Monday, May 15, 2023

Dandelion Wine

“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine."
- Ray Bradbury

Dandelion Wine
Freshly bottled dandelion wine

This is an odd article to write seeing as I don't drink anymore for various reasons.  But about 2 years ago I made this slamming dandelion wine and it was too good to not write about so here we are.

Most Americans consider dandelions to be a vile enemy.  They curse the dandelions very existence then spray them with noxious poisons that not only succeed in killing the plant but causes cancer in humans, destroys the soil, pollutes the waterways then ends up in everybody's bodies.  Without fail the dandelions come back from seed a few weeks later and the whole process starts over again.

Instead of that nonsense, what if people actually used the dandelions that grew and made them into something useful?  To be clear, dandelions are already useful in their raw existence.  The flower, leaves, and roots are edible, you can eat them right out of your yard.  Most people cringe at that idea, even though it's free food, but what if the dandelions were turned into a delicious wine?

Now that is something that the vast majority of people can get behind.  That's not even the best part.  You can make 12 to 15 bottles of dandelion wine for about $20 worth of supplies (not including the bottles and re-usable supplies).  Now that is a slamming deal!

The dandelion wine I made came out to 12% alcohol and it was damn good.  I took some bottles to a few different dinners where wine enthusiasts ran amuck.  At first they refused to drink my homemade vino.  However, once they saw me drink my own wine, not die and noticing that I was very much enjoying my wine along with growing increasingly reluctant to share the more I drank.  Well... then suddenly they all wanted to try a little bit which turned into them trying a lot once they discovered how light, refreshing, fruity, and overall delicious it was.  Quite a few people whom I did not know let me know how impressed they were with this homemade wine and asked how I made it and what was in it, etc.

Which bring us to present day of reminiscing and typing up this article to share this delicious knowledge with anyone who wants it, for free.  Shall we get to it?

Fair warning before we dive in.  While this recipe is fairly basic and does not have a lot of ingredients, it does take a fair amount of time and this article condenses about 3 months of work into one single, simple(ish) article.  Don't be fooled into thinking this is easy or won't take time.  It's a bit of a detailed process and it takes a lot of time to even get to the point to where you can bottle the wine.  Now that's out of the way... so here we go!

How to make your very own, lip smacking delicious, summer in a bottle, dandelion wine:

What You Need:

-3 Gallon Glass Carboys (2 of them)
-12 to 15 Empty Wine Bottles (amount varies depending on how much water boils off and how much liquid you leave from each siphon.  3 Gallons = 15 bottles of wine, before this expected shrinkage)
-Fermentation Locks (make sure they fit your glass carboys)
-3 Gallons of Water (the finest water you have)
-3 Lemons
-9 Oranges
-4 lbs / 1.8 kilos Sugar (yes, pounds / kilos)
-3 Packets Wine Yeast
-Giant shopping bag filled to the brim with freshly picked, chemical free, dandelion flowers.

That's seriously all that's in this wine along with a fair amount of time, patience, and sweat (hopefully no blood).

What You Do:

1) Acquire dandelion flowers - These need to be dandelions that you are certain have not been sprayed with any chemicals.  If you do not have your own land or do not have enough dandelions then connect with a local farmer in your area.  I guarantee you that they will be more than happy to let you pick as many dandelions off their property as you'd like.  Grab the biggest shopping bag you have, set aside a few hours and fill the shopping bag to the brim with the dandelion flowers.  This is actually quite enjoyable if you just let yourself get in the flow of it and make a game out of seeing how fast you can fill the bag.

2) Separate out the yellow flower from the green stem - Set aside at least half a day for this step.  If you don't have time to do this step the same day that you pick the flowers then leave the flowers in the bag and put them in the fridge with the bag open so the flowers can breathe, they'll keep for a few days in there.  Take each individual flower that you picked and pluck the yellow flower apart from the green stem.  The green stem is bitter and nobody likes bitter wine so this is a crucial step to have a good end product - no matter how drawn out and painful it may seem.  Set aside the yellow flowers to be used for the next steps.  The green stems can be put in the compost.  Take this step as an opportunity to practice patience, diligence, and calmness plus a time to enjoy a good audio book.

3) Make the dandelion tea that will eventually... turn into wine!
  • Bring 3 gallons of the finest water your possess to a boil in the biggest pot you have, preferably a witches cauldron style pot as we're going to be adding a lot more ingredients to it.  Once your water is boiling, turn the burner completely off and move the pot so it's on a cool part of the stove.
  • Add the 4 lbs / 1.8 kilos of sugar and mix, mix, mix as hard as you can until all of the sugar is dissolved!  Keep letting the water cool until it gets to 175 degrees.  A simple meat thermometer can be used to keep an eye on the temperature but a fancy instant read thermometer is much better.
  • Once the super sugary water has cooled to 175 degrees, add all of the dandelion flowers to the water and again... mix, mix mix.  Cover the pot with a lid and let it sit for 1 hour, set a timer for this.
  • Once the one hour is up, add in both the juice of 3 lemons, juice of 9 oranges AND the lemon zest and orange zest from all of the rinds*.
  • After the juice and zest have been added... mix, mix mix then cover the cauldron back up with the lid and let it sit for another hour.  Set another timer and go read a book, write in your journal about how drawn out this process is or do something else productive.
  • Once your timer goes off, pull out a slightly smaller pot along with a strainer.  Pour the dandelion tea through the strainer and into the new pot.  We're straining out the dandelion flowers so we are now left with the pure, sugary, tea goodness in the new pot.  Cover the new pot and let it cool to room temperature (letting it sit out overnight is perfect).  We're done with the dandelion flowers and they can now go into your compost.
  • Once the liquid is at room temperature, and only when it is at room temperature.  Add the yeast and yeast nutrient.  The yeast friends you're adding will absolutely love this new environment and they are going to devour the mass amounts of sugar and magically turn it into vino... when given enough time anyways.  Stir in the yeast really good.  Leave the pot covered and let it sit at room temperature for 14 days... yes... 14 days.  Stirring at least once a day, if not a few times a day.  If we weren't using pre-bought yeast then we would be leaving it uncovered during this step to (hopefully) attract a local and wild yeast that's floating through the air in your house to come and live in the pot.  But a wild yeast isn't going to make as strong of an end product and that adds more guesswork to the equation so for simplicities sake, it's best to use pre-packaged yeast for your first time around.  Once you've made this a time or two then maybe experiment with trying to only use a wild yeast... if you dare.
  • After 14 days, siphon the liquid into the first glass carboy, leave a smidge of room at the top and place the fermentation lock into the top of the glass carboy.  This lets gas escape out of the carboy but won't let anything go into it.  Place the carboy in a cool, dark place, such as a basement.  Somewhere where it's going to be around 70 F / 21 C and not get much direct sunlight will be perfect.
  • Once a day, pick up and bear hug the glass carboy and swirl it around for a quick minute so all the ingredients get mixed up.  After 14 days, siphon the liquid into the second glass carboy.  There will be a sediment buildup in the bottom of the first carboy, don't worry about that, that's basically yeast crap and can get washed down the drain but it is a great sign that the yeast are doing their thing!
  • Every 14 days for 2 months, siphon the liquid from one carboy to the other, leaving out the sediment while also picking up the carboy and swirling it around once a day (or once every few days at least).  I never said this was going to be an easy or quick process!
Siphoning Wine
Siphoning future wine from one carboy to the next

4) Bottling Time - After 2 or so months pass of this transferring and swirling buffoonery that will surely leave you questioning your life choices up until this point, it is time to bottle our efforts.  This will be the last time of siphoning the liquid, which I'm sure you're quite sad about so you might want to say a few words about how sad you are to not be using the siphon anymore after this.  Or you might break out into a happy dance instead, the choice is yours.  Regardless, sadly or excitedly siphon the liquid into all of your empty wine bottles until no more liquid remains in the carboy.  Now, you have a choice to make, to cork or not to cork?  If you cork it and there's still a bunch of yeast doing their thing and a bunch of gas builds up in the corked bottle then it can blow the cork and result in wine going everywhere.  At this point in time the yeast should be mostly done with eating the sugar and the gas should be minimal, emphasis on should.  As with everything in life, nothing is for certain.  So... do you feel lucky???  If not then put a balloon over each bottle (or really just one) and keep an eye on the balloon over the next few days, if the balloon doesn't really inflate much then you're good to put a cork in it.  If the balloon is inflating a bunch, then let the bottles sit, uncorked until the balloons are no longer inflating a ton each day (empty out the balloons every few days so they don't stay filled from the previous days) then cork the bottles once the balloons stop inflating.  If you're using the fancy foil wrappers / capsules on your bottles, the pro tip for those is to heat up a pot of water and dip the end of the bottle, with the wrapper on the bottle, into the hot water, which will cause it to shrink really fast and you'll get a nice, even seal on it.  Those are purely for aesthetics though, there's no functional purpose for them.  During this bottling process, I would tell you to not taste the wine as it won't taste good at all...yet, but we all know not a single person is going to listen to that.  So instead... go ahead and try the wine while you are bottling it, it is going to taste... not that great.  Don't be surprised when you try it, cringe, and once again re-think your life choices up until this point in time.  It will not taste good, yet, it needs more time!!!  Once the bottles have been corked set them on their side in a cool, dark place and let them sit for at least a few months before you open one up.  Rotate the bottles on their side about once every month to prevent the cork from drying out.

5) Enjoy the vino!  The wine starts tasting great after about 6 months and peaks at about a year (in my opinion).  You can crack open the first bottle after about 2 months and it will taste significantly better than it did at bottling but it still won't be spectacular... not yet anyways.  Around the 6 month mark is when your wine should really start tasting pretty damn good and it only gets better from there.  As the best of wine snobs say, it takes time to make great wine.  If you want to see how the taste changes over time, then crack open a bottle once every month or two and you'll be blown away by the dramatic changes that happen as time goes by.

Important Note:  This should go without saying but cleanliness is key when it comes to fermentation.  Be sure to thoroughly clean all of your equipment before using, clean out the carboys after each transfer, wash your hands, wear gloves, don't spit in the wine, etc.  Basically keep the wine making environment as clean as possible so your wine does not get contaminated.

*To zest a fruit, grate the peel against a very fine cheese grater (or zest grater / microplane), which grinds up the actual rind into... zest!  It will be extremely aromatic and is quite pleasant to do and adds a lot more flavor and aromatics than just the juice itself.  It's easiest to zest a fruit before it has been juiced.

Side Hustle Idea:  Get a liquor license, make and sell dandelion wine!!!

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