Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Brewing tips

I just finished bottling a batch of pale ale, and and it was one of those where it seemed like nothing went right. In the end I think the beer will turn out ok, but it was more of a headache than necessary. It reminded me of a few tips:
1. Don't rush. on the brewday I was in a rush to get things done. If I had taken more time I probably could have avoided the two boil overs I had (both right at the end of the boil too, I had let my guard down). In the end this would have saved a lot of time, as cleaning burned wort off of an electric stove is not easy.

2. Have enough space to work. I had carefully cleaned the stove and counter that I was using, but lots of clutter had built up on some of the other table space in the kitchen, which meant that I didn't have places to put stuff to get it out of the way quickly.

3. Plan ahead and take stock of your equipment. The day before I bottled I couldn't find my bottle filler, and the homebrew store is an hour's drive away. I made do without, just using height and pinching the hose to stop the flow of beer, but it made for more spills and a lot more mess than normal. I'll be in Indianapolis this weekend, and will definitely be stopping by Great Fermentations to restock. At $2.75 a filler is worth it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dandelion wine

I really like the idea of brewing with things that I grew or harvested myself, but I've only done it once. Two summers ago I made a mead with berries from my yard. Anyway, my apartment has a big yard and no chemicals being sprayed on it, so I thought I'd do something with all of the dandelions that came up. Over the past three days I gathered dandelions, cut off the petals(more on this later), and stored them in the freezer. Today I started a dandelion wine. Here is my recipe, based on one from the Winemaker's recipe handbook:
8 cups dandelion petals
7 oz golden raisins, chopped
4 liters hot water
2 lb sugar
1 T acid blend
1 t yeast nutrient
1 crushed campden tablet
1 packet Montrachet yeast (since its what I have on hand)

I put the petals and the raisins in a grain steeping bag and two improvised bags of cheesecloth, and then into the hot water. Then I added the rest of the ingredients except the yeast and put in the fermenter. The starting gravity was 1.100 at 74 degrees, which adusted for temperature is about 1.101. The yeast will go in tomorrow.

When I looked for recipes in books and on the internet for dandelion wine there was a split of opinion as to whether or not its ok to include any of the green parts of the plant. Most sources say to remove all or at least most of the green sepals as they add bitterness, but a few say that the sepals aren't much of a problem as long as you have absolutely no stem. At first I decided to be conservative and exclude the sepals, but this is a major pain. Then I thought I'd try the sepals. I chewed on a few, and thought they weren't bad, a little bitter like a bitter salad green such as arugula. For contrast I also chewed on some stems. I don't recomend you do this, it was seriously bitter, chewing up a pill that's meant to be swallowed whole bitter. Anyway, I thought I'd try not worrying about the sepals. Instead of pulling out the petals I switched to taking a knife and cutting them off just below where the sepals start (so I still was not getting much green). This went much much faster. However, after the petals sat in the hot water for a while I began to notice an odor somewhat like cooked spinach. I think that I'll wait until fermentation is done and I can check again before gathering anymore dandelions.

New fermenter

Well, it's been a little while, but I'm back. I wanted to make a primary fermenter for small (1 or 2 gallon) batches with a wide opening, so I could easily put in and take out bags of fruit and other stuff. I once did a strawberry and rhubarb beer where I just put the chopped fruit into the carboy as if I were dryhopping. The beer was good, but siphoning it out was a nightmare. I found a large tupperware-type plastic food container with a capacity of about 2 1/2 gallons at the big-box mart, and a gasket for an airlock at my local homebrew store. Then all I had to do was use a utility knife to cut a small hole in the lid to fit the gasket. What you see here is Oscar trying to help with the picture. And here is the finished project.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Last harvest of the year

This fall I did a fall planting of some leafy vegetables. It went out a bit late, but since we had an unusually warm winter, I was able to harvest a little bit before our first freeze. Just before the first freeze I covered the bed with some nylon fabric draped over stakes and pinned to the fence I have for keeping out rabbits. It may be the most redneck looking rowcover/season extender I've ever seen, but it did its job and then some. Yesterday, just before line of bad weather blew in, I went out to check if anything was still growing. This is what I cut.

I have a mix of lettuce, arugula, spinach and chard. My cheap improvised nylon cover worked through an eight inch snowfall, an ice storm and several nights of temperatures in the teens.

Incidentally, this is the bad weather that blew in yesterday.
My plants may still be alive out there, but I sure don't want to go out and see!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Racking the cyser

Last night I finally got around to racking the cyser I started about a month ago. For the first two weeks the fermentation was fairly constant and rapid (about 1 bubble in the airlock every 3 seconds) and then it slowed drastically to only one bubble every few minutes and most of the sediment dropped out, so I probably should have racked then. Oh well, it was in glass under an airlock, so there was no danger of oxidation, and I don't think that leaving it on the sediment for an extra 2 or 3 weeks will hurt much. I measured the specific gravity, and was very surprised, it read 1.001 (adjusted for temperature). Since it started at 1.121 this means that the alcohol by volume is 15.75%. The surprising part is that according to Wyeast the cider yeast is only alcohol tolerant to 12%. This means that I have a much drier cyser that I was planning on. There is a bit more room than I would like in the carboy right now, so I think I'll get some apple juice to top it off. This could restart fermentation, which might cause a risk of stuff getting blown into the airlock when there's little headroom in the carboy. However, since I'm already well above the alcohol tolerance for this yeast I don't think any fermentation at this point will be too vigorous.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Super Cider

That's what the local homebrew shop, Great Fermentations, calls the apple cider they sell each fall. Its unpasteurized and specially blended for fermenting (although we think its pretty good for drinking fresh too). Last time I had some (two years ago) I made a pretty straight forward hard cider, just 5 gallons of cider and a pound of honey to raise the original gravity to
1.066. I then aged it with a bit of cinnamon and sweetened with lactose. I enjoyed it, but it was really dry and and the flavor was very delicate. This year I decided go a lot higher with the original gravity. I don't like to worry too much about what people call beverages, but I think I would refer to this year's project as a cyser, an apple mead. The recipe is:
4 1/2 gal. cider
10 1/2 lb honey
1 tablespoon yeast nutrient
1 tablespoon acid blend
1 smackpack Wyeast cider yeast

I dissolved the honey in about half a gallon of the cider in a pot over medium heat on the stove. Then I combined everything except the yeast with 4 campden tablets in a carboy and let sit for a day. The next day I stirred vigorously to drive off the sulfur and then pitched the yeast. The gravity this time was 1.121, after adjusting for temperature. It's really neat to watch the color change as the fermentation proceeds and the sediment drops out.

Edit: I forgot to give credit where credit is due. For the above recipe I borrowed from the recipes "Jerry Sadowski's award winning recipe" handed out at Great Fermentations and the "simple mead" recipe from Washington Winemaker. If you are at all interested in making wines, especially country or fruit wines, and meads, you should really check out his blog.

Friday, October 19, 2007

American brown ale

Last Sunday I brewed for the first time since I've been back from Germany. I had wanted to earlier, but August and September were way too hot. My apartment isn't air conditioned, and when beer ferments above 80 degrees (s0me say above 70) off flavors can develop. I decided to make one of my favorites, the Mahogany Mirror Ale, an American brown ale, from Al Korzonas' book Homebrewing. Incidentally, in my opinion if you are only going to read one homebrewing as a beginner it should be this one. Papazian may be a bit more fun to read, but when I want to look something up, or find a simple and trustworthy recipe this book is always the first one I pull off the shelf. The American brown as a style has the hop profile of an American style pale ale and the maltiness of a British brown.

By today the bubbles in the airlock had slowed to less than one per minute, so it was time to add the dryhops. There are several reasons for waiting until this point of the fermentation to add the dryhops. One is to prevent contamination. By now the beer is somewhat acidic, has a fair amount of alcohol, and most of the fermentable sugars have been consumed. All of this reduces the chance that introducing the hop pellets will cause an infection. Another is that the purpose of dryhopping is to add aroma. If fermentation is still vigorously occurring the escaping carbon dioxide will carry the aromatics from the hops with it right out the airlock. Lastly, hop pellets sink after a few days. Normally I use whole hops for dryhopping and this isn't a problem, as the whole hops float, but this time I wasn't paying attention at the brewing store, and wound up with pellets for the dryhopping. If the pellets sink at a time when dead yeast cells are falling out of suspension the pellets can get covered and won't contribute as much to the beer. By waiting until most of the fermentation is over I hope I've avoided some of this. Here we have the beer after adding the pellets.
Now I just have to wait another week or so to bottle.