Taking Stock

Today being my birthday, we spent the weekend doing a lot of fun things – camping, some eating out, and – of course – a little bit of “yeast wrangling”. Let’s start with some pictures (some of these are from earlier in the month, but reflect on things touched this weekend):

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Okay, so pictures out of the way, let’s take stock of the events and goings-on! For starters, we went camping. Had intended two nights, but one of the children came down with a fever before the end of the second evening, so we went home near dark. We camped at Cherry Hill Recreation Area, just north of Oconee State Park in the northwestern corner of South Carolina. We spent the first full day tending the fire, doing some hiking, with a short stop-over in Highlands, NC for lunch. I picked up a couple of high ball glasses at a little magasin de cadeaux (i.e. a gift-shop), and Kim found herself a pretty scarf.

With lunch at Old Edwards Inn, I tried two different Oktoberfest beers, the first, the Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier, a golden brew that was excellent. First beer of that color that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was likely not a corn lager, based on the flavor. The second was offered as the “darkest” of their Oktoberfest specialty beers, and was dubbed “Green Man Oktoberfest”. My guess before it arrived was that the green referred to a level of hoppiness, and I was not wrong. The hops stood out impressively, without being markedly bitter. And the beer, a light earthy brown, stood up well to the hops, combining malt and hops into a very satisfying lunch accompaniment. I’d never had the pleasure of trying an Oktoberfest beer. My first time was quite enjoyable.

It looked like a nice place for a future get-away for me and Kim, too.

Kids had the day off today for a teacher in-service, and I had taken the day off for camping, so back home this morning, I considered my options. I considered studying French (may yet do some of that), studying Japanese (again, may still do so), as well as some other reading or a puzzle. When it came down to it, there were a number of glass jugs demanding my attention, feeling neglected. So I got to checking up on things. And here is what I found, and the results of my day’s labor:

  • Batch #25 (Blueberry Wine) This is beyond ridiculous. It’s not that there is no activity. There’s a little. But not nearly what there should have been. Checking the SG I found a whopping 1.060. Which would be fine if this was a cider about to start or something like that. But two months ago it was at 1.064. No, this is ridiculous. So, I tossed in a 1/2 tsp. of yeast energizer, producing copious amounts of bubbly foam which quickly subsided. In its wake was a semi-regular cascade of bubbles, which hopefully signify more activity. Please?!
  • Batch #26 (Blueberry Melomel) Compared to its sister, the wine, the Blueberry Melomel has fared much better. Measuring today at 1.011, and also still bubbling fitfully, I’m a little concerned by its lack of performance. I tossed in a 1/4 tsp. of yeast nutrient. Didn’t get as much foam as with the wine. We’ll just keep an eye on it.
  • Batch #28 (Oatmeal Porter) Nothing really to “observe” here, as it was bottled earlier in the month. But checking the calendar, I’m just over two weeks since bottling – time to try one. I have a progressive schedule for taste-testing the porter which starts at around two weeks (for carbonation to set in) and goes to nine months. The introduction to the recipe had suggested 6 months before drinking. And having tasted the chilled brew alongside a delightful beef stew this evening, that is probably fair. The taste was not bad, but harsh and bit bitter. There is a lot of maltiness, and not much hoppy flavor, despite the bitterness from the hops. I enjoyed it, but it needs time to mellow. The color was spot on – very dark, but not quite black. The head was a creamy tan, though there wasn’t much of it; a good amount of carbonation, though. And holding it up to the light, you could make out the reddish undertones indicative of a porter, right below the foam. Otherwise it was fairly opaque.
  • Batch #29 (Plum Wine) My four gallons of plum wine are quite inactive, with a significant bed of lees, but have not yet cleared. I checked the SG (0.995), and racked to another 3G carboy. Flavor is okay, but it will definitely require some back-sweetening. I did have to top up the 3G carboy with a bit of water (1/8th of a gallon?). The remainder in the 1 gallon jug required no topping up.
  • Batch #30 (Belgian Quadruple) The five gallons of quadruple is also quite inactive. The SG checks out at 1.020, right where it was last time it was checked. So despite some bubbles restarting after moving it upstairs, not much in the way of activity. And it’s not that far off the FG that was expected. So I think this one will soon get primed and bottled.
  • Batch #31 (Braggot IV) This dark wonder has a creamy head of micro-bubbles buoyed by a stream of micro-bubbles from below. I left it alone, to continue its progress.
  • Batch #32 (Muscadine Wine) The Muscadine wine is looking good. Much like the plum wine it is inactive, and started the day with a sizable bed of lees. I went ahead and checked the SG (0.996) and racked it off the lees. After racking, it required topping up with about 1/5th of a gallon of water. As with the plum wine, it could stand to clear a bit before further work (adding chemicals, bottling, etc.).
  • Batch #33 (Hard Cider) The hard cider continues to stream mid-sized bubbles, and is starting to lose some of its opacity. But it is still a deeply earthy yellow.
  • Batch #34 (Fall’s Bounty Cyser) The cyser was racked to a 5G barboy on Saturday morning, just before heading off for camping. It has a thick foam of mid-sized bubbles streaming up from below. It’s opaque, but a similarly earthy yellow – maybe just a bit darker – compared with the hard cider.

Additionally, as we have set fruit fermenting, we have often soaked some in sugar and (either) vodka or gin. I drained the liqueur off the fruit today for two of these creations.

  • Dried Currant Liqueur; This is indistinguishable from a raisin-based liqueur. And it looks exactly as you might expect of a liqueur made from raisins, a rich brown. I suppose I will have to try with un-dried fruit sometime, though black currants are hard to come by in these parts. [Recipe: 1 lb. dried black currants, 1 cup sugar, enough vodka to fill the remainder of a 1 quart jar. Shake every couple days for a month, otherwise keeping shaded/out of the light. Then done.]
  • Muscadine Liqueur; The liqueur from the muscadines is even better than that made last season, in my estimation. It tastes much more richly of the muscadines themselves. It is a light purplish-pink color. So pretty. [Recipe: Similar to that above, but a bigger batch. 2 cups sugar, 2,5 lbs of muscadines (some halved, some quartered, and enough vodka to fill the remainder of a 2 quart jar. Same process, shaking every couple days for a month, keeping it in the dark otherwise.]
  • Etc. There are many more mason jars sitting, covered, waiting. I shake them every couple days to keep things in motion. I have two batches of Asian pear liqueur (one with cinnamon, one without) and one thing of Bartlett Pear with dates (I believe it is spiced with cinnamon and all spice, too). There are also another three batches of apple liqueur (those made with the trimmings from the apples pressed for cider). Oh, and one more batch of muscadine liqueur, but this one with a gin base. I shook them all.

Overall, a fun and busy birthday. Thanks to all the friends and family who wished me a happy birthday on facebook, or in person.

More Uses For Fresh Apple Cider

Busy weekend, but lots of good came of it.

Friday afternoon, to kick it off, I racked the cider started earlier in the week. No issues, smell is great, and looking forward to the end result. I didn’t have quite 5 gallons after racking, so topped up with a small amount of distilled water and a cup or so of the apple cider stored in the refrigerator. Oh, had a friend try some of the fresh-pressed cider that was used to make the cider. “Best juice from apple they had ever tasted,” and I have to agree.

This weekend we took Jenna to Greenville to celebrate her birthday from earlier in the week. Provided a great opportunity to stop at Grape and Grains, where I picked up yeast. Lots of yeast. Should be everything I need to start a couple more wines or meads, once I free up a couple carboys…

And yesterday I started the first of those, my first cyser, a mead using apple cider rather than water and often combining other fruits and spices. The recipe I am using is Ken Schramm’s, “Fall’s Bounty Cyser”, and I am loving the multi-sensory extravaganza so far.

I started by blending each of the fruit additions in apple cider, to get the sugars and flavor more accessible, before adding the cider fruit slurry to the fermentation bucket. Fruits included 0.5 lbs. of dates and 0.5 lbs. of raisins. I also blended 1 lb. of dark brown sugar with some more of the cider. In all, blended or not, I used 4 gallons of cider.

This cider was not my own fresh-pressed, but after the work and cost, I was fine with picking some up from Whole Foods. It is still supposedly no preservatives or additives. Even after shaking it still wasn’t as thick as my own fresh-pressed stuff. I still have another half-gallon. Not sure whether to drink it (mmmm) or save it in case I need some for topping up when I rack.

To the fruit and cider slurry, I added 8 lbs. of wildflower honey. It is a very dark honey, and probably one of the best tasting honeys I have used (in my own opinion). The recipe called for a medium to full-bodied honey, and I think this will be a nice fit. The color after blending and mixing all the ingredients is a dark brown – much darker than my cider was. I added 1 tsp. of yeast nutrient and 2 tsp. yeast energizer, and about 2 cups of water to bring the volume up to 5 gallons. And then I set to pitching the yeast, 10g – 2 packets – of Lalvin D47.

Rather simple, and no chemicals added for sanitizing. The recipe gave no SG measurements, and the author explained that he never checks it. I did, and found and SG of 1.112. Woohoo!

The smell of the brew is excellent, and when I went to stir it this evening, I found a white head of foam unlike any I have seen on cider, mead or wine – more like the krausen on a beer, but without the usual green mess from the hops. Not too surprised, as the blending of the fruit in the cider produced a lot of foam at the time, as did simply pouring the cider out of the half-gallon jugs it was packaged in. I stirred, and got to try some of the resulting foam, more tan than the pre-stirred white, more uniform than the cloudlike mass of bubbles I saw when I first removed the lid.

How to describe it? Deep honey and apple flavor, with a more complex twist from the dates and raisins; very sweet still, of course. The smell combination is simply delicious. Excited!

Follow-up On Appley-Goodness

Today, I ‘cleaned up” from all the work earlier in the weekend. A busy weekend, but one spent doing fun things, and plenty of time spent with family and friends.

Early this morning, before going to praise team practice, I pitched the yeast into the cider bucket. Before doing so, I checked the SG for the first time (1.050 – perfect). I also added 2 tsp. of yeast nutrient and 1 tsp. of yeast energizer; I would have used two tsp. of the yeast energizer, but one was all I had. Will need to remember to pick up more next time I’m in Greenville.

Then later in the afternoon, I got around to re-pressing the rehydrated apple pomace. I think I got around another 3 gallons of juice from the pressing, not as flavorful or sweet as the first, but still quite decent. I would say it is a little weaker than the apple juice you usually buy in the store, but the flavor it has is more apple than the store-bought stuff. Some we froze, and some we have in the refrigerator for drinking. We’re going to need another refrigerator… I’m very happy with everything we got out of the apples we picked!

Then I moved onto cleaning up the press for storage… it does take a lot of time to press, especially when including cleanup…

An Apple A Day

Or approximately 100 pounds of them – but I am getting ahead of myself.

I started the day by making coffee, as most sane people do. I forgot to turn it on, but that is another story altogether. Having prepared the coffee (almost), I set to bottling my porter. Friday I had tested the SG (1.008, and thus 5.38% ABV) and prepped bottles and such. The flavor was quite decent, and the smoothness quite noticeable (from the oatmeal). Looking forward to sampling it once in the bottle and carbonated!

I started by heating up 1/2 cup of sugar in 1 1/2 cups of water, for priming. I let this cool in my bottling bucket before beginning to rack the porter onto it. Didn’t take very long, and I was off and running. After racking, I had 4 1/3 gallons of porter to work with, which is about what I expected due to trub and airspace.

Bottling was uneventful, but took longer than I would have liked. But in the end, I had 47 bottles of porter.

I then rushed off to Kuk Sool Won (Korean martial arts), for which I was very nearly late.

Returning home was where the real work – er, I mean, fun – began. I was ready to start grinding up apples and pressing them! And for the first time doing it, I have to say, not too bad. But it took forever. I wasn’t as efficient as I might have liked, either in apple prep or pressing, but the end result was delicious, and I believe it will make a very tasty cider (among other things!).

It seriously took all afternoon. There was a small break to eat dinner (which included some of the fresh-pressed cider in its preparation), but other than that, I worked straight from about 1 until 8. It was rather monotonous – pick up apple, core, quarter, blend, pick up more, core, quarter, blend…place in bag in press. I ended up pressing twice based on the amount of fruit I needed to press.

After pressing, I had produced about 5 1/2 gallons for the cider fermentation. Another quart was placed in the refrigerator. And we had consumed a few small samples of the fresh-pressed juice (that were quite good, I might add). The juice is from an apple mixture – of Mutsu, Arkansas Black, Stayman Winesap, and Jonathon (at a ratio of 2:1:1:0.9). Far better than any cider in the store, and better than the pre-packaged cider available at the apple farm. Maybe not as economical, though…

I added a 1/4 tp. of potassium metabisulfite to the juice set aside for cider. Tomorrow I will move to pitching the yeast.

But, that’s not all! After pressing, there’s quite a bit of pomace, and mine was fairly flavorful as I was not very efficient (not awfully so, but the pulp certainly wasn’t very dry, in my mind). So I asked Kim to look up if we could use the pomace in apple  butter or some such thing. She never found anything for that, but we did find some links about ciderkin, and Kim was intrigued enough (and thought the kids might appreciate it) that I got to work on that.

First, I set aside 4 pounds of the pomace and added 2 gallons of water to it, This will be a quick “wine” – we’ll ferment it one or two days, before filtering it some and chilling it. Should still be sweet, with a light apple flavor, and only a slight level of alcohol. That’s for my wife and I. It’s just an experiment – not sure if it will turn out right, but why not try? Beats tossing the pomace. I’m sure it can still be composted after.

I then added 3 gallons of water to the remaining pomace (that’s all the room that was left in the bucket I was using). The apple pomace soaked it up quickly. Tomorrow we will run it back through the press, and this second pressing – ciderkin – we will save for the kids; we’ll have some too, I’m sure!

While I worked on the pomace, Kim took my inefficiently-cut apple cores and reclaimed enough to make apple liqueur (for later addition to dry, carbonated cider). In the time I was making the ciderkin preparations, she was able to stuff three quart-size mason jars with apple trimmings. Each jar was also given a cup of sugar (before adding the apples, actually), and topped up with vodka to fill in all the space. Should be ready in a month…though my guess is the cider won’t be ready to be paired with it yet!

And with that we are both worn out. My hands are all dried out from working with apples, repeatedly washing my hands, etc. And I cut myself accidentally on the blades of Kim’s blender (used to crush the apples into a sauce before pressing). Didn’t even glide across the blade, just pressed into it, and it sliced me…

My New Toy

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In the mail today, I received a “box full of awesomeness” – my first ever fruit press. I plan on putting it into action pressing some apples for cider tomorrow morning.

Some Recent Pictures

Thought to share some pictures from the last month:

October 6, 2013

This afternoon, the weekend’s camping activities complete, I was able to get to bottling the strawberry melomel. Bottling was uneventful, and the result was fifteen orange-red bottles of strawberry melomel, all in clear glass. Luckily, there was enough left over for a glass. It was quite dry, but full of flavor, and had a great feel in the mouth like a good red wine. Now we will let it age some more in the bottle.

I also cleaned some carboys for later in the evening. Then we went to a baptismal service. My daughter Julianne was baptized, as were two of our youth. It was a short event, but awesome.

Well, returning home, we got kids in the bath and then into bed. My wife then went to a coffee night with the ladies, and I got to work. First, I racked the new braggot to a 5G carboy. No issues. Then I did the same to the muscadine wine (3G carboy).

The muscadine wine was more complicated, as there wasn’t quite enough liquid. Removing the bag of solids, there was 2 1/2 gallons of lees and liquid. I transferred the liquid to the carboy, and then proceeded to add sugar water. I worked 1/2 gallon at a time (1 pound of sugar to 1/2 gallon of water), and needed to do the addition about 1 1/2 times). I had measured the SG before this, finding 1.003, and then after, finding a 1.024.

Overall a good, even if busy, day.