Too Many Moving Pieces

I have the following assorted batches going on: peach wine, blackberry wine, blueberry wine, blueberry melomel, Mars and Saturn grape wine, muscadine wine, fig wine, cyser, barley wine and three different braggots. Many haven’t been touched, other than just taking a look, in quite some time. Today, the long pause came to an end for many of them. It came in fits and spurts.

It started with last year’s blueberry melomel and blueberry wine. I racked each of them (each in a single gallon jug) and then topped up with water before testing SG. The blueberry melomel came to 1.003 and the wine to 1.005. Neither one is ready, as they both are bubbling slightly (the melomel, very slightly indeed). Of course, racking may put an end to that. And just as well, as I am ok with not back-sweetening, instead relying on the residual sugar.

With those done, I eventually started on the muscadine wine. Unlike the Blueberry, the Muscadine wine was quite done, with no activity seen for a long time. I first prepared a simple syrup of 4 oz. of sugar boiled in 1/2 cup of water. This had to be set aside and cooled. But jumping ahead in the days progress, I eventually racked, and whilst racking added in the 1/20 tsp. of potassium metabisulfite to each jug (there were two). Once racking was complete, I distributed the syrup between the two jugs. I ended up not being able to do it equivalently. So I will have Muscadine wine, once bottled, at two different sweetness levels (one gallon got 2 2/3 oz. while the other got 1 1/3). Of course, I will be watching it like a hawk over the next couple days to assure myself that there is no re-buildup of fermentation with the addition of sugar. So far not a lot of success keeping Muscadine wine from blowing!

In the middle there, I found time to rack the blackberry wine. As with the others, I topped up and then measured SG (0.995). There is no activity, but it needs time to stabilize and such. I will give it a couple months before disturbing it again.

This evening – busy, busy, busy – allowed me the opportunity to rack the Mars grape wine. First, I put 0.5 oz. of cubed Hungarian oak in the carboy, then racked onto it. I’ll check it in a month to see what level of oaking that provides. The last time I used Hungarian oak was on the single gallon of plum wine, and I left it a bit long, I think. This is a three gallon batch, with the same amount of oak…so it will not be so powerful, even if done for as long. The oak blocks made it impossible to measure SG, though it isn’t really a problem at this stage – I was just curious.

The peach wine, next on the list, I racked onto 1 oz. of American oak before topping up. The peach wine is lovely, but more importantly, it needed off the lees, which were thick. As with the Mars, I will check back on this one in a month to see what the oak is like. And, I guessed the shards of American Oak would make a good SG reading impossible, so just skipped it for now.

For tonight that leaves a gallon of Strawberry-Agave wine (quite dry, and ready to be sulfited for bottling) and a gallon of cranberry wine (quite sweet, stuck, but I think usable as a dessert wine) to be handled. I could also rack the Saturn grape wine, the barley wine or the cyser if I wanted to. Of those three, only the cyser is really calling out to me. The others could wait (a couple days) without any trouble.

The fig wine is in no need of handling at this time, nor is this year’s blueberry wine, still with a thin head of foam. One of the braggots (Braggot IV) has picked up bubbling again after last week’s racking. And the other two need priming and bottling, rather than racking. That will most certainly wait for another night. Maybe tomorrow, if I have the strength and can find time to sanitize the required bottles!

And in the midst of all this, I have been playing with using Evernote as my “notebook” tool for recording measurements, observations and such. So far, I am pleased. I like it’s approach to configuring reminders, and displaying them for easy reference. I’ve been off and on looking for something that worked well, and unfortunately have accumulated notes across a couple different places: this blog, sticky notes, index cards, word documents, MS project files… Time to try and get it all consolidated into one that works.

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Weird Cherry, and Episodes IV and V

I racked a whole bunch of braggot throughout the day, spread out during down times. And about time, too. I’ve been watching them sputter for months, just the tiniest smattering of bubbles. And with that, I decided it was time. The likelihood is that racking will permanently stop noticeable fermentation at this stage – and that is in fact my hope.

If not, we’ll just let the yeast continue their magic.

The first one to rack was the Weird Cherry Braggot. This odd concoction (Sage honey, cherries) has an interesting (good!) flavor. It’s sweet (the sweetest of them all), and the cherry is noticeable. The lack of hops definitely makes for a different taste compared to the braggots I’ve made in the past. I checked the SG after racking, and found it at 1.009. But, I had to top of with about 1/3 gallon of water because of the bed of lees. Probably should have racked much sooner to keep it off of them. I re-air-locked, and so far, no visible signs of fermentation.

Next, I tasted the two remaining 5 gallon carboys. In the course of time, I had lost track of which was Braggot IV and which was Braggot V. Braggot IV was hopped, and Braggot V was not, which made it easy enough to tell the difference. Having determined which one was Braggot IV, I started there.

Braggot IV measured 1.004 after racking, and there was no real need to top up with water. Braggot V, came in at 1.008. As with the Weird Cherry Braggot, I had to top up Braggot V with a 1/3 gallon of water. Braggot IV is definitely darker than V, though I have nothing I can point to as to why.

And that’s enough for one day. I think one of last year’s blueberries, the cranberry and the strawberry-agave wines are also ready for racking (if not bottling, after prep-work). But that will have to keep for later in the week.

Fall Enough For Apples

Mid-September. Apples, apples, and more apples. That was the plan, and that is what happened!

Sky Top Orchard was packed, but there were plenty of apples to be picked. And a large number of available varieties. We ourselves picked Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Mutsu, Gala, Jonathon and Jonagold, plus a bit of Black Arkansas that really wasn’t fully ripe, but still looked quite tasty. We couldn’t pick Asian Pears, but did buy some in the “store”. We (“of course”, my wife and kids would add) got some of their fresh-baked apple doughnuts. And rather than purchase cider (for making cyser) at Whole Foods, I just went ahead and got it at Sky Top. No idea the exact apple mix, even after asking. But I didn’t know the mixture going into the stuff I bought at Whole Foods last year either.

In all, we got (and this is a little bit of back calculating) 196 pounds of apples. More specifically, approximately 3 pounds of Asian Pears, 46 pounds each of Mutsu and Jonathon, 22 pounds each of Red Delicious, Jonagold and Gala, 21 pounds of Golden Delicious, and a smattering – 14 pounds – of under-ripe Black Arkansas.

Jenna brought a friend, who while walking through the orchard admitted surprise that there were varieties other than “red” and “green”. Awkward silence. Both are in sixth grade, I suppose.

In any case, some of the apples will end up as jelly or apple butter, and some will be for eating. Julianne claimed, from the very beginning, dibs on the Asian Pears. She did not mince words. The rest of the apples I am hoping to use for hard cider, of course.

Cyser

Back home, with apple cider from the farm in hand, it was time to make cyser. The rest of the apples can of course sweat a bit, without much hassle. I will come back to them with fruit press ready. But it’s not like I have room for 4 gallons of cider in the refrigerator right now!

Last year’s batch turned out spectacularly, if I do say so myself. So I started there. I considered bumping up the honey to see if I could make it go naturally semi-sweet, instead of doing the back-sweetening I did last year, but decided against it when I considered the already super-high OG seen last year (1.112). I ended up sticking with the “recommended” 8 pounds of honey, selecting a Wildflower honey from the Bread Becker-sourced honey obtained last weekend. Same honey as last year, too, going over the notes.

I started by putting the honey in the bottom of the fermentation bucket. I then blended a half pound each of dates and raisins in a third of a gallon cider. This was tossed in a straining bag in the bucket. Turns out the raisins didn’t exactly blend up as well as hoped, but I can live with it. I then added the rest of the cider (for a total of four gallons).

I then topped up as the recipe suggested, to just over 5 gallons. The recipe actually says to top to 5, but I did just a bit more to account for sediment and such. Only then did I realize, rereading the recipe, that I had forgotten the dark brown sugar. And, it turned out I didn’t have dark brown sugar in the pantry, only light. So I measured in the 1 pound of light brown sugar instead.

It’s a super-simple recipe, in all honesty. The only additional ingredients are 2 tsp. of yeast energizer and 1 tsp. of yeast nutrient, which I added after the brown sugar, mixing vigorously to try to incorporate oxygen. I checked the specific gravity and found it sitting at a comfortable 1.110. Just a hair lower than last year’s. I pitched the yeast (Lalvin D47) according to package directions and, voilà, the cyser has begun. No pectic enzyme rest, no sulfite rest; just right into fermentation.

Mmm, The Beginnings of Cyser

Mmm, The Beginnings of Cyser

Night!

Saruman Wants His Recipe Back

Be sure to use a blowoff tube in a 6.5-gallon fermenter-this is going to be messy… – Jack Palmer

These are Palmer’s comments concerning the fermentation schedule for his “Fightin’ Urak’hai Barley Wine”. Quite accurate. I’ve been eyeing this recipe ever since I first purchased “How To Brew”. Monday, with ingredients on hand, I began the process of making it for the first time.

First, I brought 3 gallons of water to 158°F. Removing from the burner, I added 0.5 lbs. of Special “B” malt and 0.5 lbs. of chocolate malt in a grain bag to the pan, and kept it somewhere between 155 and 148°F (slowly descending) for a half hour. No big deal, but I realized there was no way I was going to be able to do the boil in that pan. Not only would the dry extract not fit, but once I had to add hops and the final liquid extracts, things would be very bad.

So, I grabbed another pan, and once the half hour was done, split the liquid between the two pans. I then added 4 lbs of pale malt extract (DME) to each of the pans. I brought this to a boil and started my hour count down, then added 1 oz. of Magnum hops (14.2%), divided about evenly between the pans. Half an hour in, I added the remaining hops – more on that later – to the pan. Finally, 15 minutes before end of the boil, I added the wheat malt extract. Come to think of it, the recipe calls for a total of 5 lbs of wheat malt extract (LME). But I just tossed in the contents of two canisters. Forgot that they weren’t exact measure, though it was reasonably close. No problem, but something to keep in mind for next time.

So a couple things about the hops for this recipe. First, the recipe called for twice as much hops. I decided, when preparing my shopping list, to cut the amount. Not a huge hops fan. Kim tends to appreciate sweetness and malt, more than hops, as well. Specifically, I removed the ounce of Horizon (12%) to be added at the 30 minute point, and the ounce of Sterling to be added at 45 minutes in.

Second, my second addition of hops wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The recipe called for 1 ounce of Sterling (8%), and the vacuum-sealed package was instead labeled “Strian Goldings”. I remember my supplier questioning me about the alpha rating, and together we had decided to go with 1.78 ounces at 4.2%, to account for the difference. Apparently, there had been a mix-up. A search online leads me to believe that this was Styrian Goldings, really a Fuggle, rather than Sterling. I doubt I’ll even be able to tell the difference. Maybe another day I will try again with the originally planned hop mixture and try and detect the difference.

In any case, I transferred all to an ice bath, and in about 10 minutes I was down to 110°F. To each of the two pans I added another gallon of water, and this brought the temperature down considerably. I let both pans sit for a little while longer, until they were down to 78°F. Then, I transferred the wort to the 6.5 gallon carboy I would be fermenting in. I added another 1 2/3 gallons of water to get to approximately 5.5 gallons, including the trub of hops and such that had yet to settle out. Giving it longer to settle, and using a racking cane, I probably could have limited the amount of hops in the primary fermentation. But funneling the wort seemed like a good way of incorporating oxygen at this stage.

I stirred a bit, and then tested SG, finding a reading of 1.110. With such a tall layer of trub, I got a little worried and added a small amount of additional water. The recipe had suggested an OG of 1.106, and mine was a bit higher, so I didn’t mind. Now that I think about it, the extra wheat malt extract probably explains the increase. In any case, I did not actually re-measure SG. It is probably close to the 1.106 value, though I can’t be certain. Oddly enough, later that evening, it seems the trub layer compacted quite a bit. Interesting.

About the time I was beginning the boil, I had smacked the yeast packet (Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale) to release the nutrients and get the yeast going. The package says to give the yeast at least 3 hours before pitching, and that has typically been fine in my experience. But this time, the package had hardly seemed to expand at all by three hours. I waited more like 5 for the yeast to reasonably be bulging the package, though still less pressure than I have seen in the past. But once I thought it was ready, I tossed in the yeast, air-locked the carboy, and covered it to keep out light.

And then waited. The next morning, I saw no activity. I was starting to get worried. By end of the day, yesterday, I was seeing just a little bit of surface activity at the top edges. This morning, there was still very little activity, but there were a couple “intense” regions along the edge that were seeing an accumulation (minor) of white foam. By midday, that foam had turned a tan, and began spreading across the surface, never quite covering it all.

Late afternoon activities ensued, and when I finally got back, things had gone from “minor” activity to “huge head of foam threatening to hit the air-lock”. I decided to move, rather than wait, and set up a blow hose rather than the normal carboy air-lock. Within minutes, the carboy was shooting CO2 and some foam into the milk jug I had filled with an inch-and-a-half of water. And it was doing it at a steady pace.

It is nowhere near letting up at this point. Palmer was quite right. Every once in a while, there seems to be a pause in the gunfire gas release. This seems to be caused by a buildup of foam progressing through the syphon hose. Once that buildup pushes through, there is a loud release of gas, and then the system goes right back to regular bubbling. Cool to watch, and listen to.

The recipe is a little more complex than some. It calls for a 1 to 3 week primary fermentation, then a follow-up 1 to 3 months in secondary. With such a high SG, the issue is likely buildup of sediments that could affect flavor. Hopefully the longer time (including a month bottle-conditioning), equates to a very tasty beverage. It likely means I won’t start another beer anytime soon, unless I move it to a 5 gallon carboy at secondary. Not sure I’ll have one available, though.

A Busy Weekend, Part III

This morning, with Kim having to be at nursery early, and me to worship practice early as well, our plans for a well-organized breakfast for Sean’s birthday fell flat. Which ended up fine, because he didn’t want eggs or pancakes – just bacon. That, and a little coffee for the parents, would fuel the morning.

Once the church service was over, we ran to Greenville for Sean’s birthday party at Sky Zone. He and a friend shared the party. A blast for all involved. Party done, we asked Sean where he wanted to go. Originally, he had seemed interested in going to a book store. But with Petsmart next door, things had shifted. In the end, we added Neptune to our family (pictures below).

Safely home, it is time for some sleep to recharge for another week of work! Hopefully all the animals will learn to live together in peace…

A Busy Weekend, Part II

Yesterday (Saturday), we had planned to go to Atlanta for some supply-shopping. And so we did. First stop, north-side of Atlanta, was The Bread Beckers.

Honey And Such

We had a number of things to find at The Bread Beckers. First, I needed honey for mead. Looking over the varieties available, I selected 2 gallons (12 lbs per gallon) each of Wildflower, Orange Blossom and a “Bakers” honey. Got to taste a couple of others, and it was this that led me to pick the “Bakers” honey. At first I had thought that was possibly just a “mix” honey. Turns out it is a honey based on a pepper plant. It’s not spicey at all, but I loved the flavor. Definitely more appealing than either the Gallberry honey (with a bad aftertaste, in my opinion) Buckwheat honey (good, but not as good), which I sampled inquisitively.

Might have been interested in getting Tupelo honey, but it was $99 and change per gallon. I quickly passed. The others were considerably less than that.

I also needed a plastic bucket with locking lid, for storing sugar. I use a lot of sugar, both making jelly/jam and wine. Kim though I should get something to protect the sugar from the environment, rather than leaving it in big bags. I agreed, probably not a bad idea. Then Kim wanted to get some grains for making bread, as well as honey granules, which work great for coffee and tea.

Fun Time

All that done, we headed towards our next destination, Fernbanks’ Natural History Museum. We stopped at Fellini’s Pizza just short of our destination, and were not disappointed. It was excellent! I also got to try my first saison, which Kim also found quite tasty. I’m finding that there are more and more beer varieties out there that are well worth trying!

We have a pass that gets us in most children’s museums, zoos and aquariums free or at some reduced price. Found out that the Natural History Museum was not one of them. Later, we found out there is a nearby Science Center that was free with our passes. That can be for another day.

The Museum was a lot of fund. There was an exhibit about senses (mostly sight), and one about culture (mostly concerning body art and clothing). There was a interesting exhibit covering the different regions of Georgia and how they were formed geologically. And there was an extensive exhibit covering the timespan from first cellular life to current day, with emphasis on dinosaurs and their immediate precursors. That was what had caught our eyes about the place when we first searched, knowing Sean would find that interesting, and this his birthday weekend.

By chance, we met up with one of Sean’s school friends as we attended a show-and-tell of reptiles (a snake, a turtle, and lizard). After leaving the show, we all headed to the play land in the Museum. The kids all enjoyed the play land for about an hour. Great place! And then, with a short trip to the gift shop at the entrance (or should I say exit?), we were on our way to the next thing.

Frustration

Next on our “plan” was a trip to an Asian Market. After some online searching, we had selected Great Wall Supermarket, and it was an excellent choice. We started with the food court, selecting some steamed mini-buns, some jelly drinks, a platter of string beans with pork, and a stir fried pork in a sweet sour sauce (though it was actually more spicey than sour). Everything was great, though it seemed to take a while.

Fed, we then moved onto shopping. I didn’t really have a shopping list. But, I knew I wanted to find red and massaman curry if it was available, as well as coconut milk. Great Wall did not disappoint. Besides for the curry supplies, we got noodles, assorted fruits and vegetables, mochi, ice cream (not the normal stuff), frozen gyoza (dumplings), and an assortment of teas. I was slightly disappointed at not being able to find gemmai cha, a green tea with added brown rice that I love.

The fun of shopping ended there, abruptly. We went to the registers, and rang up quickly enough. But the bank decided this purchase on Kim’s card looked too suspicious, and I didn’t even think to try my card instead. A half hour later, after waiting on hold and talking to the bank somewhat fruitlessly, I tried my card, and it worked. Huge sigh of relief. Apparently Kim doesn’t use her card enough when we go out for Asian!

Then it was back home. After the cold stuff was in the freezer or refrigerator, we went to bed, all exhausted. But the weekend was not over…

A Busy Weekend, Part I

This was a constantly “moving” weekend (I’m including Friday in the weekend, though I worked), fun and frustrating all wrapped up together. Friday was a mixed bag, ranging from racking wine to experimenting with salsa-making. Saturday was full of excitement, with a trip to Atlanta for food stuffs, and a side trip of the “fun for kids” variety. And today was the youngest child’s birthday.

Friday

Friday was a fairly normal work day, with a small break over lunch to rack the fig wine to a jug for secondary fermentation. I got the bright idea to pick some figs to add to secondary, and ended up adding only 3.5 ounces; the tree in the back yard has been picked over fairly well at this point. Not much, but I hope enough to provide some additional fig character. I washed and removed stems, then cut in half before adding to the jug. At first, most sank, with only a few floating. But many are floating at the top, at this point.

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As you can see, the color has proceeded from a milky pink to the clearer grapefruit color, seen today. Or better, much like the color of the pinkish insides of a fig. I did taste the fig wine at racking, and it does not have any of the woodiness or vinegar flavors I feared. Restrained optimism seems warranted.

Later on in the afternoon, work completed, I proceeded to make two dinners. One was sausage and peppers, intended for delivery to Friday potluck. The other was spaghetti, for the girl scouts that would be meeting at our own house that evening. While preparing, one of the neighbors brought over a good number of tomatoes, peppers and herbs. This reminded me of an idea I had been having for salsa.

For a couple of days, I had been taken with this idea of combining tomatoes and blueberries to make salsa. Fruit can certainly be a salsa component, right? But, knowing that I sometimes get an eyebrow raised when I suggest the combination of fruit and less-fruity things, I decided to look online – not for recipes exactly, but to see if I was out in left field or not. I managed to find this recipe for an Avocado-Fourth-of-July themed salsa. Rather thick for salsa, if you ask me.

As I said,  I did not exactly follow the recipe. Just used it as a sanity check. I ran to my blender, threw in about a half cup of white onions, a bunch of backyard blueberries, a bunch (3 medium-sized?) of just-ripened tomatoes, a kid-size handful of cilantro, a single jalepeño, and 2 poblano peppers (I think). I also added in a 1/4 tsp. of salt. Then I blended it. It filled 1 2/3 of the pint-sized canning jars, once fully blended.  Came out rather runny at first, but then I recalled the recipe suggested letting sit for ten minutes.

By the time I was at potluck, the salsa had “set” nicely. Not too thick, not too runny. And best of all, quite apart from any knowledge on my part, there were fajitas. The salsa worked quite well, in spite of the oddness of a salsa with blueberries. It was a lovely pink color, I guess from the tomato and white onion, but with a purple shine from the bits of inter-mixed blueberry skin. And the peppers added a distinct, but not overpowering, kick. Sweet and spicey, very nice.

We only took the 2/3 jar, as I was not certain whether my concoction would go over well. Glad to have the remaining jar in the refrigerator, now that I have verified its taste!

And the weekend continues…