Microbe Stew does homebrew

You would think that by being a microbiologist I would be tired of doing cultures after spending all week with them. But I get the same satisfaction from completing a successful culture as I do from picking the first home-grown tomato, or taking a cake out of the oven!

So as a weekend hobby, I have started home-brewing, more specifically home winemaking. There are two reasons why I am sticking to wine to start with.


Image: Home wine-making kit

When I was growing up, I helped my dad make homemade wine. It was brilliant. Going out and picking wild fruit in the Vale of York, then transforming it into this living culture, which we had to look after. Along with what I mention in my previous blog post, this early exposure to microbiology also inspired me to follow the area as an undergraduate. So there are aspects of technical familiarity and nostalgia. Also, making wine seems less complicated than making beer (although I am interested in it!). Or to put it from a different perspective, it seems easier to make good wine than good beer!

You need some basic kit, see the image above:


  • Demijohns (fermentation vessels) – i chose 4.5L (1 gallon).
  • Bungs (with a central hole bored through) and an airlock – prevents contamination, while letting carbon dioxide out of the culture.
  • Fermentation bucket – 5 gallons is pretty large for starters.
  • Hydrometer (not a hygrometer) and measuring cylinder – to measure the specific gravity of the culture, and therefore determine the alcohol content.
  • Thermometer – if the culture (must) is too hot, it will kill the yeast.
  • Sieve, muslin cloth, jug and large funnel – for straining the plant material (fruit/veg/flowers etc) out of the culture.
  • Siphon, mixing spoon, potato masher, 6 gallon stainless steel pot.
  • pH indicator paper – yeast prefer growth at lower pH (3-4).
  • Sterilising powder and campden tablets (inhibit bacterial growth in maturing wines).


  • Yeast and yeast nutrient.
  • Citric acid – to decrease the pH if it needs to be more acidic.
  • Tannin – to improve the flavour and help clear the wine.
  • Pectolase – enzyme that degrades fruit pectin, which can make wine cloudy.
  • Finings – used to clear the wine if cloudiness persists.
  • Sugar – converted to alcohol by the yeast.
  • Raisins/grape juice – gives ‘body’ and ‘depth’ to certain wines.

Now this does seem like a lot, but i managed to get all of that kit for approximately £40, so it isn’t the most expensive hobby!

Anyone interested should also get a book on the subject, as i am finding my books invaluable! The one i recommend for new home-brewers is “Traditional Home Winemaking” by Paul and Ann Turner.


My recent wine-making exploits have inspired me to write a post on the wonderful microorganism that is yeast, so look out for that soon.

Thanks for reading!

Microbe Stew


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