Thursday, June 11, 2015

Episode II: A New Hop

A long overdue post. Here it goes....

          I am excited to try a new beer recipe I brewed in May, a California Common. All gravity readings, color, bitterness are right on. Currently it is lagering and should be ready by the end of June. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos as I was by myself and that always leads to mistakes. I will update soon with the pics of the finished product.

         Today, while weeding out the garden in the hottest part of the day (makes sense), I realized how fast the hops have grown this year. I took a look back at older post of when I planted the first rhizomes. It is amazing once established how much they mature. The first year of actual hop production, I was harvesting in August. I could easily harvest all four hops by the end of June!

         Secondly, I have realized timely watering is much more efficient and environmentally friendly once the hops have matured. For example, for the first two years, I set up an irrigation system to water the plants right before sunrise. It worked well and kept the hops moist during some dry summer months.

        However, the last two years, the hops come up so early and benefit from the timely spring rains. I haven't set up the irrigation in two years. The only time I water is right about the time in June when the rains become more sporadic. Only when the bines start to form do I water daily. Much like many garden plants, spreading out watering seems to strengthen deep roots. This goes against many experts views that hops need water everyday. I am just observing my view seems to work in my environment.

Here are some comparison pics. Slainte!

Cascade 2012 on left; 2015 on right.

Hallertau 2012 on left; 2015 on right.

Nugget 2015. This is the third year in ground and going crazy. 3/4 inch vines!
Sterling 2015. Although still alive and producing hops, the Sterling was attacked by a green tape worms. Very hard to see and eliminate. Will keep a better eye on next year. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

Female's Choice

Yesterday I had the great fortune of cracking a bottle of the Engagement Blackberry with some friends. An anomaly, perhaps: This wine is now bubbly. It tickles the tongue. I think it's delicious. Yesterday was hot and this wine is light, dry, but still has the taste of blackberries. 

It is possible that fermentation renewed when it was bottled and then stopped when it ran out of oxygen. I decided to pull out the racked wines, take gravity readings, and bottle what I could logically bottle based on outcomes.

Step one was to establish which bottles would be good enough to use if I needed to bottle something today. Since I've decided to avoid corking for a while, I depended on donations from friends and relatives. My mother-in-law works a bar some nights, so she provided eleven 1.5 liter bottles. Most of those were in good shape. Matuz threw a few liquor bottles my way. Der Brauer generously donated two bags of liquor bottles.

Yeah, that's probably plenty.
Step two: The unbottled portion of Engagement Blackberry has NOT moved from its prior gravity reading of 0.996. This means it remains at 8.7% alcohol. Still tastes the same, too. Good. I bottled what was there. (Pictures of everything I bottled at the end.)

Step three: Examine the Pear Wine and taste. Gravity reading: 1.013. The alcohol by volume is now approximately 9.9%. Tastes great- still sweet. If I had to approximate its taste, it's like an apple-flavored Riesling.

I hereby name it "Female's Choice Pear Wine". Since this is still active after a few re-racks, I placed in three crushed tablets of Potassium Metabisulfite. I'll keep checking it to see if that chokes it out. We have just over 10 liters of this stuff right now. We'll see what settles out of it.

Background left two carboys: Remaining sludge from Pear Wine.
Background far right: The Cyser. See bottom of carboy for what will be racked out.
Foreground: The re-racked Pear Wine that goes to the wine cellar. 

Step four: Check the Cyser. Gravity reading: 1.038. This one has settled a lot. There are a few inches of sludge; makes sense when you consider this contained apples, honey, and spices galore.

Told ya.
Since the Cyser reading isn't moving (and bottling relatively quickly worked well last time), I went ahead and bottled it. The Cyser gets the boring official title of "Cyser Batch #2".

Left side: Engagement Blackberry.
Right side: Cyser Batch #2.
If you check, you can see all of today's changes reflected on the "What's On Tap" column on the right side.

I've found my 2013 Pear Wine (which came from a base) kinda won't go away, so here's a nice recipe to get you drunk use up some of that stuff that tastes ok, but isn't your favorite.


4 oz Orange Juice
3 oz Pear Wine
1 oz Spiced Rum
(serve on ice)

Drink your wine from a stein,

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Skeeter Pee Round 1

I really do not like brewing during the summer time.  Well, not so much the actual brewing part, but the fermenting aspect.  Liquid in my basement will hover around 70F on its own.  Throw the metabolic reactions of the yeast cells and you have a recipe to overshoot your fermentation temperatures and receive off flavors.  Now there are some beers and wines that will do just fine with a 70F to 78F temperature  range, but I have an 8 week old, a two year old, finishing up my 2nd to last semester of graduate classes, along with work, so my time availability was limited.  I needed to scratch the itch, but I didn't have 4-6 hours of spare time.

Skeeter Pee ingredients minus the yeast energizer and tannin.

I have been eye-balling Skeeter Pee for about 2 years now.  This was the perfect time.  I could throw it all together in under an hour after the kids go to sleep.  The variability of Skeeter Pee, plus the ease, is what really attracted me to it.  It is well known among the home-brewing forums so I knew it was tried and tested.  I decided to go with the standard recipe for the first time, and maybe next time I will throw in something different to change the flavoring(I have seen blueberry, pineapple, cherry, lime, etc.)  The one thing I did not have was a yeast slurry, and I didn't want to spend the time making one with some apple juice or fruit concentrate.  It wouldn't have been hard, I have the stir plate and flasks, etc, but I just did not want to have to deal with it, and I had two packages of Montrachet yeast laying around...I figured two will be just fine....we'll see.

You can use most any yeast, a lot of people recommend Champagne yeast, Cotes de Blancs, or similar, but I just used what I had and it will offer me an ABV of up 13%, plenty high enough for me.

I cleaned AND sanitized my equipment.  I will post later on the differences of cleaning and sanitizing, but using just PBW or OneStep is not enough.  (Those are cleaners, not sanitizers.  You need an acid sanitizer like Star San to finish the job, but again, more on that later.)  While my equipment was sitting in the cleaner, after being scrubbed, I readied my invert sugar(simple sugar syrup).  My 8qt pot was just big enough to handle it all. While I waited for my super saturated solution to come to completion I moved from my cleaning stage to sanitizing and my wife, with a baby boy in one arm, took the whisk in other hand continued to stir and watch my pot on the stove...what a sweetie.

Almost done...keep this solution from boiling!  Just stay right under boiling temps!

I added my 1/3 cup of lemon juice from a container in the fridge, therefore not taking it from my 3-32 oz bottles.  I then let the solution cool a bit and dumped it in my fermenter with 2-32 oz bottles of lemon juice and enough water(tap, distilled, and purified left over from last brew) to top it off to 5.5 gallons.

I added the yeast nutrient and energizer to mugs worth of volume of a strong brewed tea to get my tannins since I had no tannins from the home-brew shop.

Yeast Nutrient was added to this solution.

That all went into the fermenter as well.  I then vigorously stirred for about 5 minutes to oxygenate and covered with a clean dish towel for 48 hours.  I don't have a wine whip so I just used my standard plastic paddle. The addition of the tea really did not make too much of a difference to the color.

After adjusting for temperature, my OG was 1.070...right on target.  No need to add granulated sugar.

After 48 hours I uncovered the must, stirred again, and threw in the two packets of yeast and stirred some more!  I added the lid, put on an s-lock, which I would generally use for secondary, but my 3-piece airlocks were in use, and walked away.

5/19/15 UPDATE

I went ahead and opened my lid to check fermentation since I did not see any bubbles coming out of my air lock.  Sure enough some fermentation had begun by the noticeable onset of bubbles at the top of the must.  The temperature on the bucket is registering at around 70-72F.  I quickly closed the lid and walked away.  I'll check the gravity Thursday or Friday night.  Following the directions, once I get around 1.050, I'll throw some more yeast nutrient and energizer in the bucket.  Stay tuned!

5/22/15 UPDATE

I checked the gravity and it was 1.048.  The last bit yeast nutrient and energizer, along with the last 32oz bottle of lemon juice was added.  I went ahead and agitated the must once more and shut the lid.  The s-lock was replaced with a 3-piece lock that I picked up today...because who doesn't need more airlocks?

I also tasted what had been fermented so far....and all I have to say, even with it all being almost half-way fermented....this is going to be a refreshing, perfect drink for the summer.  I cannot wait, and I am already thinking of doing another batch, with the addition of a different fruit to go along.

5/25/15 UPDATE

I checked the gravity, and it read 1.016.  Bubbling had also slowed down from a constant bubbling to a steady "blub....blub...blub".  I went ahead and clean and sanitized my carboy and equipment and racked the Skeeter Pee.  I also tasted it.  Yeasty right now, but that it to be expected.  Tart, with a slight sweetness and definitely on its way to being dry.  I can tell this is going to be a good hot summer day refreshment.  Manzi tasted some as well. 

NOTE:  Make sure your bung and neck of carboy are DRY before you fit them together.  I freaked because my bung kept pushing out, until I slowed down my thinking and got logical.

Not very much yeast at the bottom of bucket.

With the flash on.

Without the flash on.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

Bottled Blackberry Wine

On March 13th, Der Brauer came over to my house. While he was here, we decided to try the three wines we started on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. The pear wine was still on the sweet & green side and the Cyser obviously needed to let some adjuncts fall through. But then we tried the Blackberry Wine. Der Brauer stared longingly into my eyes for a moment before saying, "This is really f&^%ing good."

Loving the color.
He was right. It had good flavor. So we decided on the spot to "kill it"-- to end the fermentation process as quickly as possible, to freeze it in time-- so I recommended we toss in some Potassium Sorbate. I measured the appropriate amount, crushed it between two spoons like a crackhead, and capped it. 

The next day I took some gravity readings. Then I wrapped the vessel in a towel and took it to the lower level of the house, a place where the temperature is consistently a few degrees cooler. Nearly two months passed.

Tonight I decided to taste/bottle the Blackberry and taste the Cyser and Pear Wine. I haven't yet warmed up to (or had the volume to justify the effort of) bottling using a corker. So until that day comes, I will continue to use liquor bottles. 

As I get older, liquor bottles are harder to come by... if you've got any extra bottles around, I could use them.

 The wines all taste good. The Cyser is less dense than before and starting to mature. This could take some time considering the sheer volume of adjuncts within the recipe. The Pear Wine is the semi-sweet to sweet range, so it's the next I'm bottling.

(See key below.)
A Key for reading the notes:

- The top line contains the original reading, which was taken on January 18, before the fermentation process started.

- The second reading (listed as "today") was on January 28. You can see the density of the wine becoming less and less as sugar is slowly converted to alcohol.

- The third line is a reading from March 14th, the day after Der Brauer was over and tasted with me. This includes an ABV estimation using an online calculator.

- Finally, the readings from tonight: The Blackberry Wine did not change mathematically, which means my Potassium Sorbate and venue change did their part.

The color lightened up. A vibrant purple-red. 

The taste is about the same, but it's more crisp and clean. 

As of tonight, the Blackberry Wine is officially named "Engagement Blackberry - 2015". The Pear Wine and Cyser will be named later.

Thanks for checking in! Drink your wine from a stein.    -Antonio