There are so many gadgets available for the home brewer and I freely admit that I have bought quite a few of them. Sometimes I even end up with the right gadget at the right time and that is how I felt about the vinometer.

Using the vinometer is easy. First, position the cupped end upright. Next, add about a milliliter of wine or cider to the cup and wait until drops begin to work their way out of the bottom of the tube. Finally, invert and watch the column of fluid drop until it stops then read the alcohol percentage from the scale.

Easy right? Well, there is one one catch. The vinometer really only works accurately for dry wines. I also have had luck using it with dry ciders where the SG is at or under 1.000. It works by capillary action where the specific gravity and surface tension cause the column of the liquid being measured to drop until an equilibrium is achieved. Alcohol lowers surface tension, so the higher the alcohol content, the further the column drops down the tube. Any residual sugars will cause your readings to be low as the sugar will increase the surface area. This makes it not so handy for beer, but certainly can be helpful for country wine, cider and perry where getting an accurate initial SG can be challenging due to the fruit solids in the must.

Fruit Brews

Back in late July or early August, I visited some friends who have a pear tree that they insisted was overloaded with fruit. I brought some buckets, laughing at the idea that we’d fill even one. My neighbor has a pear tree, after all, and it’s a squirrel salad bar for much of the summer. No fruit makes it to the ground unchewed.

We pulled 100 pounds of pears off that tree, which wasn’t close to what it had on it, under it, and all around it. Apparently raccoons have taken to spending their evenings in the higher branches, noisily munching away.

I turned this into to two batches. I juiced 45 pounds of fruit, added 4 pounds of white sugar, boiled to sanitize, then put it into a carboy with Montrachet wine yeast. That batch finished fermentation in under a week and is clearing in secondary. I’m hoping to put it in bottles early next year.

The second batch was 55# of fruit, 4# sugar, a one-hour boil, and Centennial hops thrown in… because I love Centennial. I pitched Safale-05 (I think) ale yeast and it fermented for a month or more. I was finally able to bottle the “pear beer” a little over a week ago, on September 6.

I tasted it on bottling day, and again last night. Verdict: The hops weren’t necessary, and are likely to make it unpalatable to a lot of cider fans who don’t care for beer. It’s an odd mixture of flavors – not bad, but not immediately delicious either.

So next summer, when we pull another 100# of fruit off of the pear tree (fingers crossed!), instead of hops, my pear cider will sit on cinnamon and clove for a while, and will be a delectable, gluten-free Christmas cider.