A Wine by Any Other Name

By , June 1, 2012

Our home wine making continues, and has entered an exciting new phase. As the summer advances, we’re able to try more cottage wines. But, with the continued hope for success come a few admissions of defeat.

The half gallon of birch wine that I made has matured, but has been found wanting. We’re going to try cooking with it, or it may end up feeding the compost pile. It will get used somehow, but it has no future as a wine. The lemon peel, which the recipe did call for, flavored it too strongly for us. Next spring I may try again, with lemon juice or a peeled lemon.

The rose hip wine is a success, in that it tastes like rose hip wine. I’m not fond of that, but we have hopes of sweetening it after fermentation is complete.

The new phase, on which I pin so many hopes, is spruce wine.

We have made spruce honey and syrup for many years, harvesting the young spruce tips in May and June. I’m crazy about the stuff. If I can make a wine that has the same flavor, I’ll be thrilled.

It’s going to take a lot of patience before we find out how well this works. Much of that time may be spent in contemplating exactly what the end result should be called.

Spruce beer has a long history, one with specific Alaskan associations. When the Bering expedition that led to the white man’s “discovery” of Alaska contracted scurvy, spruce beer saved them. Today, The Haines Brewery uses spruce tips in some of their beers, and it’s excellent.

Recipes are thin on the ground, however. Obviously, a beer that includes spruce tips is spruce beer. But so far I’ve been unable to find out what exactly they made on the Bering expedition.

They say that wine is the easiest alcoholic beverage to brew. Further, they say that beers are wines made with grains. the Bering expedition, close to starving, malnourished and low on provisions, likely didn’t have the grains, malted or otherwise, to brew beer. Chances seem good that their beverage was the ship’s dwindling beer store spiked with spruce needle tea. If they actually brewed an alcoholic spruce-based beverage, it might have been more properly been called spruce wine. The vagueries of language that make one beverage wine and another beer (I’m still puzzled by barley wine) allow for speculation.

Further, wines made with honey are called mead. Since my wine recipe (of my own creation) is based heavily on our spruce honey recipe, one could argue that we’re actually making spruce mead. Further, I assume that I’ll need to sweeten this wine after fermentation finishes, and that will logically be done using some of the spruce syrup I’ve made in the last week. Calling it spruce mead, of course, requires ignoring the widely-held opinion that only bees make honey, so any man made honey is really just thick syrup, not honey at all.

So, while the brew is fermenting, I’m cogitating on what the result might most properly be called: wine, beer, or mead. Hopefully, whatever else, we’ll be able to call it “good.”

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