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Racking Muscadine Wine 2016

Time to make some wine.

Time to make some wine.

 

Well, I racked the muscadine wine. Unfortunately, one of my plastic carboys in missing in action, so I racked it into my glass one. I added one crushed Campden tablet to the new carboy and away we went…from the bottling bucket in which I did primary fermentation to the glass carboy.

Racking to the carboy.

Racking to the carboy.

My carboy is over 5-1/2 gallons and racking left me a little under 5 gallons. In order to prevent oxidation, I topped off with about 1.25 gallons of Culligan bottled water. I know it will drop the alcohol a bit and dilute the wine, but I actually want something lighter than the wine from last couple of years. I might even backsweeten a little after fermentation is complete and the wine is stabilized.

Nice color. Topped up with Culligan bottled water.

Nice color. Topped up with Culligan bottled water.

The color is nice…a kind of purple version of a rose’. The flavor still has a little muscadine flavor. I’m hoping when conditioning is done and I backsweeten and bottle, I will have an easy-drinking wine that will be a “half-sweet” wine that will be ready to drink in a year.

Update 10/18/16: Okay, I racked the wine off of the lees and it’s really nice and clear. I wound up with a little under a half of a gallon excess…might use it to experiment with backsweetening. Also took a hydrometer sample…looks like 1.001, after adjusting for temperature. So, it’s pretty dry, at the moment. Once I’m sure it’s stable and won’t start fermenting again, I’ll adjust the sweetness. I did add another crushed Campden tablet to hopefully achieve stabilization…it may take an overnight outside on a cold night…but there’s plenty of time. I’d just rather not add Campden after this point. A quick sip reveals that it doesn’t taste bone dry, which is good! And it’s a light body. This one may actually be ready to drink next Summer.

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Brew Day: Railer’s Pale Ale

Brew in a Bag set up (BIAB)...draining the grains

Brew in a Bag set up (BIAB)…draining the grains

A friend recently asked if I would be interested in joining her in providing a homebrew for an event. The event is just prior to the local soccer team’s game. The team is the Carolina Railhawks, so I’m making a beer I’m calling Railer’s Pale Ale. Hopefully, my friend will be able to get my beer into a keg and we will set up beside each other to serve our beers. If the keg doesn’t work out, I can always bottle.

I used an online recipe building program, armed with a basic idea that I wanted to use some frozen, vacuum sealed Cascade hops for the bittering/background “canvas”, with a combination of Mosaic and Citra hops for flavor and aroma. The Mosaic add a resinous flavor and the Citra are, surprise! citrusy.

Cascade whole hops that had been vacuum sealed and frozen.

Cascade whole hops that had been vacuum sealed and frozen.

Starting the 60 minute boil with the Cascade hops.

Starting the 60 minute boil with the Cascade hops.

The base grain is an American 2-row. In playing with other grains to get the right alcohol ABV and the right color, I picked a few specialty grains. Then, after a little research, Wyeast American Ale II 1272 “smack pack” for the yeast. At the lower recommended temperature range, it is supposed to produce a clean, crisp result that accentuates the citrus componants. I went ahead and took the yeast out and activated it early on.

I put my recipe out for some fellow brewers to look at, but didn’t get any feedback before I had to go pick-up the ingredients. After I milled the grains and came home, I see a note from an experienced brewer who said I had too much specialty grain (28% of the grain bill) and should cut them in half and make up the difference with more 2-row. Ugh. The comment is that the beer will be too sweet. Well, I’m kind of stuck now. I can’t waste the time or money on buying more grain for a beer that is going to be given away. Ah, well. I hope that the hop selections will help counteract some of the sweetness that I’m being told is going to be there. At the very least, it will be beer, and it should be drinkable. Mine may not be picked by the fans as the best one there, but I’m not expecting to be in that group anyway…I’m probably the novice of the group.

So, without going through all the individual brew steps here, I’ll hit just a few points. The brew went pretty well as far as the step go. The mash temperature was overshot, as I usually do, not matter how careful I try to be. I used a little Culligan water, cold, to bring the temperature down into my target range. And flies and bees started showing up to check out the wort. Really got to be irritating! Otherwise, no problem with my little modified sparge or the boil.

My little modified sparge set-up.

My little modified sparge set-up.

I do need to note, that being a Liberal Arts guy, “brewhouse efficiency” and some of the more technical calculations in the process are pretty much a guessing game for me. I had the efficiency at 63% in the recipe, based on a previous brew that seemed fairly accurate. When I checked the specific gravity (SG) between the mash and the boil, I got 1.054. The post boil gravity was only supposed to be 1.052, so my efficiency was more like 71%. I adjusted it in the recipe, and the end result will be just a little higher alcohol content,,,but not crazy. It will still only be (estimated at this point) 5.15% ABV. That should be fine.

I chilled with an immersion coil. The tap water temperature is 71F, so I knew I wouldn’t get the wort down into the low 70’s.

Stainless steel coil immersion chiller in use.

Stainless steel coil immersion chiller in use.

I managed 83F and transferred to the carboy…started off using siphon, but the whole hops were a challenge and I wound up having to hand-pour about 1/3. A bit messy, but couldn’t be helped.

Siphoning wort into the carboy (on top of my little chest freezer converted to fermentation chamber.

Siphoning wort into the carboy (on top of my little chest freezer converted to fermentation chamber).

I put the wort in my fermentation chamber with an airlock installed, and placed the package of yeast in as well. I let the wort continue to cool for a few hours and then pitched the yeast.

After a couple of hours, I realized the temperature was a little low, so I turned the thermostat up a few degrees and left the lid up on the box to bring the temperture up for awhile. Six hours later, I see the slightest indication that the yeast may be active. A few hours later, I closed the lid to keep the temperature in the range I want, which would be around 65-68F. Now we wait to see if it really takes off…and how it turns out.

Update: 7/23/16    Checked on the progress around noon and we have a good fermentation in progress!

Success!

Success!

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Fluffernutter Sammie Stout Update

Fluffernutter Sammie Stout, out of the fermentation chamber briefly to ease the temp up a bit.

Fluffernutter Sammie Stout, out of the fermentation chamber briefly to ease the temp up a bit.

Update 5/24/2016: An unexpected little run of cooler temperatures had me worried that the beer was not fermenting. I know it did for a couple of days, albeit a bit slowly…never really started “chugging”, but going. Then the cool weather, and my little fermentation chamber is outside. It is only able to cool, not warm, so this could be a problem. Since the overnight low last night was going into the mid to lower 50’s, I decided to bring the carboy inside.

I took a sample and did a temperature and hydrometer reading. The temp was 62.5, so it wasn’t terrible…a little under optimum range, but should not be low enough to have caused any harm. The hydrometer has the specific gravity at 1.030, so it definitely was fermenting. That’s good! Adjusting for the lactose, I think it will likely only go to 1.028 or so.

Hydrometer sample for evaluation...specific gravity, temperature and flavor.

Hydrometer sample for evaluation…specific gravity, temperature and flavor.

The flavor of the sample has my hopes up! The color may be a tad light, but it’s a little darker than the sample shows, because of the camera flash and the particles had not settled out yet. I could definitely taste the peanut flavor, especially in the finish. Nice malty sweetness. After the sample chilled overnight, the peanut flavor is more muted. With that and the consensus from others that the peanut flavor will start fading after a couple of months in the bottles, I do plan to add more peanut powder to secondary via boiling it with water and cooling it…probably a gallon and then racking onto it and the vanilla beans. I’m going to skip the marshmallow Fluff in secondary and rely on the vanilla for that flavor, so I’m not adding much more fermentable sugars. I may try adding some to the boil in a future batch, but not this time. I have a feeling that this beer’s flavor will improve as it loses some of its chill, after pouring.

The temperature on the carboy strip thermometer reads around 66-68F, so I’ll be putting it back in the fermentation chamber later today.

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2014 Muscadine Wine Tasting

Muscadine Wine, my first wine, bottled October 2014

Muscadine Wine, my first wine, bottled October 2014

My last taste of this wine was a little over a year ago, in February 2015. It was my first attempt at wine. I began the batch with foraged muscadine grapes in August of 2014 and was bottled about 2 months later. The ABV, if I read the hydrometer correctly, was right on 16%. It was fairly hot at bottling. I opened a bottle in February, 2015 when it was about 3-1/2 months in the bottle and the notes were basically that it was still kind of hot, but had a nice color, light body, and fairly dry flavor that I would not have guessed was muscadine.

It is now March 4, 2016, so the wine has been bottled for almost a year and a half. While still slightly warm with alcohol and a little tannin, the nose and color are still nice and the body light. The thing that really jumps out immediately, though, is that the flavor has very noticeably softened. It is definitely more drinkable now! I don’t expect muscadine wine to last a decade, but this one is improving and I think it may benefit from even a little more time…but I have no idea when it will “peak” or turn the corner and head downhill. Tonight, however, I’m having a glass of wine that I’m pretty happy with!

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Checking the Specific Gravity on There Gose a Sea Breeze

Hydrometer Sample

Hydrometer Sample

After I racked to secondary, added the grapefruit zest and hibiscus tea concentrate, there seemed to be some additional fermentation happening. It wasn’t much…in fact, I was afraid the little white bubbles were going to turn out to be an infection. However, they did eventually fade away.  The OG was supposed to be 1.062, and it came in at 1.063. The current SG reading is 1.014 with a temperature of 72.8F.

Hydrometer reading.

Hydrometer reading.

After temperature correction for the hydrometer, the actual SG is 1.015, which is .001 above expected FG. Considering that the OG was .001 high, fermentation could be done.

The thing is, I really want this beer to be carbed and ready to drink by Thanksgiving, which is about 2-1/2 weeks away and carbing will likely take at least 10 days. I’d rather give it a month, but it is what it is. So, just in case the fermentation isn’t COMPLETELY done, and, considering my history with over-carbonation…I think I will bottle in new bottles, underestimate the priming sugar, and cross my fingers.

Regarding the beer’s other characteristics, I am hopeful. The sample is a pretty cranberry color, the front end is appropriately a little salty (but not overly so), then there’s tart, followed by a little sour in the finish. The thing is, I don’t know how to describe the aroma or the flavor. I think the hibiscus is giving it a little cranberry character, but I’m not sure how the coriander and grapefruit zest are influencing the flavor. There’s obviously a blended flavor there. I just don’t have the palate and experience to put it into “proper” tasting terminology. But I like it. I really look forward to getting some feedback from some more experienced brewers.

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Racking Muscadine-Blueberry Wine

Racking wine to secondary fermentation.

Racking wine to secondary fermentation.

I’ve let the muscadine-blueberry wine go as long as I want now, so I racked it to a carboy tonight. It was in a bottling bucket for primary fermentation, so I tried to pull a sample from the spout to test the SG, but there was too much trub. To rack, I had to use a siphon and penetrate the fruit layer.

I added a crushed Campden Tablet to the carboy and started the racking process. The Campden will hopefully start knocking off the yeast that’s still active. I did get a sample and the SG is at 0.991 (0.990 @70.3F)…I would think the yeast would be done!

SG reading

SG reading

But there is still some airlock activity. After racking, it looks a little lower in volume than I thought, but there was about 14 pounds of fruit, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

A little below volume, but high on alcohol, so I added a gallon of bottled water.

A little below volume, but high on alcohol, so I added a gallon of bottled water. (This is before water addition.)

I decided to add another gallon of Culligan water with a crushed Campden Tablet to bump the volume a little. The ABV is 15.75%, prior to the water addition, so I’m not worried about diluting it a little! The color and flavor are nice, so a couple more months of racking and then a few more in the bottles and I think it will be pretty good.

Looking good...dry, but not bone dry.

Looking good…dry, but not bone dry.

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Update on Mowing Mt. Ranier Cherry Citra Ale: Infection!

This is what infection looks like...damn it.

This is what infection looks like…damn it.

Well, I have my first confirmed infected beer. After racking the Mowing Mt. Ranier Cherry-Citra Ale, I noticed some patches on the surface the next day. Then, the following day, there was a complete film (a.k.a. “Pellicle”) covering the surface. I confirmed that it was on the small blackberry batch, as well.

What caused the infection? I don’t know. A fruit fly touching the beer during racking? A microscopic particle drifting in? Cherries weren’t properly sanitized? Sloppiness when transferring wort from kettle to fermenter? No way to know really. From what I understand, there are a few possible outcomes. I could put it in an out of the way place and let it go for a couple of years and hope that the infection is Brettanomyces strain and would slowly transform my beer into a mindblowing sour beer. It could be an acetobacter (commonly from fruit flies) that would basically turn the beer into vinegar. It could be something yucky than would just turn the beer into something disgusting. Finally, I could go ahead and try to siphon from under the pellicle and bottle the beer ASAP and cross my fingers. The eventual outcome could still be nasty, or it could be good initially and go downhill. Or it could get better with age. Again…no way to tell in advance. So, I’m going to bottle it. The next step, after that, will be replacing my siphon and tubing and bleaching the Hell out of my carboy and bottling bucket, and hoping to salvage them. Some say it should all be thrown away or only be used for sour beers. Others say bleaching works.

I was almost out of 12 oz bottles, but I have some 22 oz “bombers”, so I went ahead and bottled the little blackberry batch into 2 of those and one 12 oz. The beer seemed to taste okay still. Luckily, a brewer friend had a couple of cases of bottles that she gave to me…saving me a trip to the supply store and about $35 for 2 cases of bottles! So, bottling will be my project tonight. I’ll update later….

***Okay…it’s later. I bleached all my utensils and the bottling bucket, rinsed well and then sanitized again with Starsan. The bottles, I soaked in Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda solution, rinsed well, and then sanitized with Starsan.I went transferred the beer to the bottling bucket with 3oz sugar dissolved in hot Culligan water. I collected 4 gallons to bottle. I tried to stop well before any of the stuff from the pellicle got too low. As the volume in the carboy dropped, the pellicle coated the sides.

The clarity and color were nice though...dang it!

The clarity and color were nice though…dang it!

Volume drops, pellicle coats sides.

Volume drops, pellicle coats sides.

I went through the bottling process and got 42 bottles (12oz). The beer is clear, the color is nice, the flavor is good. If it weren’t for the infection, I would have been really happy at this point! It is depressing though that the few bottles I did yesterday from the little blackberry variant were cloudy at the bottom and may have had some stuff floating at the top. It could be that it just had more crap in the smaller bucket and I wasn’t as careful getting it into the bottles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the main batch. I had intended to go light on the priming sugar, but I overestimated how much beer I would collect; so it turns out that I added the amount of sugar that would have been recommended anyway…though I was shooting for 2.2 atmospheres, which is a little under. I will have to watch for overcarbing.

Update 9/10/15: Refrigerated a bottle all day and opened it last night. Not carbed enough. I’m not sure it’s good enough to save, but I’ll give it a couple more weeks.

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