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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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Day 163 Tasting Fermentation Samples

 

Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale, just a little evidence of activity on top.

Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale, just a little evidence of activity on top.

This evening, I replaced the blow-off tubes on the fermentation bucket and one gallon carboy of McQuinn’s Robust Porter. While I was at it, I decided to take a small sample of the  Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale and the porter. I am trying to continue learning to evaluate the potential of a beer “in process” by looking at, smelling and tasting  samples. It continues to be a challenge, as I learn how the different styles of beer are supposed to look, taste, and smell.

I am more familiar with some than others. I have preferences that affect my evaluation. These are challenges that I need to work on. For instance, I have never had a Scottish pumpkin ale. I have had a few pumpkin ales and a couple of Scottish Ales, but not enough of either to evaluate them beyond my own opinion. The same goes for the porter. I don’t think I have had a porter since I started homebrewing. I have brewed a couple of stouts and a couple of nut brown ales, but this is my first porter. And the stouts and browns were extract brews, not whole grain.

That being said, the Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale looks like it will be okay to bottle this weekend. There was just a little evidence of fermentation…just about done. (see above photo) The color is a nice amber and it appears to be fairly clear.

Scottish pumpkin ale sample held to light. Nice.

Scottish pumpkin ale sample held to light. Nice.

The alcohol is forward in the smell and flavor; however, the aroma has a nice spice component and the flavor and body are very good. I expect the alcohol warmth will tone down in the bottle conditioning process and the flavor will shine through a little more. The spice and pumpkin are not overpowering, but are well balanced. Now I just have to imagine getting the carb right. So, while I don’t have any experience tasting a Scottish pumpkin ale, I can reasonably predict that this brew should be pretty amazing. (I hope I’m right!)

As for McQuinn’s Robust Porter, I’ve done a little research on the style and I think I have an idea what it should be like when ready to drink. At this point though, with only a few days in fermentation, it’s hard to make a judgement. I think the color is in the right range, the aroma is pretty good…I get the roasty grains.

Porter with a little light...obviously still murky. But it's promising!

Porter with a little light…obviously still murky. But it’s promising!

A small sample of McQuinn's Robust Porter.

A small sample of McQuinn’s Robust Porter.

I enjoyed the taste, but it’s so early, it’s hard to get where it will end up. I feel pretty confident that it will from the one gallon glass carboy, using a sanitized baster, without the rubber bulb. When I opened the top, the was a mass, resulting from the krausen, in the neck that appears to have drained and dried out somewhat. When I tried to go through it for the sample, it dropped into the beer. I assume it will disintegrate and settle as part of the trub.

I still have my crab apple/pear/apple cider bulk aging  and I anticipate that continuing for a couple of months. I also have my muscadine wine bulk aging and I think I may be bottling that within a week or two.

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Day 160 Racking Crab Apple/Pear/Cripps/Ginger Gold Cider for Long Term and Pumpkin Ale

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I needed to free up a fermentation bucket, and the cider that I made from crab apples, pears, Pink Cripps and Ginger Gold apples looked pretty clear, so that’s the one I decided to deal with. I racked from the 5 gallon glass carboy into a bottling bucket. From there, I racked to four 1/2 gallon glass carboys, filled to leave as little head space as possible, and capped. These containers were moved to an out of the way dark corner for bulk conditioning/aging.

I wasn’t too aggressive in getting every last drop, since I knew I was nowhere near having enough to fill another container. As a result, I got a good hydrometer sample and a little drinking glass sample. After I took and SG reading, both samples went into the refrigerator for additional tasting later. The immediate taste at room temperature pleasantly seems to have eased up on the tannin astringency that I tasted last time I was able to try a sample. It still needs some time, but it’s pretty nice. It also packs a wallop! The OG for this batch was 1.097 and it is currently at 0.993, which I’m confident will be the FG. That puts the cider at 13.65% ABV! Whew!

I also racked my Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale to the big glass carboy for some final clearing and making sure it’s absolutely finished fermenting before I bottle it.

Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale.

Scottish Samhain Pumpkin Ale.

I have still seen a bubble in the airlock up until recently and I don’t want to rush it. I really want to nail the carb on this beer. If I do, I think it’s going to be phenomenal! The body if full, the aroma is awesome, the spice is well blended and not overpowering. Love the color…it does, as my son suggested when he smelled it, remind me of a ginger snap cookie, but not as sweet.

Sample for checking SG with a hydrometer. (And for tasting!)

Sample for checking SG with a hydrometer. (And for tasting!)

The ABV is 7.74% and my volume is only 4 gallons. This may horrify some homebrewers, but I would rather sacrifice a tiny amount of alcohol by volume and have 5 gallons, instead of 4, so I added a gallon of bottled Culligan water. I’m having samples of the cider and the ale as I write this and I’m very happy…and have a nice little warm feeling. >grin<

Samples: Pumpkin left, cider right.

Samples: Pumpkin left, cider right.

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Day 133 Brew Day! Citra Saison with Harvested Yeast Starter

Setting up for brewing

Setting up for brewing

This was an uncharacteristic brew day for me. I usually don’t brew on weekdays. Certainly not Mondays. But the starter I had hoped to pitch in a Citra Saison pushed me back a day. I have never harvested yeast and never made a starter before now and I was afraid that the starter was going to be too weak. I worked out a boost for the starter (see previous post) and moved the brew back a day.

After I got everything all set up and ready to go, I got my BIAB (Brew In A Bag) in place and heated my strike water, 6 gallons.  The goal was 150F…water went to 154F and I mashed in. The water only dropped 1/2 degree though. I turned off the heat and made a run for ice. When I returned, the temp was 150.2F. Over the next 45 minutes, I tried my best to maintain the target temperature of 150F; however, it was probably more consistently in the 153F range.

After the BIAB (Boil In A Bag) steep and "sparge"

After the BIAB (Boil In A Bag) steep and “sparge”

Here is where I will talk about my changes to the original recipe that I found online. First of all, I decided to do Pale Malt 2 row, instead of Pilsner. Two reasons: sale on Pale and 60 minute boil instead of 90 minute. (Some recommend Pilsner boil for 90 to reduce chance of off flavors.) Next, I added 1 teaspoon of Irish Moss at 15 minutes left in the boil to aid clarity. I also realized that I had forgotten to buy 1 pound of Belgian Clear Candi Syrup…made a run to the closest brew shop, only to find that they are closed on Mondays. Aaaargh! So, I substituted a pound of raw North Carolina honey, instead (at 10 minutes left in the boil). I am also planning on adding a dry hop step to secondary. The recipe calls for Citra hops to be added 1/2 oz at 30 minutes and 1/2 oz at 10 minutes left in the boil. I am a big Citra fan, so I am going to add an ounce in secondary.

Okay, back to the procedures: After the 1 hour mash in, I did my usual “tea bag” style dunking and draining of the bag, using a large pizza screen over the pot for support. I then set up a bottling bucket with 2 gallons of sparge water at about 150F and used the spigot with some hose on it to do an improvised sparge. I’ve used this method that, as far as I know, I made up, a few times and I think it helps a little. This left me with a rather full kettle, so the boil was a challenge and had to be monitored pretty carefully.

The pizza screen was helpful in the tea bag style sparging and in helping keep bugs and debris out.

The pizza screen was helpful in the tea bag style sparging and in helping keep bugs and debris out.

I set timers for my additions and all of that went well. Did my usual ice bath chill and managed to get the temperature of the wort down to about 90F, pretty quickly…good temperature for Belle Saison yeast.

Now, I wanted to use my glass carboy for primary fermentation, so I could have a visual on activity. The problem is getting 7 gallons of wort from a stock pot into a heavy glass 6 gallon carboy using a funnel. I struggled and spilled a bit, trying to figure out a grip and pouring into a small target that filled quickly. I could see that wasn’t going to cut it, so I poured about 3/4 of the wort into the bottling bucket I had used for the sparging, and then went through the spigot and hose into the carboy. Obviously, I was going to have too much wort, so, rather than toss it, I grabbed and sanitized a one gallon carboy and put the rest of the wort into it.

I used my oxygen tank to oxygenate the big carboy for two minutes and the little one for one minute. Between the refractometer reading of 1.048 and the hydrometer reading, corrected for temperature to 1.044, I’m  going to estimate 1.046 OG.* Rather than try to decant my yeast starter, I decided to swirl the flask to mix it well and pitch the whole thing…guesstimating some for the smaller batch. The starter wort used pale DME (Dry Malt Extract), so it shouldn’t hurt the flavor of the beer. The recipe doesn’t give a projected FG, but Belle Saison is pretty aggressive, so I’m betting on around 1.002 for the big batch. So, maybe a 5.78% ABV? I would be happy with that.

Here's the volume of wort I wound up with.

Here’s the volume of wort I wound up with and my flask of starter yeast.

I have no clue what to expect for the one gallon batch, because I’m going to add one pound of fresh cherries to secondary fermentation, rather than dry hopping it, and the sugar in the cherries will surely kick fermentation back into gear. I currently have the whole cherries in the freezer with some vodka. When it comes time to rack the small batch, I’ll crush the cherries into the vodka a little to release some juice and add it all. I’ll probably use a 2 gallon bucket that I use for ciders to do the small batch secondary, so I have a wide opening with which to work.

The recipe calls for a week each for both primary and secondary; however, my Hi-Nelson Saison needed a little over two weeks for primary and then a week for secondary. And the small batch may go longer in secondary. I’ll probably even rack the small batch to a tertiary stage to clarify once it’s off the fruit. Probably back into a glass carboy again so I can judge the clarity.

The big question mark is whether my yeast starter was going to work. The yeast was pitched at 3:15 p.m. and the carboys were set on a heating pad, on the lowest setting. At 6:30, there was no activity evident and the glass felt pretty cool.

Carboys on the heating pad.

Carboys on the heating pad. (Beside some Hi-Nelson Saison with Hibiscus and some Diet Root Beer (Truvia)

I upped the heating pad to medium and wrapped the carboys in a “Space Blanket”. By 9:30 p.m., they were both chugging along in the airlocks…not violently, but good, frequent bubbles every second or two. Success!!! Woo hoo!!!

Heating pad AND Space Blanket...now we're chugging!

Heating pad AND Space Blanket…now we’re chugging!

I cold crashed the hydrometer sample just to see what it looks like and how it tastes at this stage. Obviously malty and sweet at this point, but it seems like it will be nice and clean, light bitterness and the hops should shine through on the main batch and the Belle Saison should add a little spice and funk. The little cherry batch should be really interesting!

Hydrometer sample, cold crashed and easier to get a read. And a taste for evaluation.

Hydrometer sample, cold crashed and easier to get a read. And a taste for evaluation.

*I also let this sample come to room temperature and took another hydrometer reading. at 74.2F and 1.046, adjusted to 1.047, so that will be my new OG to go with. I read the hydrometer with no contacts or glasses and it was much easier to get a good read, so I feel confident with that figure. (An additional refractometer reading, of course, calls it 1.048, so…whatever!) Could be around 6% ABV…anywhere in that  5.75 to 6.05% range is close enough.

For the original version of the recipe, go to this link or cut and paste into your browser:

http://www.danielshomebrew.blogspot.com/2014/01/citra-saison.html

Always give credit where due!

Update: Okay…the following morning, the airlocks were fouled. I quickly set up blow offs and the yeast is going at it, big time! Definitely had enough yeast!

 

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Day 79 Birthday Brew Related Presents & First Taste of Citra Citrus Wheat

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My birthday was yesterday and I was not at home until today to celebrate with extended family. I received some excellent brew related gifts at our family gathering (thank you everyone!). There were some non-brew related gifts that were just as appreciated, but this is a brew journal, so that is what I’m going to talk about here!

I received a brew ingredients kit  for a chocolate stout that will be fun. It includes cocoa husks and nibs and some lactose…so I’ll be using some new things. Also, I received my first 6 gallon, glass carboy and a handle and carrier strap for it. I’m looking forward to trying it out! My last piece of hardware is a refractometer…woo hoo!!! The refractometer will give me a specific gravity reading with just a few drops of wort and I wont have to worry about the temperature so much. It will be easier to read than a hydrometer floating in a sample tube…and less wasteful. I tested it with some bottled Culligan water, not distilled, but it read zero, so calibration should be good. I tested a sample of some Newton’s Folly Granny Smith Hard Cider and it read 1.025…cool!

Nice, tart Granny Smith cider...tested the new refractometer with this...I wonder what the OG was?

Nice, tart Granny Smith cider…tested the new refractometer with this…I wonder what the OG was? About 1.063?

I’ll check my Strawberry Blonde Ale and Plain Jane Blonde Ale’s SG’s tomorrow…maybe rack them, depending on readings. Need to find my racking siphon pieces, if I’m going to use the big carboy.

My final brew-related gift is a brewing class on March 15 for “Brew in a Bag” (BIAB) brewing at Atlantic Brew Supply…includes brewing a batch in class too! Should be interesting.

Finally, at my birthday gathering, I tasted two of my brews. One was my Bavarian style Hefeweizen (the Great Weisse)…I had one in reserve that I didn’t give away to my friend for the Megalodon shark tooth. I really kept this one for my own benefit to see how it would taste this far out from bottling.

Great Weisse, Bavarian Style Hefeweizen

Great Weisse, Bavarian Style Hefeweizen

The head was aggressive, but died down to a nice soft one and the flavor/aroma/color were all nice and appropriate for the style…very pleased with the beer. The second beer I tasted tonight is my Citra Citrus Wheat …this beer is a-MAZE-ing!!! A home run. in my opinion. IMAG2694It was bottled one week ago and it is VERY drinkable. I can’t wait to show this one off and get some feedback! The family members that got a sip were all very impressed. Today has been a good day.

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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 39 Stout Airlock Very Slow

3:00 pm   The dry stout fermentation bucket has slowed to very infrequent bubbles. I sanitized the hydrometer & thief and the outside of the bucket; then I checked the SG. It was 1.012 @ 69F. Adjusting for calibration makes it 1.013. The recipe estimated 1.011 and measured 1.010. I think I’ll let it go until tomorrow. Then I’ll rack to carboys for a few hours to settle additional sediment and then back to a bottling bucket for bottling  tomorrow night or Monday.

I did get (literally) just a few drops from the thief to taste. There was definitely an appropriate bitterness and beer flavor. The color was very dark. I’m encouraged, but can’t really make a judgement call on a few drops.

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