Fruit, Fruit, and More Fruit

My kids had the day off for a teacher in-service day. So I took the day off to go apple picking with them. Lots of apple-picking.

But first, I awoke to a big bucket of muscadines (36 pounds worth!). With my daughter’s help, I halved, or at a minimum split, them all. And with my wife’s help, I crushed them all. That was followed by moving the crushed liquid and pulp (including skin and seeds) to a fermentation bucket. I bagged the material, of course. Only 1 gallon of liquid at the moment, but 4 gallons total bulk. I think after fermentation, a lot of that will be liquid. But right now, not sure how to go about getting a good SG measurement. Tomorrow morning I will add the yeast to get everything started.

Once the muscadines were crushed, and I had added a little less than 1/4 tsp. potassium metabisulfite, we left the house for Sky Top Orchard in North Carolina.

(Oh, yeah, the new braggot is going well, with a good krausen – more than I remember seeing the first braggot I attempted.)

Sky Top was fun, though the car ride could have been a little quieter… We picked quite a number of apples, with the goal of cider, apple liqueur and apple butter (and some for eating). Final take was:

  • ~40 pounds of Mutsu, the base for a batch of cider.
  • ~20 pounds of Arkansas Black (also for cider, apple butter, eating)
  • ~20 pounds of Jonathon (cider, apple butter)
  • ~20 pounds of Stayman Winesap (cider, and liqueur)
  • ~20 pounds of Fuji (for eating)
  • ~10 pounds of Asian Pears (for liqueur)

Right…so our kitchen is now filled with apples. And of course, there’s still near 40 pounds of muscadines to be turned into jelly. I’m thinking some straight, some with red chili pepper (dried? fresh?)… Only problem I see is a busy week ahead of us. The muscadines present the most difficulty. I need to “sweat” the apples before milling and pressing them anyway.

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Braggot IV: A New Hope

Braggot the first was an utter success; so say all who have tried it. Braggot III (the “hefty braggot”) is aging in the bottle, but the outlook is good. And today ends my shame at having to dump the 5 gallons of Braggot II (the “burnt” braggot).

Braggot IV is a darker version of Braggot the first, and makes use of a varietal (Tupelo) honey, rather than the no-name honey used in its predecessor. Having a little more experience under my belt with all-grain brewing (brown ale, porter, quadruple…), the whole process went much more smoothly this time. Never again will I burn a braggot! I do still need to make an un-hopped braggot, which is what Braggot II was supposed to be, but that remains for another day.

Braggot IV started with 2.5 gallons of water in the fermentation bucket, placed in the freezer to chill. Once chilling was underway, I started heating water for the mash. I brought 4.5 quarts of water to 170F, in a big pan, which I then removed from the heat. I added the grains, 4 pounds of pale ale malt, 0.5 pounds of crystal malt (120), and 0.5 pounds of chocolate malt. The last was a modification to the recipe in the hopes of a slightly darker brew, and we’ll see how it affects the flavor. I put another gallon of water on the burner, heating to 185F.

Once a thirty minute mash-in was complete, the sparge water was ready, I strained the wort off the grains, then sparged with the additional gallon. The result was ever as dark as I might have hoped. To it I added 2 ounces of Cascade hops (pellets), and put it back on to boil.

After a typical hour boil, I started adding the honey. Following the recipe I added 10 pounds of Tupelo honey, and the heat of the wort quickly dissolved it into solution. Once that was done, I added it to the chilled water set aside earlier. Seeing that the end result was only 4.5 gallons, I added another gallon of tap water to bring the total to 5.5 gallons, accounting for the trub that will be racked off to produce 5 gallons in the end.

Well, something came up, so I left that to cool for a couple hours; chilling the bulk of the water was not enough. Upon returning I had a beautifully dark and fragrant liquid at 86F, with an SG of 1.080. I added 2 tsp. each of yeast nutrient and energizer. And then I pitched 10g of rehydrated Lalvin D47 (2 packets). Cover. Air-lock. So far, so good.

Well, I didn’t get to the Muscadine wine today. I’ll leave something for tomorrow morning. And then for some apple picking in the afternoon!

Heavenly Smells

Well, you may have thought I gave up on blogging, I have been silent so long. But no, I am still here.

I left you talking of a yeast starter for my quad. Since then my quad is well under way, racked and upstairs happily bubbling away, Its cousin the oatmeal porter had a shy streak, so I brought it upstairs and shook up the trub. It too is now happily bubbling away. New batches cherry and blackberry finished, and made it into the bottle (5 wine bottles apiece), but the blueberry is a slowpoke, and both gallons have yet to finish secondary ferment.

The sweet mead finally made it into bottle (26 wine bottles, to be exact). The hefty braggot, too, made its way, primed for carbonation, into crown-capped bottles (54 of them). But Braggot II, my attempt at an un-hopped braggot, ended as a beautiful foam in the sink, which though beautiful was unpalatable thanks to the burn sustained early in its making.

I started a plum wine, which is still bubbling away. The bubbles will likely stop before it is truly cleared. Things aren’t quite as intended; the starting gravity is much lower than intended, and I ended up with 4 gallons rather than three at the first racking. But I’m still expecting good things.

And that brings us to today. Wasn’t planning on doing much along these lines today, but a change of plans left us with time.

So first, I checked on my strawberry melomel. I found an SG of 0.996, no more bubbling, and a quite dry but very tasty wine. I racked it onto 3/4 tsp. of potassium sorbate and  a little under 1/4 tsp. of potassium metabisulfite (enough for the 3G  batch). It is a lovely pink-red in bulk, but in smaller doses it shines a brilliant light orange. After letting Kim taste it, and at the suggestion of the recipe’s author, I’m going to bottle dry. I only need wait the time for the potassium sorbate to work in.

Then, the family took a trip up to The Happy Berry, and we spent a good part of the afternoon picking muscadines. Can’t think of a much better way to avoid the crowds and traffic during a Clemson game day – especially homecoming! We came away with just under 80 pounds worth. I’ve measured out 36 pounds of that for tomorrow, with which to start a 3G batch of wine. Another 2.5 pounds made its way into a batch of muscadine liqueur (2 cups of sugar, the muscadines halved or quartered, and enough Stolichnaya to fill up a 2 quart mason jar). The kitchen smells richly of the stuff. And my hands are sugary-sweet and fragrant. What a wonderful season!

I tried to get Kim to crush the muscadines tonight, for the wine. My suggestion of washing her feet first made her question my sanity. Maybe I can convince her tomorrow! In any case, we still have plenty of muscadines for jelly making and eating (Jenna is devouring them!)

And apple picking Monday!

My First Yeast Starter, Part Deux

It’s alive!

Yes, after the lack of activity yesterday, my Internet research paid off. The addition of water gave the yeast enough breathing room to get busy reproducing, as evidenced by the lightly bubbling brew on my counter top.

There was no krausen, as expected, just bubbles. I had been regularly shaking just a bit, and made the mistake of doing that this morning, one last time – with results much like shaking a can of soda. But I minimized the damage.

One other thing I noticed was that once the yeast were active, a white layer of sediment began to form, on top of the brown sediment that had previously been present. That was actually the first indication things were on the right path.

Well, looks like tonight I will start the quad.

My First Yeast Starter

…is not going as planned.

Because of the high gravity of my next planned batch (a Belgian Quadruple), the recipe nearly demands a starter. I’ve not used liquid yeast to this point, and definitely never made a starter. So the sheet and suggestions provided by my local brew supply shop were very well-received. But despite this, things just don’t seem right.

The instructions provided to me come from “The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.”, and say to combine a cup of dried malt extract (DME), 1/4 tsp. of yeast nutrient and 4 cups of water, then to boil for 20 minutes. It then calls for a rapid cool in an ice-bath, before pitching the liquid yeast. All of that went off perfectly, without issue or complaint.

Except, wow, most of the liquid is gone – boiled away. And after a day of waiting, nothing is going on in the jar. So I got online and started searching. Seems a number of people have asked about ferments that seem “still” after pitching a starter. To these questions most just say, “Don’t worry, be patient.” But that is not exactly my problem. It’s the starter itself that seems inactive. So after weeding through a number of posts, I finally found one that seemed to touch on my problem. And seeing as it was discussing the same “4 cups of water” measurement, maybe it came from a similar source…

What it seems is that even with just 4 cups of water to 1 cup of DME, the SG comes to 1.120 – which is enough to shock the yeast this early on. They are suggesting more like 1/4 cup DME to 1 quart of water. In other words, four times more water to DME. The typical figure I keep hearing mentioned is 1.040 as a top SG on a starter. Basic reasoning is that you are trying to encourage them to multiply, not ferment.

Maybe I didn’t give enough time for the slap pack to really bulge out before adding the yeast to the high gravity starter solution. I didn’t really go by the “wait three hours” direction on the liquid yeast pack, since it seemed it wouldn’t apply if then using it in a starter. Maybe.

In any case, I think my first attempt to rectify will simply be to add more boiled water (after cooling of course). Hopefully that will reduce the SG enough for the yeast to get out of their funk. I’m unfortunately a little far from my supply shop to pick up another pack of yeast quickly. We’ll see after a little time with more water.

September 1, 2013

Go, Tigers!

I’m not much into sports, nor football in specific, but it’s hard not to share in the joy of the community over last night’s game between Clemson and UGA. Now, with that out of the way…

This week has been busy with checking of ferments and work on the plum wine. I didn’t touch every carboy and jug, but I did check most. Here are the results:

Sweet Mead

  • August 25th (last Sunday)

    Measured SG of 1.018, and no visible bubbling

  • August 30th (Friday)

    Still at SG of 1.018, so I racked onto 1 1/4 tsp. of potassium sorbate and 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite, enough of each for 5G by the package directions. I’ll be able to bottle in 3-4 days. Don’t plan on back-sweeting. The whole point was to use enough honey that fermentation would finish with a high SG. Did I mention it already tastes quite good?

Braggot #2

  • August 25th

    Braggot #2, the “burnt” braggot, is at an SG of 1.016. Still unsure how palatable this on is/will be; I may just end up reclaiming the 3G carboy and 1G jug.

Hefty Braggot

  • August 25th

    The Hefty Braggot measured 1.021, and is still bubbling lots of little bubbles. But from testing a drip, the taste doesn’t seem all that sweet.

  • August 30th

    Measured SG now at 1.016. So though it is not bubbling visibly now(!), it is appears to still be active.

Strawberry Melomel

  • August 25th

    I measured an SG of 0.999. But the stuff is still bubbling slightly! I want to start towards bottling this one, but guess I will give it some more time.

Blackberry Wine

  • August 25th

    Measured blackberry wine with an SG of 0.993. After racking off lees, adding water, I measured the SG again and found a 0.995. I imagined there would be a measurable difference, due to the amount of water added – water being denser than the current solution.

Cherry Wine

  • August 25th

    SG measured at 0.995. After racking and topping up, measuring again I found it right at 0.995. Not nearly as much water was added, though. So I guess there was not enough to change the SG significantly

Blueberry Wine and Melomel

  • August 25th

    The blueberry wine has an SG of 1.070, almost unbelievable. At first I considered that it might be because of the large upstream of bubbles, but that doesn’t seem possible. It has seemed to be fermenting strongly (lots of bubbles) though it was one that seemed to be very sweet after primary fermentation as well.

  • August 25th

    The melomel of blueberry measured at 1.014. After racking and topping up with water, it was more like 1.012. Still makes sense since water has a lower density than the 1.014 solution.

So the pattern seems to be that the blueberry batches are taking longer than the other ferments started at the exact same time (the cherry and the blackberry). Not sure why the blueberry wine is so far behind its partner, though. It seems to still be fermenting. I may need to check on the pH and/or add some more yeast nutrient or something.

Oatmeal Porter

  • August 30th

    The porter is at an SG of 1.022, so still some way to go!

Plum Wine

Lots of Bubbles - Plum Wine

  • August 27th (Tuesday)

    Stirring for the first time after the day I pitched the yeast. You can see it foamed vigorously.

  • August 30th

    The plum now measures and SG of 1.021. The recipe said at 3-4% PA to rack, and it is not quite there. But then again, I put much more sugar in, so it has really already handled that level of sugar.

  • August 31st (Saturday, yesterday)

    I racked the plum to a 3G carboy. Looks like I may actually have another gallon of liquid, which is not good when taking into account the amount of sugar I expected. That will likely throw things off a bit.

    And I’m not sure what to do with the remaining liquid, since there is so much!

    Plum Wine After Racking

    Plum Wine After Racking

    Note the color is very “bubble gum” – a deeply opaque pink. But not quite Pepto Bismal pink.

  • Later yesterday evening

    Around 9PM, returning home from a birthday party, I found out that it had been over-foaming into the airlock, which was now a solid whitish-pink color. I cleaned it out, replaced and watched the airlock for a bit. I ended up doing this a couple times before the fermentation settled down enough to not be shoving bubbles up the air-lock tube.

So that is it. Lots of activity. Concerned about the blueberries. They just aren’t acting as I expected. Most of the ones I racked last Sunday have given me some pause. In each case, I sanitized equipment with Star San, and for days had little bubbling after the racking. It was nearly weekend before I could clearly say the blueberry was back bubbling. The cherry and blackberry still show no signs of bubbling, but one can’t expect them to do much more with an SG of 0.995! I guess those two will be candidates for bottling here soon. The hefty braggot has yet to visibly bubble again. But it seems to be still at work, so maybe the 5G carboy is just providing more space for the CO2 to be caught in solution.

And I didn’t notice any lack of bubbling with the plum wine, which aggressively bubbled. I sanitized in the exact same fashion. Probably just worrying too much. Things seem to be working fine.