebrewing can be intimidating, and there are some traps that you're likely to fall into if you aren't properly prepared.

    Fortunately, you can improve your initial performance at a homebrewing contest by embracing a few tips and tricks.

    Make entries based on the end result, not the intention.

    Not every homebrew turns out according to plan. Some might be pleasant surprises while others fall short of your mark. While you might appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry employed in a specific homebrew, it's irrelevant if that work doesn't come through in the finished product. Ultimately, you want to choose the beer that will perform best in a blind taste test among judges who know nothing about how the beer was produced.

    You should also be mindful of the flexibility in how you enter a beer. If you attempted to make an IPA but failed to reach the desired original gravity during production, you could always enter the beer as a pale ale - since it won't have those distinctive IPA characteristics, it might score better as a result.

    Respect the qualities of your beer's category.

    You might be attracted to the idea of making a stout that defies the characteristics of a traditional stout, but that's likely to not go over well at a homebrew competition. When judges sample flights, they're not only looking for good beer; they also want brews that embody the characteristics of their category. Rather than defy these qualities, make sure they're present in your homebrew and then use additional flavors, aromas and techniques to make the beer stand out.

    Start out small and work your way up.

    A big competition may be tempting, but smaller homebrew contests might be a better place to start. Many smaller homebrew competitions are better about providing comments attached to scores. These insights can help guide your future brewing and ultimately make you a better craftsman.

    Of course, if you're eager to test your brew on the biggest stage, there's the National Homebrew Competition, which takes place annually in April. You could also submit your brew to the Great American Brew Festival Pro-Am -- this competition requires that each entry be based on past award-winning homebrew recipes. Otherwise, check with your local clubs and breweries to learn more about options in your area.

    You might not experience overnight success at your first homebrew competition, but you're sure to gain valuable experience while meeting other passionate practitioners. Once you're comfortable with the homebrewing process, find a contest and put you and your brews in the spotlight.

    This post was posted in Home Beer Brewing

  • The Ultimate Wine Pairing Guide

    Posted on June 26, 2013 by admin

    Not sure what wine to serve at your next dinner party? Check out our brand new wine pairing infographic for help selecting the right wine for the right meal. Throughout the month of July we will be featuring various recipes and suggested wine pairings for each food category, so keep checking back!

    Ultimate Wine Pairing Guide by EC Kraus

    This post was posted in Beer News, Wine News, Wine Tasting

  • A History of Home Brewing: Colonial Crafting

    Posted on June 26, 2013 by admin

    Though it has enjoyed a recent run of popularity, the hobby of home brewing has quite a pedigree - one that stretches back over three centuries in America.

    New Beer for a New World

    Home brewing was once a matter of survival - when the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620s, they built the nation's first brewery to start setting up their new home. The process of brewing killed the pathogens and bacteria that lurked in regular drinking water, making a safe liquid for the intrepid new-worlders to use for slaking their thirst.

    One Nation, Drinking Beer

    Home brewing became such an everyday occurrence in colonial times that several of America's first presidents indulged in their own brews - most notably Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Like tending fields or keeping the pantry stocked, brewing was simply another chore to be done around the house - albeit a delicious one.

    Banned Brews

    The Prohibition Act of 1919 didn't simply put an end to bars and public establishments serving up suds, it also dropped the hammer on home brewing efforts. Beer, wine, and other liquors were no longer allowed to be created in the home until 1933, when the 21st Amendment made at least some home-brewed products legal once more. To every beer enthusiast's sadness, however, a clerical error left off that pair of very important words - "and beer." This meant that home beer brewers would have to wait until President Carter set things right in 1978 through the passage of H.R. 1377.

    Brewing Up the Future

    Today, home brewers enjoy unprecedented access to specialty equipment, such as the bottles and kits offered on the web by home brew supplier E.C. Kraus. By using these tools, any beer enthusiast can now create their very own ales, stouts, and lagers in the privacy of their own backyard or basement. Everyone, that is, except for Alabamians – Alabama is the last state in the United States that still considers brewing beer at home an illegal activity. While this is unfortunate for residents of the southern state, the rest of the nation is busily crafting their own beer while simultaneously honoring the efforts of their pilgrim predecessors.

    This post was posted in Beer News, Home Beer Brewing

  • Tips and Tricks to Home Brewing in the Summer

    Posted on June 18, 2013 by admin

    No home brewer wants to take summers off, but the high heats brought on by this season create some challenges. When homebrew temperatures increase beyond their ideal zones, it can ruin a batch of beer. Summer then becomes a serious threat to your brew if you're unable to regulate the temperature in your storage area, such as an unfinished basement.

    Despite this complication, there's no reason to hold off on home brewing when the summer heat strikes. Take advantage of the following tips and tricks to preserve the quality of your homebrew throughout the warm season.

    Lower wort temperatures quickly

    Chilling wort in short order is key to the quality of the finished product. An immersion wort chiller is less effective in the summer because the water running into the lines is warmer than what you get in the winter -- summer water is usually above 60 degrees. One easy tip for cooling wort is to freeze plastic jugs of water and to then set them into a water bath that half submerges the fermenter. This water bath works well in conjunction with an immersion wort chiller.

    Choose brews ideal for warmer temperatures

    Every beer has its ideal fermenting temperature. In the summer, it's easiest to simply choose beer types that are best in warm weather. According to, Belgian Saisons usually start the fermenting process at 75 degrees, and some home brewers have successfully allowed fermentation temperatures to increase to 90 degrees. A beer that accommodates a warmer fermentation temperature will be much easier to manage as outdoor temperatures increase.

    Use fans and cool wraps to keep down temperature

    One simple trick is to place cool towels over the carboy, and/or to keep a fan blowing onto the container at all times. This will help reduce heat during fermentation. The use of a fan can drop fermenting temperatures by as much as 10 degrees. You'll want to keep an eye on water levels, though, because this method of cooling can cause some evaporation.

    Buy or build a temperature-controlled container

    It's not the preferred method of temperature regulation because it can get costly, but if other cooling methods fail, it's about your only option.

    Keep a close eye on fermenting temperatures at the start of this process and be prepared to make adjustments. It may take a little trial and error, but you should be able to find ways to overcome the challenge of summer's heat wave.

    This post was posted in Home Beer Brewing

  • Why is Sugar Necessary in My Home Brew Process?

    Posted on June 9, 2013 by admin

    Quick - name something intriguing and sweet that also produces beer and liquor. No, not your favorite bartender - it's sugar. This complex ingredient is not only a vital component in the creation of home brew products, it's also a large part of the taste profile that gives various liquids their drinkable personalities. While some sugars are simply added during the initial brewing process, others contribute simply by existing in ingredients such as fruits for wines. Sugar isn't simply a one-note contributor, either; while the overall level of sugar used in a home brew needs to be monitored, blends of different types of sugars can produce a full-bodied and delicious spirit.

    Feeding The Yeast

    For something so small, yeast packs a big punch. This one-celled organism is responsible for the fermentation, otherwise known as breaking down sugars to turn them into alcohol, process of home brewing. According to popular how-to site HowStuffWorks, "yeasts obtain food from fructose, glucose, and other monosaccharaides (simple sugars), which are found in most fruits." This means that without the addition of some sort of sugar in sufficient quantities during the brewing process, you'll end up with an old bottle of yeast-filled grape juice instead of a smooth wine. Feeding yeast sugar also produces carbonation, a necessary component to satisfying home-brewed beers.

    Adjusting To Your Taste

    When it comes to sugar, these sweet powerhouses aren't just workhorses. Beyond the fermentation process, sugar also makes a finished spirit palatable, helping to balance stronger flavors like hops or slightly bitter flavors like herbal additives. Sugar can also be a final flourish during bottling, as well. A recent article from the San Antonio Current follows home brewer Jerry Lockey as he adds extra sugar prior to siphoning his latest project into bottles. In the article, Lockey explains to the Current that this last dash of sugar helps further ferment the new beer as it ages.

    Sugar comes in several different varieties for home brewing projects, such as corn sugar and light and dark candied sugar for brewing various types of ales. Stumped for what sugars will work best with your brew? With a full range of articles, advice, and helpful customer service agents, the E.C. Kraus website has all the "sweet" knowledge you'll need to bottle a sensational spirit. Once you find the right sugars for your project, ferment something fantastic and you'll discover just how impressive a single home brewing ingredient can be.

    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Ingredients, Beer Brewing Recipes, Home Beer Brewing

  • What Should I Know About Home Brewing with Raw Honey?

    Posted on June 5, 2013 by admin

    When making alcoholic beverages using honey, mead is generally the go-to by-product. In fact, you can find a wide variety of meads on the market that blend honey with inventive ingredients and flavor profiles into their drink. However, that's far from the end of the line when it comes to brewing and fermenting with honey. Whether you homebrew wine, beer, or cider, you can incorporate honey for a fun, exciting twist in your brew.

    Honey is highly fermentable, which makes it a great ingredient in alcoholic beverages. When you're using raw honey though, you need to be mindful of a few variables and considerations that could affect your end product. Here's a quick guide to help you make the most of this fantastic ingredient.

    Honey's flavor ferments out if you aren't careful.

    Honey is composed of dense carbohydrates, but the fermentation process can eat up its character. If you simply add honey to the fermentation process you'll likely end up with very little honey character, if it's noticeable at all. That's fine if you simply want a lighter body and higher alcohol content, but raw honey typically isn't used for that purpose. To retain the character of the honey you need to add diluted, heat-treated honey to the primary fermenter.

    Enzymes and wild yeast need to be taken care of.

    According to Brew Your Own, raw honey features wild yeast and other enzymes that could negatively affect the quality of your fermented beverage. There are two ways to handle these organisms before they have a chance to ruin your brew. The simplest method is adding honey into a long, roiling boil right at the start of the cooking process. This will denature enzymes, kill any yeast, and remove any beeswax still present in the honey. The downside to this harsh process is that the high, immediate heat can hurt the natural smells and flavors of the honey, impacting the end product.

    By contrast, you could attempt home pasteurization. This process will preserve the qualities of the honey character, but it's a fairly involved process that only experienced brewers should attempt.

    Add honey based on your desired end product.

    It comes as no surprise that different amounts of raw honey produce different results. When deciding how much to add, measure your honey as a percentage of total fermentables in the brew. Anything below 10 percent is intended to provide light notes and flavors of honey to the brew. If your brew is between 11 and 30 percent you should expect a strong honey flavor. This can be balanced out by stronger flavors in other ingredients, as well as dark specialty malts.

    It may take a little trial and error, but raw honey can be a fantastic addition to your brewing arsenal, whether it's cider, beer or wine. Try out some different recipes and see what works best for you.


    This post was posted in Beer Brewing Ingredients, Home Beer Brewing

  • 10 Things to Know Before Brewing Your Own Hard Cider

    Posted on May 22, 2013 by admin

    If you've made hot apple cider on the stove, you've had a simple introduction to the cider-making process. However, hard cider is a different animal. There are a lot of variables that can affect the quality of the beverage.

    Before you dive into your first batch of hard cider, read these 10 tips on how to brew a great batch.

    1. Make sure all supplies, including bottles and caps, are completely clean. Any lingering residues can affect the end flavor of the hard cider.

    2. Choose between using fresh fruit or fruit juice. Either works, but fresh fruit will probably yield the best -- and most original -- flavor. A fruit press is easy to find and use, so if you're focused on quality, a press is probably the way to go.

    3. Choose your ingredients based on your desired flavor. A sweet, refreshing cider will require different ingredients than a dry, tart cider. Since personnel preference is a huge consideration, make sure you know what type of cider you're hoping to make.

    4. Add sugar to increase the alcohol content. Ciders will get some level of alcohol through the natural fruit juices, but you can always add more sugars -- such as those from other fruits or raw honey -- to brew a more potent drink.

    5. Blend ciders together for a better overall flavor. The flavors of ciders from different types of fruit will complement one another and create a more unique end result.

    6. Keep an eye out for a pectin film. If a gel-like haze develops on the hard cider, it's probably due to high levels of pectin, which will make filtration difficult. You can buy a pectinase solution that will break up this compound and improve the quality of your cider.

    7. Add champagne yeasts to play with the flavors. Ciders don't require added yeast since the fruits have their own, but there is always room for experimentation.

    8. Use Siphon to settle cider, clarify the drink, and eliminate the organic sludge that settles to the bottom of the cider container.

    9. Keep your hard cider at or below room temperature for the best fermenting possible. In ideal conditions -- generally between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit -- a cider can fully ferment in about two weeks. If you get too far below that temperature range, the yeast will stop being active. Too high and the yeast could die off, ruining your cider.

    10. Brew Your Own Magazine recommends that you drink your homemade cider within its first year. Unlike wine, cider doesn't get better with age. You can keep the cider for two or three years, but it will be at its best in that first year after creation.

    With time and practice, you'll be able to step outside of the box and add your own creative touches to this refreshing drink.

    This post was posted in Home Beer Brewing, Home Wine Making

  • For the Home Brew Beginner: Wine Ingredient Kits or Fresh Fruit

    Posted on May 16, 2013 by admin

    When you enter the world of home wine making, there are no limits as to the different types of wines you can make. You are free to combine ingredients, add flavors, use locally grown fresh fruit, or berries you grow in your own home garden. You can allow your personal tastes to dictate the dryness or sweetness of your wine, or determine whether you will use fresh fruit or go with commercially available wine ingredient kits for a more traditional wine.

    Wine Making Kits and Wine Making Supplies

    A wine making kit is a great way to start in the art of home wine making if you are a beginner, because it will introduce you to all the basics of wine making and provide you with the essential wine making supplies and ingredients you need to get started. Once you're familiar with the process, you may want to make wine with whatever fresh fruits are available at different times of the year.

    You will be able to use all of the equipment you got when you purchased any of the different wine kits available on, and purchase whatever additional supplies you may need to use when making fruit wines. When making fruit wines, the added equipment you need will require additional space, so be sure you understand this before deciding to make fruit wines.

    Wine Grape Ingredient Kits

    Wine grape ingredient kits allow you to choose from wine grape varieties that come from all over the world. These grape varieties will allow you to make wines from the same grape varieties as the wines you'd typically purchase from wine retailers everywhere. These concentrates give you the ability to make wine from the same grapes that are used to make your favorite European, Californian, or other types of wines that are made elsewhere in the United States or other parts of the world.

    The huge range of grape concentrates that are available, and the ease with which you can get them, and the obvious difficulty you'd have in getting comparable fresh grapes means that grape concentrates are probably the best option when it comes to making traditional wines from wine grapes.

    Using Fresh Fruit to Make Wine

    There is a huge variety of different types of fresh fruit you can use to make your own wine, and it isn't more difficult to make fruit wine than it is to make wine with grape concentrate. Always make sure you are choosing fruits that are in season at the peak of their ripeness. Consider using strawberries or rhubarb in spring, blueberries, blackberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines or plums in summer, and apples in fall.

    When you make wine from fresh fruit, you will have to test the acidity and amount of sugar in your liquid and make adjustments accordingly. You will also need to find out exactly how much fruit you need to use to make a gallon of wine. Home wine making recipes will instruct you as you go through each of the steps in the fruit wine making process.

    The decision as to whether to use fresh fruit or wine concentrate is an entirely individual one. When you're making your own wine you can add anything you want to it to alter the taste. You may want to add dried berries, herbs, or flowers to a grape wine to enhance its flavor, or you may want to use fresh berries to make a sweeter wine. If you are going to use fresh fruit, consider purchasing it from farmers markets because you'll know that you're getting it at the peak of freshness and ripeness. Enjoy this fun experience, and invite your family and friends over to savor the taste of your newest creations.

    This post was posted in Home Wine Making, Wine Making Ingredients, Wine Making Kits

  • How Sweet it Is: Sugar and Honey in Home Brew Wine

    Posted on May 11, 2013 by admin

    Home brewed wine is a beautiful product that is composed, in essence, of three parts - material selection, method of crafting, and time given for fermentation. With the right wine making supplies, intrepid brewers can elevate their collections beyond store shelf fodder by incorporating their own twists on additives and base ingredients. Wine making kits will come with components such as grape juices, yeasts and brewing containers, but curiosity drives many home brew enthusiasts to think outside the box when it comes to wine kits, researching switches and swaps that make vino truly personal. One of the most common changes is the sugar, or sugar alternative like honey, that is used to feed the yeast that ferments the juice.

    Honey: Pros and Cons

    Honey is a very complex ingredient all by itself - flower pollens and dozens of sugar compounds like dextrose and maltose are all packed into that thick, sweet syrup we all know and love. The taste of honey can vary widely depending on what flowers the producing hive frequents, giving rise to classic types like wildflower and more exotic varieties like orange flower or elderflower. When incorporated into the ingredients found in wine making kits, honey adds a deep complexity and sweetness to wine that many home brewers find more attractive than sugar, but it comes at a price. Due to the multiple sugars present in honey versus the single compound in traditional wine making sugar, fermentation takes considerably longer. According to home brewing enthusiast and blogger Jack Keller of, 1.25 pounds of honey can be substituted for a pound of sugar in a given wine recipe, though if all of the sugar is exchanged for honey, you'll end up brewing a honey wine or mead, rather than a traditional wine.

    Sugar: Pros and Cons

    Sugar, despite being a relatively simple ingredient, also comes in a wide range of forms that affect the wine it ferments. Traditional table sugar will produce wine that is consistent and familiar, but experimenting with more unique forms such as the blonde turbinado sugar or dark muscavado sugar with its hints of molasses will give your palate plenty to explore. The drawbacks of using sugar is that table varieties may not produce the depth of a finished product that you'd like, and the more exotic forms of sugar may be outside of the price range of beginning brewers. Sugar, however, is an excellent and stable ingredient to stretch your winemaking "legs" with, making it a must-have inclusion in wine kits. Sugar can also be added to a finished wine to sweeten it; rock sugar and bar or caster sugar are the most popular choices for this option due to their respective long and short dissolve times.

    If you're interested in home brewing wine, or are already a fan of the hobby, experimenting with both honey and sugar is the best way to find out which one, or what form of combinations, will work for your needs.

    This post was posted in Home Wine Making, Home Wine Making Tips, Wine Making Ingredients

  • New to Wine Making? 9 Wine Making Tips Debunked

    Posted on May 5, 2013 by admin

    Everyone who becomes a home winemaker has their own reasons for deciding to home brew their own wine. There is so much available information about wine making on the Internet, it's enough to make your head spin. To eliminate your need to hunt for some basic “must know” information all over, we're providing you with what we think are 9 most important aspects you need to know about home wine making so you don't miss something important in the beginning.

    1. Invest in Wine Making Kits

    When you first see the price of wine making kits, the price may scare you. However, when you take the time to take a look at all the things you get with the kit you will see that almost all of the wine making supplies are reusable, so you will continue to use them when you brew future batches of wine. This, in turn, saves money over time. Plus, purchasing kits assures beginning wine makers that they have all the supplies they need for the process.

    2. Making Your Own Wine Isn’t More Expensive

    If you drink wine regularly, the cost of wine kits will save you money as you brew more and more batches.

    3. Making Wine With Fresh Fruit Isn't More Difficult

    When making wine from fresh fruit understand the need for extra equipment such as the catch stand, crusher, destemmer and fruit press. If you don't have a lot of room, this isn't a good option for you.

    4. Wine Concentrates Offer a Much Larger Grape Selection

    Because of the huge selection, and because wine concentrates are made with grapes that are picked at the peak of their freshness, they consistently produce excellent tasting wines. If you try to buy grapes or use your own, the quality of the grapes may not be as good.

    5. First Time Home Wine Makers Are Better Off Using Wine Concentrates

    Wine concentrates offer reliability. Concentrates come in the exact amount needed to make a batch of wine. Consistency is important, and it will minimize discouragement and frustrations.

    6. Only Use Mature Ripe Fruit When Making Fruit Wines

    Unripe green fruit has too much acid and very little sugar, neither of which are qualities that will produce the best tasting fruit wines.

    7. You Can Make Wine From Dried Berries or Rose Hips

    Only purchase dried berries or rose hips from places that sell wine making supplies as opposed to grocery stores or other locations. These dried flowers and berries are cultivated specifically for wine making. Buying berries from these sellers assures you that you get the right amount for specific amounts of wine.

    8. Adding Oak Chips to Your Fermenter Will Give Wine the Flavor of an Oak Barrel 

    Oak barrels aren't practical for home winemakers because of the cost, and because of sanitation issues. When you add oak chips to your fermenter, you are adding oak chips that are made from the same wood that is used to make wine barrels.

    9. Homemade Wine Lasts Just as Long as Store Bought Wine 

    Red wines get their deep color from the skins, so the longer you leave those skins on, the deeper the color will be. Acid or tannin in the wine also helps retard spoilage and prevent oxidation. The flip side of this is that high amounts of acid or tannin change the taste of the wine – though not for the better. Allowing wine to age creates a deeper and more flavorful wine.

    If you are a wine lover the process of making your own wine can be a very rewarding one. You can also get customized labels to give your wine a more professional look. Regardless of whether you're a wine connoisseur or someone who is new to the world of wine, by making your own wine, you will develop a far greater appreciation for the wine making process, and the taste of great wines.

    This post was posted in Uncategorized

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