June 2, 2011
Hello fellow V&E majors, minors and happenstance CUVEC/internship blog readers! It’s Joe Meilen from the major. So I haven’t yet (technically) started my summer internship but in the days leading up to my junket out to the west coast I have been quite busy preparing and experimenting and thought I would relate 1. a story and 2. my pre-internships attempt at making booze(the former of which is not at all related to my internship, or V&E at all, and the latter of which is marginally related to my experience in the first V&E class I took last semester).
This story may at first seem slightly random and unnecessary for the blog but I decided to share it not only because it is somewhat amusing but because it ties in nicely to part-two of my entry; so hang in there! Last summer I had to have a couple of my top-front teeth crowned as a series of ongoing dental work stemming from a childhood accident. After having my front four teeth filed down and crowned, I proceeded to fracture my top-front-right tooth (thats #8 for you dental enthusiasts) underneath the crown while I was away on vacation. Though this was no immediate dental emergency, the situation was exacerbated this May when I cracked the tooth further, causing it to become severely loose, and not to mention aggravating, after biting into an apple during finals week. Finals concluded, I returned home, and after 4 hours of dental surgery during which I was pumped up like a water-balloon with Novocain and I was dragged around a dentists chair by my jaw like a Raggedy Andy doll I was sitting in my minnie van, hopped up on Vicadin on my way back to my house with my mom. (Here is where it all comes together) When I came back from Cornell for the summer my mom agreed to make home-made liqueurs with me based on a recipe and technique that was outlined to me by Ian Merwin during the final Wines and Vines Lab at the end of the spring semester (Ian had brought in a home-made batch of cassis liqueur, which was veritably fantastic, to the tasting that was held, and gave me some pointers on how to make other great home-made cordials on my own (of course under the proviso that it would be my mom purchasing and working with the alcohol while I shouted instructions from a strictly legal distance). So I recall as we are driving back from the dentist that we need to pick up a few handles-worth of high-proof, neutral grain spirit at the liquor store to use as the base for our liqueurs and, after fumbling with my iphone to find the nearest liquor store, I successfully locate a suitable purveyor in a rather shady-part of town, a couple miles from my neighborhood. My mom begrudgingly agrees to go though I am clearly in no state to be shopping for anything much less high-octane base-booze. We pull up in front of a strip mall next to what I think was an abandoned dry-cleaners and I attempt to doltishly describe what exactly it is that I need (during which I tried to explain what the difference is between neutral grain spirit and regular vodka though I imagine this explanation was impeccably incoherent). After writing down a brand name that I mumbled out during my explanation my mom urges me to STAY seated, locks me in the car, and enters the liquor store (I meanwhile am peeing myself with laughter because Vicadin-crazy Joe found something hilarious about my mom asking me if I needed anything else at the grocery store before we went home). About five minutes later my mom emerges from the store empty handed, gets back into the car and says that the clerk has no idea what neutral-grain spirit is and that he is sure they do not carry it. After again trying to articulate how the product is made, as if I am trying to sell her the stuff, I tell her to simply buy a couple liters of cheap vodka. Doors locked, back into the store. Another five minutes later she comes back, again empty handed, informing me that the store has a cash-only policy (clearly a liquor store thats completely on the up and up) and that she is 30 cents shy. We scavenge through wallets and purses. the glove compartment and the floor of the car to find enough cash and she returns to the store. At this point its clear that we are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, and my mom appears to anyone standing nearby to be a complete alcoholic, rushing to and from the liquor store to scrape together enough cash to buy rotka in bulk while her son sits is locked in the car alone, laughing to himself about nothing in a doped out, drug-induced daze (also, coming out of the liquor store holding up plastic handles of Mr. boston like trophies probably didn’t help our image). But here comes the take home, we ended up putting together variety of fruit and herb based liqueurs that are going to age over the summer and hopefully be ready to consume by the end of the summer (check out the pics, the decanter is a limoncello that came from a test batch that was started about a month ago, and I am not exaggerating in saying it is AMAZING! the line of canning jars are, from left to right, wild berry, blackberry, cranberry, lemon, and orange and we also did coffee and mint which aren’t shown). Check out the recipe outline I added below for the limoncello, it is a combination of Merwin’s suggestions, a couple of online recipes (for which I also put some links) and a little experimentation. The easiest route to go is with a set of wide-mouth, quart size (about 800ml) canning jars and 100 proof vodka or neutral spirit (I used Mr. Boston and it seems to be working great. Give the can a shake every day and take a sample every week or so to see how the flavor is progressing so you can taylor it to your taste). Give it a go and let me know how it turns out!!
Limoncello (or other citrus fruit such as orange).
- Peel about 12 lemons, or oranges, with a potato peeler so that you remove most of the rind (colored part) with minimal white pith. Place rinds in canning jar with about 250ml of the juice of the given fruit.
- Fill to the top of the jar with spirit (about 550 ml).
- Seal tightly, store in cool dry place for 1-2 months (again take some samples periodically to see how the flavor intensity is).
- Once aged, make a simple syrup that is two parts water to one part sugar. If you are doing a full batch (that is a whole 800ml jar) what works best is to boil 6 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar for about a half an hour. The total volume will reduce to about 4 cups of syrup which equates to 950ml.
- Strain off infused alcohol from rinds and combine with syrup. Because the alcohol is already slightly diluted by the juice you might not want to use all of it as the resulting liqueur will be quite sweet and lower proof. If you prefer a stronger beverage you can simply dilute to taste.
***Some sources I read recommend re-aging the liqueur on the rind once the syrup is added. I haven’t tried this yet but it might turn out an interesting drink so give it a go if you dare.
On a more academic note, I am starting my formal internship tomorrow. I will be working at Tensley wines in Santa Barbara until mid-August. Though my contact with the winery owner Joey Tensley has been cursory up to this point, he said that I’ll be getting to try my hand at the gambit of winery jobs (blending, bottling, topping and I am sure cleaning). The operation is pretty small as I understand it. Joey and his family do the winery work, sourcing grapes from individually selected plots of vines from vineyards in the area. I was informed yesterday, though, that he plans to begin work on a private vineyard this summer, and that I will definitely get to do some work breaking ground on that project. Other than that its going to be trial by fire. I am looking forward to working closely with Joey and his family; my impression of the Santa Barbara wine region is that it offers a nice antithesis to the industrialized, high-output wineries of Napa and Sonoma, employing a more artisanal approach (it will be interesting to see if this is indeed the case). More pictures, updates (and maybe recipes) soon and I hope everyone is enjoying the kickoff to summer!!