Monday, March 26, 2012

Cranberry Pomegranate Cider

I made my first cider this weekend using Northland Cranberry-Pomegranate juice and Mott's Apple Juice.  I made a really simple recipe using 3 quarts apple juice with 1 cup of the cranberry-pomegranate juice (which also include apple and grape juices) and 1 cup of cranberry-pomegranate syrup I made by boiling 1 quart of the juice down.  I originally added some left over Irish Ale yeast but after 2 days with no activity and the gravity still at 1.060 I decided to add some wit yeast and it finally took.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this one finishes and hope to have updates in just a few weeks.

Monday, March 19, 2012


.5 oz of star san in 2.5 gallons of water.
I soak my bottles in sanitizer for a minute or two, drain and bottle.
Been bottling with the bucket on top of the washer recently, cutting down on the mess

I missed a few updates but decided to talk about my bottling process and specifically about my bottling of 7.5 gallons a little over a week ago.  My process is fairly simple and probably not too different from many beginner brewers but I thought it would be nice to at least write it down.

The first step in my bottling day is also my least favorite: cleaning bottles.  While I usually have a case or two of fairly clean bottles that I've previously removed the labels from there's almost always a good amount that I need to clean inside or out.  I do so by placing them in the bathtub for a long soak in hot soapy water before rinsing out and using my bottle brush to remove the gunk that remains. It can be a long boring process and I often do it the day before bottling day just to get it out of the way.

The next stage is to bottle: I first make a sanitizer solution and add this to my bottling bucket.  After a few minutes in the bucket I transfer the solution to a small cooler through both the siphoning tube and bottling tube so get each clean.  I then boil a cup of water with the amount of sugar I need to prime the batch and add this to the bottling bucket.  After a rinse of the tubes I lift the carboy of beer I plan to bottle above the bottling bucket (often onto a washing machine with a small table below) and, using the siphoning cane, move the beer into the bucket in a swirling motion to mix it with the sugar water.

Once the beer is moved to the bucket I then move the bucket up higher and begin to sanitize bottles by soaking them in the cooler then lifting and draining each.  Once a decent amount are lifted and drained I  use the bottling tube with bottling wand end and slowly fill the bottles.  I usually fill about 8 or so which I loosely place caps on as I go (I give them a quick run of the sanitizer).  I then cap each bottle and return them to a case before filling more bottles.

After filling and capping all the beer (75 in this sessions case) I mark the caps with a sharpie and put them away (I keep them in the basement covered with a blanket keep out light and minimize any severe temperatures).  I then boil 2 cups of water, cool, and add to the remains of the carboy, stir then pour into a jar to save yeast for reuse.

Lastly the unfun of cleanup begins. I typically take everything used in the bottling day (bucket, carboys, cooler, tubing, etc) and dump as much water/trub/etc. as I can outside before returning to the bathtub to soak with soapy water.

The process certainly isn't the most efficient but I don't mind the time it takes. As for the duration I've had it take me as little as an hour with friends helping and pre-rinsed bottles. I've also had it take me a total of 8 hours over two days between cleaning a hundred bottles by myself and bottling close to that many.

Some day I may move to kegs but for now I'm happy with the simplistic, economical and environmentally friendly reuse of empty bottles.

About a case of my Irish Red post-capping.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Magazine Review - Zymurgy

I first began receiving Zymurgy approximately one year ago when my girlfriend signed me up as a member of the American Homebrewers Association.  While the organization offers many perks and does a lot to further both homebrew and craft brew the only one I directly took advantage of was the subscription to their magazine Zymurgy.

Zymurgy is a magazine dedicated solely to homebrewing (rather than those to craft brewing which touch on the topic of brewing your own it is in fact the opposite).  That being said it seems to be poorly made. The magazine has many flaws that make me not feel like it is worth the subscription to the organization.


First off the quality as a magazine.  The layout of the magazine puts small and ugly advertisements all over the place, sometimes in the middle of articles, making the magazine hard to read and the ads less appealing (some craft brew and homebrew ads look awesome and actually improve other magazines).

Additionally the material and physical quality of the magazine is just not up to snuff. It feels cheap and falls apart quickly.  For example the newest addition has only been read by me once but the entire middle section has separated into individual pages, pretty pathetic really.

In terms of content Zymurgy is a real mixed bag.  While some articles are very creative and exciting (anything by Randy Mosher usually is in my opinion) there are many that fail by any standard. The newest edition stood out particularly in the case of ups and downs.  While it was interesting reading an attempt to clone Orval it wasn't a particularly helpful article and the recipe posted was actually incorrect according to the article.  The USSR influenced ales article was intriguing and full of interesting articles but the homebrewing in South America article offers very little for most readers.  What stood out to me more than anything in the issue was the AWFUL article entitled "What Makes It a Stout." While the article talked a bit about different types of stouts and the history of stout and porter it blatantly disregarded the clear separations both explicitly and implicitly implied by the two separate names.  It's definition comes down to that it has roasted malt and is called a stout.  This is a gross misinterpretation of what a stout is and what separates it from a porter (e.g. the unmalted barley, the heavy amount of roasted barley over black patent or chocolate malts, and the characteristic heavier body and creaminess, to name a few).

While it might not be a bad read occasionally, Zymurgy is the least exciting, interesting, or even helpful magazine for a brewer or beer fan.  While I may renew my membership in the future, at this time I'm fine with letting this subscription run out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Apricot Abbey Ale and Belgian Blond Double Tasting

Since I missed my self imposed deadline of Monday I decided to make up for it with a double tasting.

The Apricot Abbey Ale and Belgian Blond were a split batch which I fermented together in primary with one half having apricot preserves added for secondary.  Not surprisingly the two beers are VERY similar but I will write a separate review of each.
The two beers side by side, on the left is the slightly more cloudy and with a bit more head retention apricot version and the on the right is the unfruited version.

Belgian Blond:

A- A solid copper color with a bit of peach and rose the head on this pours fairly small and fades to a thin film though there is a lot of carbonation bubbles coming up throughout.  Pretty clear and looks nice.

S- Lots of yeast character giving both spice and fruit reminiscent of nutmeg, clove, oak, apricot, cherry and pear and a little bit of sweetness from the fermentables (I think the candi sugar came through nicely). A vague touch of woody/earthy character might be yeast derived or from the hops.

T/M- Up front is a dry sweet and spicy sensation that follows with a fruity medium bodied middle and ends with a light puckering and lasting spiciness (clove and cinnamon).

O/D- This is a nice beer that I am really happy with.  The Belgian yeast (Wyeast Abbey Ale II) gives lots of different characteristics from a fairly simple bill.  The fruitiness is such that if I told someone this was the apricot version they might just believe me.  The candi sugar also seems to have gone well. Overall not the best beer in the world but certainly a nice Belgian influenced homebrew.

Abbey Apricot Ale:

A- This version is very similar in color to the unfruited version (peachy copper) with a little bit bigger head that retains better, slightly less carbonation bubbles (though still quite a few) and a little worse clarity.

S- This half smells almost identical to the other half with spice being the strongest character and the fruit actually seeming to come through a little less surprisingly.

T/M- Drinks very similar to the other half of the batch but there's something about both the taste and mouthfeel that seems fuller and more rounded.  The apricot doesn't show as overly evident but it makes the middle and finish a little fruitier and there is a residual sweet and tangy flavor on the tongue that I don't get from the other.

O/D- I'm very happy with this one as it comes out nearly the same as the other, but probably a tad better and more rounded.  While the apricot is far from pronounced in tasting each separately it is definitely a nice addition.

I doubt I would make this exact beer again but will almost certainly make more Belgians and splitting half onto fruit seems to work very well. Next time I hope to give a much more pronounced fruit flavor to the one half.  There's nothing bad I could say about either of these and most people have seemed to enjoy them and especially liked the subtle addition the apricot gives.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Funky Kast

The funky kast is the name I've given for sour/wild/Brett beers and other potent potables I plan to brew. The name comes from the word kast, Dutch for closet as I plan to brew some of these in my bedroom closet and sour beers have a notorious Belgian tradition where Dutch is the majority language. It will also be a play on a cast of characters. I'm currently in the planning phases of a lambic, a Brett saison, a sour cider and another beer which uses a sour mash method.