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!

What’s Fermenting?

So, I haven’t posted in a quite awhile. My wife and I have been busy!

First, I spent some time off work due to an injury and I am still recovering. Then there is the school year and the start of all the extra curricular activities. It’s hard to find time.

Though a friend would say if you don’t make the time then it is just not a priority.

I agree with that…but only to a point. We have been making some great batches. A few new favorites, some new ideas and a new bottle source. I have seen a new friend close his doors because of a petty enforcement of some vague home brewing laws.

Before I get to far in the ditch…

Our strawberry mead was an epic failure. While the batch produced alcohol the taste was horrible. Three gallons down the drain and honey isn’t cheap. I have since learned from reading friends blogs not to leave the fruit in the whole fermentation. Wines that begin with real fruit really need to be done in a two stage method. Not to mention it is best to keep the fruit in some type of bag or cheese cloth so you can easily remove it.

What did we learn?

To be honest, it was a wake up call to stick with our roots. We started this endeavor to share how easy it is to just follow the Basic Process. I can’t stress enough how simple it really is. Tinkering is fun but…

To answer the question, don’t stray to far from home!

Don’t get me wrong there isn’t anything wrong with other processes or what I would call harder methods. In fact, I have had some great beer and wine from other home brew fanatics.

We like to keep things simple.

We were a little late getting our holiday gifts going but should be on schedule to bottle 24 750ml bottles. I promise the number wasn’t on purpose and to make it even stranger we will probably be bottling early on the 24th.

Hope you enjoy!

Hearts Home Brew

heart's home brew store

hearts home brew store

Hearts Home Brew is off the charts amazing.

The first brew store I went to in Orlando and still my favorite. You walk through the door down an aisle made of stacks of different types of bottles. Ribbons for best wine or beer hand above your head, some dating so far back they are sun faded.

They have everything you could need from caps to bulk ingredients. They even have a refrigeration section that holds fruit and other ingredients.

My first trip in I noticed the PC screen behind the counter monitoring different batches in the cue. Dutifully taking readings of temperature, pH, etc. I only mention this because it shows the level of experience and expertise in the shop.

I always have great conversations and get meaningful advice from both Luke and Dave. Well worth a trip to take a look around, grab that hose you have been meaning to replace or to stock up on corks, caps and bottles.

If you don’t have much time to spare you can call an order in and they will pull it together before you arrive. However, if you can’t seem to get away from your batches they have a great online store.

I can’t say enough this is the Disney World of brew supply stores in the Orlando area.

Hope you enjoy!

A Yeast Rambling and Personal Choice!

I have a story to tell, a little ego crushing to be honest but first I have to make a statement…I use bread yeast and I like the way my wine tastes!

bread yeast

bread yeast

Yup, bread yeast.

The story goes something like this…The other day my wife and I had the opportunity to spend the day together (love those days). At any rate we decided to spend some time at one of our favorite brew stores.

This one is a little further away but definitely one of our top two vendors. I don’t want to give the place away because i really love the place. The owner is sort of a mentor of mine without knowing it.

I convinced the wife I needed to get another one gallon bottle set up. A mere $10 or $12 I told her. When the plastic went through the scanner the bottle set up cost $50, I couldn’t help myself and added a few odds and ends…wink, wink.

I was lucky, just had back surgery the week before and my birthday the following week. I threw both cards on the table as bashfully as possible. In truth she doesn’t care and teased me mercifully about using the cards for an hour or two.

Here is where the yeast comes in.

During our banter with the owner, I mentioned we used bread yeast. Apparently he feels this is the biggest commit able sin in the book. “Not Flieschmann’s!” he said “that stuff doesn’t even make good bread!” My secret mentor went on to say that the only reason Flieschmann’s yeast is even sold in grocery stores is because they owned most of the grocery stores around back in the day.

“You have to use real brewer’s yeast” he continued.

brew yeast

brew yeast

He added “If you are going to make bread you really should use Red Star!” I don’t normally take kitchen and recipe advice from a brewer but with bread it makes sense. Take time to click through to Red Star Yeast, they have a great site and if I make any bread not only will I use Red Star yeast but I will use the site for advice.

At any rate, I have a thick skin and developed my own opinion making capacity a long time ago. Don’t think I was mad or my ego was bruised but, I do look up to this guy and value his advice…he has helped me more than I could say.

I bought some yeast to give it a try, enough for six carboy batches. We will see…

As I drove away with my new $50 bag of goodies and REAL yeast, I couldn’t help but play the conversation over in my head and remember other tidbits from other “mentors”. The truth is for every brewer taking the high road with real yeast (a sort of brew snob), I can find a brewer who touts the virtues of bread yeast.

In the beginning, yeast was yeast and you used what you could get your hands on. As I see it, the benefits of brewer’s yeast is the possibility of 2% more ABV and a clearer wine. I find the benefit but I can already crank out a 14% ABV product that I really feel tastes good. The proof can be seen in empty bottles friends and relatives leave when they visit along with their ever popular question.

“You try anything new lately?”

Which really means have you bottled anything lately or do you have anything fresh? In reality half the time I drink it before it is even racked (cloudy coment shot down!). Not to mention I can get Flieschmann’s bread yeast at half a dozen grocery stores seconds away from our house.

The bottom line is, I will probably buy brewer’s yeast again but I will also buy more Flieschmann’s bread yeast. What yeast you use is really a personal choice! Do what feels right and produces something that gives you that I made this and it is good feeling.

For my wife and I wine making is about sharing a hobby and time producing or enjoying our wine together. It is about doing for ourselves, kinda doing it old school like a time in history where most families produced their own beverages in the basement or root cellar.

I will admit, we like making our own bread and I am gonna give Red Star a try!

No harm done though, I will return to see my secret mentor. I love the guy and won’t hold being a wine snob against him he does have several ribbons for his batches! But maybe I will bring him a bottle of my clearest bread yeast cider and not tell him Flieschmann’s came anywhere near the carboy to see how he thinks I am doing.

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!

 

 

The Carboy Dryer

This piece of equipment is highly useful! Though it isn’t necessary life is much easier with a carboy dryer.

carboy dryer

carboy dryer

The carboy dryer is made of a high quality food grade plastic. There are strategically placed holes and risers to allow airflow around and inside the carboy. The carboy is washed and sanitized as you normally would and then placed upside down on the dryer to air dry.

carboy dryer top view

carboy dryer top view

As I said, the dryer is not necessary but I highly recommend it. When I first started using carboys, I would clean the container and leave it upside down in the sink until it dried. This works well but takes up a lot of space in the sink.

Your sink is useless until the carboy finishes drying.

Using the dryer allows you to move the carboy to some other location while drying, a counter, a table or back into the brew closet.

I usually put handles on our carboys; I mentioned these in an earlier post. You can review the post here. I leave these handles on the carboy and that can make it difficult to balance on the dryer. This is why I use the dryer in my brew closet; I can lean the carboy in the corner to help stabilize it.

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!

 

So easy you can make a gallon in five minutes!

I know I have said it before but…wine making is so easy, I love it!

A few nights ago my wife and I had a couple of good friends over for dinner. It was some nice adult time chatting and sharing a glass (or two 😉 ) of our cabinet wine. After dinner we began talking about wine again!

My friend Edgar has been ultra-supportive about my hobby and starting the Cabinet Wine Maker blog. I think he sees the passion in my eyes about wine whenever it comes up. His wife Jess is a great lady who loves good wine. As we began talking one thing led to another and we found our way to the ever popular topic of making wine.

I have told Edgar how easy it is and how cheaply one can get into it. Though I know he believes me he was still a little reserved about trying it.

That was about to change…

Edgar has been saying he wanted to try making wine for some time, I keep telling him how easy it is and we agree he should come over sometime so I show him how it is done. Rinse and repeat!

I showed Edgar and Jess the new and improved brew closet, his eyes were wide with interest. Suddenly I realized they were at the house, I had enough glassware free to do a batch and I had all the ingredients. No better time than the present I said and Edgar eagerly agreed.

Immediately I pulled a frozen juice from concentrate from the freezer (I find my wife and I are picking up interesting flavor combinations and storing them on hand). I placed the frozen can in the sink and let warm water pour over it to speed the thawing and set about gathering supplies and ingredients.

Before beginning I apologized in advance if I slipped into professor mode; I truly love teaching others how to make wine.

Edgar asked what equipment he would need and I replied ” one gallon container, one screw top for said bottle, one airlock, one rubber stopper and maybe a funnel and measuring cup.” The next question…how much will that cost. I am guessing about $10 or less and shared two local stores where he could get the supplies.

I mentioned to them that you could use an empty spring water jug, a rubber band and a balloon. Edgar gave one of those yeah right nervous kind of laughs so I had to tell him a story.

You see my first batch I did just that…I had been thinking about making wine for some time. My wife and I were having dinner with my mom one night and I brought it up. To my surprise Mom let me in on a secret.

She used to make wine using an empty bottle, a rubber band and a balloon.

Mom explained how you mixed the ingredients and secured the balloon and rubber band. She also explained that the balloon would fill up with CO2 during fermentation and when the balloon deflated the wine would be ready. Long story short when we left mom’s house we stopped at the store and got everything for our first batch.

I went home and mixed up my batch and placed the balloon topped container in an empty kitchen cabinet. The next morning the balloon has swelled to larger than the container and I was giddy.

The funny part of the story is that the next day I was again at my mom’s house and told her of my new adventure (I didn’t mention the balloon). She laughed and told me a story of a particularly potent batch she made where the balloon burst and wine was all over the cabinet. I swallowed hard and spent the next several weeks hoping my balloon didn’t rupture.

By now the juice from concentrate was fully thawed and I continued on with the demonstration. Sugar, water, juice from concentrate and a packet of bread yeast…in five minutes we were done. Of course I shared some tips and tricks along the way and explained my method and why I did certain things the way I do (Edgar is used to my overly methodical approach to everything).

They soaked it in like a sponge. Edgar being a bright guy said “You mean for under $20 dollars and five minutes I can make a gallon of wine and it tastes this good!” With my confirmation and a twinkle in his eye Edgar vowed he knew what he was doing this weekend!

I am waiting to see if he and Jess are hooked or not…either way we had a great evening, I shared my passion and I have another gallon in the closet in processes.

Hope you enjoy!