25 OCT 15 – I’ll Be Late for Christmas

I love that song but it is true! We got started a little late for our Christmas batches. It is rare that we have both carboys empty at the same time. We started another variation of apple and a cranberry raspberry blend.

What's Brewing?

What’s Brewing?

We have had a lot of luck with cranberry, though it is always a drier wine. Our house is divided…one side leans to the dry the other to the sweeter batches. I’d tell you which I am but I drink them both.

Apple has been a passion since the beginning. Always one of my favorites and I can’t say we have had a bad batch. No two have been exactly the same. Apple makes me feel like a hero because we keep tweaking the recipe but keep liking the results.

I am in love with cider.

It is about time to give you some recipes.

Apple from Concentrate Recipe: 3 gallon yield

Raspberry Cranberry Blend Recipe: 3 gallon yield

Christmas Batches

Christmas Batches

Both are tucked away in the brew closet awaiting racking!

A couple of tricks I learned over the summer from “The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible” (ABB) if you have not heard of this book you need to get a copy, the link is to Barnes & Noble but it can also be found on Amazon. Having my choice I would either buy the book at your local brew store or direct from the author at Happy Mountain.

The first I shared in an earlier post, using gelatin in the racking process is amazing. The gelatin forms up a little and acts like a blanket slowly dropping to the bottom catching all the cloudy bits. As Leon W. Kania, explains in the ABB, one packet of gelatin per container. Add the envelop to 1/2 cup of hot water and dissolve. After filling the racking container with wine, slowly pour into the racking container.

It is like magic speeding up the racking process. Our wines have never been clearer and this little trick is now a must.

The second trick is the Campden tablets.

These little wonders have helped the taste profile of our wines and reduced the acidic quality as well. Admittedly I’m not sure how. The tablets kill any wild yeast  that may have found it’s way into your batch while allowing the brewing yeast to thrive.

We have a wine rack full of bottles and several more coming out for Christmas. Where are you on your brewing list?

Hope you enjoy!

04 APR 15 – House Cider with Some Tweaks

Continuing on with a new found inspiration for experimenting, we decided to mix some things up in our house cider recipe. One of the things I love most about wine and cider making is the experimentation. Just when I get it right I love to try and make it better.

The trouble being, you just don’t know if you did right or crashed and burned for like six weeks.

The latest endeavor…use new yeast and add homemade vanilla. I broke my cardinal rule! One change at a time…

new batch of hard cider

new batch of hard cider

Recipe: 3 gallon yield

The new yeast…

I have been an advocate of using bread yeast since the beginning. I like being able to pick some yeast up at the grocery store. Quick and easy. We also really enjoy the wine we make.

I will write another post on yeast this week.

We choose the Red Star yeast “Pasteur Champagne”. I have heard good things about the yeast and from my research most cider makers use it.

red star yeast "pasteur champagne"

red star yeast “pasteur champagne”

According to my sources we should be able to produce a cider or wine around 16-17% ABV. We have been experimenting with using a hydrometer to get some actual readings on our batches.

Check out the before reading!

hydrometer reading

hydrometer reading

The other tweak we included was using homemade vanilla extract. My wife started making our own extract a little over a year ago and I love the flavor of it. The decision to use it was part flavor and part pride of using an ingredient we make here at home.

homemade vanilla

homemade vanilla

As always we will let you know how his batch turns out through the stages…brew, rack, bottle, enjoy!

Update: I prepared the yeast as directed on the package. I think that was a mistake and though the prep used low heat (lower than 100 degrees) I believe it killed the yeast. After about 12 hours the carboy had no bubbling activity.

I decided to add another envelope of the champagne yeast directly to the batch. The champagne yeast is slower and not a vigorous but I felt there was no activity at all.

I wanted to salvage the batch if at all possible!

I think I made the right decision…after 12 hours I had large bubbles forming; very slight bubbling in the air lock. One pop every 10-15. This morning I awoke to the beautiful aroma of my favorite reaction and the air lock was popping constantly…a dutiful pop, pop, pop. No pause.

Feeling redeemed.

Hope you enjoy!

03 APR 15 – Racking Experiment

Our latest batch of house cider was ready to rack. We have been making this cider now for a while and i felt like it was time to experiment.

Always trying to improve…

At any rate, I have been reading a great book I bought from a local brew store. The book is “The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible”. If you have not heard of it you need to get a copy, the link is to Barnes & Noble but it can also be found on Amazon.com from various vendors. Having my choice I would either buy the book at your local brew store or direct from the author at www.happymountain.net.

The book is amazing! Leon W. Kania is my kind of person…down to earth, looking to keep things natural and very knowledgeable.

Why am I plugging a book while posting about racking cider? The book inspired me to try a number of things but specifically Kania talks (I say talks because Kania writes as if he is casually talking to you while showing you how to) about using gelatin as a clearing agent.

My daughter is vegetarian so we don’t keep gelatin in the house. Instead, I have a vegan product on hand called Agar Powder made by Now Real Foods.

agar powder

agar powder

The Agar Powder is made from red algae. The manufacturer claims the final result is the same as gelatin which is made from cattle bones. The product is not only vegan but is also gluten free.

We are kinda green in my house.

Back to cider and racking…

Our yield is three gallons so I measured off 1 1/2 cups of spring water and placed it in a sauce pot on the stove. Once the water came to a simmer I added 1 very large TBSP of the powder, removed it from the heat and stirred.

I siphoned off our cider into three one gallon bottles and allowed the algae water to cool. Once the liquid reached a room-temperature state, I put just shy of 1/2 cup into each bottle.

The theory is that the gelatin/algae will set up on top of the mixture and begin to slowly descend to the bottom of the bottle. In the process, the gelatin/algae will trap all of the sediment and force it to the bottom as well. Clearing the cider in the process.

I am eager to see how this works out and will let you know how it goes in about six weeks.

Hope you enjoy!

 

 

14 Mar 15 – Strawberry Mead

My wife is very into organic and local ingredients. She has wanted to try making wine from fresh fruit for some time. In addition, our family believes in local produce and the power of local honey.

We finally got up the nerve to try making some mead. Living in Florida and being in the start of strawberry season we decided to make strawberry mead.

The family takes at least a monthly trip to the Good Neighbor Market in Oviedo, FL. Good Neighbor Market is a family owned market with a passion for locally focused products. During our visit we scored big with a half flat of fresh strawberries and fresh honey from a favorite purveyor, Be My Honey. We selected a wildflower honey; this was at the recommendation of the bee keeper. According to him the orange blossom would be a little to sweet for mead.

fresh ingredients

fresh ingredients

With ingredients secured, we gathered our supplies and began our adventure!

Strawberry Mead Recipe:

  • Approx. 3 lbs fresh strawberries (we went over to account for the loss of the tops when cleaning)
  • 3 lbs fresh wildflower honey
  • Spring water
  • 1 packet highly active bread yeast
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient

We first poured the honey into our gallon bottle and mixed a in little of the spring water. We weren’t sure how easily the honey and water would mix to dissolve the honey. Turns out the honey dissolves easier than sugar does.

add honey

add honey

TIP: Honey empties from the container very slowly, if you use a funnel you can poke a small air hole in the bottom of the honey container and allow it to sit upside down for a few minutes so you get every drop of the golden goodness.

Next we turned our attention to cleaning the strawberries. We used a digital kitchen scale to weigh out about 3.25 lbs. As a side note a pint of strawberries weighs about one pound. The strawberries were washed and the tops were removed.

cleaning strawberries

cleaning strawberries

To be honest I didn’t do much research on mead outside of recipes. I knew the fruit needed to be liquefied and decided to use a blender to do this. A blender may not have been the best idea (I will share more about this later, sort of the punchline). Had I done more research I would have read a friend’s blog, Wines By Ari. I have been reading Ari’s blog since I started this one. She had a great article where she wrote about using fresh fruit. Ari boiled the fruit in water to extract the juice.

Looking back this would have been a better solution. Though as Ari knows, I try not to use heat…probably because I am stubborn.

liquefy the strawberries

liquefy the strawberries

We blended the strawberries in two batches and blended until the fruit was as liquid as the blender could handle.

juicy strawberries

juicy strawberries

We then added the strawberry “juice” to our gallon bottle using a funnel. The mixture was still a little thick and I used a skewer to coax the liquid down the spout.

adding juice to the bottle

adding juice to the bottle

We then added our packet of yeast and topped off the bottle with spring water. I was extra careful to fill only to the one gallon fill mark.

top it off

top it off

Finally, we added a tsp of yeast nutrient. We usually only use 1/2 tsp but with uncertainty we felt a little more couldn’t hurt! Here we used the LD Carlson brand however I am not sold on a particular brand but I feel it is important to add. Adding yeast nutrient seems to insure the yeast lives long enough to reach its highest potential ABV (Alcohol By Volume).

adding nutrient

adding nutrient

Lastly, we placed the cork and airlock in the neck and placed the batch on the counter to monitor for the night. We completed our first batch of mead!

Or so we thought…

About an hour later my daughter came in and said “Dad I think to much science is happening!”

I rushed into the kitchen and found that the batch had blown through the airlock and was seeping onto the counter.

uh oh

uh oh

I spent the rest of the night cleaning and re locking the bottle. It was a mess. Finally the batch quit blowing through, I topped the bottle off with more spring water and locked it a final time. The batch still smells strongly like wine fermenting so it is now in the closet doing its thing. I continue to monitor it and be optimistic that we will have a great batch of mead.

strawberry mead working

strawberry mead working

Next time I will at least review Ari’s post and concede to a little heat! I will let you know how it comes out when we rack it.

Hope you enjoy!

 

14 Mar 15 – Small Batch

I am a little behind on my wine log. Things have been busy and I had back surgery this week. I am finally feeling a little better and with activity restrictions I have time to catch up.

Almost two week ago my wife and I bottled some of our Lite Cider. We are now calling it our House Cider and believe we have perfected the recipe for now.

cwm bottles

cwm bottles

Feeling accomplished we decided to do some experimenting and started three small batches; strawberry mead, a new cranberry and some passion fruit. I will write about the strawberry mead in another post and share some revelations about it.

For the cranberry, we usually use a combination of brown sugar and white sugar. We wanted to try adding some homemade vanilla to the batch for some added flavor. When we pulled ingredients together i found we were out of brown sugar and i was feeling lazy so we added the vanilla but left out the brown sugar. I will need to do another batch of this with the brown sugar and compare the final taste.

homemade vanilla

homemade vanilla

Who knows maybe we will end up dropping the brown sugar; it is kind of a pain to get into the container but the wine has been tasty.

cranberry batch

cranberry batch

Cranberry recipe for this batch:

  • 1 12 oz container 100% cranberry juice from concentrate
  • Spring water
  • 2 tbsp homemade vanilla
  • 1 packet highly active bread yeast
  • 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient

When we first started making wine we did a lot of different flavors. Lately we have been focused on perfecting the apple cider and cranberry flavors and something has been missing. While I really enjoy the cider and feel like we have nailed a regular recipe my more adventurous side has missed the multiple experimental flavors.

Enter passion fruit.

I love citrus flavors and passion fruit is no exception. I must admit though I am a little worried about passion fruit. I have read several times to avoid citrus flavors with the method we use. That being said we have successfully done strawberry, kiwi and other blends of citrus fruits. With my wife’s encouragement we decided to go for it.

passion fruit batch

passion fruit batch

Passion Fruit Recipe:

  • 1 12 oz can passion fruit blend juice from concentrate
  • Spring water
  • 1 packet highly active bread yeast
  • 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient

After mixing the two batches we left them on the counter over night to observe the beginning of fermentation. Both batches began bubbling hard and smelled like fermenting wine. I have since moved them to the brew closet and continue to monitor them.

I am excited to rack them and have the first tastes. Eagerly awaiting the 25th of April when they should be ready!

Hope you enjoy!

 

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!

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!

 

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!