I noticed lots of ripe pokeberries on plants around town this past week. My first batch had stopped fermenting and has been resting in the refridgerator for the last few days. I want this ink thing to work out well and was thinking that I should not have added water to the first batch – it will dilute the final liquid a bit. I also thought I should have been a bit more scientific in my approach on adding sugar to the first batch. I don’t have a method to measure the final alcohol level in the batch. If it’s too low (or the sugar level is too high) the liquid could spoil. Time to do another batch.
It took about half an hour Saturday morning to fill two shopping bags with pokeberry clusters. About 90% of the berries were ripe on the two plants I visited. Destemming my haul left 7 pounds of berries. I have a hydrometer from my old wine and beer making days and used that to measure the specific gravity of the mashed berries – 1.060. Using the common assumptions you make when measuring grape must, that would give me a final alcohol of about 8%. That’s not enough. I added cane sugar (sucrose) in 1/4 cup increments while checking the SG after each addition. Three additions (3/4 cup) brought it up to 1.102 or a potential alcohol of 13%. That should be plenty. For this batch I also used a Champagne yeast which can go to a higher final alcohol level and should ferment out all the sugar. It was bubbling about an hour after the dried yeast was added. I’m letting it sit at room temperature while fermenting to help extract color, another assumption from grape fermentation. Once it’s done I’ll put it in the fridge to “cold stabilize.” That will let the solids drop out, precipitate any tartaric acid(they may not be any) and also let the alcohol work to extract a little more color before I strain out the ink.
While all that’s happening I get to start thinking about the fun part of the project – naming the ink and figuring out packaging. This whole thing was inspired by Bad Monkey Juice black walnut ink produced by the students and faculty at the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas. Their name selection has set up a great precedent.