Saturday, April 25, 2015

Where it all starts

April is always a busy time.  Since I had a Saturday available, I decide to make a trip up the farm in Rhineland on April 25, 2015 to check on the growings on there. I wanted to make sure that all of the plants for the year were getting off to a good start.  My major concerns were the hops, blackberries, and grapes.  Throughout the last few years, with the help of some wonderful volunteers, I have almost completed all of the trellises needs for growing the fruit at the farm.   My major project was to finish the trellis for the Norton grapes since they need a "Geneva Double Curtain" style trellis because of their aggressive nature.  I also wanted to do some pruning and mulching as well.  (and some turkey hunting). 

The first step was to tweak a few parts of the newly built blackberry trellis.  I originally had two plants from Matuz that were donated.  I used one sucker to replant last year.  This spring I planted another sucker and two more plants from Matuz for a total of six blackberries plants on the new trellis. 
Row of blackberries with new trellis and older blackberries in front.

My father (Der Vater von Der Brauer) also acquired 6 blueberry bushes from a local nursery that was closing down.  They are planted next to the blackberry trellis. 

Blueberry bushes. Had bees flying all around the flowers. 
Blackberries and blueberries together
Next step was to check on the hops.  All hops had sprouted and were a few feet high except for the the Golding variety that was newly planted last year.  I pruned the hops back so that there will be 3 vines per plant.  I also set up the drip irrigation system for the summer.  I know it is early but a few years ago there was a very dry May and I didn't have the system set up yet and it ruined the plants for the rest of the year. 

All six hop plants.  Glacier, Willamette, 2 Goldings, Tettnang, and Fuggle. 
An example of the drip irrigation on the Fuggle.
Gravity fed from rain water. Very useful when I can only get up there to check on them about once a month.
The last project was the grapes.  A few weeks ago I had the help of a "red bearded man" to build 2 more of the grapes trellises.  This has definitely been the toughest part of all the projects at the farm.  It has been difficult and expensive to find and buy the equipment and it has been the most labor intensive.  The trellises are about 90% complete.  All that needs to been done now is to string the wire across the posts for the Norton variety. 

The grapes are doing well for this time of year.  The Niagara variety is doing the best.  One Niagara vine is completely attached to the wire and I am now pruning it as a mature vine.  One of the Vidal Blanc vines snapped off in a storm last year and it did not survive the winter.  The only place I have found,  only sells them in groups of 5 and I really don't want to do that again because I have done it in the past and it costs too much.  If anyone finds a single Vidal Blanc vine at a home and garden store please let me know!

The Norton variety requires a "geneva double curtain" style trellis because it is so aggressive.  There will be two top trellis lines and each vine will alternate which line it attaches two so that it will have more room.  The T-Posts have been attached and now all I need to do is secure them and run the wire across which should be pretty easy.
The Niagra variety is doing the best.  No idea why.  No sure if it is the location of the row or the variety itself.
The best vine that I have.  It is a Niagara and it hurt to prune it because it looked so good but it is for the best.  If you can see, it has about 5-7 shoots coming of the 2 main canes on the trellis line.  These will eventually hang down.  Each shoot has been pruned to about 3-5 buds which have created shoots which will eventually produce grapes clusters. (fingers crosses, but I have had much smaller vines produce grapes clusters in the past so I'm feeling good about it)
Complete vineyard
After driving up late the night before and getting up early to turkey hunt, Der Brauer took a much needed nap in the late afternoon while listening to the rain hit the tin roof in the cabin.  

-Der Brauer

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From Rust to Riches

I think it is about time we really pay homage to our hard work that we have put into getting the wine making side of our operation into full swing.  When we first started making beer we began with kits, and extracts to get the job done.  Same went with wine making.  Fruit concentrates and juice cans were used.  The occasional mead was made and a couple ciders out of canned/bottled apple juice.  Then we moved on to squeezing the fruit by hand.  That was just more work than it was worth.  So the obvious most logical step, just as we went from extract to all-grain in brewing, we needed to go from juice kits and concentrates to pressing.

The search for the wine press was on.  It had to be cheap and it had to work.  A little TLC was no problem.  You can by a wine press new for anywhere from $275-$1000 or more depending on your needs.  We just needed something that worked.  Months and months of scouring craigslist and nothing fit the bill.  Then one day in 2012, this popped up.

A Beraducci Bros. C3-4 Model that was $75 and needed work.  The guy asked me what I was going to use it for, and I told him,"To make wine!"  He was flabbergasted and just said,"With this?!!?".  Yes, because even though it didn't look like much with cobwebs, rust, and the screw was stuck, I could see in my mind what it could become.

The first step was to dismantle, and sandblast.  Luckily, Antonio's dad knew a guy with a sandblaster and said he could do it for free.  That was huge in keeping the bill down, I had made contacts with other people and the fee ranged from $35-$75 to get the job done.  Here is what it looks like taken apart and can already see the beauty coming out.

Looking for parts for this press is terrible.  Do not try.  The company, Beraducci Bros., went out of business a long time ago.  I was missing the handle to turn the press down the screw and one side latch to keep the press closed, the previous owner just used wire....

I went ahead and searched online and went to and ordered some of their Gondola Red paint.  This is a special paint that can withstand acidity and is also food safe.  I called around prior to Sherwin-Williams/paint stores and no one was of any help.  The shipping cost was either the same or more expensive then the paint...but if I am going to do something like this, I am going to do it right.  I couldn't find any other dealers of this paint, so I went with PiWine.

I painted three coats with the help of Antonio and my wife.  It was messy, and basement floor hates me, but here are the finished results.....and in action!

A screw and wing nut can be seen on the bottom right of the basket.  The original owner lost the lock piece and was just using wire. 

A base made out of 2x4 and OSB was fabricated for the press to bolt down upon.  It is 8'x4'.  Yeah, it is huge, a bit heavy, but it allows for a person, or two, to comfortably stand on and pull the rod around the press to squeeze the fruit.  A person on each side, makes the job quick and easy.  The next mods would have to be adding handles to the outsides of the base for easier transportation followed by a latex paint job to help eliminate moisture problems with the OSB.

As you can see, the wood was numbered.  This was done prior to sandblasting to ensure everything went back into its original place.  We also opted for a metal rod instead of a wooden rod for durability reasons.  The ridges on the rod are originally there for screw purposes, but for us it helps to add friction and hold the rod snuggly in place.  Gloves or towel are optional, but it does help to not tear up your hands. 2x4 blocks that we had laying round became our press blocks.  I do not expect them to last long, some started splintering that day, but they got the job done and I am happy with that outcome.

The base plate of the press is beautiful and easy to clean.

As you can see in the pictures, we had a great day.  One cyser, one blackberry, and one pear wine was made.  Clean up was easy with a quick wash down with a wet rag, followed by drying it off and adding mineral oil to the screw rod.

Updates on the wine will come soon, as well as our endeavors at the farm with the hops, grapes, and blackberries, and of course any brewing we do.

Happy Brewing,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Matuz's First Belgian Pale Ale

I have started to get into a kick all about Belgian ales.  I have always known they are good, and Irish Rover has made me quite happy in the past with his Belgian brews.  It wasn't until last April(2014) did I make my first Belgian ale.  Out of necessity to brew a batch for my wife's friend who works for Widmer Bros., I opted to make a Belgian Blond Ale.  My wife's friend wanted to learn the process of brewing for her job.  A chance to brew? Sure!  So I whipped up a Belgian Blond Ale recipe following the guidelines in BeerSmith 2.

You'll notice the water chemical additions.  I have been monitoring my water for sometime.  I believe it to be one of the MOST important aspects of brewing.  You read about it all the time, but never do should.  I currently run off of a well, and now I have water softener, so my water profile needs to be checked again.  I want a reading from the well, not my softener, as that can fluctuate a bit more than my well's profile.  Anyways....when I did this brew I went ahead and started from scratch with my water and used distilled water.  From there I entered my amounts of water being used, the profile I wanted(Antwerp, Belgium), and voila!  My water additions were calculated.

The beer was amazing, at least to me.  When it was all said and done the Belgian Blond Ale, which was named Blond Ambition due to me having no experience brewing a Belgian Ale(and named by my wife), is now in my top list of beers that we brew.  It was taken to a dinner party of my wife's friend and was a big hit there as well. It is all gone now....I must make more.


I used water chemical additions as well in this recipe.  But they are not showing up.  And just like my previous batches I also used pH Stabilizer.  I know there are some that love it, and some that hate it due to the fact that it may push your sodium levels to high, but as far as I am concerned, I have locked in my pH quite well with it.
Picture from the mash.

I also invested in a new grain mill.  Der Brauer and Irish Rover and I had invested in one previously together, but with the distance between us, the constant borrowing became a hassle.  So they bought me out of my part and I got my own.

Wit the larger funnel, more grain can be handled.  Necessary for 5 gal batches? No.  But for 20 more bucks, I am ready.  It will surely help in the 10+ gallon range of brewing, which I have backed away from...more on that later.

So I made my final touches to my recipe, downloaded the adjoining BeerSmith2 app to my phone(a blessing!), and set up my equipment in the usual fashion.

Those SS barrels in the back my soon become fermenters....

During the mash I drilled a hole with a step bit into my boil kettle.  I installed a weldless ball valve spigot, and readied my sparge water.  I installed the spigot since I acquired a counter-flow wort chiller.  Which I also need to get pictures of on the blog.  I also watched my gravity coming out of my mash.  I quit sparging when I reached 1.010 gravity from my mash liquid. I also did something different with this sparge.  I let the valve open just a little, to create a grain bed, for about 5-10 minutes.  Then I opened it all the way up.  Doing so, I ended up with a mash efficiency of  75%. Earlier I thought I was up in around 84%.  I missed a valuable calculation and fixed my numbers.  I am happy with that number for trying something new.  I also expected lower efficiency since it was so cold outside.  Even bringing in the mash tun inside, my temps dropped more then they ever have in the past.  I am going to add more reflective insulation to the sides, and to the bottom(which currently has none). I will continue to use a blanket for the top.
When the boil was over, I turned on the chiller, gravity fed, and cooled my wort from boiling to 55F in 5 minutes!  I had to let the wort come back up in temp before I pitched my yeast. 

I primaried around 64F with White Labs Belgian Ale yeast that I put on a stir plate days prior to raise my number of yeasty brothers!  Once pitched, I put on a blow off tube.  The picture below is during the secondary process and switching to an airlock.

From the recipe, I produced roughly 5.75 gallons.  I kegged it all.  It is fruity and slightly hoppy.  I wanted a low hop pale ale, but not this low.  Next time I will add more hops.  I have drank quite a few and the carbonation and lacing have been outstanding.  It is not as clear as I would want, and I blame that on me not installing a screen in my boil kettle to my new spigot.  That is my next project.

Until next time...