readying new fermentation vessels


We got a whole lot of one gallon ex-vinegar bottles at an auction the other week, for the purpose of testing out varieties of home-made wines. Old bottles, and old vinegar bottles in particular, need special attention before they can be used to make wine, or else they can impart all kinds of nastiness. These, I filled with a dilute bleach solution and left out in the sun for a week, to sterilize. This is the only time in a carboy’s life that I attempt anything like sterilization with anything like bleach: once it has seen a little service, I like to think that any lingering microfauna, so long as I treat them well, will actually be beneficial to the making of wine. This is a little heretical, by the way. But, so far, so good.

So: bleached, I scrub the bottles out with a crooked bottle brush and rinse them. Now, they are ready to use, according to some people, though they still smell like bleach and are angry because you have not yet shown proper respect to the wine-making gods, by preparing a suitable place in which they might like to live. Really. At least, that’s one way to put it.

But I am convinced of the necessity of “treat[ing] the barrels [fermentation vessels] like the best of friends,” as Norman Mommens put it so well in Patience Gray‘s “Honey From a Weed.” (London: Prospect Books, 1986. One of the best books ever, by the way.)

On this occasion I made up a strong tea out of stale kitchen herbs, ones I know to have some astringent, anti-bacterial qualities (though mild), and ones we have growing that we’ll soon harvest, dry, and replace: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint. I would have used lavender, too, if we’d had any. Once the tea had steeped sufficiently, I poured it in the jugs and stoppered them up, so as to keep in the steam. I like to leave the tea in there for a couple days if I can, then rinse it out with good, clean water: the best I can find. Again, we are pleasing the gods here: forces no one fully understands. Do what needs to be done.

Now the jugs are ready to use, though I believe their juju will only improve with use, time, and continuing respect.

Incidentally, (a word I seem to like), those herbs I used in the tea all contain phenolic acid: an effective chemical for use in developing film. Take a tea like this, or made from any of its component parts, and add a concentrated base (as opposed to acid) substance such as baking soda, washing soda, or lye (if you know what you’re doing), and you will have an excellent, slow, fine-working, non-toxic black and white film developer. Add some vitamin C powder to speed it up. I haven’t played with this recently. I ought to.

2 Comments on “readying new fermentation vessels”

  1. We had lavender. You just didn’t recognize it in the cacophony of jars.

  2. Caitlin Adair says:

    Hey, Will, this is so much a book waiting to happen. Combine your blog and Herbwife’s and you have a terrific book already, much on the order of River Cottage only not quite so bloody.

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