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!

The Carboy Handle

This piece falls into the optional category; however it is a life saver.

carboy handle

carboy handle

We typically like to make wine in a three gallon carboy. The carboys get heavy and difficult to move around once they are filled with ingredients, not to mention they are made from thick glass and heavy to begin with. Having a solid handle attached makes moving the carboys around a ton easier. Lifting the carboy to the counter for racking was a two man lift before we began using these.

I have seen a number of ways to ease the load…from sling like totes to dollies on casters. The carboy handle is by far my favorite. The handles are made from a simple design and are coated in rubber/plastic for extra grip.

They fall under the wish I would have thought of that category.

To install loosen the wing nut until you are able to slip the mouth of the handle over the lip of the carboy. I like to slip the ring as far down the neck as I can. Then tighten the wing nut back up and voila! You have an easier way to lift and move the carboy.

The manufacturer cautions against over tightening the handle, I assume this is to prevent cracking the glass. If you are using quality carboys this shouldn’t be to much of a concern as the glass should be thick enough to avoid it being cracked.

TIP: Make sure you buy the correct size for your carboy. Believe it or not there are two sizes I have run across. One for a three gallon carboy and one that fits either a five or six gallon carboy and they are not interchangeable. In fact, I have bought the wrong size and the vendor I use was gracious enough to swap it out for the correct size. Another reason to talkk with the clerks in the shops you frequent.

I typically buy a handle for every carboy I buy. Once installed I leave them on.

Hope you enjoy!

Outfitting the brew closet

I have mentioned before when my wife and I started wine making we used an empty cabinet in the kitchen. We quickly out grew the cabinet. When we moved the last time we were blessed with a closet that is working out like a dream.

The closet is a standard coat closet in our mud room. For those of you that don’t know what a mud room is, it is a small room by the back door where the washer and dryer are.

At first we only used the floor space and the top shelves…as with most hobbies we accumulated more stuff and I recently put in a simple shelf/table.

The journey began when my wife made me a couple signs for a gift.

lab sign

lab sign

I should mention we don’t really brew. We use no heat in the process to keep things as simple as possible and we feel purer. One day we will employ heat but for now it is low on the priority list. The sign made us feel legit.

The other sign is more functional.

what's brewing sign

what’s brewing sign

With this sign we keep track of what is in process. When a batch was started, when it will be done and if it is racking or fermenting. We also label the flavor to keep it straight. This information is also put on the individual bottles.

Both signs were spray painted with chalkboard paint. The paint and the raw wood boards were purchased from a favorite haunt…Hobby Lobby! It is truly amazing what you can find at a Hobby Lobby. I have even seen our carboys there; though they are more expensive.

The closet (outside)

The closet (outside)

An outside picture of the closet. Now to see the inner lair…lol

the closet (inside)

the closet (inside)

The closet is about 2′ wide by about 21″ deep. More than enough space for now. Though I have future plans, if everything goes well, that will eventually require more of a small room!

closet shelves

closet shelves

The top shelf is where we keep used bottles. The used bottles are usually used for over pour or when we know we will consume the wine in short order. Most of these bottles are screw top or bottles from our Bernard Jensen’s Apple Concentrate.

The next shelf down is where we store labels, corks, tools, extra sugar and any other tools. We hang hoses from the hooks just on the right. The hoses are hidden from view behind the door jamb.

closet bottom shelf

closet bottom shelf

The bottom shelf I made. The shelf is simple: a piece of 3/4″ cedar, four screws and four – 2′ dowels. I built the shelf in the garage, disassembled it and reassembled it in the closet. It is really more of a table.

We store empty carboys, gallon bottles and new cases of bottles here.

closet floor

closet floor

The floor of the closet is where all of the science happens. We ferment and rack here. Since the shelf/table above is the same depth and width as the closet there isn’t as much light here…perfect for the process. We can fit two three gallon carboys and six one gallon bottles here.

In case you are counting that is 12 gallons in process. If done right it is about 12-14 bottles every three weeks.

Well that is a look behind the scenes. I hope I showed how a lot of wine can be made in a little bit of space.

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!