My mini primary fermenter

We have recently ventured into the realm of homemade fruit wines and are love love loving it. However, I have learned at least one lesson the hard way, which of course I will share with you so you don’t make the same mistake. I hope you can learn from my dumbiness, and perhaps get excited by the prospect of making your own wines. I think it’s easier than you might expect. I’ve now posted the full instructions on how to make it, which can be found here.

IMG_3836 copy

Our first fruit wine was strawberry, pictured below. To make a gallon batch (of which we made two), we used about 4 pounds of berries, and placed them with the other ingredients into a gallon glass container. It seemed from the instructions that we were following from our local brew store like this was what they had in mind, but I think we were mistaken.


Now, I’m a scientist, and not an idiot (at least I thought not), so I’m not sure why I thought this would be just fine, but I did. The problem with making wine like this is that fermentation produces a lot of carbon dioxide bubbles. Especially in the first few days after pitching the yeast, and especially when there is a lot of added sugar, as with these. With a fruit wine, these bubbles get stuck below that mat of fruit floating at the top (called the cap)… pressure builds up… and… yaaaaa I think the photo below says it all (sorry it’s rather blurry). Narrow neck plus mat of fruit plus carbon dioxide equals kaboom! Strawberries on the ceiling. I noticed pressure was building up a bit, so I put them in the kitchen sink thinking that the pressure might cause the top to pop out, but I never expected it to happen with such force. Yes, that’s a whole strawberry on the ceiling. I wish I could say we were home for the incident, but we had to go to school, so sadly I am not sure how loud this was, or when it happened, but both of the corks were violently launched off the bottles and fruit chunks hit the ceiling. We did just top it off with water and still saved the wine (it actually still tastes surprisingly good), but it was time for plan B before attempting raspberry or blueberry, which were about to come into season.

wine explosion copy

Enter the homemade primary fermenter. I bought these containers on amazon actually originally for making dough for bread. This is a whole other story, but I just bought these two books, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Healthy Breads in 5 Minutes a Day, and needed a 6 quart container for that. The one I saw came in a 2 pack, so I was inspired to use the second one to make a mini fermenter. It’s 1.5 gallons, so it’s perfect for filling it to the gallon mark, and leaving a 2 quart head space. If you just want to get them for brewing, this 8 quart version might be even better. All we did was drill a hole in the lid the size of the stopper we have. But as you can see we didn’t have the correct sized bit and kind of burned the edges of the hole to try and fix it and now have an oval, so it’s a bit sketchy, but with a little glue around the edges it’s now perfectly air tight! Really any food grade plastic tub with an air tight lid would work, get a 2 or 3 gallon one! Another thing I love about this one though is that it’s translucent so I can see the brewing in action.

IMG_3854 copy

Ta-da. Now brewing is a breeze! After about a week in the primary fermenter, we strain off the big chunks of fruit and age it in the gallon glass jugs, so you really would just need one or two little ones and multiple glass jugs if you wanted to have a number of things brewing at once. I think this is also great to have for trying out a small batch of a new beer, wine, whatever, of which you aren’t sure you want a full 5 gallons. I love these little batches, a gallon is about 5 regular bottles of wine, then we can decide to make more if we love what we’ve made. Not sure how other people do it, but this has been working great for us! Just don’t fill it too full or you will still get fruit sneaking into the stopper and airlock. Have you ever made fruit wine? What do you use?

IMG_3950 copy

*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

Making a mini primary fermenter on Punk Domestics

Testing the new wort chiller

For the boy’s birthday last month (the big 3-0!) I got him a fun new toy to add to our brewing equipment – a wort chiller! We were super excited to try it out, so last weekend we tried it out with a clone brew of Lagunitas IPA; recipe to come once we’ve tasted it. But for now I wanted to share with you the awesomeness that is the wort chiller. I ended up getting this one from Home Brew Stuff and am pretty happy with it so far. They do make bigger ones for people with bigger pots, but this is pretty perfect for a 6 gallon pot which is what we have.

wort chiller

So for those of you who are wondering what the hey this weird coil of metal is for, here’s the down low on wort chillers. When you make beer, you have your wort at a boil, but you’re good friends  (yeast) who are going to turn all that sugar into alcohol for you do not like the heat. So you want to cool the wort from boiling to room temperature as quickly as possible. This can be done with an ice bath in the sink, which we’ve done until now, or this fancy contraption. How it works is that you attach it to the hose, cold water runs through it and out the other end which you rest in the sink, and presto the wort gets cooled off! I timed it, from boiling to 70F took 14 minutes. I am pretty happy with that! That was for about 3.5-4 gallons, which is what was left after some boils off while you make the beer. I wish I could give an exact time on how long it took to cool with the ice bath, but I hadn’t thought about this so didn’t time it. I’d say it was at least 45 minutes to an hour. I can tell you that the first time we did it, our friends went home before it was cooled because it was taking so long. And last time we cleaned the whole office while it cooled. So I’d say it was a worthwhile investment. Plus we’ve been buying ice since it takes a lot to cool it, so it will pay for itself in the long run. If you are brewing without a wort chiller, go get one! Maybe this fun outdoor burner will be next, so we can brew outside 😉

IMG_1517 copy

*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

First Brews

What’s an obsessed canner and babbling botanist to do in the winter when canning opportunities are few and far between? Well take up a new hobby of course. Add some drink to all that food in the pantry! So the next skill I decided to add to my repertoire was beer brewing. Spoiler alert, next up with a post coming soon will be wine! This post is coming a few months after the making of our first brew, in fact we only have about five pints left! But what a perfect time to share it, now that I can reflect on the whole process and the deliciousness of the final product! Making beer is maybe not as difficult as you may think, you should try it! We bought our starter kit at the local brew shop, but this kit is basically what you need to get started if you don’t have a local shop. Just add ingredients and bottles! OK, pull up a chair, I included the whole process in this post so it’s gonna be a long one!


I don’t intend on making this a full detailed step by step because I’m not an expert (yet), but I’d like to make this a taste test into the brewing world and share the experiences (good and bad) of a first brew. If you really want to get into this, the best two books are How to Brew by John Palmer and The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. I have both, and once I’ve finished this dang master’s degree will get back to reading them ;). The introductory instructions that we followed are from our local brew store, and can be found here

OK let’s dive in. How does one make beer? Everything you need for a first brew is pictured above. We did an IPA so you’ll see above 4 oz. of hops, 8 pounds of pale malt extract in the white tub, caramel steeping malts on the left, yeast, gypsum, and Irish moss (which strangely enough is not moss at all but seaweed) in the middle. And of course water and a notebook to keep track of everything.

Day 1:

The first step on day one is steeping the grains in a few gallons of water and heating to 170 F.
Day 1, lesson 1: Don’t let the grain bag rest on the bottom, it can melt. We did not have this happen luckily, but had read that it can so our solution was to tie it to the fan assembly thing above the stove with twine. Best solution? Probably not.
Day 1, lesson 2: See that floating thermometer below? Take a good look because that’s the last you’ll see of it. Those babies are fragile. Don’t drop them on the tile floor.


After you’ve reached 170 F and waited 10 more minutes you’ll remove the grain bag, push out as much liquid as you can, turn off the heat, and add the malt extract. Most beginner like us start out with malt extracts. Make sure the heat is off and stir in that gooey deliciousness.


Check it out. Now we have wort! That’s fancy brewspeak for the brown water that will be beer. Turns out brewers like to use a lot of fancy words. Doesn’t look too appetizing just yet. Now we’re going to bring our wort to a boil. A lot of beers boil for an hour, some an hour and a half, and add a few more ingredients along the way.


Hops! Once the beer was boiling, it was time for the hops. Hops get added at different times depending on the flavour you are going for. For this recipe, IPA, 2 oz went in a the very beginning. These are the “bittering hops.” Basically, the longer hops boil, the more bitterness is imparted on the beer, and the less flavour and aroma. So to also get the flavour we added an additional half ounce at 20, 15, 5, and 0 minutes (with 60 being your start time and you are counting down). That’s about as tough as it gets! Now you just watch it, make sure it’s not boiling over, and stir so nothing burns to the bottom. Oh, and add some gypsum and Irish moss at about 30 minutes.

Day 1, lesson 3. Have the fan on. If you are brewing on the back burner as we were, watch for condensation on the fan unit that can drip into the wort. Preferably brew on the front larger burner, if yours works, unlike mine….don’t get me started. Anyways, it’s getting boiled so whatever, but it’s gross if steam condenses on there and drips back in your wort. Eww. I don’t even know. Now that’s a solid piece of advice I bet you won’t find in Palmer 😉


After your hour boil is finished, you need to cool the wort as quickly as possible. The easiest way, without buying extra equipment, is with an ice water bath like this. However, it cools a lot quicker if you send $50 or so on a wort chiller. It seemed silly at first to get one, but we did after a couple more brews and it was well worth it, the beer cools much more quickly. It sucked waiting and waiting and spending a few bucks on ice each time since we only have a couple of trays and it takes a lot of ice.


Once it’s cooled to about 70 F, room temp, you’ll dump it into your sanitized primary fermenter. We found this sweet strainer at bed bath and beyond that fits perfectly to catch the hops. You then top it off with water so you have a total 5 gallon volume. It’s ideal to have a huge pot so you don’t have to top it off, but when you first start out this might be how you do it. I can’t say my palette is refined enough to really notice a difference between topping it off and boiling the entire volume. 


Last thing to do today is take a hydrometer reading. Yay more fancy chemistry terms! Basically a hydrometer is a floaty device that you use to measure how much sugar you have in your wort. The yeast you are about to add will eat the sugar and therefore you need to know how much you have so you can calculate the final alcohol percentage. Lastly, you pitch the yeast! Pitch means, dump that yeast in there. Now we put on the lid and wait.


Wooo fermentation! For about 7-10 days it stays in the primary fermenter. After a day or two you see vigorous bubbles in the airlock. That means it’s working! The bubbles are carbon dioxide from the yeast eating up your sugars. nom nom nom.


Day 10

Once you are down to about one bubble every minute, it’s time to transfer containers. Or to use fancy brewspeak, we are racking the beer into the secondary fermenter. Now we’ll take another hydrometer reading to see how much sugar is left.
Day 10, lesson 1. The higher the primary container the better. Gravity people, she can be your friend or your enemy. The table or counter is better than this stool.


mmm check out that nasty sludge left over.


Now we wait some more. 7-10 days again minimum. You basically can bottle once you’ve taken a few hydrometer readings and it hasn’t changed. That means all the yeast food is gone and they will be sad and die. Leaving you with delicious beer though of course. Don’t be sad for them, they lived a very fulfilled life in beer. And a few of them will live on a little longer to carbonate your beer.

Be sure you are giving it a taste test every step of the way! 🙂


Day 20 ish

It’s bottling day yipee! The hydrometer readings are now steady and below what is specified in the recipe you followed, so its time to bottle your beer. First you’ll dissolve 3/4 cups of dextrose in water and put that in your sanitized primary bucket. This will be eaten by the yeast to carbonate the beer. Then you will rack the beer into the primary bucket.


Clean and sanitized bottles ready to be filled. We bought a 12 pack of flip tops for fun but just reused the rest from store-bought beer.


Next the primary bucket goes on the table and you fill up your sanitized bottles with beer!

Today’s tip: the cool little bottle filler is totally worth it. It’s got a little valve on the bottom that’s only open when you press it against the bottom of the bottle, so when you lift up the flow of beer stops.


Taking care of a few leftover sips.


Cap them and ta da! Store at room temperature until they carbonate (2-3 or so weeks) then enjoy!


*This post contains affiliate links. Check out the “About the Blogger” page for more information.

First Brews on Punk Domestics