Sunday, 30 June 2013

just for the taste of it

One of the things I enjoy in life is drinking wine. Paradoxically it seems one of the things I don't like in life is getting drunk. There is of course "non-alcoholic" wine in the supermarkets, but that not only is way too sweet for my tastes, it hardly tastes like wine. Perhaps its good enough for tea totalling aunties who've never drunk or enjoyed wine (or even been drunk), but its not to my tastes.

Initially I tried a few bottles of the commercial de-alcoholised wines, and while they weren't bad there was a few problems with the issue:
  1. the range is very limited
  2. the prices are higher than regular wines
  3. they don't really taste that good
  4. I don't need zero alcohol in the wine

Aside from getting drunk, one of the other negative aspects of drinking wine frequently is that alcohol has more energy per mass than sugar (yes, it makes you fat). Dry red wines have less residual sugars anyway, so by reducing the alcohol in the wine I can drink a natural tasty product that is low in calories. Its a win win situation.

Taking the alcohol out of wine

Strangely there is little or next to nothing written about this topic on the internet (strangely everyone is on about making alcoholic drinks cheaper ... whacko). So I thought I'd do my little bit (or a couple of Kb) to redress that situation.

Pareto Principle - Getting 80% of the benefits for 20% of the effort

Initially I was thinking that I'd go for vacuum distillation, but I thought : "why not give it a go on the stove first". As you probably know alcohol boils at ~78°C (172°F for those of you mired in that strange anachronism by Daniel that I'm sure even he is well and truly over), but as the air pressure goes down it boils at lower temperature (as does water and most other liquids).

Well anyway, back to the stove method, it is not just a matter of raising the temperature to 78°C, because there are a few issues in the chemistry:
  1. adding anything into the alcohol changes its boiling point a little (raising it)
  2. getting all the alcohol out is even harder than it would seem(lets not make this a chemistry lesson)
But some people (me included) worry about what effect higher temperatures may have on the wine (and we're all probably familiar with mulled wine which I wasn't after either). So to protect the wine from "harsh high temperatures" the companies which de-alcoholise the wine use vacuum distillation (well partial vacuum). But as that's not what I am intending to do I thought that I would:
  • use the thermometer to determine the temperature accuratel
  • raise the temperature to the boiling point then move carefully until I saw it gassing off the alcohol
  • cool the wine as rapidly as possible to thus minimise the time at the high temperature.
We all know that "cooking" is not just temperatre, its temperature at time (as anyone who has cooked a soup will know), so minimizing the time was something that I thought was important here.

So with a plan in mind off I went to the shop to buy the cheapest bottle of red plonk I could find, came home and pulled out my trusty thermometer and had a go.

The results surprised me so much that I'm almost given up on the idea of vacuum distillation now.

So for those who are keen to try it at home themselves I'll share my methods.
What you'll need:
  • a thermometer that's accurate
  • a shallow dish big enough to hold a bottle of wine
  • a stove to heat it with
  • another pot to tip it into (which for better effect could be whacked in the freezer for a while first)
  • a funnel
The plan is to take the wine as quickly as possible up to the boiling point of alcohol in the wine, boil off as much as I can then chill it back to "room temperature". Below is a quick video (time lapse) of my process, which takes 10 minutes.

So to explain a few things seen in that video:
  • shallow dish maximiszes the heat transfer and thus minimises the time its needed to be at a higher temperature
  • the other pot is cooler thus takes an amount of heat off straight away
  • I used an ice-cream maker which was frozen to -20°C to then even more rapidly take it down in temperature
  •  reduce the heat as soon as it starts steaming off the alcohol and hold it there for a few minutes (I took mine up to 82°C but it started gassing off the alcohol at about 79°C).
  • An audible "pre boiling hiss" could be head from the pan just like when boiling water in a kettle.
After the process the volume of the wine in the bottle (after distillation) has dropped by about 80ml. This suggests to me that (assuming most of what was lost was the alcohol) the alcoholic content has dropped to something like 4%. Given that it started at ~12% alcohol by volume that's not bad.

Drinking the result has shown me that it is much lower in alcohol (about equal to beer) as I can drink half a bottle and hardly feel any alcohol effects (less than were I to drink the same amount of beer). Moreover as I drink the wine more slowly (in a wine glass as if it was wine, not in a big glass as I do beer) I end up drinking my half bottle over a period of some hours.

So now I can have a glass of wine when I get home, have a top up while preparing dinner and a glass with dinner, and perhaps a glass in the evening during a movie and have had less alcohol than a beer.

Even better ... cheap wines actually taste better done this way than they did straight out of the bottle, the process must drive off some other things (sulphates, preservatives ...) that seems to make it less harsh.

win win if you ask me


Charles Maclauchlan said...

Interesting. Never thought heating it would do anything positive. I never found any of the non-alcohol drinks to be worthwhile. Glad it's working for you (even if you do have to deal with all that "sellsius" feldercarb.

Noons said...

Cheap wines have so many sulfur-based preservatives I fully understand how this would actually improve their taste! I've got a few bottles around that would definitely benefit from this, gotta give it a try. Thanks for the details.