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.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cleaning up the garden

Last year when I left for Germany I just left the garden as it was. I didn't cover the beds with mulch or a a cover crop. Bad idea. This is what it looked like when I returned. For perspective, the wire fence around the perimeter is about 3 1/2 feet high. The weeds were taller than me. After much weeding its now cleaned up (mostly) and I did a fall planting of salad greens (spinach, lettuce, arugula and chard) in mid September, which are now coming in great.
I was a bit worried about the late planting, since most of the garden books said to plant by early August for a fall harvest, but it's turned out fine so far. This fall has been unusually warm here, so I may as well take advantage of it. Now I just have to plant the garlic...

my first post

So from August 2006 to August 2007 I was living in Oldenburg, Germany while working at the university there. This was great, Oldenburg is a wonderful town and I met lots of nice people, but there were somethings that I missed. My wonderful girlfriend Laura and our incredibly bad dogs of course. But I also missed gardening and brewing. I kept thinking of things I'd like to grow or beers that I'd like to brew. During this year Laura became somewhat obsessive about her knitting blog. I had never paid much attention to blogs before, but then I started looking around and found some with really neat stuff, and began thinking that maybe posting would help organize my projects. Anyway, I plan on mostly posting about my gardening and brewing projects (hence the clever title), probably with some superfluous shots of the dogs thrown in for fun.