Well That Could Have Been Worse

I left you, my fearless readers, with brown ale wort on the boil. The boil went exceedingly well, without any bad news to report. After the madness that was sparging, I was delightfully surprised.

a sticky mess

a sticky mess

The cooling didn’t go as quickly as I might have hoped. I have a limited amount of ice, and it was already past 2AM. So I decided to go to bed, and check it in the morning. The morning check found the temp still at about 95°F, so I moved the wort carefully to the carboy it would ferment in, and placed it in my basement freezer for a bit. Once sufficiently reduced in temperature, I took it out and checked the SG, recording a 1.041. That was very reassuring, since that was the expected OG based on the recipe. Good starch conversion! I then pitched the yeast, which meant simply pouring the dry yeast onto the wort.

Apparently this beer yeast needs no rehydration, unlike the wine yeasts I am familiar with. And it apparently starts up much faster than the typical wine yeast I am used to. Much, much faster. In the images below you can see the time (in hours) and the progress of the krausen. Not as pretty as it might have been, due to my poor job of keeping hops out of the move to the carboy. But I am more than satisfied with the results so far.

The fermentation will be a little higher temperature than optimal, but still in the range for the yeast (the high end – around 77F). Wish I remembered which yeast it was…Left the packet on the desk at home, and we are visiting family this weekend. Actually, a little longer than that. I’ll get to check in on the brown ale (and my other in-process ferments) this upcoming weekend. But then I won’t see them for two weeks! About the time I return from that I expect the brown ale will be nearly complete and ready for priming and bottling!

Catching Up, part 2

Continuing the recount of June…

Mint Liqueur

My mint liqueur has finished maturing, but I have not really had an opportunity to check it and see how my test results will come out. And it will likely be a while… But in the mean time, the fig liqueur has been excellent. I found that beyond pineapple juice, I also like it with pomegranate juice.

Pineapple Wine

Walking through Whole Foods Market on a date with my wife, we found a really good deal on some nearly ripe pineapples. So we picked up five, since I knew I had a recipe for pineapple wine, but didn’t remember how much was needed. e brought them home and let them age some, till finally they were ripe and ready to be chopped up. That would be the 13th of June.

Turns out that the recipe called for 4 pounds of chopped pineapple, and three of the 5 sufficed to provide that. I placed them in a mesh bag, that at the bottom of a fermentation bucket, and then took a masher to the fruit, ending in a pineapple slushy. While this was going on, a quart of water was put on heat, and 2 cups of sugar. Better reading would have told me that was not nearly enough sugar. But we’ll get there.

So, with pineapple mashed and sugar-water ready, I added the water to the fruit in the bucket, plus an additional 2 3/4 quarts of cold water (the hope being to get the temperature right from the start). Unfortunately, it still ended up at 95°F, so I let it alone for a while to cool. That didn’t go so well, so a couple hours later it finally was down to 75°F.

At that point I added 1 tsp yeast nutrient, 1/4 tsp tannin, 1/20 tsp of potassium metabisulfite, and a 1/2 tsp of ascorbic acid. I left that to soak  a minimum of 12 hours, typical after the potassium metabisulfite. The next morning, time done, and having realized my mistake with the sugar, I mixed in another 2 cups of sugar to make it to the 2 pounds I should have been shooting for all along. I then also added a 1/2 tsp of pectic enzyme, measured the SG (1.081), and left it to sit the standard 24 hours to do its thing.

Having a lot going on the next morning, and forgetting in the early afternoon, it was early evening before I then added the yeast. I used one dry packet of Pasteur Champagne, rehydrated per the package directions. All that went without any hitch. But, as I went to add the yeast to the must, I found that there was quite a bit of bubbling going on already – a rather thick foam. Which likely means there was already some fermentation going on. I checked the SG, which came to 1.075, confirming the likelihood of some “wild” fermentation. Hopefully the added yeast will overpower and prevent any off flavors.

On the 20th, I found the SG at 0.950. There wasn’t much airlock activity, so it was time to rack. I racked to a 1G jug that evening. I di try some. Warm, which didn’t make it all that pleasant, fairly dry, but noticeably pineapple, a good thing in my mind. It’s still very cloudy, but I expect it will clear in the jug.

And nothing more to report on the pineapple wine for the time being…

Traditional Mead

The traditional mead has been inactive for some time, and had cleared quite a bit. Checking the SG on it and it’s children showed that all had not budged from their SGs of 1.003 (1.004 for the vanilla & nutmeg) since back in April. So…time to bottle. My wife and I tasted each, and determined to sweeten the vanilla and nutmeg metheglin, while leaving the lavender and unaltered mead alone. I decided, having wanted to test it out for a while, to bottle only 1G of the traditional mead in wine bottles (both the metheglins I meant to do in wine bottles). That left another 2G of traditional mead to be primed and placed in crown capped bottles.

So the first thing was to rack the vanilla and nutmeg metheglin off of the small amount of lees. To this I added a 1/4 tsp of potassium sorbate and 1/20 tsp potassium metabisulfite, and then air-locked again. Later in the day, once that had had a chance to work into solution fully, I added 3 oz of honey (mixed in a 1/4 cup of water) to sweeten. That needed to sit for a couple days, so I moved on to the rest of the mead.

I started with the lavender metheglin. With it having been stable for so long, and with no intention to sweeten, I decided to move forward without additional chemicals. Hopefully that doesn’t bite me, but I’m comfortable with my decision. I bottled 5 wine bottles, corked and labeled them and left them vertical for the night. I did try using my new bottling siphon, but must admit that I didn’t really like it.

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I moved on to the rest of the mead. I bottled off 5 bottles (1G’s worth) without the addition of chemicals, corked and labeled. Later that evening I finally got to the remaining 2G. That produced another 22 12oz bottles.

A couple days later, on the 25th of June (yes, yesterday), I got back to the vanilla and nutmeg metheglin. Five bottles later, I was done with the traditional mead.

In labeling, I went online to calculate the ABV. Came to 14.14% using the “standard” equation. But apparently there is a more accurate equation for “high gravity” ferments; this would definitely qualify, having started at with an SG of 1.120. Using that equation, the ABV is more like 17.17. I bottled as 14%, using the standard equation. But I’ll keep that in mind after aging. Bottom line, and note to myself: careful when you pop a 12oz bottle of carbonated mead.

“Hefty” Braggot

The “hefty” braggot, which I had just started back when I posted on the 8th, continues to bubble, quite a bit. More than any of the other braggots did. Actually, the other braggots had a very inactive secondary fermentation. Not so the hefty braggot. It is also much more “yellow” in appearance than the others ever were. This yellow hides a brown though, because in the first days after racking the yellow began to settle. I though it was going to clear, but then the bubbles picked up and it returned to the yellow it remains so far.

As of noon-ish on the 20th of June, I recorded the following SGs:
pineapple: 0.095 (2013-06-15 = 1.075)
pomegranate: 1.000 (2013-06-14 = 1.000)
honeysuckle: 1.004 (2013-06-14 = 1.003)
braggot 2: 1.015 (2013-05-13: 1.020)
strawberry: 0.999 (2013-04-23 = 1.000)
sweet mead: 1.016; still bubbling mid size slow (2013-05-13 = 1.023)
hefty braggot: 1.025 (2013-06-04 = 1.110)

Brown Ale

Having done some all-grain brewing through the braggots, and being interested based on my reading, I decided to try a brown ale. Not much of a beer drinker, though I must admit I like Belgian beers – and the darker the better, Belgian or not. I’ve had the grains for two weeks, so I needed to use them or lose them. So, its been a busy night – and it isn’t over.

I got a late start (9-ish), but thought based on the times given that I could be done by 11:30 or midnight. No such luck for this first-timer. It’s now 1:15 and I’m still in the middle of the hops boil. I still need to cool before moving to the carboy and adding the yeast. Ugh.

It has not been the best of experiences, so far. I thought it wouldn’t be that bad, having done the braggots. But the sheer volume of liquid and grains for this brown ale is staggering, and no pot or container was big enough. My wife went out and got me a coolor to use as a lautering tun. Nice cooler. Abject failure as a lautering tun. Well, it’s my fault I guess. The mash plugged up against my siphon when I was sparging (even before) causing the whole thing to become a dismal mess. The kitchen floor is now cleaned, and no longer sticky. Add to that the lackluster results getting the mash temp correct first-time, and I have not been happy with myself or this attempt.

But to start again, I mashed 8 pounds of pale malt and 3 pounds of 120 crystal malt with 5G of 160F water. I expected, based on some calcualtions and suggestions, that the mash would end up around 152F. It did not, settling instead at around 142F. I added maybe 3/4G of boiling water and finally reached 151F. The rest of the mash-in went fine. Sparging was the disaster I have already recounted, but I seem to have plenty of liquid (I sparged with a little under 3G, taking into account the amount of water added to raise the temp).

I started the hour boil, adding 3oz of Cascade hops. The owner of the supply store suggested Amarillo as a finishing hops, but suggested adding in secondary ferment. I thought about it, but am likely going to be out of town and unable to interact with it should something odd happen. So I’m going to add it in the last 2 minutes of the boil.

Then it will be on to cooling (as quickly as possible…) and pitching yeast.

In any case, this post has gone on long enough. Adieu!

Catching Up

I haven’t posted since the 8th!?

Well, that is no indication that things aren’t happening, of course. Besides for the normal – work, reading, and the like, I have begun putting in a trellis for my new muscadines and have been regularly watering the vegetables and fruit. I’ve been mulching, in an foolhardy attempt to stem the tide of weeds. I took apart a trampoline with the help of my wife, no small feat. And I’ve been searching for Windows RT apps for some of my regular tasks. Then there’s the bottling of mead, and starting a pineapple wine. Oh, and the completion of my mint liqueur. Where to begin?

Vegetables and Fruit: The Garden

The squash is doing very well, with grand leaves covering numerous squash and even more squash-blossoms. The ones in more shade are of course smaller, but overall there is little to complain of here. Last year, the placement of the squash yielded the saddest of plants – it was hardly worth having planted them. This year, their cousins, the zucchini squash, took their place. And it is their turn to do poorly in the far, shaded corner of the garden. Between our fig tree and the neighbors trees, our garden could use some better placement. But you work with what you have.

A friend provided us a number of different tomato varieties. As we had planted last year’s tomatoes very near the poor location the squash had occupied, we were not prepared for the growth these plants would see in the sunny garden center. Almost all have completely outgrown their cages, and one completely leveled it. It looks like we will have a wide range of tomatoes – some for stewing, some for eating, etc. Although all are still quite green, I can see some that are the classic round shape and some that are oblong, almost boxy.

The cabbage found a friend, we think a slug. That and the shade is making for poor results. The slug, if indeed it is the slug, prefers the purple cabbage to the green.

The watermelon plants are doing very well, as well. Situated between the squash and the tomatoes, there are a vast number of blossoms, and a half dozen or more mini-watermelons already on the vine. I’m sure my kids will be thrilled. Not sure what to do with watermelon other than eat it. Both jam/jelly and wine sound…iffy. Fermented/pickled watermelon rind? Sounds like something doable.

We’ve watched as the blueberries have developed, and we’ve finally gotten some to mature. Not enough to really do anything major with; just enough to eat while perusing the rest of the garden. It is really only one of the bushes that has produced eatable blueberries so far, the one planted last year. This year’s dwarf blueberry has some blue-on-one-side-green-on-the-other berries, but nothing I would call “done”. ‘The blueberry bush that came with the house is still just teasing us, no blue in sight, though plenty of mid-sized green berries. And the three blueberry bushes that stayed in pots over the winter rather than getting planted are still doing very little, though they have nice green foliage. I’m not expecting much this year. But that’s what The Happy Berry is for!

The fig tree is doing superbly, with huge leaves that just beg to be made into fig liqueur, and too many figs to count. The figs are green  – far from ready. But they are sign of good things down the line.

The muscadines are crying out for a trellis to support them, and I did get the first 3 of five poles cemented into the ground with Kim’s help. But I haven’t put up the cross bar or run the wire yet. At this point, it probably won’t happen till end of July or beginning of August, as we are going to be doing some summer travelling during the weekends.

Some pictures from mid-June:

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And more recently:

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New Toy

For my anniversary/Father’s Day, I got a Dell XPS10, with Windows RT. The tablet is pretty awesome, and came with a docking keyword with an extended battery. Very cool. But the newness of the device and its OS has meant a limited number of apps. Still quite a large number, but some noticeable “missing” tools. Probably the one I was most stunned by was the lack of a Pandora app. But TuneIn has found a warm spot in my heart, especially with AnimeNfo out of Japan.

One tool I was interested in was an alternative to using Project Professional. Making wine, I love setting up the timeline and its ability to auto-adjust as thing are completed. I don’t like trying to figure out when the next thing is ready or “due”. Now there are numerous task applications in the Windows app store. I still haven’t found one that combines more “project”-style functionality. But I remain hopeful that over time something will come up. Of course, a pre-built app for recording recipes and managing brewing task schedule, etc. would be perfect. But I have not found anything remotely like that.

The other app I have been looking for is something that manages a home budget. I wanted two major features: an ability to mark items as reconciled with the bank, and the ability to manage “envelopes”, with best case being some way to rollup the totals of all the envelopes as a bank account total. That seems like a tall task. I’ve found some web apps, even free ones, with the enveloping concept. None really aggregate the way I would like. And many allow validation, but few allow easy reporting or aggregates based on the data. I could just keep with Excel, but was hoping not to. Anyway, I’ve found something, and am testing it out.

All that to say that looking for and testing out apps has been taking quite a bit of me evening time – probably one of the major reasons I haven’t been as active writing. That, and Tetris.

Well, it is getting late, and I have another busy day ahead, so I’m calling it quits here. Hopefully tomorrow I can follow up with progress on the mead, braggot, pineapple wine, and such.

Grolsch Bottles and Other Comments

I’ve said it before. I’ll likely say it again. But brewers are a funny crowd. The humor can be dark and sometimes dry. But, man, I love these people!

Take for instance this quote from Palmer’s How to Brew:

Many homebrewers get used bottles from restaurants and bars or buy them new from homebrew shops. Every once in a while you will hear about a guy whose dad or uncle has given him a couple of cases of empty sing-top Grolsch bottles. He may ask you if he can use them for brewing or something…If this happens, just look him straight in the eye and tell him, “No, those can be quite dangerous, let me dispose of them for you.” Be sure to keep a straight face and do your best to sound grim. If you don’t think you are up to it, give me a call and I will take care of it.

How To Brew (p.109)

Or this one:

Exposure to sunlight or fluorescent light will cause beer to develop a skunky character, which is the result of a photochemical reaction with hop compounds and sulfur compounds. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a character that Heineken, Grolsch, and Molsen strive for in their beer.

How to Brew (p. 115)

See what I mean?

June 6, 2014: Braggot The Third

Yesterday was our anniversary, so I didn’t really have an opportunity to get on here and post. But…

The braggot is off and running! Yesterday it was blowing bubbles through the airlock like mad, maybe 2 or 3 a second. That’s pretty fast getting started for me. I’ve seen some take up to 24 hours to get going (and not even get as active in the airlock). This one took maybe 12.

As of this morning, it’s died down to 1 airlock bubble every 2 or 3 seconds. I imagine it will stick there for a little bit.

I did look inside yesterday, as I was curious what the surface would look like with so much activity. I really couldn’t see much except a slightly mobile, green, flat layer of hops. But you could tell that something was alive in there!

June 4, 2013

It’s been a busy couple weeks at work, at home and in the garden, so luckily things have been going along without a hitch in the carboys.

Kim's Fig Leaf Liquor With Pineapple Juice

Kim’s Fig Leaf Liquor With Pineapple Juice

The end of last week, my fig leaf liquor finished its month of aging. Kim and I took the evening and sampled the different varieties, and each found different preferences. There were three bottles, one with a vodka base, one with a gin base and one half-and-half of each. I preferred the vodka, no surprise. Kim actually preferred the vodka/gin combination. I found the gin to be pretty harsh tasting. Maybe some additional time will improve it, though I doubt it.

Even the vodka wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped it might be. I used cheap vodka and gin, rather than the expensive vodka that I had used last time (we’re talking the difference between $12 and $50 for  1.5L). While the last batch was excellent, this was much less so. The cheap vodka is definitely detectable in the flavor, whereas it was not before. That being said, it was still good. Especially with chilled pineapple juice.

For whatever reason, Kim’s juice didn’t quite mix with the liquor. But mine blended nicely.

This weekend, we set about putting in the posts for our muscadine trellis. The holes are dug, at least. That was some hard, hard red-clay! Anyway, we plan on a T-trellis, which should allow us to double up the range of the vines. We picked up most of the stuff – the wood for the poles and braces, the cement. I still need to pick up the wire to hang the vine on.

Which brings me to today. Everything is doing what it should: bubbling, clearing and the like. Nothing really ready for bottling. The honeysuckle mead is clearing quite nicely, but has a huge layer of lees. I’ll probably need to do something about that soon.

Clear With A Bed Of Lees

Clear With A Bed Of Lees

It’s been so busy that I haven’t been able to use my grains to put together the next batch of braggot. So I found myself with some time, and set the process in motion. The recipe I used comes from The Compleat Meadmaker, a “Hefty Braggot” from the end of the book, which follows “all-grain” brewing principles. How to Brew has made that make a little more sense!

Anyway, the recipe called for bringing 11 quarts of water to around 180F (and another 3.5 gallons to 185F, for sparging). Once it was up to temperature, I removed from the heat and added the grains – 8 pounds of pale ale malt, 2 pounds of Vienna malt and 1 pound of dextrin malt. The grain barely fit, but it fit. It was supposed to rest for 30 minutes at around 146F, but I could never get it really to drop that low. It spent 30 minutes closer to the vicinity of 155-160F. The recipe then called for mashing out to 165F, which I forgot to do. But I doubt it really matters since I never got to the lower temp desired anyway.

At this point I added 3 ounces of Cascade hops to my fermentation bucket. It was the perfect size for sparging, and I intended to use the same pan I had rested in to do the hops boil, so needed to transfer to something else. Sparging went well enough, but it quickly became clear that I had more liquid than would fit in the one pan for the boil. I used my other big pan (which has some issues when used to cook more solid or chunky things). Brought them to a boil and kept it at it for an hour. Thirty minutes into the boil I added the next hops in the schedule (1 ounce of Cascade), and then I added another ounce of Cascade two minutes before the hour elapsed.

Quite a bit of water boiled away (1-2 gallons!), so it all fit in one of the pots, which I placed in an ice bath to cool quickly (based on reading about the cold break in How to Brew). It did help it cool down faster, but it wasn’t all that fast. But I went ahead and cleaned up all the rest of the equipment. I added the 9 pounds of honey that the recipe called for to the fermentation bucket. And once the water had finally cooled to about 80F (was hunting for 70 per recipe, but in all reality that’s lower than room temp right now), I added it to the fermentation bucket with 2 tsp of yeast nutrient and 2 tsp of yeast energizer. To get to just over the 5 gallon mark, I had to add another gallon of water.

The resulting SG was less than the recipe suggested. I measured 1.110, and the recipe called for 1.120. I am guessing that my high temp mash-in is the culprit, not allowing quite the right starch conversion. But I’m still fairly happy with 1.110.

I stirred vigorously to incorporate oxygen. I pitched two packets of Lalvin D-47, rehydrating per the packet directions, and again stirred vigorously. And now we wait.

I’d say there were some definite scary moments this batch. I think if I had been just a little less careful, my spoon would have melted completely. As it is, it is a little discolored and has some spots where it is peeling. I was really worried by the amount of liquid after sparging… it was over five gallons without the addition of honey! But the hops boil took care of the overage; maybe a little too well.

And I remain a little concerned about the yeast. We’ll see what we have in the morning. I expected a little bit more of a bready smell when rehydrating and pitching the yeast. But it was actually more of a sweet/tart smell. I may have to re-pitch the yeast if they were somehow compromised. Not that concerned, but I will be keeping an eye on it.

No burning this time, so the new pan was a great success! I’ll just have to keep in mind that the new pan isn’t big enough to do the hops boil after sparging. More convenient to have separate pots for those two operations anyway.

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Goodnight!