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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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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 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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Day 25 Pasteurizing Batch #3, Starting #4

Well, all the stuff I read said to let the cider go from 3 to 10 days after priming, checking carbonation until it’s “right”,  then pasteurize. It’s only been 2 days, and my test bottles gushed a bit when I opened them. May be a bit over-carbonated already. The taste is a little sharp. Hopefully, some time in the bottles will mellow them some. So, I’m into the pasteurizing process…going to 190 degrees, then removing from heat, cover and sit 10 minutes.

Using the pressure canner to pasteurize.

Using the pressure canner to pasteurize.

Right as I was reaching 190 degrees…BOOM! One of the bottles busted. I thought that gradually bringing the bottles up in temperature would be better for the glass, but maybe that builds too much pressure. Maybe I should have added the bottles when 190F was attained and pulled off the heat. It might have blown anyway. Could have been a defect in the glass, I don’t know. Anyway, ten minutes is up…have to go remove the bottles…CAREFULLY!!!

Bottle go BOOM!!! Cap stayed on, though.

Bottle go BOOM!!! Cap stayed on, though.

So far, so good. The bottles are on a kitchen towel, on the counter. Only that one bottle blew. Luckily, I was using my pressure canner that has a raised false bottom disk and I had the lid partially covering the pot. The bottle busted, but the cap stayed on! I ran my test 12 oz bottle through pasteurizing process and I put the soda bottle with the screw cap in the refrigerator. I think I’ll let these bottle condition for quite awhile…maybe until my birthday, March first. I’ll try the test bottle before then…maybe New Year’s Eve!

After they cooled to almost room temperature, I put the labels on the bottles. They look good, I think!

Watson's label.

Watson’s label.

Watson's Cyser. I know, no honey probably just makes it a sparkling cider. I'll fix the terminology before next labels are printed.

Watson’s Cyser. I know, no honey probably just makes it a sparkling cider. I’ll fix the terminology before next labels are printed.

Just have to remember to open them over a sink, in case they gush. (In the future, I’ll have to remember to go by taste and not by what is expected. The temperature has fluctuated in the house quite a bit over the last couple of days and at one point it got up to 75F…probably sped up the process. Had some of the test screw-cap soda bottle Watson’s this evening. Since it has been opened and had a slow gush, the carbonation level is way down. It isn’t entirely flat, though and I like the flavor and sweetness level.

10:30 pm     I picked some crabapples this afternoon…pretty sure this is the end of the crop. Have to pick through them carefully…some are rotting on the tree. Anyway, I picked about 5-1/2 lbs. Tonight, I cut off the stems and blossom ends and juiced them. I had 4 large Fuji apples on hand, so I juiced them as well. They probably weighed over 3 lbs. I thought I only had three and I had weighed them at over 2 lbs, before I spotted the fourth one. So, I got over 5 cups of juice (I usually have 4 cups.) I went ahead and put it all in primary with 6 quarts water, pectin enzyme, yeast nutrient, a capmden tablet (crushed), the apple pommace in a cheesecloth bag and   1 lb 9 oz  of white sugar. I would have done 1 lb 12 oz, but that’s all I had. I thought about adding some honey or brown sugar, but the OG is 1.050 @ 70F, so I think I’m ok. I can double check it tomorrow night and add some more sugar if I want to at that point.

Now, because I have a little over 2 gallons in one PFB, there is no way this isn’t going to foul the airlock. unless I divide it into 2 PFB’s before (or immediately after) I pitch the yeast. I’m afraid, by the way, that I may not have quite enough yeast. I only have about 2 grams of Safale s-04 yeast left. I think I’m going to run to the brew store tomorrow to get some supplies. In addition to yeast, I could use a no-rinse sanitizer to use in the bottle rack bottle sanitizer, maybe more beer brite, pectin enzyme and yeast nutrient. Maybe I’ll put together a kit for another batch of beer to save a trip after Thanksgiving. I know I won’t have time to brew it until then. ***YAAAAAAWN*** It’s getting late. I think I’ll go lie down and peruse some recipes. I was looking at stout recipes recently…hmmm. But my first taste of Guinness Stout from a bottle, many years ago, sucked. I like it draft, but not bottled. Maybe I’ll go another route. Who knows? Tomorrow is another day!

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Day 24 Carbonation Check on Watson’s Cyser, Free Brew Stuff!

Checked the screw cap soda bottle of Watson’s Cyser for carbonation. It’s definitely coming along. I haven’t done this before, so I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I didn’t think it could be ready this soon. I’m going to give it at least one more day before I pasteurize it. Sediment has settled in the bottles nicely.

One aside: I may have been operating under a misconception. I thought that all sparkling apple cider was considered to be a “Cyser”. I now am realizing that cysers are considered a hybrid of cider and mead; therefore, a cyser would necessarily contain honey. Without honey, perhaps my beverages are simply sparkling ciders. I already have labels for my current batches #1 and #3, so I’m not changing them now. I’ll correct the terminology for future batches.

Carbonation test bottle for Watson's Cyser.

Carbonation test bottle for Watson’s Cyser.

Soda bottle for testing carbonation...with sediment.

Soda bottle for testing carbonation…with sediment.

I got a message from a friend who has a friend who has some brewing stuff he wants to get rid of…free! It doesn’t sound like he’s giving away any 5 gallon containers or large stock pots (too bad!), but he did mention two cases of bottles, a bag of caps, a bottle rack and other miscellaneous stuff. The bottle rack alone makes it worth the drive! Bottles and caps, I can use. He wants whoever takes the stuff to take ALL of it…so, if any of it is junk or of no use to me, I can just toss it. The are some ingredient supplies that are a couple of years old…have to check their packaging and condition carefully to see if they’re in good enough shape to use. If not, I haven’t lost anything really. If okay, then I get some free beer! Sounds like mostly malt and barley. Looking forward to seeing what all is there…meeting at about 9 pm tonight.

11:30 pm     Cha-ching! The used brewing stuff was worth the trip! There’s a few things I’m not sure I’ll ever use, some stuff I’m not sure what it is or if it’s complete and some ingredients I’m not sure are still usable. I tossed a ziploc of barley and a small bag of Irish Moss that were open. The rest is sealed, except for the corn sugar. There are three big bags and one small bag of Light Malt Extract.

Questionable ingredients.  The malt is very tempting.

Questionable ingredients. The malt is very tempting.

I’ll have to do some research and get some opinions. Maybe I’ll pile some stuff in the car next time I go to the brew shop and get their input. Much of what I got, I do recognize and can use. First of all, what I thought was going to be a single bottle rack and maybe a tray, turned out to be an expandable bottle drying tree with 90 pegs! There’s also two bottling buckets with lids and spigots!

Nice haul...for free! Some good, used brew supplies!

Nice haul…for free! Some good, used brew supplies!

Also, there is a decent supply of caps, a digital probe thermometer (a few batteries and a clean up and it works), a long stemmed 50-550F thermometer, a nice hydrometer, a couple of funnels, a capper, some good brushes, some airlocks…good basic stuff that I can use. I spent about an hour and a half washing everything except the 2 boxes of bottles. I’ll tackle that later. Everything else took a little sweat and elbow grease, but cleaned up nicely.

A selection of goodies.

A selection of goodies.

1:00 am (Technically the next day, but I haven’t slept yet, so I’m adding this here.) I just had an “Aha!”moment. A couple of pieces that I didn’t have identified are now revealed! One piece obviously goes with the bottle rack, because of the red plastic. The other piece, I thought was part a tap pump. Well, it turns out that they fit together to make a bottle cleaner/sanitizer that sits inside the clear container on top of the bottle rack. Put sanitizing solution in the container and push the bottle down on the white plastic, spring-loaded tip and the solution shoots up into the bottle! Sweet! (I spotted this photo while searching pics of bottle racks)

Bottle sanitizer on top of the bottle tree...cool!

Bottle sanitizer on top of the bottle tree…cool!

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Day 22 Bottling Sherlock’s Cumber Batch #1, Testing SG on Cider Batch #3

By day 5 on my first batch of cider, I was racking to carboys and the SG was 1.01. I racked the second batch on its fourth day with an SG of 0.992. The recipe had recommended racking at 1.040. I don’t know why, unless it was to slow things down and get the cider off of the sediment or “lees”. Some reading I have done indicates that cider that sits on the lees too long tends to pick up a yeasty or bread-like flavor that is considered undesirable in cider. Anyway, this is Day 6 for cider batch #3, 5 days since pitching the yeast. The big difference is that the yeast in this batch is Safale s-04, while the first two batches have Champagne yeast at work. The Safale s-04 has been described as a slower acting yeast, by comparison. Safale s-04 is described as a quick fermenting yeast though, with high flocculation (clumping of yeast…desirable in promoting the clearing of the beer or cider). As of last night, the frequency of the bubble in the airlock was about every 13 seconds. This morning, it’s going about every 15 to 17 seconds. Later today, I’ll check the SG and, depending on how it looks and the number I come up with, I’ll make a decision on racking. I only have one empty carboy though, so I either need to bottle cider batch #1 or come up with a creative secondary container for some of #3.

Sometime this afternoon or evening, I hope to sample the test bottle of Fawlty Brown Ale!

7:00 pm     Well, the flip-top sample beer bottle was barely carbonated at all. I heard a little “fsst”…which was encouraging, but it was practically flat. That pretty much seals the deal on Munton’s CarTabs. I’ve seen too many negative comments on these and a similar product by another company…all the same problems that I’m having: slow or no carbonating, floaters in suspension, undependable. I added priming sugar, closed and left out on the counter…maybe it will work. The color and flavor seemed okay. Thankfully, I used regular priming sugar for the full bottling of the beer batch.

So, with that disappointment  out of the way, I decided to take on bottling my first batch of cyser! I am, however, using priming sugar, instead of tabs. I have just under a gallon, so I used 3/4 ounce of primer. I mixed the priming sugar with 1/4 cup water and added it to the carboy that  I then racked into.

Nice and clear!

Nice and clear!

I prepared and filled 6 flip-tops and a 12 oz bottle. That all went smoothly!IMAG1815_1

There was little sediment and I had enough left for a small sample glass to chill and enjoy “still”. Very tasty! Pale color, nice and clear, like white wine. Now I need to work on the labels for them! The FG reading, before priming was 0.990 at 73 degrees room temperature. Adjusted to 0.991 for hydrometer calibration. Unfortunately, I can’t determine the ABV % very accurately, because I didn’t get an accurate OG for this batch.                                                                                                                                                                                               Batch 2 started at 1.045, so if the first batch was in this range, the ABV for batch #1 would be around 7.2%. Woo hoo!  IMAG1818

I spent some time tonight, working on the labels for the freshly bottled cyser. I think they turned out well!

Cider batch #1 yield, bottled and labeled... becoming "cyser".

Cider batch #1 yield, bottled and labeled… becoming “cyser”.

The Label.

The Label.

I checked the SG on cider batch #3 and it was around 1.022. Now that I have 2 carboys available again, I’ll probably rack #3 tomorrow.

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Day 2…Pitching the Yeast

Well, I started off by sanitizing all my utensils with “Beer Brite”, including my hands. I removed the bag of crabapple pulp from my juice mixture, after squeezing out the juice. I tried checking the starting S.G. right in the fermentation bucket, since I didn’t buy a testing tube/beaker. Unfortunately, the hydrometer went to the bottom and balanced, but did not float, so I don’t know what the S.G. is! I tested the hydrometer in the tallest, narrowest thing I could think of: a 32 oz spray bottle body, filled with tap water. It floated and read about 1.000, so that’s good. But I don’t want to waste 32 oz of my cider to test it!!! I only have about 2 gallons of cider total.

I went ahead and dissolved my packet of Champagne Yeast in 1/4 cup of water at 100F and pitched it in, sealed the lid and set up the air lock. Crossing my fingers. I may have to find a narrow beaker and a secondary glass carboy for conditioning/clarification.

I don’t fear the process so much as making sure all the steps go smoothly…and this one did not. I am a bit intimidated by instrumentation until I have used it and had clear results. Then the process makes sense and the next time I am more confident. When it doesn’t go as expected and I don’t understand why, my confidence drops until I get an answer!

Now, I’m supposed to stir daily, watch for fermentation signs in the airlock and let it go until the S.G. drops to 1.040. That’s supposed to take 3-5 days…but, um…how will I figure THAT out?! Then, I’m supposed to “rack” that to a glass carboy (jug) with an airlock and continue the fermentation until the S.G. is 1.000 (again, how will I check it, if I don’t have the beaker?). I believe I was told I didn’t really need to do this step, just go for 1.000 in the primary fermentation bucket, but everything I read says it really improves the flavor and clarity. Then the recipe calls for another stage of conditioning for 2 months(!) to further clarify and improve the flavors. Then it gets “primed” (sweetener added to reactivate fermentation) and bottled. Finally, it’s a minimum of 4 weeks in the bottle to carbonate, but will last up to a year. I think this will be properly aged and ready to drink by my birthday, March 1, 2014. That’s a long time to wait to see if you screwed something up in October! But I would rather go for the best I can do, than to skip steps, rush it and have an inferior, cloudy cider that doesn’t taste right. Let’s see what it looks like tomorrow and think about a beaker and carboys.

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