Mid-Summer Non-Fermentation

Final Product: Honeyed Summer Cantaloupe

Final Product: Honeyed Summer Cantaloupe

Honeyed Summer Cantaloupe

This evening, right on schedule (7 days melding), I finished making the Honeyed Summer Cantaloupe. All it took was straining the bulk of the fruit, letting the liquid drain off without any additional pressing. I did hem and haw about which container to put it in for storage, but ended up deciding on an old Stoli bottle (1.75 L). Little big for the job, but it seemed annoying to do 1 full screw-cap wine bottle (750 mL) plus a partially filled second. I have a few more of these old bottles, and they want to be filled.

I don’t know that I am fond of the smell, in all honesty. But then, cantaloupe is not my favorite melon, either. It isn’t offensive, just not pleasurable in the way the Rose Raspberry of Lemon Drop were, and nowhere near the pleasant smoothness (in smell or taste) of past years’ spiced apple liqueur. We’ll just have to see about the flavor later, as I’m going to give it a day or two off the fruit before sampling.

Cucumber Mint Liqueur

Cucumber Mint Liqueur

Mint, With a Healthy Does of Cucumber

Finishing with that, I then began on another recipe from the same book. I had originally thought to nearly double the recipe (to end up fitting  a 1.75L bottle), but was short on Vermouth. So, I relented and went with the recipe as is. Still was a little short on Vermouth!

The book called for 1.5 cups of 80-100 proof vodka mixed with 1.5 cups of Vermouth (18% ABV). I used an unremarkable vodka sitting in the pantry (80 proof, or 40% ABV), and an extra dry Vermouth. Turned out I had just under the expected amount of Vermouth, so I’ll be needing a new bottle.

My birthday is almost here [hint, hint…]

On a serious note, I just increased the amount of vodka to make a total of 3 cups of liquid. And I’m fully capable of purchasing Vermouth, if the need arises. Which it could.

To that I added one large (I mean really large) cucumber, grated. The recipe had called for 2 medium cucumbers, grated. I also added a half cup of chopped (apple) mint from the front garden, per the recipe, and the zest of 1 lemon (also per the recipe).

Then I mixed this all together, sealed the top and set in a cool, dark place. Give that a couple days, adding some simple syrup, and we’ll see what we’ve got.

Next Up

Need to get a ginger bug back operational. Been out of the regular ginger ale swing. Technically, that’s fermentation. And I did say this was a non-fermentation post. Ah, well. I have more lemons, so another Lemon Drop attempt could be possible – especially since the previous one was so well received by friends. A limecello is probably in order as well, before the purchased limes give up the ghost.

Oh, and it is high time for making some more fig leaf liqueur. I’m considering Everclear, as I have already tried it with both gin and vodka. Just for comparison, of course. the figs themselves aren’t quite ready for anything. But the tree can pass me a couple of leaves without too much harm.

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Lemons and Cantaloupe

Today, I finished the Lemon Drop (lemoncello).

Much as with the Rose Raspberry liqueur, I had mistakenly ignored the original proofing of the Everclear. So, using the same measurements as for the Rose Raspberry, after straining off the lemon zest, I added 12 ounces of water, and then mixed in the 1 cup of simple syrup (still 1:1). Once it was all mixed, I put it in the freezer for later.

It was quite interesting to see actually. The Lemon Drop starter was a solid and earthy yellow, not unlike a solution of saffron and water. It was crystalline clear, even after the addition of water. The simple syrup, too, was quite clear, though not exactly crystalline. But the addition of the simple syrup to the base was an instant shift to opaqueness, with color shifting from earthy yellow to a lemonade yellow – white-ish, thick…just begging to be tasted.

ater is now. And I must say that the flavor is delightful. The mixed up proportions have not affected the enjoyability of this one, in the slightest. Kim liked it, but prefers the Rose Raspberry. Fine by me!

Next!

With Rose Raspberry and Lemon Drop out of the way, and a cantaloupe begging to be cut open, I started on a Honeyed Summer Cantaloupe. Using the same book, but with a considerable amount of adjustment this time, I started by chopping up half a cantaloupe. This came to just about 4 cups. I then poured about a cup of a North Carolina honey into my vessel.

This time, I had purchased Everclear at 151 proof (about 75% ABV), and using the calculator, tested proportions of water and Everclear to reach somewhere in the 80-100 proof range. I came to stop on 400 mL of Everclear and 350 mL of water, for a total of approximately 750mL of liquor (the equation is not exactly linear). This would result in a 91 proof liquid.

All that done, I measured in my water and Everclear on top of the honey, the juice of two lemons, and then transferred the cantaloupe pieces. I crushed all this with a spoon inside my big mason jar, and then was finished. Now we wait for about seven days.

New Flavor Infusions

First day of a long needed vacation. Not sure what the day holds, but I plan on it being restful, to say the very least!

Last Thursday, inspired by a book I’ve been meaning to browse, and the delights of a friend’s Limecello, sampled happily, I decided to start some new liqueurs. I started two, making minor deviations, and we’ll see how things turn out in the end. The first is fairly close to Raspberry Rose, from the book Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits. The second played off of memory and remnants of conversations and the Lemon Drop recipe from the same book, a copycat of Lemoncello (maybe successful).

Raspberry Rose

Starting with the Raspberry Rose, I measured out 1 ounce of dried rose bud/petals. I had picked these up recently from a spice store in Florida, and was glad to be able to use them for something fun. That’s why I bought them! In any case, I also measured out 1 cup of raspberries, which amounted to about 6 ounces, picked over to remove bad berries. To this I added the fresh zest of 1 navel orange, though the recipe called for tangerine, which was unavailable at the store.

Then I made my biggest mistake, in hindsight, which was adding 750 mL of 190 proof Everclear. The recipe had called for the same amount of Vodka, at 80-100 proof. The proof was a fact I skimmed over and only realized a day or so later I had missed. I had used Everclear at the suggestion of my friend, and will probably continue to do so, as it is cheaper for the quantity – once proof is reduced. In any case, I muddled the mixture together, sealed and set aside.

The recipe called for 3-5 days of infusing. And today is the 4 day point (well, three and a half). I got up this morning, made coffee, and then set to making up a 1:1 simple syrup (3 cups sugar, 3 cups of water). After straining the infused Everclear off of the rose and raspberries, I added some water (12 ounces) and then 1 cup of the simple syrup (per the recipe). That makes 20 ounces of additional liquid, and if my calculations are correct (with the help of a calculator over at bootlegbotanicals.com), that should reduce the near-190 proof infusion to somewhere around 98 proof, more in the range of Vodka or similar. The infusion had ended with 21.5 ounces of dark red liquid, down from the ~25 ounces (750mL) to start with. I didn’t expect to get all the liquid out, of course, adding the 20 ounces of additional solution, I should have 1.6 750mL bottles worth of liqueur.

I have now thrown that mix in the freezer, to chill for later. Need to pick up some soda water from the store before this evening.

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Lemon Drop

With the lemon drop, I did make the same proofing mistake. But it is not complete, so the final state remains to be seen. Thursday, I zested 10 lemons, per recipe and placed this in a mason jar with 1.5 cups of 190 proof Everclear (rather than the 80-100 proof Vodka) and 1 cup of Vermouth (18% ABV). That is supposed to rest, sealed, for 7 days. Soon. Very soon.

Lemon Drop: In The Beginning

Lemon Drop: In The Beginning

Beyond

I have plans, or maybe imaginations, for something with ginger and/or cantaloupe. I’m going to hold of on Limecello for just a bit (supplies and containers is an immediate issue). And I’d like to try an Orangecello in the future as well. And if I can find Dutch gin (and maybe even if not) something with cucumber and mint, maybe. Oh, the possibilities are…endless.

Oh, Reading Again

Thought I’d give some of the detail that caught my eye on the French-Style Bière de Garde:

Golden to deep copper or even light brown in color these beers offer a variety of character, though they are generally characterized by a toasted malt aroma, slight malt sweetness in flavor and a medium level of hop bitterness, falvor and aroma. Warm ale fermentation creates a balanced fruitiness and complexity of alcohol character often quite evident. Commercially, this type of beer is almost always bottle conditioned, creating a pleasing and soft yeast character.

Also, for those linguistically minded (or those interested in book manufacturing, general psychology, or the issues faced during human-computer interaction), The Complete Joy of Home Brewing (3rd Edition) has an accent mistake in the relevant row on pp. 154-155. It is bière, not biére. In the earlier description of the style, they have it correct, of course.

Bière de Garde

Thinking I had more time this afternoon than I did, I began what seems like the ultimate festival of errors. Saturday, I selected a style/recipe from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, specifically the Bière de Garde. I picked up all the components, and this afternoon set to putting it together.

The recipe calls for 7.5 lbs. of pale malt extract, 3/4 lb. of crystal malt (I used 120, which maybe was not the best for color, in retrospect) and 1 lb. of white candi sugar as fermentables. I wanted to use Strisselspalt per the recipe, but my supply shop did not have it. The other options offered I went with, thus using 2 oz. of Hallertauer as the bittering hops, and 1/2 oz. of Crystal as the fnishing hops.

I started by slapping the yeast package as instructed and setting aside. I used Belgain Ale II, though the recipe was not specific in any way. Then I continued by putting a gallon of the water on heat, and bringing it to about 160F. I did not intend for a normal lautering, seeing as crystal malt is not enzymatic. But I did need some hot water to work the sweets out of the grains. With that complete, I began adding the rest of the fermentables and bittering hops, along with an additional half gallon of water. There I made the first error, one that hopefully does not ruin all.

Dear ones, while you are heating the liquid once again, and adding the liquid malt extract, be sure to stir. That liquid malt extract is perfectly happy to start burning to the bottom of the pan. Which it did, and left little flecks of black all through the boil. While I was able to eventually strain out the burn – and it wasn’t much, though enough to make me very upset at myself – I am hoping the effects do not last farther down the line. The color is dark, darker than I was expecting for the style. But then that may have more to do with using a rather caramelized crystal, rather than a lower rating. I hope it isn’t my poor timing on stirring.

In any case, stepping away for a moment to put water in the freezer, I missed the pan over-boiling just a bit. Not too bad, but messy. I kept going, letting the boil continue for 45 minutes. Then, after cooling and then transferring the wort to the fermentation bucket, I realized the finishing hops were missed. So I just tossed them in. Not best sanitation practice, likely. Not what I would recommend. But…well, really, I have no excuse.

Oh, right…so I had intended just cool and go directly to a carboy. Well, what with the burn flecks and all, I decided to strain the wort through a mesh bag first. That went pretty well. But it meant I needed an intermediate stage instead of a single fermentation. Or at least a temporary place to store the wort. Luckily, I had a bucket all sanitized for a batch of mead (which I no longer had time to start), so I was ready to go!

Straining done, I added 2 gallons of chilled water (the gallons I took to the freezer), plus the one I had already put in the carboy. I could see that this was nearly there, and added the remainder of the half gallon. Perfect, at just a little over the 5 gallon mark on the bucket. And it was at this point I added the forgotten Crystal hops.

I tested SG, and found it at a close-to-expected 1.062. Should be fine, though I expected at least 1.065. Considering all the other things that ran amuck, I’m happy with 1.062.

Well, as part of realizing I did not have the time I thought I did, I quickly left the house with my son in tow. I left my wife with instructions to please pitch the yeast at a certain point in time, the three hour mark per the package instructions. She pitched the yeast, as requested. She might have failed to notice that there was an inner plastic pouch. I came home later and found it floating at the top. My fault, for sure. This is not her thing. I was not clear enough. That and the bucket is up on a high counter during this period of time, and she likely couldn’t even see much of what she was pouring inside.

Well, back home this evening and I will say it has a very nice, sweet smell. I see some bubbling at the top of the sides, though no real head of foam yet. Nor did I expect one so quickly. The liquid is darker than expected; as mentioned, there are a few possibilities as to why. One being it may lighten over time once certain elements settle out.

Yeah, I doubt it, too.

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.

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!