Home Brewing

Sometime around 2015 we were out on a hike in Camp Lejeune, NC. We stumbled Upon a heavy crop of wild grapes, and this started our interest in fermentation. We bought a gallon starter kit from a local brew shop. In retrospect, they probably thought we were foolish for using wild grapes. The resulting wine was not good: it lacked body and had the musky aromas typical of these wild fox grapes.

We've had far better results since then. The main lesson has been using good quality fruit and considering the balance between the tartness, astringency, sugars, and fruity flavors. Specialized cultivars really contain the right building blocks because they have been selected for those properties.

One year we made a merlot from grapes shipped in from Lodi, CA. The next year we made batches of chardonnay and Cabernet. While I'm sure we aren't to be judged among vineyards, each was a decent wine because the grapes were decent.

Now this doesn't mean we haven't foraged some of our fruit. One of the all time best hard ciders we've made was made from a base of fresh cider from a local orchard. We supplemented with about 10% juice from foraged crab apples. The crab apples were from a tree in the woods on our property in PA. The apples were golf ball sized, with a shiny, waxy skin. They were very tart and astringent. The resulting hard cider was bottled with a bit of sugar and yeast to carbonate it. We finished the 5 gallon batch in no time at all, with the help of friends of course.

But cultivated varieties are not always enough to yield good results. The following year, we tried to forage the same crabs to find the tree was dead. So we made cider solely from the late harvest heirloom apples from the same orchard. The resulting cider was bland and boring, even after carbonation. We never finished drinking that batch.

This year we were late to plan out our cider, and our current batch is a base of classic dessert variety apples supple yes with ornamental crabs. We'll see how this experiment turns out.

If you ask what our all time favorite ferment has been, it was a 2020 blackberry "port" made during the pandemic. We harvested our blackberries throughout the whole summer, freezing the berries as we went. During the pandemic we thawed them, squished them, and fermented the must. We need up with about 4.5 gallons of juice. Since liquor stores were closed, we couldn't buy any spirits to fortify with. Instead we added sugar periodically until the fermentation slowed to a stop. The ABV is probably around 15%, making it not really a port (among other key reasons!). It is sweet, fruity, tart, and has nice body. We'd be proud to serve it to our guests.

While we're not professional brewers, home brewing has given us the insight needed to decide which varieties to grow. We understand how important the flavor profile is to commercial cideries, especially as the market becomes more competitive. The cider apple varieties we have chosen to grow will provide the much needed tartness and astringency needed to blend with the easier-to-get aromatic varieties.



Gabe helps us crush grapes

The Blackberry Port

Merlot grapes from CA