“You’re trying to make what?” the nice man asks again.
“Peapod wine,” I says.
“Peapod wine. Never heard of it,” says the nice man, who is behind the counter of Homebrew of Columbus. “Wait, wait, let me check here,” he says, consulting a dusty book that’s in a stack of what looks like mom’s xeroxed recipe collection — only I presume his collection has more, um, potent concoctions than mom’s trick for drop dumplings. “Nope, not in here.”
I should’ve just pointed him to this:
So “Good Neighbors” gave us the idea. And our friend Erin gave us the peapods. (She gave us half of her bushel of field peas, and all of her shells.) But without having any experience brewing anything, and without a brewmeister who’d even heard of peapod wine, we were at a loss for several things, including:
- Any equipment we might need.
- Any idea what yeast we should use to make the wine.
- What our potential wine yield would be from a bushel of peapods.
- How many carboys we would need.
- What’s a carboy?
- And, oh yeah, how do we, um, make the wine?
Regular readers know we’re seldom daunted by such questions. We did a
little lot of research on the machine with the Internet. We found at least three recipes for said wine, none of which agreed on much of anything, including whether or not you cover the bucket in which you ferment the peapods. (Brewers: We split the difference and covered it loosely.)
Jenn and I stocked up with less than $200 in supplies, agreeing that it would be the most expensive, crappiest wine we’d ever had, but arguing that the supplies were a one-time investment for stuff we could use again for beermaking later.
And then we began the mad-scientist routine: The boiling of the peapods with some orange peel. The activating of the yeast. The mixing. A few days of burbling, gurgling sludge in a bucket we hid in the cool, dark pantry. (Brewers: We chose a champagne yeast, as we knew this was supposed to end up as a light white German-style wine, and Jenn and I prefer our whites drier.)
After the fermentation was nearly done, we began the process that’s called racking. Basically, you’re letting the sediment in your liquid — typically grape skins and such, but for us peapod bits — settle to the bottom, then siphoning off the clear liquid. We used a big glass jar (that’s the carboy!), which makes it easy to see when it’s ready to re-rack. We’d bought a 5-gallon carboy, but it was patently clear right away our yield wouldn’t justify that. And you don’t want your carboy much bigger than your yield. That means you’ll have lots of extra air touching your booze, and given that you’re letting the wine sit for a week or two between rackings, that’s a recipe for skunktastic sippings. (Brewers, for us the bushel of peapods yielded a gallon of wine.)
We’d been told by other brewers not to expect much from our first try. There’s so much room for mistakes. If you don’t sterilize everything that touches the wine, you can introduce random bacteria, for instance.
On top of the potential for our mistakes, the peapods were not on the freshest side. They were a little over the hill when we shelled them, so we tossed out lots of black shells. Also, we froze them while we were in Amsterdam. As a result, instead of a pretty, pale wine, ours was amber (to put my best marketing spin on “rust colored”).
After two rackings we weren’t seeing any more sediment at the bottom of the jar. So we moved the wine into bottles to properly age for 6-12 months. We ended up with 4½ bottles, and we knew that half bottle wouldn’t stay good through the aging process, so we said what the hell and poured a few glasses.
It was time to taste it.
We both took a sip. I watched Jenn as it hit her palate. She stared into space a bit, and her eyes lit up. “It’s not bad,” she said, a little surprised.
And she was right. I’ve actually bought wines that I enjoyed less than this stuff we just made with our vegetable refuse. And ours hadn’t even even aged yet. Somehow we succeeded in making a downright drinkable wine on our very first try. We can’t wait to crack open the first real bottle, circa Valentine’s Day.
Now I’m just sad that we only got a yield of four bottles.