February 24, 2013

With everything currently in progress in secondary ferment, things are gong to be a little slower. Not much to report on the actual fermenting – things are pretty much as could be expected: braggot, strawberry melomel and mead all happily bubbling.

Since I had 12 new bottles ready (from yesterday) and nowhere to put them, plus an issue with some moldy boxes from some cork-blows earlier in the fall, I decided yesterday to go out and get one of the square nook organizers. I stayed up into the wee-hours this morning putting it together, then much of this afternoon filling it. The squares are not quite the right size for good placement but strips of 4×1 board (along with some other scrap pieces) worked nicely to adjust the size problem. I’m not ecstatic about the results (nor the fact that some of the decorative baskets I purchased were completely useless for storing wine bottles), but it will do for the moment. I’d like to design some shelving of my own – maybe with some internet help. But not today. And probably not this week.

So, new homes for the bottles meant moving all the bottles – something I was quite fearful of. Not that the wine I have already stored up is the best. It is indicative of many mistakes trying things out at the start, and shows a bit of impatience on my part. Too much sediment can hopefully be overcome, and hopefully does not ruin the product. In any case, I was successful in moving all but one bottle. Well, it moved fine, but a couple hours later was found blown.

The one bottle was one of my half-sweetened apple wines from the fall (not this recent batch of apple wine from frozen apple juice concentrate). Actually, I’m quite surprised it hadn’t already blown. The cork had been near 3/4″ out of the bottle top for months now. I guess the agitation was the final straw. Oh, well.

So that’s it, save for providing some pictures of my wine’s new home:

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February 23, 2013

A bit of Korean martial arts, some weekend-after-school activities, and a bit of bottling, and here I am to record the day’s activities!

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With no visible activity after the addition of sugar and potassium sorbate, today was the day to bottle both the mint and the apple wine. I started by sanitizing bottles. While waiting a ten minutes for the sanitizing solution to finish, I added two drops of green food coloring to the gallon of mint, and stirred gently. A beautiful light green. Nothing ridiculously bold; no forest greens or lime greens. But as suggested by the recipe author, the green does help out a rather muddled yellow natural to the mint wine.

Once bottles were finished being sanitized, I started bottling – first with the apple wine. Five clear 750ml bottles left just the smallest remainder in the jug, which I had some hopes of eventually mixing with any leftover mint as an experiment. You will find that that was not to be, as I did. No harm, though.

Similarly, the mint wine bottled to just over five 750ml bottles. I bottled in green, which will unfortunately keep the green of the wine covered up until it is poured. But, I hear that mint and other flower/herb wines tend to have issues in light. Thought a dark bottle was in order. Ten bottles down.

Well, there just happened to be more mint in a 1.5L bottle that had also been air-locked alongside the other gallon. If the one was ready, I was pretty sure the other was, too. In fact, tasting it, it seems a little drier (not much) and not as bold of a mint flavor. I chose to go ahead and bottle it as well; it definitely couldn’t stay in the 1.5L bottle as there was a thin layer of lees that needed to go away. I racked it to a the jug the gallon of mint had been in. I then added a little less than an 1/8th of a tsp. of potassium sorbate (a little less than half of what had been used for a full gallon), as well as a single drop of green food coloring. I figure that I can trust it won’t blow based on having watched the matched gallon already, so I bottled after sanitizing two more bottles, rather than waiting as I did when I sorbated the original gallon.

I could have used green glass as I had with the gallon, but chose to go with clear. It’ll be nice to have at least some of the mint in clear glass, with people able to see the colored wine. Unfortunately, the racked 1.5L of mint didn’t quite fill the two clear 750ml (one was marked 75cl, oddly enough) bottles, due to the wine lost to the lees. So I used the remainder of the gallon of mint, plus a little bit of purified drinking water to top up.

I have the bottles (12 of them) now sitting on my kitchen counter. While prolonged aging is done with bottles on their sides, I hear that if you leave the bottle standing up for a short time (a couple days?) it will allow for the pressurized gases from corking (and any in solution) to be released through the cork. Otherwise, these gases would be caught behind glass when the gas bubble sits at the highest point in the side-laying bottle. So I’m going to give them the evening, at least.

I then briefly looked at the meads in secondary ferment. Braggot – the tiniest of slow moving bubbles, but a decent number of them. Traditional mead – wow. At least it isn’t filling up the air-lock with honey bubbles any more. Strawberry melomel – about what it was before.

All that taken care of, I was left with a little bit of apple wine – too little for even a small bottle. Looks like time to sample. And unfortunately the flavor is not all that impressive – this apple wine is made from a “starter” recipe, based on frozen apple and a small amount of frozen lemon concentrates. Wasn’t expecting the best; we’ll see what it’s like after some aging.

Sampling While Writing

Sampling While Writing

Cider – Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider

Today I finished Cider – Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, in its 3rd edition. This inexpensive book by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols is positively enlightening. I bought it at a local supply shop without checking reader reviews, which is rather unlike me. Getting home, I checked the reviews and became a little nervous seeing comments about not being suitable for a home brewer, of being a waste, of going in depth in areas of little interest, that there wasn’t a simple “recipe”, etc.

Front Cover

Front Cover

Having read the book, I see some of what they were saying. The book goes much farther than what a small homebrewer might be immediately interested in. Then again, no one said the book was just for them. It’s  like complaining that you are getting an arts degree and so shouldn’t have to take any math. Yeah, I get it. Maybe you won’t ever use it in your job. But school isn’t all about the job afterwards. Similarly, just because a book offers information (and copious amounts of it!) that stretches you beyond your pressing interest doesn’t mean it is a waste. No, you may not need the 50 pages on building an orchard, but it will definitely give you an appreciation for what the growers are going through. And should you one day think to do a little more than “casual” cider-brewing, you have a leg up. I myself found the information tantalizing. How I will ever get my wife to let me do it is beyond me.

As to there not being a “recipe”… If you want a recipe, then google it. This book does much more and is much more helpful, in my opinion. No, the author never gives a tsp by tsp recipe of chemicals to produce a small batch of cider. Like many things, it is one thing to follow a recipe. It’s another thing entirely to know what you are doing. This book invites you to know what you are doing. Rather than focus on a one-off recipe, the authors take the reader to multiple settings – England, New England, Canada – sharing historical methods and up to date techniques. The reader is introduced to suggested blending percentages and an array of different varietal possibilities. No recipe, but tons of room for experimenting. (Mind you there are recipes for things made with completed cider…)

By the end of the book I was wishing to give it a five-star rating, but for one major drawback. I found the first half of the book disorderly in an amazing way. Reading it, I felt like I was being tossed fact after fact in paragraph doses. It was very difficult to see the build up or connection between things. That being said, it was never boring.

The book covers the entire process; from tree to alcohol, and beyond. There is in-depth coverage of grinding and pressing juice, including very worthwhile comments about when in the whole process to blend. Coverage of tannins and pH had me enthralled, trying to make sense of it all and keep it in a wider context of general fermentation. Apple trees (planting, care, pruning and harvesting) receive ample coverage – once again, probably going beyond a first-timers immediate interest, but if you like to learn all the ins and outs of what you are doing, you will find it quite satisfying and informative. Historical background is littered throughout, in a good way – often providing quite a bit of comic relief. And rather than stop at “cider”, the book addresses cider vinegar and some of the higher octane things made from hard cider. Even when covering information that was clearly not to be “used” by the average reader – like how to distill apple brandy, which is quite illegal for the homebrewer – the book was fully engaging.

Near the very end is a section on legality which was well done, and makes clear (if the rest of the book had not), that this book intends a wider audience than the United States. I’m quite interested in the legal issues surrounding distilling (and regular fermentation) and how to properly be licensed. It is not necessarily a straight-forward process, nor a consistent one. In some ways the best that can be said, and it was said, is that you need to check with local governments to verify the laws that apply. It does boggle the mind how involved the government (whether Canada or the US, etc.) wants to be, even when dealing with homemade products that are intended for private consumption. Makes me go, “Why?”

If nothing else, the book is definitely inspiring. Passion for cider bleeds through. Passion for good cider, not just thrown-together cider, bleeds through. This cider-lover hopes to take what he has learned, and can continue to glean from the book, and put it to good use.

Wasn’t Expecting That

So, I think I should have waited just a smidge longer before racking the mead to the secondary fermenter. I noticed that the bubbling was fairly rapid right after racking (which is commonly not the case in my experience). It has not died down as of this morning – being more rapid by far than the strawberry melomel, with large bubbles rather than just the baby bubbles.

I wouldn’t exactly be so bothered about that if it hadn’t been for the air-lock full of mead I awoke to. Ugh. Whether it is the effervescence, or reverse pressure sucking the must back into the air-lock, an air-lock of must is something no fermenter wants to see.

I quickly moved to clean out the air-lock and re-attach. But I’ll be paying careful attention to it to make sure it doesn’t repeat today.

February 21, 2013

Racking to the Big Jug

Racking to the Big Jug

The vessels that should be bubbling continue to bubble. The jugs that shouldn’t be bubbling aren’t. Overall, things are as they should be.

I did check the specific gravity on my mead, now down to 1.034. I decided to go ahead and rack it to a 5G carboy. Only added maybe half a cup of water (if that) to top up.  Air-locked, and that’s a night. Unfortunately, not really any extra to taste-test. But the smell is quite lovely – honey fragrant; a definite sweetness.

So now everything is out of primary and either into secondary or on its way to the bottle (after a suitable rest to make sure nothing “bad” is happening). Now we wait.

And now to get my daughter into bed…

More Uninvited Guests

Again, from Cider – Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider (pp.146-147). This comes after a discussion of pests and other nasties that will cause problems for apple growers, which started with more “natural” methods before begrudgingly covering the more chemical “sprays” used in commercial operations. The author then turned to animals, rather than pests of the mold/insect variety:

Creatures, from the meek mouse to the bold bear, will find your orchard irresistible…The most obvious safeguard is to walk often through your winter orchard. Look for tracks in the snow, or droppings – they’ll tell you what to expect. And if you find Porky dining on an apple branch, use a good lead-based spray, such as .22.

I love fermenters’ sense of humor. Kindred spirit, for sure.

February 20, 2013

I didn’t get started on “checking” things until early in the evening today. Been busy. Went in to work rather than working from home today, and at lunch ran home to catch kids from bus. My wife is in Guatemala (seems maybe sick in bed, but I can’t reach her at the moment) until next Wednesday, so I’m responsible for all the homework and after-school activities. Wednesday nights are typically busy, even when normal…

Pretty. And Yum.

Pretty. And Yum.

In any case, I started by opening the refrigerator and pulling out the “extra” braggot that I had placed there to chill and settle. Sampling once again, I am quite happy with the braggot, even this “early” incarnation of it. I am very much looking forward to the more mature version! It’s definitely a complex flavor, but one that is quite enjoyable to work over the tongue.

After a short break to leisurely enjoy the couple sips, and to do some budget-keeping, I came back to the kitchen. I started with the mead, testing specific gravity interested to see if there had been a noticeable effect after adding the yeast energizer. I did not see an appreciable difference in the rate of bubbling. The specific gravity was down to 1.038 from yesterday’s reading of 1.043. Overall, the rate of SG decrease is declining quite steadily – no noticeable change of the rate caused by the yeast energizer. Which likely means yeast energizer is more helpful at the very start than later. Or maybe I just need to be more patient.

It definitely seems like it is slowing down, but I think I am going to leave it just a little bit longer before throwing into the carboy for secondary fermentation.

On other fronts – the tiny bubbles continue in the fermenting braggot, not quite as fast as they seemed to be yesterday, but still energetic. Not nearly as energetic as the tiny bubbles in the strawberry melomel, though! Those bubbles are on the move.

And with that I began the process of bottling the mint and apple wines. The mint, with an SG of 1.006 will have an unknown alcohol by volume, since I have no original gravity recorded. Mea culpa. With the apple, I made some sort of error reading the original gravity; I read 1.140 in the evening when I put it together, and early the next morning I read a 1.068, which just can’t be right. Back-calculating based on the curve, I’m guessing it should have read a 1.080 original gravity, which at its current 0.995 would give it an ABV of 11.3% (HT to Rooftop Brew).

I started by racking each to a newly sanitized (3 week old solution of water and potassium metabisulfite) 1G jug, in order to remove the last bit of lees, since I will be adding potassium sorbate (to stop further undesirable fermentation activity, if possible) and sugar (in the case of the apple wine). Before racking, I added the potassium sorbate (1/4 tsp) to each new jug, and then racked into the jugs. Didn’t take too long. I then re-attached the airlocks while setting up a sugar syrup.

To make the sugar syrup, I added 1 cup of water to a pan. I put the water to a boil, then added 3/4 cup of sugar at a time, stirring in well. I did this three times. I then added syrup to the apple wine in small increments, testing (by taste) the sweetness until I got it to a Kim-sweet level (I hope). I then checked the SG, finding it to be at 1.006. Interesting that both the mint and apple end up the same SG!

I then reapplied the air-lock to the apple wine, and left both on the counter to be “watched”. I’d rather not have a repeat of my muscadine (oh, the shame!), so I am going to give them a couple of days to make sure neither the mint (by racking) nor the apple (by racking and adding sugar) restarts fermentation. If the potassium sorbate does its job, I should be good. I hope, he says to himself.

Here are some pictures of the racking:

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And then I grabbed another super-small sample of the refrigerated braggot to sip on while finishing this post. Have a great evening, one and all!