Introduction to Making Wine and Beer at Home
Making wine and beer at home is now one of the most popular hobbies in Great Britain. It is reliably estimated that nearly four million people make some wine or beer every year. With the ever increasing prices of commercial wines and beers it is not surprising that the hobby continues to grow. One of the advantages of wine and beer making is that the whole family can share in the end result and many people now make enough to enjoy a drink every day, while others make only enough for occasional pleasures.
When consumed in public places, beer can encourage drunkenness and, from the 6th century, laws have been enacted imposing penalties on those found drunk in an endeavour to restrict excessive drinking. In the 10th century King Edgar closed all but one ale house in every village and controlled the size of vessel in which the ale was sold. Even taxation seems to have had little effect on the quantity consumed and taxes have steadily been increased since the first tax was applied in 1188. The situation has not changed since then, and excessive drink is often given as the cause of rowdiness and hooliganism, especially at football matches. This may contribute to the expansion of home brewing. Civilized people dislike getting mixed up in drunken brawls and often keep away from public houses. In any case, they can make as good a beer as they can buy in a public house and enjoy it more in the comfort of their own homes and in the company of their friends.
When consumed in excess, beer often produces reserves of fat around the stomach because of its content. However, it has the great advantage of being an outstanding thirst quencher. The bitter tang of the hop flavour cleanses the mouth and throat probably better than all other drinks and for this reason, it has long been the favourite of manual workers, especially of those performing arduous duties in a warm atmosphere.
Drinking beer is by no means a custom reserved to men. In the beginning, ale was made by women as frequently as they baked bread and prepared meals for their menfolk and children. The term ‘ale wife’ was applied to women who brewed for sale in ale houses and taverns. Beer was drunk by everyone, usually in preference to water which was often unsafe to drink. A weak or ‘small’ beer would be served at breakfast and a stronger one with the evening meal. Often the beer would be unfavoured and taste only of the malt. Sometimes, herbs such as nettle, yarrow or burdock would be boiled with the grains. Much later, in the 16th century, hops became the popular flavouring. They had long been known but their bitter tang had not been appreciated and many cities prohibited their use.
With the development of better roads, canals and the birth of the railways, brewing moved away from the home and village to small breweries often assisted by the cellar master monks of the monasteries closed down by Henry VIII. The great names of the brewing industry still known today established their breweries long ago and gradually acquired many others. The recent wars stimulated the process of mergers and 80% of the beer consumed now is made by only six brewing companies.
The movement of people away from the countryside to work in factories in the towns, saw the end of brewing beer at home. Its revival did not begin until the 1950s along with the revival of making country wines. Although now part of the same hobby and on an equal footing so to speak, winemaking has often been regarded as a superior craft. It has not been tainted by drunkenness to the same extent as beer, although tales of the orgies in honour of Bacchus the Roman God of Wine are very well known.
In the United Kingdom, mead made from diluted honey was widely made many centuries ago. Sometimes it was flavoured with herbs and fruits. When sugar became cheaply available from the West Indies, it was used instead of honey. The early country wines were extremely sweet because of a lack of understanding and a lack of proper yeast. All too often, fermentation was left to the wild yeast present in the fruits, but these can produce only 4° of alcohol. Wines were so often hazy that they were served in coloured glasses to conceal it. The sweetness masked any “oil” flavours.
It was not until Pasteur discovered the true nature of yeast that the situation began to improve, but tea, coffee and cocoa were taking over as the popular beverages in the home and the craft of winemaking, like home brewing and cider making, almost disappeared. The revival began in 1945 in spite of the shortage of sugar due to the overlap of wartime rationing. It has steadily gathered strength ever since.
The better understanding of the principles of fermentation has led to the making of dry table wines and strong aperitif and dessert wines as well as sparkling wines. There is now a wide range of purpose made equipment available together with essential minor ingredients such as acids, pectolylic enzymes, tannin and of course good wine yeasts. Above all, the need for good hygiene is well understood and the Campden tablet can be used to sterilize both equipment and ingredients as well as to prevent oxidation.
At the end of the 1950s concentrated grape juice was imported from Spain for the home winemaker and soon the wine kit appeared complete with instructions on how to make six bottles of wine. The use of the kits has spread as rapidly as their quality has improved and many people make their wine exclusively from kits. Other, more adventurous people, blend different fruits together and add concentrated grape juice to improve the vinosity of their wines while the country winemaker remains content to add sugar, acid, water and yeast to fruits, flowers or vegetables. This website gives helpful advice to the winemaker in all three categories and will help them to enjoy their product even more.