Connoisseur creates, beer and wine from his garden

NEIGHBORS

August 18, 1994|By MICHELLE HOFFMAN

Charles Smith is a connoisseur of fine wines and beer. But he is looking not as much for a rare vintage as he is for chemical purity.

Discouraged by the extensive list of chemical additives in commercial beer and wine, his quest for healthful, chemical-free and tasty beverages has led him to home brewing.

The organic gardener keeps a copy of an article from Zymurgy, a magazine for home brewers, listing 52 additives, including formaldehyde, that may be used by large breweries to produce and preserve commercially made beer.

"I like beer, there's no getting around it," he said. "But my gosh, they're killing me with kindness."

Mr. Smith began making his own beer and wine at home -- in the 4300 block of Brown Road just north of Taneytown -- because he found he could make it without adding chemicals he felt were unnecessary and unhealthful.

He also discovered that home brew also has a longer shelf life than commercially made beer. Generally, over-the-counter beer has a shelf life of about six months.

Mr. Smith drank his brew after as long as a three-year wait. He said he met another home brewer who was still drinking it after 10 years. "It just keeps getting better," he said of its maturity.

American light, so named because of its color, is his favorite beer. He has made amber and dark beers, but enjoys the American light best. It is the one he recommends trying for first-time home brewers because of its taste and popularity with seasoned as well as new home brewers.

Of the peach, strawberry, mulberry, black raspberry and other wines made from the fruits grown on his farm, rhubarb wine is Mr. Smith's favorite. The most exotic wine he has made is from home grown figs.

It takes about a year to make homemade wine. First, fruit is crushed, and care is taken not to crush the seeds. With grapes, for instance, ground seeds will make the wine bitter.

Then the juice is pressed out of the fruit. The pulp is allowed to ferment in a wine-making sack. When the fruit has fermented, water is added. After each step, the wine must be poured into a clean container called a carboy, where it is allowed to ferment.

Mr. Smith does not filter his wine; he believes that takes something out of it.

Instead, he pours it from carboy to carboy, a process called racking, until it is clear. He likes the robust taste of this product.

There are also wine kits on the market that take 30 days to prepare. Mr. Smith said, "It makes a very acceptable wine to drink in 30 days, and it does improve with age."

Although he makes his own beverages, he does occasionally buy a bottle of wine when at a social gathering or when he travels.

Mr. Smith has been a home brewer for the past 16 years. Mr. Smith home brews primarily as a personal hobby, but he does sell the equipment and kits and provide information as well.

In 1978, the Congress passed a law allowing private citizens to home brew up to 100 gallons each of beer and wine in one year, and married couples could make up to 200 gallons for personal use.

If someone asks him what kind of beer he recommends, he said, he first finds out what kind of commercially made beer the person likes: light, amber or dark. From there, he will recommend two or three home brew brands.

"I've tried 30, 40 or 50 of them in the past 12 years myself," he said. "I get so much pleasure in saying 'I made this.' It's so much more fun than buying it.

"I've become an authority on beer and wine of sorts," he said. He keeps a set of reference books on hand, though, in case his customers need assistance. "I prefer to go to them instead of going off the top of my head," he said.

In a sales catalog Mr. Smith uses, there are hundreds of brands of beer and wine listed, a taste meant to please any palate.

"For making beer and wine, there is a method available for every pocketbook, economist as well as spendthrift," he said of the affordability of the hobby.

Many people seek Mr. Smith's assistance with home brewing. He cited a couple who love to make wine but do not have much space in their small apartment. Each day, they take the bulky, heavy carboys out of their shower so they can bathe.

Another couple has tried more than 60 kinds of beer. Although there was only one kind they did not like, he said, they drank it anyway.

A tip he gives to beer makers is to use two-liter bottles with either the green or black plastic bottoms. It saves space when bottling beer and keeps it just as fresh, since the pressure of the beer head fills the bottle and does not allow oxygen in.

On Sept. 17 and 18, Mr. Smith will be selling equipment and supplies at the Wine Festival, which will be held as usual at the Carroll County Farm Museum. Literature will be available, and Mr. Smith is primed to answer questions about homemade beverages.

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