20 Feb 15 – More Hard Cider Lite

The first round of hard cider lite finished fermenting. My wife and I siphoned it off into gallon bottles. As we did I was greeted with an amazing moment. One of my top three moments in my wine making history.

The flavor was amazing!

My house specialty has been reborn! The cider lite tasted much more refined. Sweet yet subtle apple flavor with a great aroma…

You have to understand when you start wine making and you try something new it takes six weeks to sample your tweak. One of the reasons I advocate only changing one thing at a time. In fact, it takes 12 weeks to taste the final product. That is a long time.

I confess. We ALWAYS have a “taster” glass when we go into racking and the night we bottle.

We were so excited and immediately started a fresh batch with the same recipe. The new batch will done fermenting on my birthday. Ironically,the last batch will be bottled at the same time.

Hope you enjoy!

Outfitting a Carboy

Our wine making became more of a hobby when we bought our first carboy. Since then we have tinkered with how we like to set them up, we first started putting chalk stickers on them and later we found some thermometer stickers. My wife and I are sort of a freaks about organization and tracking information. We like to mark our bottles with flavor, date started and date it should move on to the next step. This is how we do it now.

Enter chalkboard paint…

chalkboard paint

chalkboard paint

This stuff is great. We use it for a lot of different projects, so I usually have some on hand. Start by gathering the following items:

  • 3 or 5 gallon carboy
  • masking tape (preferably wide tape)
  • computer/copy paper (newspaper will work too)
  • thermometer sticker (available at most brew stores)
  • chalkboard paint
  • exacto blade
  • emery/sand paper.
thermometer sticker

thermometer sticker

I love these thermometer stickers! We put them on carboys and bottles. I even have one on the inside of one of the house windows to monitor the outside temperature.

It is important to monitor the temperature of your wine during fermentation and racking. I place the thermometer sticker sideways on the carboy because it fits better on the carboy I use…you can put it where you like. I just find putting it with the label makes it easy to see.

placed thermometer sticker

placed thermometer sticker

Next, I use the masking tape and computer paper to protect the carboy during spaying. I like to try and keep the edges as straight as possible and evenly spaced. That is OCD talking.

TIP: Using the wide masking tape makes it easier to tape to the carboy while leaving room for the paper. I usually secure only one side of the tape, put the paper on and then make sure the tape is secure on the paint side.

taping off the square

taping off the square

After securing the tape, you will want to lightly sand the glass where you are going to paint it. This helps the paint stick. I used emery paper. Emery paper is a special type of sand paper for glass. Sand paper will work, I only have the emery stuff because I have a glass bottle cutter it came with. We use the bottle cutter to make candles (a topic for another day!). Be careful to rub the paper in small circles and try not to “sand” the masking tape.

sanding the glass

sanding the glass

Once you are satisfied with this, it is time to paint!

Patience is a virtue at this point. Take your time and put several light coats on and follow the directions on the can. I used Krylon and their instructions state you have to put two coats on to get a good chalkboard surface. Each coat can be applied in 15 minute increments (I put on four to five coats at minimum). The paint is dry in the first three hours but needs at least 24 hours to cure before applying any chalk. It is also recommended to do this outdoors.

spraying the surface

spraying the surface

After waiting three hours you can remove the paper and masking tape. I like to lightly score the line between the tape and paint with an exacto blade to help keep the edge clean. If you have some over spray or paint spots outside your line, you can carefully scrape it off with a razor blade.

cleaning the edge

cleaning the edge

After 24 hours your carboy is ready for a batch! Now you can stay organized and write on the surface to keep track of flavors and batches.

TIP: The chalkboard paint surface will work best if you prepare the surface before using it. To do this color the entire surface with chalk and wipe clean with a damp rag. You can use this trick for any chalkboard paint project.

finished carboy and gallon bottle

finished carboy and gallon bottle

Hope you enjoy!

 

27 Dec 14 – Hard Cider Lite

Hard cider has become my favorite wine to brew. This beverage blurs the lines between wine and beer. Hard cider has become a popular drink both on beer shelves and in bars and pubs. Many bars, restaurants and pubs sell hard cider on draft. On beer shelves in liquor stores, grocery aisles and other shops hard cider comes in several varieties.

We started with apple wine and while it was good, it just didn’t have enough apple flavor for me. I wanted a big apple punch in flavor. After going back and forth and my wife and I doing some online research we found an amazing product. I have mentioned this stuff before, Bernard Jensen’s 100% Apple Concentrate.

bernard jensen's 100% apple concentrate

bernard jensen’s 100% apple concentrate

Since we have been making this for a while, I think we have the recipe nailed. However some of the drier wine people who have had it think the hard cider is to sweet. We decided to try a “lite” version. We also changed the sugar we use to Zulka’s Morena Pure Cane Sugar. Morena is an all natural product and reflects our hippie tendencies. The sugar is 100% organic and a non-gmo product. The sugar has a slightly tan color. We like it in coffee and may switch to this sugar for all our household needs.

We made a three gallon recipe!

Recipe:

  • 12 cups Morena pure cane sugar
  • 2 16 oz bottles Bernard Jensen’s Apple Concentrate
  • 3 packets highly/super active yeast (found in the baking aisle of the grocery store)
  • 3 gallons spring water
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient (more on additives in a future blog)

I mixed the ingredients following the basic process (found here). However, we now mix most of the water and sugar before adding any juice concentrate. After adding all the ingredients we secured the airlock and left the carboy on the counter over night to “watch the science happen!” In the morning, I put the batch in our wine closet.

The batch will be ready for racking on 15 Feb 15. Another six weeks and we will be bottling the Hard Cider Lite…I will update this post then and let you know how it turned out.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Urban Sunshine Organic and Hydroponic Gardening

urban sunshine organic and hydroponic gardening altamonte springs,fl

urban sunshine organic and hydroponic gardening altamonte springs,fl

This place is amazing and close to home. It is easily one of my top three places to buy equipment. I know, you are wondering why would you go to Urban Sunshine to buy brewing equipment. They sell organic and hydroponic gardening gear!

It is a long story but here is the short version.

I had just started brewing wine and was ready to graduate from a gallon glass bottle to a larger carboy. My wife and I had found another favorite store that is a little further from home (more on this store later). I was lamenting the fact I didn’t have enough time to go across town when suddenly I saw a large sign in front of the their store, I swear it had an aura around it like a bright spot light! It said “We now carry home brew supplies.”

We were on a run to get some juice concentrate so we immediately pulled in to check it out.

These guys are really good guys. Will and Daniel are usually there when I visit and it seems like every time I go there I end up having conversations about other things. They are easy to talk to and when the conversation is about brewing they are both very knowledgeable.

I have to disclaim Urban Sunshine carries beer supplies. That being said there is plenty of cross over for us wine people. They have carboys, bungs, airlocks, thermometers, siphon hoses, etc…the whole nine yards.

I always go to the store Will and Daniel work at but they have several locations in the Orlando area. Check out their locations page.

These guys are great and with our hippie tendencies, my wife and I will definitely be stopping by for some organic gardening supplies this spring. Seriously, if you have an opportunity to stop by do. It is worth the trip!

Hope you enjoy!

The Stir Stick

I had some interaction with a new friend last night, Wines by Ari. Ari is also writing a blog about wines and has been brewing some wine at home. Check out her blog by clicking the link above.  Anyway we were posting back and forth about heating your sugar and water versus stirring and she made a comment/question I get a lot.

She posted “That’s cool…I guess you get a arm workout in the process :)”

My wife and I used to shake our bottles when we first started. Back then, we used one gallon bottles only and shaking them wasn’t to difficult. Now we use a three gallon carboy to ferment in and only use the one gallon bottles for racking. I admit, shaking the carboy proved to be more difficult and we thought about using the same method Ari does. We were ready to concede to heating the sugar and water on the stove top. But, what pot to use? Will it ruin the pot? How hard will it be to clean? Should we buy a pot just for brewing (that would be a big pot for a three gallon batch)?

Then the most amazing thing happened.

My wife and “partner in wine” gave me one of the best Christmas presents I ever received! A beautifully crafted stir stick.

stir stick

stir stick

The stir stick is just shy of three feet long. It has a metal center covered in food grade plastic and can be used with a three or four gallon carboy. The tip, on the left of the above/below picture, is made of plastic and has arms that fold down. A user folds the arms inward and puts the tip through the neck of the carboy. Once inside the carboy, the arms open up when the tip touches the bottom of the vessel. See below…

stir stick closed and opened

stir stick closed and opened

This stir stick is then attached to a drill; preferably a cordless drill. Presto, stirring with no effort. We usually stir three or four times for about 30 seconds each and this is plenty. The first time we used the stir, our mix was totally different than what we were used to. It was mixed much better and when the yeast was poured in we had activity all the way to the bottom right away. The bubbling started sooner and was more vigorous.

Tip: Don’t use the stir once the yeast is added, a gentle swirl is more than enough to get the yeast moving through the mix. Too much oxygen is not good for the yeast.

Unfortunately, the stir doesn’t work in a gallon bottle and I haven’t seen one designed for a gallon to date. Maybe I should make and market one! When you graduate to carboys, I highly recommend you get one of these. They are well worth what you pay for them.

These are usually about $20 to $30 dollars. Stir sticks come in both food grade plastic and stainless steel with a couple different designs. Ours was purchased through Amazon.com.

Hope you enjoy!

Why wine and not beer?

I enjoy beer very much in fact, I am kind of a beer snob. No Budweiser, Coors or other mainstream beers have touched my lips in more time than I remember. I enjoy sitting with friends, like Patrick, at a German restaurant, WOB or Blast Studios drinking a stout or IPA and discussing the head, flavor hints or some new microbrewery.

So again why wine over beer?

My simple answer is brewing wine is much easier that brewing beer. With wine I don’t use heat to start fermentation. Though sanitization is important it isn’t as important as with beer. In beer a single spick of debris or a single piece of improperly piece of equipment can ruin your whole batch.

I like to keep things as simple as possible. In a world full of connected technology and ever jammed full schedules, wine is easier. I enjoy wine and love to create.  Call me a hippy but I love being able to go to the grocery store and spending minimal amounts of money to create something that is uniquely my own.

Brewing wine is cheaper. I brewed beer once in chef school for a project and I remember almost breaking even buy the time I had all of the bottles, caps and ingredients. Not to mention the ingredients required I by them from a specialized brewing store. Though that was a long time ago and these ingredients are now available on the internet. Bottle costs are lower for me. I could put beer into a growler or other container but that makes it harder to share.

The quality I am able to produce. My wine tastes good and is about 14% ABV (alcohol by volume). Setting my mind to beer, I could definitely produce an equal taste and ABV. Why go through all the extra trouble?

I love my wine.

Hope you enjoy!

P.S. hope you clicked through to Blast Studios. Blast is a great local Orlando place. A sort of hidden gem owned by a great couple trying to live out thier dreams. You can learn to paint with a brush or airbrush and enjoy good wine or beer. A great date night. Check out their schedule of classes.

16 APR 14

Round Two – Hard Cider

bernard jensen's 100% apple concentrate

bernard jensen’s 100% apple concentrate

I decided to try a new approach.  The first four batches were all very good. I found some Bernard Jensen’s apple concentrate online. This stuff is like apple syrup and 100% apples. Bernard Jensen actually sells the product as part of a health regimen.

You can check it out here.

Anyway the original recipe calls for 12 ounces of concentrated juice. The Bernard Jensen’s bottle is 16 ounces. While the last batch of apple was good, there wasn’t much apple flavor. I am hoping this will up the apple taste.

Recipe

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 gallon spring water
  • 1 packet highly active yeast.

I also have a new method of mixing….I pour the sugar in the glass bottle first and filled to half a bottle with the water. I capped and shook the bottle several times. Each time I paused for about five minutes to let any loose sugar settle. I did this four or five time… When I was confident most of the sugar had dissolved, I added the apple concentrate.

Tip: The clearer the sugar water is after settling, the more dissolved the sugar is.

I shook the capped bottle again and shook the bottle again. The I added the yeast and repeated the shaking one more time. The screw cap made mixing much easier. Finally, I poured spring water to the gallon mark, secured the airlock and cork.

Tip: Leave enough room in the bottle that you can agitate the mixture several times during the fermentation without the bubbles backing up in your airlock. This time the fermentation bubbled out of the airlock. I probably could have left the airlock alone but I decided to replace it with a clean lock. I was afraid cleaning it would be almost impossible.

Into the cabinet for six weeks.

a peak inside the cabinet

a peak inside the cabinet

30 MAY 14

This is the best wine to date, I definitely think it will become a favorite and possibly my signature flavor.

Hope you enjoy!