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Day 68 Nothing Brewing…Feels Weird

Since I bottled my hefeweizen, and scrambled for bottles to do it, I have nothing brew-related going on. Everything is in the bottle conditioning phase. It just feels weird! I did open a few bottles tonight…um…just to check their progress. Yeah, that’s it. Anyway, I started off with my Nut Brown Ale that I received as a Christmas gift-kit. It was bottled 10 days ago and is surprisingly drinkable already. Compared to my previous English Nut Brown Ale, A.K.A. Fawlty Brown Ale, it is a bit more bitter. The color and clarity are good and the carbonation may get better, but is pretty good already. In addition to the kit, I also received some Irish moss and gypsum. I believe they did their jobs! No doubt that this beer will improve with another couple of weeks in the bottle, but my first bottle out of this batch says it’s a success.

Nice clarity and color

Nice clarity and color

Nut Brown Ale

Nut Brown Ale

The second bottle of the evening was a 22 0z bottle of the Belgian Strong Dark. I believe my last taste of this beer was described as having a fruity component and maybe caramel, but not the roasted coffee or chocolate flavors. This beer has been in the bottle for 24 days and has since mellowed a bit on the caramel and it has lost that fruit from before. I’m not an expert at the critique thing for beer and I don’t have the right words to describe this flavor. Is this what people describe as “biscuit”? I will need to get some more experienced feedback on this one, but whatever it is, it’s good…at least, I think so!

Belgian Strong Dark...interesting.

Belgian Strong Dark…interesting.

The final bottle I opened this evening is the Watson’s Cider…in honor of John Hamish Watson’s nuptials on Masterpiece Theater tonight! Side note: awesome episode. ‘Nuff said. The cider, unfortunately, is not doing so well. This is an all-crabapple (foraged) sparkling cider. This is the only beverage that I have pastuerized, so far. I also was trying to retain some sweetness by not letting it ferment quite all the way out. In the process, I did not let it clarify long enough and too much lees came along for the ride. It’s a little sour in the nose…like mild vinegar. The carbonation is a bit week. If I went back through my notes, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the carbonation is actually going down some. There was quite a bit of sediment in the bottle and the color of the cider is a medium golden, but with a little haze. I know it sounds weird, but the best way to describe it is as if someone drop one or two drops of skim milk into the glass before adding the cider. I did have fun with the label. Since calling it a “cyser”, I have seen the error in my ways…but the labels were expensive and already printed. Plus, “Watson’s Cider” sounds like a personal question.

One of my less successful beverages, but not ready to dump it yet!

One of my less successful beverages, but not ready to dump it yet!

As for the flavor, I definitely get that slight sourness/vinegar taste with an almost dry finish. These days, some people think it’s good for you to drink vinegar, so they’d probably think this was really mild and tasty! I’ll keep pulling one out, now and then to see what’s happening. I’m not ready to dump it yet, but we’ll see what happens over time. If I get desperate for a few bottles to use for something else, these are at the top of the expendable list.

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Day 62 Still Making Cider Baguettes

First, let me get the liquids update done: The Pineapple Tinker is on untoasted American oak chips and I think I’ll let them go another day or two. The Murray’s Super Easy Cider is still popping off a bubble now and then, so no rush there…but it could be a busy weekend, because both of these will probably need racking by then, plus the nut brown ale is slowing considerably now. It’s down to about 30 second intervals on the blow-off tube, so I may be bottling that batch by Sunday!

9:30 pm I opened a 22 oz Crabapple/Fuji Cider and was happy to find that the carb was up a little bit more than last time. It’s light and may not get much better than this…but this is really tasty!

Crabapple/Fuji Cider

Crabapple/Fuji Cider

Here I am about 2-1/2 months since my first entry with (crabapple) Cider Batch #1 on October 28th, I believe it was…and I’m still using the starter I made from that cider’s lees (Champagne yeast based) to make bread. I took about 8 loaves to the Thanksgiving vacation, having made and frozen several batches at that point, 2 loaves per batch. I keep the starter in a pint canning jar in the refrigerator, not too full and with the lid screwed down just to fingertip tightened (because it can build pressure otherwise). The starter can be left unattended for weeks at a time. You will see it separate. Before making a batch of bread, I remove the jar, tighten the lid and shake it to mix thoroughly. I  use 1/2 c. starter to 1-1/2 c. water and 1-1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour, blended well.

Proofed starter.

Proofed starter.

Starter added to flour and water, covered.

Starter added to flour and water, covered.

That mixture stays in a mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to proof for a couple to several hours. I have read that making bread from beer lees is not good because of the bitterness, but the cider lees worked fine! I have also since read that I could have used less sediment and more liquid to make the starter, as there was probably plenty of yeast in the liquid. The sediment was unnecessary…but it may have added some character. Who knows? Anyway, after I measure out what I need for the recipe, I replace the amount removed from the starter jar and stick it back in the fridge.

Topped back off the starter...ready to go back in the fridge.

Topped back off the starter…ready to go back in the fridge.

This recipe makes baguette loaves with a denser texture and smaller bubbles than the traditional french loaves, but with a nice, crunch to the crust and a nice chew.

If you are a cider fermenter and also like to bake, check out my post from Day 9 and Day 10 to read about making the starter. When I am ready to bake a batch of bread, I use the mix as stated above…flour, water and starter, proofed…and proceed with the recipe:

Sourdough Cider Baguettes

Ingredients

2 c. proofed Sourdough Starer

1 t. Salt

1/2 c Water (+ a tablespoon or 2 more, depending on humidity)

4 c. Bread Flour

2 T. White Cornmeal

Directions

Put the ingredients, in the order listed, into the pan of a bread machine and use the “Dough” cycle to mix and knead. You may need to scrape down the sides and add the extra water, if required.

Using the "Dough" cycle of my bread machine to do the hard work.

Using the “Dough” cycle of my bread machine to do the hard work.

Alternately, you could use a mixer with a dough hook (allow dough to rest 10 minutes after using a mixer) …or mix and knead by hand, if you’re a real masochist! Form dough into a ball. Spritz a bowl with a little Pam Spray or a little oil. Cover the dough in the bowl to rise until it has doubled in size. [I forgot this first rise and my loaves were a little less risen in the final stage than I would have liked…that may have been the problem.] Have some extra flour on hand for handling the dough. Dust your surface and the dough with a little flour. Divide the dough into two equal portions. I use a digital kitchen scale, but a good guesstimate is okay. Shape into ovals and use your hands to roll out each portion into a long, fat rope.* Sprinkle a little cornmeal on a baking sheet or baguette pans and place loaves. Using a sharp knife, cut 2 or 3 slashes horizontally on each loaf to allow for rise. Cover loosely and set aside in a warm, draft free location until about doubled in size.

Cover to rise

Cover to rise

Shaped and on the baguette pan

Shaped and on the baguette pan

Preheat oven to 375F. On the bottom of the oven, place a small pan of boiling water. Prepare a clean spray bottle with water for misting. When the loaves go in the oven, mist them directly with the water and also mist  the sides of the oven and quickly close the door. Repeat the misting 3 more times at one minute intervals. Set a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the pan of water. [Forgot to pull the water pan after 15 minutes…this may also have affected my final product this time.] Set the timer for another 25 minutes. Check the bread for an internal temperature of 190-200F or tap to see if it sounds almost hollow. It could need a few more minutes. Cool on wire racks. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cooled loaf, wrapped for freezer.

Cooled loaf, wrapped for freezer.

*On a personal note, I have tried a couple of methods for forming the loaves into baguette shapes. I have tried flattening them with a rolling pin, then rolling them lengthwise and pinching the seams. I have tried rolling the rope shape out with my hands. I’m not an accomplished bread baker, so some come out better than others. I have had some split down the sides, lengthwise, as they did this time. They taste great, no matter the shaping technique…might be a little harder to slice. If you’re an expert baguette shaper…more power to you! If not, don’t let it stop you! Enjoy!

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Welcome Beginners!!! Cider Fermenting and Home Beer Brewing from Day One!

My first beer...a success!

My first beer…a success!

Welcome! My name is Matt and I am a beginner at home brewing beer and fermenting cider. I have been keeping a daily journal of my experiences that I hope will be helpful to other beginners. I am currently about 2 months in as I write this. I began on October 28th, 2013 with crabapple cider. I have crabapple trees on some property that is a common area shared with neighbors. Nobody else uses them…they are treated as ornamental. I started making apple jelly and apple butter out of them last year. I did the same this year and decided to try making alcoholic crabapple cider. It has been a real challenge! Since I had the equipment, I decided to try beer as well. Both are exercises in patience, but are fairly simple.

I encourage you to read through my journal and note where I had questions and small mishaps. These may answer many of your questions and help you avoid some mistakes of your own. I began numbering my entries with “Day 1” and went from there. I did not write an entry on days where I did not have to do anything related to fermenting or brewing, so there are less entries than there are actual elapsed days.  I still consider myself to be a rank amateur, but I’m more confident now and I continue to learn, experiment and pursue advice. I strongly suggest doing some reading on a home brew website as well. There are many out there. I recommend http://www.homebrewtalk.com . It  covers from beginners to seasoned pros and everything in between. Find a local home brew supply store, if you have one and talk to the people there. Eventually, you may want to see if you have a local club to join where like-minded folks  get together and exchange ideas and maybe sample each other’s brews.

The main thing to do is get started! Buy a beginner’s start-up kit and just do it!

Constructive comments, advice and questions are always welcome.

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Day 47 Racking Big Dark, Checking Cider Batch #4

After a couple of days, I’m back! There’s still some bubbling going on in the Big Dark stout and the Pineapple Tinker melomel.

The pineapple still has a reduced fruit bits layer on the top, so I am going to give it a little more time before I make the decision to rack it. The stout, on the other hand, has slowed a bit more, so I decided to rack it to carboys for a secondary/clearing period.

Sanitized and ready to rack!

Sanitized and ready to rack!

I sanitized all my supplies and started racking. I filled two 1 gallon carboys and about half of a 1/2 gallon carboy.

2-1/2 gallons racked.

2-1/2 gallons racked.

I started to get a bit of lees in the bottling tube, so I stopped. The bottling bucket was pretty well-drained. I did rack a ounce or so into a little tasting glass.

Taster sample

Taster sample

The color is deep, living up to the name Big Dark! The aroma is malty and the flavor is a little sweet and malty up front with a little bitterness making a comeback. I think this batch shows promise! The current SG is 1.022 @70F. The digital thermometer reads 71F, but it’s a probe, not air, thermometer. It reads the beer temp at 74F.  All my readings to this point have been based on the air temp.,  as registered by the house thermostat though, so that’s what I’m going with, for consistency.

Bottom of the bucket.

Bottom of the bucket.

So, 1.022 adjusted to hydrometer calibration is 1.023. Now, I had some issues with getting the OG on this batch. The figure I’m going to go with is the 1.112 I got when I checked it the day after I brewed it. If that’s accurate, the current ABV is 11.68%…wow! I didn’t get an alcohol burn from the sample I tasted, but I guess it’s possible. The recipe projection called for an OG of 1.07 ish and the ABV would be in the 6-1/2 to 7% range. I’ll just have to drink one and see the effects to know which number is closer!

11:00 pm   Stuck the tester bottle of my cider batch #4 in the fridge earlier. It has been opened a few times and has served its purpose. I imagine it won’t build pressure equal to the capped bottles anymore. So I popped the top and there is still just a tiny bit of carbonation, but the color is a beautiful golden, the flavor is good and the sweetness level is great, but not overly sweet.

Golden and delicious! Still barely any carb, but it hardly matters!

Golden and delicious! Still barely any carb, but it hardly matters!

I’ll have to open a regular bottle in the near future to check their carb level and decide if they need to be pasteurized. So far, it’s not looking like it, but I’m happy with the cider as it is. It will absolutely be consumed!

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Day 46. Fawlty Brown Ale is just right!

It has been 1 month and 1 day since bottling the Fawlty Brown Ale and its carb level is perfect! Too bad I only have a couple of bottles left! My family isn’t a bunch of drinkers and they drink even less as time goes on. I didn’t have many helpers drinking my first brew at Thanksgiving…but I drank several over the course of the week. I think I’ve had one or two since then. Anyway, I’m down to four bottles just as it really hits its prime! It was tasty, but a little undercarbonated at Thanksgiving. Now, it’s just right on the carb. I’m not the educated palate that many brewers are, but I’m very pleased with this English Nut Brown Ale! I will definitely be making this one again and forcing myself to leave it alone for a month.

A month and a day since bottling is just right for this beer!

A month and a day since bottling is just right for this beer!

Oh yeah…the fruity bits layer on the Pineapple Tinker is starting to fall and create a layer on the bottom again. I’m assuming that this will continue and in a couple of days I will be racking for secondary. Fermenting in glass has been really interesting!

Having another Watson’s Cider…love the sweetness level and carbonation, but I really should have allowed another day or two to clarify. I was just too scared that it would ferment too dry. Instead, I’ve got more sediment in the bottles than I should and there’s a yeasty flavor in the cider. Not enough so that I won’t drink it, though!

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Day 40 Stout Racking, Checking Cider Batch #4

6:00 pm   Dry Stout batch SG is still reading 1.012 at 69F. Decided to rack to carboys.

From primary (bottling bucket) to carboys

From primary (bottling bucket) to carboys

I filled two 1 gallon carboys and partially filled an amber growler. The color is excellent!

2 gallons plus a growler up to the green pen cap.

2 gallons plus a growler up to the green pen cap.

Another few drops sampled after the hydrometer check was good. If the SG, after adjusting for hydrometer calibration, stays at 1.013 and the OG was 1.037, then the ABV will be 3.15%. If it drops to 1.010, it would be 3.54%. Low, either way, but satisfying and a good session brew. When I racked the stout, I saw an airlock bubble, but they were few and far between. The SG didn’t change since yesterday, so we’re probably going to stay at 1.013. I’m going to bottle either tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on when I have time. My big hope now is for appropriate carbonation, good body and a nice head. Lees were pretty thick. The partial growler amount may have a bit left in it. I’ll be careful when I rack for bottling.

Bottom of the primary

Bottom of the primary

10:30 pm   Drank some stout previously home brewed by an aquaintence.

Barely perceptible "stout 'stache". The real thing kind of masks it.

Barely perceptible “stout ‘stache”. The real thing kind of masks it.

He gave us 2 bottles last week and this was the second. It was good. From what I have tasted of my batch, I think it is going to be similar. I hope so! What we were given was brewed by a very experienced home brewer.

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Flip-top test bottle…not yet pasteurized. Just starting to detect some carb!

I just opened my flip-top test bottle of cider batch #4 and  checked on it. I heard a little “pfft” when I popped it. I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t get my hopes up. I poured a very small amount and tasted it and…woo hoo! There was a *little* detectable effervescence! The flavor is good…a little sweetness and apple flavor, but not yeasty. If this one carbs up some more, it will be the best yet! (This is the one that has mostly crabapple, but also has Fuji apple juice, commercial Murray’s Cider, a little brown sugar and a little honey in it.

Now, the trick is going to be figuring out if I need to pasteurize it or if it will ever carb enough to worry about it. The flip top has been de-pressurized about 3 times now for testing. The question is: are the capped bottles more carbed than the flip-top? The reasonable expectation is that they would be, but how much more? At some point, I’ll need to open one and see. They are 22 oz bottles, though and I don’t want to waste more than one, if possible. Well, okay, I won’t be wasting it. I will drink it! But you know what I mean. If these don’t get a lot of carbonation, I might just stick them in the refrigerator when I think they’re ready. Maybe outside overnight on a cold night to “cold crash” and then into the fridge. The headline of the story is that there’s a glimmer of sparkly hope!

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Day 38 Airlock Slowing on Dry Stout (and tasting some stuff!)

8:30 am   The airlock on my Dry Stout batch is slowing to about a bubble every 10 seconds. Getting there! Another 2 or three days and it should be ready to rack to bottle. I’m debating racking to carboys first for clarity. I probably will…let it sit for a few hours and then add priming sugar to a clean bottling bucket and rack on top of that and bottle the stout. I’m thinking Christmas is too early to drink this one…New Year’s Eve is going to be a little early too. I think sampling will begin in mid January.

2:00 pm   I checked intervals between airlock bubbles on the stout in primary fermentation and both times I counted exactly 37. Odd number to come up with, but there ya go. Note: Everything I read says that airlock bubbles are not an indication of fermentation and that the only way to truly tell your beer has finished fermenting is to check the specific gravity. If it hasn’t changed in two days, then it’s ready. Personally, I can’t help but see the airlock bubbles as a pretty good indicator. I really don’t want to expose my brew to open air any more than necessary. If the SG is in expected target range once bubbles have subsided for a couple days, I feel pretty confident.

3:30 pm   Opened the flip top test bottle of cider batch #4. I thought I heard a little release when I popped the top, but I could not detect any carbonation in the small sample that I poured. The sweetness and flavor are very nice, though. I guess I can let it go for awhile before I check it again.

8:30 pm   Well, it IS Friday night, so I decided to pop a top on a Fawlty Brown Ale. It has had another week in the bottle since I last tried one. It was in a back room, where the temperature was in the upper 60’s and the bottle felt cool, so I went ahead and opened it without additional refrigeration. The carbonation has definitely increased and I think the beer is quite good. More time won’t hurt, but it’s good.

Fawlty Brown Ale...carbonation is better this week.

Fawlty Brown Ale…carbonation is better this week

11:30 pm   Alright, the kids are at sleepovers and I shouldn’t have to go anywhere; so, I pulled out a bottle of Watson’s Cyser. (If I had used the right terminology on the label, it would have been “Watson’s Cider”…say it again…I know; funny, right?)

Watson's Cyser (Actually, a sparkling cider). A bit cloudy, too much lees in the bottle.

Watson’s Cyser (Actually, a sparkling cider). A bit cloudy, too much lees in the bottle.

This cider has actually got positives and negatives. The positives are that it retains some sweetness and some crabapple character and the carbonation is about where I like it. The negatives are that I left a little too much sediment in the bottling. I don’t mind the lack of crystal clarity, but the lees are allowing a bit of a yeasty flavor. IMAG2000Getting it just right is trickier than I thought! I need to rack longer for clarity, but not ferment the sugar all the way out and completely lose the yeast; otherwise, it won’t carb. The experiments are interesting, but I’m glad they aren’t huge batches!

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