What do you do when you have boxes and boxes of really juicy yellow plums? Plums too juicy to dry, can, or preserve. What about when your sister is canning quarts and quarts of juice and you don’t drink juice because you’ve been corrupted by working in a berry processing plant? What do you do with your share of the fruit when there’s no other option?!?!? You decide to have a brew baby. Pretty genius I thought. People must make “cider” out of plum juice all the time? Right?
yellow plums of unknown variety
[Insert Internet Search Here] Turns out not really… for a lot of reasons. Acidity, sugar content, pectin, tannins – they’re all a little stacked against you with plums. BUT – there was some evidence that its been done. And well, I’m going to do it too. I hesitate to even mention that I have a brew baby in the oven. The likelihood of it working out is minimal – even with the obsessive amount of sanitizing I did, and the self-control I had to not lick everything. In three months I’d love to give myself a modest pat on the back while I pour you a glass of boozy goodness. “Oh this old thing” I’ll say nonchalantly, “I just thought this sounded good and threw it together last August.” But I can’t keep these things to myself, my patience is minimal, and maybe if everyone puts out their positive energy… it will work out??? If nothing else, we can all mourn together. And laugh at the fact that I had the audacity to think that just because I can invent something spectacular like candied fennel means that I can just brew on the fly.
After about 5 minutes of research I was completely overwhelmed by all the information about brewing and the lack of information about plum booze. So I stopped reading. I knew enough, and any more would just make my brain implode with the need to have it all figured out. Besides, people have been doing this kind of thing for hundreds of years and it just works out? Just leave it at room temperature for a while and you’ll be fine? (now why does that sound familiar….)
What I did learn is that the equivalent of plum “cider” is called Plum Jerkum. Nothing can be a cider unless it has apple juice in it. I know that now. I’m not really sure why it isn’t a wine… probably because wines are complicated, and this isn’t?
I found a recipe from the sands of time, written in old English. It pretty much said “put plums in a barrel of rain water and wait.” Perfect. If that works, then CERTAINLY I can make a palatable beverage.
There’s a reason my former yurt mate nicknamed me “fire butt.” No no no… not because my booty is bumpin’ – because I get an idea and I run with it. If I get it in my head that I’m going to do something, you better believe that with a stubborn vengeance I’m going to start it. Like I have a “fire under my butt” (as evidenced by moving to oxbow, getting russell, meat rabbits, flying to florida etc.). I, however, called her the follow through. I can make things happen, but I can’t always finish them. I need all you finisher people in my life to help me out when I use up all my energy getting started. So, of course, I headed to the brew store first thing the next morning, asked some pretty stupid questions and got some unhelpful answers. Whatever. I didn’t need help. This is a journey of self-discovery, a brewing walk-about if-you-will. I bought just enough equipment to make it work. No need for frivolities. This is a set-it-and-forget-it project. I want to feel like I’m roughing it – scraping by – you know, making something out of nothing. Like its going to be amazing and I didn’t even really try. I may have sanitized a turkey baster to use in a pinch because I didn’t have any tubing, though.
I chose my yeast and read the recipes they had posted at the brew store for cider and for wine. I read them over and over again. There are so many ingredients you can add. Things to change pH, to encourage your yeast, or to add acidity or tannins to make your brew more complex. This is not the information I needed. Nope… I did not need more options. So, I made my plan. I’ll choose a little of column A and a little of column B and my super scientific recipe will be a precise measurement of…..
plum juice, yeast, and sugar.
that is all I could be bothered with.
brand spankin’ new carboy
hands-free juicing set-up. this is the life.
The yeast I chose can be used for cider or wine. It produces a more sweet than dry beverage and will ferment only up to 12% alcohol. When the alcohol content exceeds 12%, the bacteria can no longer tolerate the environment and die. So if your sugar content is high enough, they don’t fully ferment it, leaving you a sweeter jerkum as opposed to drier (this is just me making an educated guess about how it works… sounds right though).
You can pretty much find anything on the internet. My research methods professor would croak if she knew how I went about gathering this data… because although wikipedia and discussion boards aren’t that reliable, maybe I succumbed to the pressure of the web-surfing believe-anything-you-read culture fondly known as present-day america for this project.
What is hard is finding a good picture of what five gallons looks like in a 6 gallon carboy. I intended to measure out the volume of the water I put in the carboy as I filled it for sanitizing. I intended, being the key phrase. Really, like with so many of the details of this project, I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead I used the “eyeball” method. Yep, you know the one where you attempt to keep your figures spaced equally as you move them down what you’re measuring. I think I did fine. I think it doesn’t really matter.
These websites did help me out a bit with my sugar situation. You take the initial specific gravity of your “must” (unfermented brew, I believe). I think it’s a wort if you’re making beer? I really don’t know, I’ve read too much in the last day. Anywho – you take an initial reading with a hydrometer, (which is like a magic wand, floating there in its case like a sugar thermometer) and it more or less measures the sugar content of the must – which in turn allows you to estimate alcohol potential. When you take a reading of the finished product, you can calculate the actual alcohol content.
I knew I’d need to add sugar, but not any idea how much. Of course some random site told me that 14.2 ounces of sugar would increase my specific gravity by 0.005. Of course I believed them, of course I rounded that number, and of course I should’ve added it and checked a few times instead of dumping all the sugar in at once. But guess what? Of course my specific gravity was exactly where I wanted it to be. I’m a genius. That, or, I don’t have a stirring utensil, and the “slosh it around” mechanism may not thoroughly mix things. Whatever. If it fails, I’m out a day in the kitchen, a bag of sugar, and a packet of yeast. Oh… and… half a bottle of sanitizer. Its whatever. Its going to be amazing.
the “slosh it around” stirring method
warming up the yeasties! (with a large and long spoon – sterilized half-way up)
I really don’t know when it will be ready. I’ve read way too many different timelines with primary fermentation lasting any number of days/weeks/months. So we’ll see. Or we won’t. My expectations are low. My sister said it best (great minds think alike, you know), “If its palatable and you can get a buzz, it’s good enough.”
She also told me that if I fail my RD exam, maybe I should just become a brew master. I should probably add that to my life dreams list. Then I would be required to fail my test and become one so I can cross it off. GENIUS. Again, I’m just impressing myself with my great ideas over and over again. I mean, imagine if this – the ultimate brew experiment – works out. Imagine what I’ll be able to make with a real RECIPE. Magic.
So, please cheers to my brew baby tonight. And save your wine bottles! If the world is good to this brew, this brew will be good to the world.
The yeast babies should start getting wild within the next 2 days. Bubbles galore are in my future if I didn’t fry them with too high an initial temperature. Maybe the song I sang to them before bed will do the trick? I’ll keep you posted on their progress. And if you don’t hear anything, don’t ask. It is probably a failed experiment.
hugs & songs & positive vibes. also a great temperature checking method – very scientific
Day 2: Help!!! My brewing experiment is about to explode?
That was the title of an email sent this morning by my sister to one of her friends that brews. I guess I shouldn’t have waxed poetic about my brew attempt so soon. She woke up this morning to a fizzing sound and watched as the airlock shot 5 feet in the air releasing something of a foam geyser from the carboy and depositing plum juice residue in her hair. Whoops. Turns out, foam happens. I may have overdone it on the late night singing to my yeast. They’re happy, they’re healthy, they’re fermenting away. I guess the temperature was just right? Just for next time, I won’t put the airlock in until after the aggressive foaming subsides. The learning curve on this one is so steep.
The foaming finally died down enough to put the airlock and plug back in. Now the yeasties are producing CO2 at a steady rate, the bubbler making music like a metronome. Like my baby has a “heartbeat.” If this works, I sense a tradition being “born.”
I think I’ve taken this metaphor too far.