Wednesday, January 17, 2018


This is as far as I got today.  
I have started to ask questions on Facebook and  I figured out how to make Windows Mail to import the e-mail that is subscribed to the CALONTIR listserv, so I will be abreast of information, again.  I updated our pages on the new Calontir Wiki.

Right now, we are trying to inventory what we need and need to do get to events. Unfortunately buying a bigger car is out-of-the question, but we have a luggage carrier we can  clean up.   We just have to think about space conservation.  That tent takes up so much space.

Morcant and I registered our names a long time ago, but we never registered devices. I can barely draw a straight line but I am trying my best. Thank goodness for my lightbox and tracing paper. (Because that's period.)   I want to do that so I can pretty up our tent a bit. Hopefully we can come up with a theme we agree on. I am using the Oak tree because we live near Oak Grove Park.

The boys are working on picking personas, so we can talk about names and clothes.  I am trying to muddle through some of the heraldry stuff on my own before I have to bother someone and of course they couldn't make it easy for me.

Born around 1240 in Provence. He has a bit of a backstory cooked up as to why he might have a long bow someday and he knows what college he went to, LOL.

10th Century Galacian because he wants a falcata. At least his Irish dance background might come in handy, and he can use his hands.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Simple Distillation

The holidays are over and we took down our tree which usually means it is time to start distilling conifer needles.  I decided that I wasn't feeling up to getting out my makeshift distillation equipment, because I was not altogether recovered from the flu and didn't want to clean up a mess like this:

If you think this is bad, you should have seen the ceiling. It usually works quite well. 

So I decided to make  this year's January distillate with the even more makeshift method that we sometimes read as being attributed to the anonymous author of Le Ménagier de Paris, although I sometimes think we take liberties with our interpretation of that recipe.

If I were following those directions for using glass bowls, I would using a muslin kerchief over the pot instead of an inverted lid, and set it in the sun.  I might try that next summer with my small pickling crock.  Just to see what happens.

There are a couple of things that I don't do. I don't use a brick  or rocks because I cook with these distillates. I put a small inverted glass custard cup under the glass bowl inside the soup pot. Which you can't see very well in the video.   It ends up looking something like this.

(Please don't laugh at my drawing.) 
How much water you put in is really up to you and depends on how much plant material you put in there.  You want to make sure that it is just barely covered. Just try to make sure it doesn't go more than half way up the bowl that is sitting upright in your pot.   People who want exact measurements are going to be as disappointed in me as they are a lot of medieval sources.   How much you use all depends on the size of your stock pot.  I probably use 2 cups of spruce needles and 1/2 gallon water in this video:

I also don't use ice because while its nice, you really don't have to and I like for a little of the steam to get into the air. It's dry here during the winter time.

Then I just simmer the needles over low heat until the water is almost gone and collect the distillate that has dropped into the bowl.  Then I bottle it and store it in the refrigerator.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Busy Day!

This is probably our last  bottling day before we take a break for the holiday season.  That's my plum wine in the flip top bottles and the rest are  22-ounce bottles of mead.  The red caps  have Morcant's cherry melomel in them and the gold caps have a pumpkin spice methelglin for want of a better term, that we kind of collaborated on.  Its a pumpkin melomel , but we added warming spices to in the secondary ferment.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dry Reds and the Yeasts That Make Them

The other thing I was a bit worried about  when I first considered making wine as an SCA project, is that I really despise sweet wines. 

Some people had me thinking that in order to be period all of our meads and wines were going to have to be something along the lines of a dessert wine or those Amana wines, which I just don't like.  I'd rather not drink at all than choke down sugar.  I don't drink soda and I don't add sugar to tea or coffee.

I  was quite glad to read  different medieval texts mentioning red, white and swete wines.  The best thing I think I found was in the English Text's Societies printing of Harleian MS 4011 The Boke of Nurture (1465) in which John Russell writes that  when making ypocras you should use a "red wyne" that is "whote [hot] and drye to taste, fele, & see."  This brought me great joy. I've had a lot of Hippocras made with really sweet wine and I don't love it.

While it is true that medieval brewers and vintners would not have had the luxury of going out and purchasing different types of yeast, they they would have known the qualities of the yeast they worked with and how to produce dry wines with them.  I don't see the harm in speaking to my experience with the different yeasts.

A Note for Researchers

Some of you might be interested in a conversation I had with colleague of mine who is a  also brewmaster. According to him brewers and winemakers have been breeding some of these strains of yeast since the Middle Ages and selectively choosing yeasts for saving based on their attenuation. He claims these he has seen some of the upper limits have raised in his lifetime.

Attenuation refers to the amount of sugar a particular strain of yeast is able to consume  and also takes into consideration how much alcohol it can tolerate. Yeast consume the sugar in a solution and through the process of digestion turn that it into the CO2 that bubbles away, ethanol and flavor compounds. It is self-limiting in an enclosed system because it dies off when the concentration of alcohol reaches a certain percentage - not because it runs out of  sugar to eat as some people seem to believe.

 My friend the brewmaster believes that  during the Middle Ages it was unlikely that most brewing yeasts were able to consume as much sugar before die-off as they can today.   This might mean that in order to recreate a truly medieval taste, we have to add more sugar to all of our brews.  I don't know how I feel about that, but I am definitely going to do some more research.

Yeasts to Produce Dry Mead & Wine

A note on meadmaking...Honey plus champagne yeast can be too much of a good combination as honey is fully fermentable and champagne yeast can tolerate high alcohol levels. It will result in a very dry final product and strips flavors. You can add a less fermentable sugar to the mix to keep it from becoming too dry. But the best way to handle it just go for broke in the primary ferment and add some honey, juice, spices, etc to the secondary ferment, so you don’t lose your flavours or aromatics. Lalvin EC 1118 is the best yeast for that.

Lalvin Yeasts
EC-1118  - I read somewhere that it has the finesse of a battering ram and it's true. It is a highly attenuative yeast and it can strip away all of your flavors, if you aren't careful . It is rated at 18% tolerance but will readily go to 20% or higher if you are working the staggered nutrient (SNA)  action. EC-1118 is drier than champagne yeast. Think driest of dry, here.

It tolerates a temperature range anywhere from 50-95 so it’s nice if you don’t’ have AC or good climate control in your brewing area.  This yeast can help restart stuck fermentations or going for broke on your first ferment. If you don’t run a secondary ferment, you are going to want to stabilize and backsweeten. Alcohol Tolerance 18-20%

71B-1122 -  This yeast can is can metabolize malic acid turning it into ethanol. This is nice because it mellows the acidic bite of wines or melomels made with acidic fruits. This is what I use for fruit wines. Alcohol Tolerance 14%

D47  - I don’t love this yeast for mead. While it is nice for dry white wines, it is nitrogen needy and you stay on top of adding nutrient and energizer especially to meads. Alcohol Tolerance 14%

KIV-1116 - This is good for ciders and light fruits, because it is a competitive yeast which means it will fight off any wild yeasts. It holds the fruit flavor longer than most, too. It’s good for stuck fermentation, too. Alcohol Tolerance 18%

Red Star Yeasts
Premier Blanc (Champagne Yeast) - This a strain of Saccharomyces bayanus that has high alcohol tolerance and handles free sulfur dioxide. It can be used for whites, reds and fruit juices that don’t have a high acidity. If you are making a melomel from a highly acidic fruit, I would use the Lalvin 71B-1122.

Cuvee Yeast This is Red Star’s answer to EC-1118, so I don’t bother with it, but it works with reds, whites and champagnes.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Plum Hibiscus Wine

When we started brewing, people kept telling me I had to use the Campden tablets and a lot of other chemical additive nonsense to do it.  It especially bugs me to see recipes full of chemical additives on herbal websites and sites dedicated to historical recreation. But to each their own. I had thought I was going to take a pass on winemaking, but then I had a really, really tasty fruit wine vinted with no chemicals that sent me digging around in my history books for recipes.

Turns out, it is entirely possible to avoid modern chemicals and still make good wine,  if you know a little bit about plant chemistry and a bit about food history, but first you will need some equipment.

Our brewing hobby might be getting a bit out-of-control.


Stainless Steel or Enamel Pot for making the simple syrup. You don’t need a huge one. You can always make a couple of batches.

Brewing Bucket – Food Grade plastic bucket that is at least twice the size of the batch of wine you are making. When you start out you can just get yourself a five gallon bottling bucket and use it for the primary ferment, too.

Racking Cane - This is how you transfer your wine from container to container without oxidizing it.

2 1-gallon demijohns with lids. You can buy rubber stopper bungs, but our brewing store sells screw top lids with holes for the airlock, which I prefer.

2 -Airlocks

Bottles -  I use flip top bottles that we buy for the sparkling lemonade. You can save wine bottles and buy a corker if that interests you.  Some people just save screwtop wine bottles and re-use them.  My  point here is that one of the reasons we brew is to reduce our waste, I am probably not going to go out and buy really expensive bottles just to be period.

Hydrometer - I suppose you can get by without one, but see my story about the exploding bottle.


I see things online that make me cringe because the shortcuts are are going to lead to some nasty, skunky, homemade beverages.   And while its true that your ancestors didn't clean all of the things, medieval ale and wine were sometimes not amazing.  I am aiming for amazing, and not making people sick.

The first step of good vinting or brewing is using sterile equipment.  Kitchen clean is not clean enough. I have a sanitizing program on my dishwasher and I wash my equipment  and cleaning brushes on that cycle.  Then, I soak everything that touches my wine in sanitizing solution.  B-Brite is an oxygen based product that doesn't leave a film like bleach does.

We also keep our bigger brewing/vinting equipment in my classroom and away from the kitchen.  When its time to use it we carefully wash the glass jars or buckets and then fill them with sanitizing solution.

While this is mostly to ensure safety, it is also keeping organisms that might produce off-flavors out of your final product.  If you want to brew grossness, skip these steps

Natural Additives in This Recipe

Hibiscus flower infusions contain somewhere between 15-30% organic acids including malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid.  Those will sound familiar to a winemaker, because they are common wine acidifiers. I added them to this wine because plums are a rather low acid fruit.

Tannins leached from oak barrels improve the quality of wines and whiskey, however making oak barrels is not a very sustainable practice these days. Eco-conscious Europeans have countered this problem by adding oak bark chips or other tannins to wine and I am happy to follow suit.

One thing I do suggest is to invest in a good wine yeast. I know that it is hipster to catch the wild yeasts, and some people consider that more  period, but I can’t quite bring myself to take that crapshoot with my expensive ingredients. Besides, I know enough about yeast strains to know how to manipulate the flavors and alcohol content of my final product with my little beastie friends.

The process of that I use to make wine involves sterilizing the fruit with the boiling syrup and its is going to kill anything that might be hanging about on the fruit.

Finally The Recipe!

8 lbs. frozen plums
1/3 cup hibiscus flowers
1 tsp. white oak bark
2 gallons filtered water (chlorine may kill your yeast beasties)
4 lbs. organic, fair-trade sugar
1 package Lalvin 71B-1122 wine yeast

Wash your fruit. Pit it if necessary and freeze it solid.  (I know freezing is not period, but it I have to do it.  I have so many cultures going in my house, that I have to make sure the fruit is sterile.)  I like to let it hang out in the freezer for at least 48 hours.

Bring your water and sugar to a boil and simmer  it until the sugar dissolves. After this, put your frozen fruit, hibiscus leaves and oak bark in a food grade brewing bucket that’s at least 4 gallons.

You can see I had a variety of types of plums.
Pour the boiling syrup over top the fruit. I pour just enough over the fruit cover it and mash it with a potato masher. Then I add the rest of the syrup, cover the container, and let it sit overnight.
The next morning you add your wine yeast.

For fruit wines, I use Norbonne yeast[i] (Lalvin 71B-11-22, Saccharomyces cerevisiae) which is a strain able to metabolize malic acid which will mellow any acidity. It’s not as aggressive as the yeasts we use for mead.  It will only tolerate up to 14% alcohol which is enough for a table wine.

This particular yeast needs to be rehydrated. Directions for that are on the package.  It’s generally used for white wines or rosés, which means I end up with a semi-dry product with a nice fruit flavor because it is known for enhancing them.

If I were only using juice to make this wine, this is the point at which I would use my hydrometer to measure the specific gravity so I would know when to switch from primary to secondary fermentation (usually when it drops just below 1.030) and I do admit that I checked this just to stay in the habit.
Once you learn a little more about specific gravity, you will figure out that you can use the hydrometer to fiddle with the final alcohol content of your wine, a bit.  But  this is Winemaking 101.  (Yes, I could make this more difficult).

Primary Ferment
Within the first 24 hours or so, the wine will start to bubble and the fruit will form sort of seal on the top.  You want to carefully push fruit down into the must once daily.  Don’t stir or agitate too much, I use a potato masher to lightly push the fruit just below the surface and then let it float back up on its own.

Because you are using fruit, you really don’t want the must sitting in fruit for much more than about five – seven days. The fruit will eventually start to decay and you risk getting some nasty flavors. I could just tell by a change in smell that it was time to move this wine today, even though it was only six days in the primary.

You will want to carefully skim the fruit from your must and squeeze the excess liquid back in to the bucket. I do this by slowly ladling the fruit into cheesecloth and squeezing it tightly into the bucket.  Then you rack your wine into your glass demijohns and put an airlock on them. The purpose of using the racking cane is that it reduces your chances of oxidizing your wine.  If you have some leftover, I hear its good for cooking, but I usually just drink it.

Clarifying During the Secondary Ferment
The wine is now in its secondary ferment. It is not going to be as clear and beautiful as some pictures on the internet show.  As the yeast left in the must complete their life cycle, it will settle to the bottom along with any sediment. If its really gunky, you can wait a week and rack it into sanitized demijohns.

In my history books I found  that they had all sorts of tricks for improving the quality of wine before there were chemical additives. For example, winemakers would add egg whites to their wine because the albumen would bind with free proteins suspended in the wine and precipitate out of solution, and strained out during the final racking.  This can cut back on bitterness or astringency and is most often done with reds made with grapes that make you pucker just a bit too much.

The usual treatment is 1.0 mL of egg white per gallon of wine. To work this treatment, you want to measure the right amount of egg white into small bowl, add a tiny pinch of salt to inhibit bacterial growth and whisk in just enough water to make it liquid. Then add it to your secondary ferment for the last week before racking.

Winemakers would also add a copper coin to freshly fermented wine to remove free sulfur.  Sulfur can cause funky odors and flavors and is the source of naturally occurring sulfites in wine. Modern winemakers have simplified this process by adding copper sulfate.  I am not going to do that. While I don’t propose using a dirty old penny, I do have a strip of copper that I bought from a science supply lab that I put in the bottling bucket which I am able to clean well and sterilize in between uses.


Your wine is ready to bottle when it stops fermenting.  You will know this because the specific gravity of your wine will stop dropping.  If you take a hydrometer reading on the first day of the third week and the first day of the fourth week and they are the same, you can bottle it. If not, wait.

Some beginner recipes don't talk about hydrometers, will tell you just to wait a month, and then bottle. We've gone through the scare of having a bottle blow up.  Thanks be to all that is green, no one was in that room, they could have been killed. I am not even joking. I no longer trust that method and am quite happy to take the hydrometer readings.

Another way to make sure the wine is clear is to rack your wine back into your brewing/bottling bucket and bottle it using a bottle filler attachment.  Again doing this reduces your chances of oxidizing your wine, but at the same time I think it helps with degassing the wine before you bottle it.

How long you let it sit in the bottle is up to you.  We aren't patient people, so we tend to cheat, but generally the longer it sits the better it is.

My first proper glass was a couple of months after we bottled the recipe on December 10th.
It has mellowed some, but could use to sit more. 

[i] (You can also use Vintner’s Harvest VR21. For low-acid fruits or making cider, you can use Lalvin KIV-1116 which is a competitive yeast that fights off wild yeast colonies that can some funky flavors to your wine.)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bog Chairs

With the idea in mind that we are going to try to make it to some events next year,  guys decded to mhave a go at making some of the bog chairs.  I understand that the "periodness" of these chairs gets questioned sometimes, but they are cheap and fast to make and they are certainly better than canvas lawn chairs. 

Now we just need to sand them, decorate them, and seal them up with some sort of oil/resin mixture. 
He really did help more than it looks like. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Archery Practice

When time permits we head to Fin & Feather or the Johnson County Archer's range for some practice. I can't say we've done as much of it as I would like, but we are still improving. Some of us more than others. He will be 16 on the 4th and so I decided to add both the boys to the family membership this year,  and hope that we will actually be able to make getting to events work. 

He needs his own wooden arrows. 

He was aiming for the center of each target like he thinks he's Robin Hood, or something.