Wild berries, apples, pears and plums are all thrown into the fermenting tub to produce a highly alcoholic brandy schnapps after distillation.
|Hazards:||..........||Explosive ethanol fumes. Methanol poisoning.|
Step 1: Introduction
Some years ago now I met a bushman called Jeff whilst hiking along the various mountain trails in New Zealand. He came into one of the huts late one night with a huge rucksack and a rifle and proceeded to strip off his clothes revealing a pair of ridiculously bright green underpants! Anyway, the next morning, though slightly bemused about the underpants, I got talking to Jeff and it turned out we had a mutual interest in the art of distilling alcohol. I was very much the novice, but in the next few months he taught me how to make the most wonderful wild fruit schnapps that could be imagined. In between fishing and deer hunting trips he would pick wild fruit and berries and continuously add them to a large wooden 200 litre barrel which he kept fermenting all through the Autumn. In these modern times we can achieve the same results with some pretty nifty 'off the shelf' equipment.
Blue Juice is also an amazing and hilarious low budget quirky surf film set in the UK - this is where I got the name from. See if you can spot the reference to blue juice in the film itself.
Step 2: Equipment Required
- Water distiller or 'Pot' still
- Juicer (BJE410 Nutri Juicer ™) for apples
- Wine making hydrometer
- Beer making barrels/buckets
- Airlocks for the above
- Clear glass bottles and corks
- Small plastic funnel
- Fruit press
- Large stainless steel pan
- 50ml measuring cylinder
- 15mm copper pipe
Jeff's equipment was obviously a lot more basic than this and his still was a big old home-made copper affair with some random looking copper piping coming out the top of it. Also, he did not have the benefit of hydrometers and thermometers and did everything by taste and what it looked like. Another thing, his fruit press was an incredible huge log which cantivered on a pivot and pulped the berries in a strong wooden bucket.
This 'ble is based on using a small, stainless steel, 4 litre water distiller which is ideal for the job and probably more suitable for the average kitchen.
Step 3: Legal
- Distilling is illegal in many countries/states.
- Pasteurisation of fruit is a legal obligation in some countries eg USA.
Distillation is legal in New Zealand and considered to be a big part of the local culture.
Step 4: Health and Safety
- Pasteurisation ...... Make sure that the fruit juice is heated to at least 70 degrees C for 15 seconds to reduce the population of bacteria present.
- Methanol poisoning ....... Methanol is a product of the fermentation process and is present in all beers and ciders but must be carefully removed during the distillation process. Methanol can cause blindness, damage to the central nervous system and death. The vapour is also explosive.
- Ethanol explosive vapour ....... Make sure that your still is well ventilated and never use an open flame for heating. Electric stills often have an electrical thermostat that produces a spark every time it switches on or off which will ignite ethanol vapour in the right combination with air. Water distillers will switch at >100 degrees C by which time the ethanol should be gone.
- Always fill a water distiller exactly to the line marked - no higher or lower. If filled too low it will boil too quickly.
- Poisonous berries eg. nightshade ......... Be careful to pick the right berries!
- Drink sensibly!
- Sulphides ........ Make sure there is some copper in the still.
- Make sure to use the correct receiver and that it is empty before use or you may get overspill and release of ethanol vapour.
Step 5: Forage for Your Fruit
Any edible non citrus soft fruits can be used, so, in temperate climates, foraging for blackberries, sloes, elderberries, rowan berries and damsons is ideal. Also apples, pears and plums could be used in any combination! Make sure that the fruit is ripe or even over-ripe and wind blown apples/pears that are brown but NOT rotten are fine.
The edible berries in my area grow in full sunlight and are easy to recognise and the poisonous ones are generally the 'nightshades', which are in berry at the same time of year as the edibles, but whilst being common, only grow in the shade and, again, are easy to recognise. This is not a complete list, so a guide book might be really useful. There are also ivy berries which are green or red and are poisonous, but are around much later in the year. Other climates will have other berries so the guide book purchased would need to be climate specific.
In New Zealand we would put in any useful fruit that we could find and this included quite a lot of wild damsons and also apples from abandoned orchards. Well, Jeff said they were abandoned, but I was not totally sure about that!
Step 6: Get Fruity With the Pressing and Pasteuriser
If you don't want the expense of buying a fruit press, make friends with somebody who does have one and offer to help pick their apples for them in exchange for some pressing time for your own fruit. Apples and pears need to go through a 'scratter', which is another expensive bit of equipment. Alternatively, you could be even more hard core and just use wild berries and stamp on them, squeeze them through muslin or any way that works. Just remember to pasteurise them in a big stainless steel pan before fermenting or the bacteria might get the upper hand.
- Don't dilute with water as this will lower the final flavour intensity.
- Think about distilling somebody else's cider, but make sure it is real cider and not 'commercial' apple flavoured alcoholic drink.
Step 7: Bubbles of Excitement
'Sterilise' your beer making buckets with very hot water, empty and pour in the fruit juice leaving a few inches of space at the top for frothing. Add a tight fitting lid and insert an airlock to keep the oxygen and entertain everybody with that satisfying gurgling noise every time it vents carbon dioxide. I just love that noise! leave to cool to 25 degrees C and use dry white wine yeast and ferment for about 10 days or until the specific gravity (SG) reaches close to zero. You should have a starting SG. of something close to 1050 and don't be tempted to add sugar as this will reduce the intensity of the flavours in the final product.
Jeff used to brew his fruits in an open topped wooden barrel and tied a deer buck skin tightly over the top to keep the air out. Somehow, the carbon dioxide found it's way out without exploding the barrel - there must have been some small leaks in the deer skin.
Step 8: Distillation
Cut up the 15mm copper pipe into sections about 10mm long and add about 200g of pipe sections to the still. This will remove the poisonous sulphides from the brew during the boiling/heating process
Allow the brew to clear or settle as much as possible, maybe use pectin to help, and pour some of it into the water distiller up to the line marked on the inside, but no higher or no lower. The distiller should come with a plastic reciever and a small plastic drum in which you can add activated carbon for purifying the alcohol if you want to. I'm afraid I lost mine somewhere! Turn on the distiller and wait for the first drops of alcohol to emerge - this may take about 1 hour as water distillers are fairly low power.
IMPORTANT: Collect the first 10ml or 1% and discard it as it will be high in methanol content and other undesirable chemicals.
IMPORTANT: Never under-fill a water distiller as it will boil too quickly.
Carry on distilling and periodically measure the alcohol concentration of the collected liquid. It will start off at about 60% and slowly become more and more dilute as the temperature in the distiller rises and more water vapour comes over. As soon as the concentration reaches 35%, turn off the electrics and collect the last few drops. If you don't have and hydrometers, you can do it the 'Jeff' way - just by taste, which works fine as long as you are not too intoxicated.
This is the method that I developed for getting maximum flavour in the final product. I would not use any still other than a 'pot' still as some of the more 'elaborate' systems will just produce pure alcohol with little taste or flavour.
Step 9: Get Enthused With More Berries
Press out some more nicely coloured berries and add the juice to the alcohol. The juices will always be red, even with sloes which have a blue skin. Allow the liquid to settle and rack off if necesary. This is my own addition to the recipe, although the 'Old boys' in New Zealand preferred it to be bright and clear with no colour at all and would no doubt have called me a 'poof' for doing this!
Step 10: Colour Changing Party Trick
I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could get the colour to go from red to blue by adding a tiny amount of potassium hydroxide flake, so I weighed out 0.1g of flake and added it to 1 litre of blue juice. There was a very dramatic effect and the colour changed from red to dark green! I used pH paper to check that the drink would not be harmful - I did not want it stronger than pH 8. Obviously, this is a potentially dangerous thing to do so you must know how to handle dangerous chemicals safely.
Next thing to do is ask some friends over for a drink and secretly put a couple of drops of lemon juice in their glasses. In a loud confident voice announce that you have some blue juice for them to try. In the subsequent pause, somebody will try and find fault with this and hopefully mention the fact that the blue juice is actually red. At this point you say: "No it's not it's green!" After a protracted argument about colours and mutual accusations of being colour blind, you pour out the blue juice and to everybody's surprise, it goes green!
- Potassium hydroxide flake is extremely caustic and will dissolve flesh in concentrated form.
- It is also dusty, so wear a face mask, goggles and gloves.
- Store it in a locked chemicals cupboard.
- Check the dosage with pH paper.
- It must be food grade, not industrial.
Alternatively, you can use sodium bicarbonate, but you will need more of it. Nonetheless, you can overdose on sodium bicarbonate so don't eat/drink too much. It can even cause death through sodium poisoning.
Step 11: Bottling, Labelling and Sampling
Bottle the Blue Juice in nice clear wine bottles and use a cork to seal them. Create a fancy label and stick it on with sticky plastic sheet over the top. Sample a small amount - it should taste absolutely delicious! If there's any bad taste or if you're not sure just through it away. Bad tastes could be caused by bacterial contamination in the fermenting stage. Once you're happy with the taste, invite a group of friends round and have a tasting party.
Step 12: Epilogue
Finally, I'd like to thank Jeff and the makers of the Blue Juice film for the inspiration for this 'ible and my only regret, now that I consider myself an experienced distiller, is that I never found out where Jeff got those green underpants! Also, it's amazing who you meet when travelling around the planet so it's always good to be open and friendly and carry a small digital camera around with you just in case you meet someone like Jeff.
Actually, I'd really like a Go-pro camera to document my attempt to break into Glastonbury festival next year. Now that really would be a good instructable!