घर की मुर्गी दाल बराबर
(Home cooked chicken is like any ordinary gravy)
A fine cuisine is supposed to be simultaneously consumed by all senses and not just by the tongue. A story for the ears, a catchy label/ packaging for the eyes, aromas for the nose and a bottle to touch will evaluate our fermentation before anybody tastes them. A typical reader of this book would have already spent 10-20 hours learning about the fermentation process, a couple of hours researching on Google. It would be criminal to not take the efforts to make it look presentable.
At IIM Lucknow, my marketing professor talked about cultural bias and how difficult it is to break them. Indians have no qualms over-consuming chai from a roadside vendor because they believe that boiling will kill all bacteria. However, they do not give the same liberal benefit of the doubt to dairy products or beverages served chilled. I have had great beers and wines that were packaged in recycled soda PET bottles and were labeled with pencil scribbled on a paper tape. These are practical but would invoke a safety & hygiene fear in the minds of the uninitiated customer.
Home brew is often confused with Desi-Daru (illicit country distilled liquor) and the demonized media image of methanol poisoning. Even though wine and beer making does not produce methanol, the brewer is often asked about methanol. This makes the presentation even more important to overcome the safety and hygiene concerns of the friends.
Thanks to the modern technology & digital printing, now packaging is not so difficult either. However, what makes the home brew party successful is a good mesmerizing story where our passion oozes out. A simple narration of how we were inspired, a history of the beverage you fermented, the challenges faced and innovative work-around you devised is all that audience needs to truly appreciate the effort we have put in.
The previous 9 chapters of this book were on perfecting the art of home brewing. This chapter is more abstract and focused on the aesthetics and eloquence required to win the hearts of one’s patrons and friends.
Bottling and Labeling
Some people like to paint their labels, while others take a digital print. Do remember that the bottle will make a few trips in and out of the refrigerator before being consumed. Hence, please use waterproof labels and glue that can survive condensation. Avoid regular inkjet printers and poster colors/ watercolors. Instead, use laser printers and acrylic colors. Laser-cut and vinyl stickers, the transparent plastic stickers, and frosted stickers are gaining popularity for wines bottles as it allows the color of the beverage to be incorporated in the artwork. Work with the nearby digital print shop to explore more of these options.
The second thing about labels is the alignment. All labels at the same height and stuck in a horizontal line diligently is always pleasing. Adhesive sticker labels makes the life easier. One friend of mine made a jig from a block of wood to ensure a consistent height. Another friend used a red laser pointer (one used in presentations) to make a visual guide for alignment.
The third thing is the water level. It always looks professional to have all the bottles filled to the same height. The easiest way to achieve this is through a bottle filling wand. It essentially is a pipe that will fill the bottle from the base (hence lesser oxidation) and when the pipe is removed, it causes equal levels via negative displacement (chapter 43).
Fourth get the right bottles. Serving wines in crown caps or beers in a soda bottle might confuse people. Some people prefer swing top bottles but I personally prefer reused 330ml beer bottles and crown caps. Do not serve tasters in 650ml bottles, craft food should be served in small servings.
Fifth, please attach labels after filling the bottle and sealing it. This way the accidental spillage and handling will not damage the labels.
For sanitizing bottles, I am listing a few hacks:
- In a big steel pot/ cylinder, put as many bottles (filled with room temperature water) and boil them. It is easy for small scale production is convenient but takes a lot of time. Glass cracks when heated or cooled too rapidly, hence 45 minutes to heat and five hours to cool is recommended. A pressure cooker as a boiling pot can achieve the industrial level of sterilization, needed for competition or aging experiments.
- Keeping a stack of bottles inverted in a dishwasher or a jet, which cleans & disinfects the insides of the bottles. A simple water pump and a plastic bottle crate can be customized to make a jet cleaner.
- In a two-stage wash (each bottle separately), the first stage uses a strong cleaner (bleach, acid, lye, potassium permanganate or strong laundry detergent). Soak the bottles for a couple of hours. This soaking will remove any grime, oil, glue, labels or hard to clean residues. In the second stage, use a food-grade disinfectant (iodine solution, hydrogen peroxide, etc.) to get rid of trace residues of the chemicals used in the first stage. This also reduces the amount of handling (brushing, scrubbing and rinsing) that one has to undergo in a single step de-labeling and sterilization.
- Batch cleaning. Recommended for those cleaning ~50-100 bottles per sitting. The biggest challenge in washing is to prevent any wet glass bottle from slipping and breaking. Remember glass pieces are sharp and very difficult to scoop out from a wet tank. Hence in batch cleaning, it is advisable to put bottles in crates.
Sealing and capping is also important and should not be underestimated. If the liquid is not properly sealed, it will drip out and also introduce oxidation. If the crimping of crown-caps was not proper, the bottle will not hold pressure and not produce the head needed to pour a perfect pint. Screw caps from reused PET soda bottles are functional but not aesthetically pleasing.
Wine corks are lovely but if improperly done, it can introduce cork taints. It is best to soak them in Campden solution for a couple of hours before corking. This way the wood has been disinfected and the cork becomes smooth and slippery enough to be slid on to the bottle. The corked wines need to be stored at a slant so that the cork does not dry out. The micro-oxidation from the porous cork also mellows down the astringency and brings out the more subtle bouquet of flavors. If corking is too much of a hassle, opt for silicone plugs that can seal the regular bottle.
After sealing the bottle, it might be a good idea to put in a tamper-proof seal/ cover just like the commercial bottles. There are heat shrink caps available. These plastic sleeves when heated (using steam from a kettle or hot air from a hairdryer) shrink and take the contour of the bottleneck. This makes it visually pleasing. You can also try to fabricate the same using a kitchen cling wrap. Another way to seal is to use molten sealing wax or lacquer. There are multiple options to help improve the presentation of the bottle. After all the hard work put in by the team should show up in the final bottle aesthetics.
Kegs & Barrels
Cleaning & sanitizing a few dozen bottles is one of the most dreaded job for any home brewer. A 20-liter keg comes handy. In addition, it becomes a novelty and life of the party when served. Rather than cleaning 60 individual glass bottles, one can wash and sanitize one keg for the entire party. When not in use, just fill the keg with a disinfectant to the brim and let it stay in the attic.
Many enthusiasts also inquire about oak barrels. While these are beauties but not everyone is mentally prepared for their upkeep.
- Firstly, barrels are good for 3-4 years, after which the tannins are completely leached out. So it is not a piece of permanent furniture or equipment but a consumable.
- Secondly, wood being a porous substance is difficult to sanitize. Industrially, a Sulphur candle cleaning, followed by scraping and baking them over fire pits are used to clean them. For a hobbyist, this might be too much effort and not worth the pains if we are planning to do it in a small scale.
- Thirdly, one needs to constantly monitor the liquid levels in the kegs and replenish the evaporation losses. (Angel’s share)
- Fourth, you need to keep beeswax handy. As the temperature varies, the wood will expand or contract causing it to leak. Stainless steel nails and beeswax help plug those holes and keep drip wastage to minimum.
- Fifth, the small Oak barrels will have too high surface area for its volume. As a result, you will witness accelerated aging and probably excessive woody oak tannins.
- Sixth, many people try salvaging the used whiskey barrels. This is a terrible idea, as the spirit leaches all the flavors away and leaving behind a funky residual flavor.
- Seventh, nowadays toasted Oak chips are available commercially. These inexpensive ‘use and throw chips’ can be added in measured quantities in the batch and can be removed once the optimal levels are reached. I find 1-3gms per liter over a 4 week contact time to be optimal (more in red wines and less in cask-aged beers or white wines). The global industry has transformed. Oak chips in SS kegs are phasing out barrels. Now only wood in the winery and brewery is for display and marketing videos only.
कान् पृच्छामः सुराः स्वर्गे निवसामो वयं भुवि ।किं वा काव्यरसस्स्वादुः किं वा स्वादीयसी सुधा ॥
(The Demigods live in heaven and we live on earth. Whom shall we ask? Is the essence of poetry better or is the taste of divine nectar?)
There are five senses that seek satiation. Your fermented beverage, packaging, and the ambiance have taken care of four of them. Ears are the fifth and the most vital of the perception, which is often underutilized in hobby food crafts. Whether it is the unveiling of a brand new car or your latest dish, prepare a 30-minute monologue talking about your inspiration, background, and significance.
Remember ‘Ethos, Pathos and Logos’ from Aristotle’s rhetorical.
Ethos: The recipe and the brewer needs to have significant credentials, authority, or experience to be considered amazing. Do not be shy to give an outlandish name to your beverage and talk about the history of a culture that inspired you. Don’t be modest to talk about the prizes, bragging rights, and feedback you have received.
Pathos: The beverage should be able to emotionally connect with the patrons. Talk about it as if the drink has a persona, a mind, and a personality of its own. A touching story, a few witty lines, and connection with the décor and aura of the setting are important.
Logos: Have logic and a differentiation. Talk about its ingredients, how the beverage is unique, exclusive, and different from anything they have ever tasted earlier. Health benefits, use of quality organic ingredients, the unique blend of flavors and aromas, etc. are some of the aspects that can be elaborated.
It is your party and as long as the tap is flowing, you have the limelight. So do not be shy or modest. Humility is a virtue but is not the best cap to be worn by the host of this unique party. Most chefs are good cooks but better orators and best at making the connection with people. Today people are bombarded with choices and are desensitized by exposure to jazzy advertisements and tall claims. Hence, even at an amateur level, making a connection with friends requires one to put an effort. Titillate their grey cells through your presentation, background story, and be prepared for a standing ovation.