Thursday, March 05, 2015

Beverages from Sorghum.

A short while ago I wrote a post called Thingsto do with Sorghum. Sorghum flour and sorghum molasses are very versatile indeed, but there is more to the crop than providing a mere baking ingredient.

For a short while in the mid-nineteenth century in America, there was interest in the concept of sorghum wine. Some, (sorghum growers presumably) waxed lyrical about it as a serious competitor to wine from grapes, but others were violently of the opposite persuasion. Entrepreneurs had a go at making their fortunes with it of course, and one of those hopefuls must have been A.Myers of Springfield, Ohio. In 1863, Myers applied for a patent for his ‘improved sorghum-wine, and the details may be of interest to those of you who like to make your own beverages (for the others amongst you, scroll down a bit further for another beverage.)

Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 37,424, dated January 13, 1863; antedated July 23, 1862To all whom it may concern: Be it known that I, A. MYERS, of Springfield,in the county of Clarke and State of Ohio, have invented a new and improved preparation from the juice of the Chinese sugar-cane or sorghum, which preparation I denominate Sorghum-Wine; and I do hereby that the following is a full, clear, and exact description of the same. This invention is in a new article of manufacture obtained from the juice of sugar-cane grown in northern latitudes, known as the Chinese sugar-cane, Sorgo sucrc, Holcus saccharatus, and African imphee, by condensing said juice by evaporation to a sweetness of from 15 to 25 Baum, more or less, and putting it into casks or barrels or vats, where it is left to complete the vinous fermentation, from whence it is drawn of in a proper time and put into new or clean barrels or bottled, ready for the market. To enable others skilled in the manufacture to fully understand my invention, I will proceed to describe the process which I have followed with success. The juice of the cane-stalk is expressed in the ordinary way. The juice is evaporated to a density of from 15 to 25 Baum, more or less, carefully observing not to use any neutralizing agents; or I can use the sirup after it has been reduced by evaporation to a commercial density, and dilute it by adding softwater such as rain-water or water containing but a small solution of lime-to a density of from 15 to 25 Baum, and obtain the same results, being careful to procure sirup which has not been neutralized and has been grown in northern latitudes. I also use the skimmings and washings from the evaporating-pan for the same purpose, clearing it by settling or boiling, then reducing it to a common density, as above described, treating also as above. By this use of skimmings and waste I save in valuable and nutritious wine an amount equal to the cost of manufacturing the sirup. This juice is then placed away in a shed, room, or cellar where the temperature is about 70 or 80 Fahrenheit, when itis allowed to go through the vinous fermentation, which will be completed in from seven to twenty days, according to the degree and regularity of the temperature. These casks must be kept full, that the ferment may work over, or if put up quite pure may be fermented by the siphon process. To assist this fermentaion I use a portion of the white scum which arises in the evaporation. When the vinous fermentation is completed the barrels, &c., are bunged up tight and placed in a cellar where the temperature is uniform at about 60 Fahrenheit, where they should remain two or three months, when they should be drawn off and put into new or clean barrels or bottles, then placed into a room or cellar where they can have the advantage of a temperature of about 80 Fahrenheit. The wine here should have no air, but be firmly bunged or corked. The effect of this temperature has to do with the ripening and settling of the wine, when in a short time it will become clear as distilled spirits. It can now be drawn off again, if desired. It is improved by removing it from the lees. It will now improve rapidly by age. The color of the wine can be varied to any shade desired by burning a portion of the sirup in any ordinary iron pot, then diluting the burned mass by water, then using more or less of this burned sirup, as it may suit the fancy. I do not claim these specific times only in fermentation. I may vary them according to cirstances, as the wine may need. The fragrance of this wine is similar to old Madeira, its flavor so similar that the best judges will readily take it either for Madeira or sherry, the majority ranking it as Madeira. The wine is perfectly healthful and agreeable to the stomach, affording in the disease of dyspepsia or weak stomach an agreeable and excellent medicine. It is obvious that the per cent. of alcohol in the wine will vary according to the degree of sweetness of the juice when first put away for fermentation. It will also depend on the completeness of the fermentation. I have found the per cent. of alcohol to be about seventy-five per cent. of the degree of sweetness. For instance, 8 sweetness will yield six per cent. of alcohol. 16 sweetness will yield twelve per cent. alcohol. 20 sweetness will yield sixteen per cent alcohol. Thus by making my wine originally 15 or more in sweetness I secure a per cent. of alcohol in the wine equal to the best Madeira. By securing this per cent. of alcohol to the wine it is capable of more exposure than any other ordinary grape-wine, can resist the elements of destruction incident to commerce, and by experience 1 have found it capable of more expos ure than any other wine without receiving any perceptible damage.It is believed that the extensive use and manufacture of this wine will conduce greatly to the health of the people and to the cause of saving millions of money to the United States.The same wine can be made in a similar manner from any of the varieties of sugar-cane grown in the United States.I do not wish to claim or be understood as claiming the manufacture of a fermented cider or drink resembling wine, spoken of by H. S. Olcottein his treatise on sorghum and imphee, where it is directed to ferment the juice from a degree of sweetness of 8, 10 or 12, or where the juice has been previously neutralized by lime or any other neutralizing agency, or where the fermentation is arrested at any time, either previous to or after fermentation, by the use of neutralizers. Nor do I wish to claim that kind of fermented drink made in the South from the juice of the cane, all this having been long since known; but the wine produced by my process is similar in flavor and fragrance to that imported from the Madeira Islands and France, known as Madeira and sherry wines.

Sorghum wine is not, however, as far as I am aware, available for sale in any of the regular bottle shops or bars in America today (or Britain, or Australia) so it is to be presumed that the mass of the public were not convinced that it is similar in flavor and fragrance to Madeira and sherry wines.

Coffee was in short supply in the Southern USA during the civil war, and many substitutes were tried and promoted, and sorghum was one of the alternatives tried. From The Southern Banner (Athens, Georgia) of March 15, 1865, we have:

Substitutes for Coffee.

Editor Southern Cultivator:--Nobody has had more occasion to mourn over the blockade than that numerous and highly respectable class, the coffee topers. Many an one would cheerfully munch his dry crusts at breakfast, if he could wash them down with the cheering beverage which used, in former times, to atone for the short-comings of cooks and fortify him against a day of vexations. For the stimulating property to which both tea and coffee owe their chief value, there is unfortunately no substitute; the best we can do is to dilute the little stocks which still remain, and cheat the palate, if we cannot deceive the nerves. The best substitute which we have yet found for either tea or coffee, is plenty of good, rich milk, which is at least nutritive, if not stimulating. But alas! the price of butter plainly tells that milk is almost as scarce as coffee, and many persons want something hot to drive off the fogs of the morning. After many unsatisfactory trials of rye, wheat, corn, potatoes, okra, acorns, and almost everything else that can be purchased, we have found in molasses, we will not say a *substitute* for, but an adulteration of coffee, which leaves but little to be desired, *but the stimulus.* Don't be alarmed, Mr. Editor, we are not about to propose "long sweetening." Molasses when boiled down until it scorches, is converted into an intensely bitter substance, called by chemists caramel. Our method is to put a quart or more of sorghum syrup into any convenient vessel, and stew it down over a slow fire, as if making candy, stirring constantly until the syrup is burnt black; then pour it out into a greased plate to cool. The blackish porous mass thus obtained is pounded, when quite cold, in an iron mortar. We mix it with twice its bulk of ground coffee, and use a teaspoonful of this mixture for each person; thus one teaspoonful of caramel and two of coffee will make six cups of a beverage which, as far as taste is concerned, is far preferable to pure Rio coffee. The burnt molasses or caramel, attracts moisture when exposed to the air, and must, therefore, be kept in a close vessel. It would be well, for the same reason, to prepare it in small quantities. If the molasses is burnt too much, it is reduced to charcoal and loses all taste. By the way, though a very simple matter, many housekeepers do not know that it is perfectly easy to clear coffee by adding a small quantity of cold water, just as it "comes to a boil." CHEMICUS

1 comment:

Grant Read said...

Actually, you can probably buy Sorghum "wine" in your local Chinese store. Look for Baijiu or Kaoliang. The stuff I've used is "mei kuei lu chiew", aka "rose wine". Its very cheap, and intended for cooking: flavoured with rose petals and quite salty. One reads that the better grades are more palatable, although sometimes "challenging" to the Western palate.. and/or wallet. All are quite strong, though, at 40-60% alcohol, so not exactly "wine", despite what the label may say in English (if any).