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!