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Mead & Winemaking

In carrying on the tradition of my late grandfather, my dad and I make wine at home. In fact my cousin does as well.

After my grandfather passed, I convinced my dad that we should carry on the tradition. What started out as a simple kit wine merlot turned into buying grapes from a local vineyard and using our own crusher/destemmer to process our own wine.

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My dad even converted half of his basement into a temperature controlled wine cellar. The only thing we don’t do is grow the grapes, but I’m still trying to convince my dad to plant some on the hill in his yard.

I made my first batch of bathtub wine in a NYC apartment back in 2003 or 2004 with frozen grape juice concentrate and bread yeast in an empty one-gallon milk container, using a balloon and a rubber band as my air lock. It was a fucking awful, headache-inducing monstrosity.

My dad, meanwhile, had picked up some good equipment. Carboys, primary fermenter buckets, bungs, air locks, siphon tubes, thermometers, acidity testing strips, etc. We used merlot juice that we picked up from a local home brew shop, and the end result was excellent. The early success inspired us to move on to actual grapes instead of juices. My dad’s first attempt with grapes was a pinot noir, notoriously fickle to make a good wine. The resulting wine was the best bottle of pinot I had ever tasted. We still talk about it today. It was absolutely amazing.

Another great batch was my and my wife’s wedding wine favors. We made blackberry merlot for our wedding favors. Awesome.

wedding wine

I like wine just as much as the next guy; I’m not a wine snob, and I usually prefer a beer or cocktail with my meals. Making wine is pretty damn simple though, so it is a great skill to have. The wine you end up with, if you know what you’re doing, is better than most of the store bought crap that you can find for under $100, so it’s worth it to get into this hobby if you are into wine.

Making mead is a very similar process, just cleaner and a little easier. If you don’t know, mead is honey-based wine as opposed to grape-based. The great thing about making mead is that you can really get experimental with the flavors. My first attempt at making mead was one of our best booze making endeavors to date. I used honey, blueberries, rose petals, cinnamon and cloves. It was a really nice spice wine type of drink. Strong and sweet, great for the holidays.

I’m writing this post because I’ve just started another batch of mead, only this time I stuck to just honey and spices. Ten pounds of honey, a bag of spices like star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, black peppercorns and cilantro.


Here’s how you make mead:

First, you boil some water. Then you add the honey into the desired amount of water, skimming off any white scum that forms at the top of the liquid as you go. Since I was going for strong and sweet, I dissolved the honey into three gallons of water (total amount, after honey was added), but you could probably use a ratio of two or two and a half pounds per gallon if you want. Boil for about 30 minutes and then let the liquid cool down so it is no longer boiling/bubbling.




TIP: You may want to put your honey bottles into some hot water so the honey is easier to pour out, and you don’t have to burn your arms while waiting to pour all that honey out over a boiling pot of water and steam.


Sterilize your primary fermenting bucket as per the instructions on your packet of potassium metabisulfite. Don’t be frightened by this step. It’s really just a matter of mixing the power into the water at the right proportion, and then sloshing the water around in your equipment for a little bit. Then dump out and dry it off.


Pour the hot honey water over your bag of spices, which you should secure in a straining bag, and into a primary fermenting container (usually a bucket that you can later secure with an air lock).



Activate some yeast in a separate cup while you wait for your honey boil to drop down to about 120 degrees or less.


At this point you can add your citric acid (3/4 tsp), pectic enzyme (1.5 tsp), yeast nutrient (3 tsp) and any other things you might find that are helpful for the process.


Once it cools down, add your yeast and give the mixture a swirl before closing the bucket and affixing an air lock on the top.


What is an airlock? It’s a gas trap. It allows gas byproduct to escape the container without allowing air to get back in. Think of the toilet or sink J-trap. It essentially prevents the alcohol from turning into vinegar. When gas escapes, the air lock will bubble up, as seen below:


At the peak of fermentation (yeast eating sugars and releasing lees (sediment), alcohol and gas as waste byproducts), this airlock will be rumbling pretty regularly. At first it may take a few days to get started.

Next step is to pretty much wait. Just leave it alone, keeping the bucket in an undisturbed place that is room temperature or slightly more (maybe 70-75 degrees). When the air bubbles pretty much stop, you are ready to siphon the mead off the dregs and into a secondary fermenting container, or carboy. Place a siphon tube down toward the bottom of the bucket without entering the sediment. Raise the bucket high up onto a table, and line up your carboy or secondary fermenter nearby on the floor. Siphon the liquid from bucket to carboy, and then discard the sediment at the bottom of the bucket. Attach an air lock to the carboy and let it stay that way for a month or two.

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If there is more build up of sediment at that time, rack it off again (siphon it off) and into another carboy.


Repeat until the mead no longer drops off any sediment. In the picture below, you’ll see a good three to four inches of sediment at the bottom of the one-gallon carboy. This was my first batch of blueberry rose mead.

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Once you are confident that the fermentation has stopped, you’ve racked your wine/mead off the sediment a few times, and no more sediment is falling out of the liquid, then it is time for bottling and/or, soon enough, drinking!

UPDATED PHOTOS – the brown, murky liquid in one of the above pictures (slightly blurry) has now fermented into this golden-amber beauty:


The liquid was once sticky to the touch, due to the sugar content. All that sugar has now turned into alcohol. The mead is strong, sweet, and comforting.

My father and I racked it off the sediment almost two months to the day after we initially began the project:



Then we added a clarifying agent to pull out some of the remaining suspended sediment:



It is now crystal clear. One more racking and then another period of waiting until we can bottle it up.

Johnny Prime & The Cake Dealer: 15 Minutes of Fame

This week on Thursday August 14th the New York Times featured an article on our move from Long Island back to NYC.

Here’s a quick screen grab of the website:

NYT Article


48" New SportsMonday

And some scanned images of the hard copy, which came out in print on Sunday August 17th:

NYT Article Scan

“For once, no wacky face,” one friend said about me. Haha!


Shula’s overall score: 67


My wife and I decided to give Shula’s a try for their restaurant week menu, and to also take advantage of the 15% off discount for reserving via Savored. As it turned out they wouldn’t let us do both, so we had to ditch the restaurant week option (which seemed lame to me anyway), and my wife had to change her order completely (I was ordering from the regular menu). Check out the review, d-bags.

Flavor: 7

I went with the cowboy ribeye, and my wife had a shellfish trio (see below). The ribeye was okay. It was cooked to the right done-ness, but it lacked a crisp outer coating, and was a little short on seasoning. Long story short, you can pull this place from your list of “go to” restaurants unless you are looking to cash in on a deal.

ribeye: waiter asked me to cut into it to check for proper cooking

Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 9

There’s a lot of beef on the menu here, and it’s all “premium black angus,” according to the menu. Under the Shula cuts they have two sizes of filet, two strips (NY and Kansas City – or boneless and bone-in), two sized of porterhouse, and the ribeye. All the bases are covered well, but they also offer some beefy entrees too, like prime rib, Filet Oscar (with crab meat and hollandaise), and Steak Mary Anne (two small filets with peppercorn sauce). There’s a surf & turf too. I took a point because the preparation hindered the quality, in my opinion.

Portion Size & Plating: 8

The Shula steak cuts are solid: 8 and 12oz filets; 16 and 20oz strips; 24 and 48oz porterhouses; and a 22oz ribeye. For the price, these are above average sizes. Well played. However, the appetizer portions seemed to be on the small and overpriced side. On the other hand, the sides and desserts were properly portioned.

Price: 8

Check out the bill below; not too bad. All the steaks are under $50 (except the 48oz porterhouse), but the ribeye wasn’t top notch, so make your own assessment on value here. They offer sauces for the steaks at $2 a pop, but I wasn’t really interested in trying any… except maybe the red pepper chimichurri. The appetizers were a little pricey and on the small side, as I mentioned above. $17 for two scallops? Fuck that.

Bar: 5

The bar here was small and unimpressive – certainly not the kind of place to hang out in. The martini was good, but one of the olives had a half of a pit still in it. I almost busted a tooth.

Specials and Other Meats: 6

On special, Shula’s had nada, zip, zero. For non-beef meat, they only had two chicken preparations (one skinless, the other not), and a lamb porterhouse. Perhaps one or two other dishes would round this category out a little better. The restaurant week special, which we didn’t order from, is pictured below. Who the fuck wants a 5oz filet? Pussies and broads? This is a FOOTBALL restaurant for Christ’s sake. Get rid of the motherfucking 5oz scraps and keep it real.

restaurant week 2012 menu: $35

Apps, Sides & Desserts: 5

We started with the oysters. They were good, and came with a nice cocktail sauce, but there was no horseradish served with them; instead I got a large hair on my plate, and some of the oysters were still connected to the shell. We also had the blackened scallops. They were overpriced but cooked well. However they were accompanied by a mediocre-at-best mango salsa that reminded us of something we’d have at Applebees. Bastards. My wife had the shellfish trio app for her entree (half of a small lobster tail, two shrimp, and some lump crab meat). It was decent, but I thought a little skimpy for $29. The lobster tail was certainly not the Maine varietal based on its “extra jumbo shrimp” sizing. For sides we had creamed spinach, which tasted like frozen chopped spinach to me, with a touch of cream and some shaved Parmesan on top. Bland. We also tried the crab meat mac and cheese. This was better, but would have been great if the crab meat was mixed into the dish instead of just put on top, if they put more bread crumbs on top, and if they added salt or a bit more cheese to it. In other words, it too was somewhat of a disappointment. For dessert we had key lime pie. No complaints there; it was pretty good.

Seafood Selection: 7

A good amount of seafood graces the menu here. For apps they have lobster bisque, blackened scallops, shrimp cocktail, BBQ shrimp, seared tuna, lump crab meat, fried calamari, a shellfish trio, and oysters. A solid showing. On the entree menu they offer a fish of the day (prepared one of several ways), seared scallops, crab cakes, and lobster tails. Point off for not having a full lobster on the menu, and two points off for the lackluster performance on the shellfish trio app (pictured below).

Service: 6

The service here was odd. We made a reservation for 5:30. The restaurant was pretty much empty, yet we were seated way in the back on a very small table for two. We were also approached twice regarding what kind of water we wanted. The table cloth on my side of the table was either stained or dirty, as I mentioned my oyster plate had hair instead of horseradish, and there was just way too much shit on the ridiculously small table when we were seated. Here’s a list: Four empty wine glasses (two for water, two for wine), my wife’s wine glass from the bar, my martini glass, the Shula football (which has the signature steaks listed on one portion of the pigskin – see pic below – an interesting touch but not needed), salt & pepper shakers, two menus, two restaurant week menus (which my wife was not permitted to order from since we were using a 15% off coupon via Savored), a book of wines by the bottle, a candle, silverware, napkins, and the flatware. All of this remained with us until the waiter took our order, and even after that we had to move the two extra wine glasses to a nearby empty table ourselves. I was barely able to see my wife’s face for 15 minutes after being seated. Just a reminder: the table was SMALL – REALLY FUCKIN’ SMALL. I’m talking 7 sq. ft. at maximum: seats for two at McDonald’s are bigger than this shit. Other than that the bread was good: a pre-sliced loaf of warm, crispy, fresh sourdough.

Ambiance: 6

Shula’s is part of the Westin hotel in NYC. It’s located on the mezzanine floor of the building, overlooking NOTHING… There are no windows in the restaurant. It has dark wood walls, dim lights, and football images all over the place (Don Shula is a hall of fame coach, and former corner back), but it is elegantly decorated. The building sits just on top of the A,C,E subway lines at the 42nd street stop, so you can feel the room shake when one passes by underneath. The bathroom was completely out of the way… no… completely out of the restaurant. I had to go up a flight of stairs, out into the elevator bank, past the hotel bar, and into the lobby to use the bathroom. On the bright side, it was large, clean, and all marble.

The Westin New York at Times Square
270 W. 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036