Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Granny Smith and Fuji Hard Cider

I put together my DIY apple press a couple weeks ago now, and I just this past weekend finally got around to putting it to a good use. Ive been on the lookout for all types of apples lately for pressing into cider, and I managed to get my hands on a bushel of both Granny Smith and Fuji Apples. (I will be posting a small blurb with some pics of my DIY apple grinder soon as well)

I was mainly interested in the Granny Smiths for their tartness, and I picked up the Fuji's on a whim. From the tidbits Ive picked up searching the web Fuji's don't hold up well to fermentation. However no one seems to give specific details about how varietal juices taste, they just repeat over and over again that blending is the key. Well to me without knowing what the individual juices taste like when they are fermented on their own its seems strange to mix a bunch of apple varieties together an hope.

Now I'm not saying that I think blending is bad, far from it actually. I always advocate blending, I think that's one of the most under utilized techniques in a brewers arsenal. In this case though I think that understanding the finished flavors of each variety could lend some much needed insight into getting a blend right to start with.

That is why I am pressing and fermenting each of these juices without blending. I then plan on posting tasting notes for each of the finished varietal hard ciders, and a suggested blend. To make sure that the flavors of each variety aren't significantly different once carbonated I also plan on bottling a case or so of each varietal juice for tasting down the road. I will as they come available to me, also press other juices and ferment the same way. Eventually I would like to build finished hard cider profiles for as many apple varieties as I can, so that I can easily tweak a blend to begin with.

Why even attempt this? Why not just always ferment varietal juices and blend post-fermentation? Im not totally against this method, especially as apples will vary from year to year, and yeast tend to not always produce the same flavors, both of which would make blending after the fact easier to produce a perfect product every time. However, I am tying up quite a few carboys in the process, and will most likely have some varieties that I use very little of. Now if that variety is great bottled on its own, then that is wonderful, but I'm guessing that will be the exception rather than the rule.

Blending pre-fermentation allows me to conserve carboys, and adjust how much of each variety I have to purchase. Saving me space and keeping $$ in my pocket. Eventually I hope to be able to taste un-fermented juice and be able to envision what it will be like as hard cider, and I'm guessing there are people who can do this, but for now and for all the other cider newbies like myself out there I think this will be a good way to understand how to make a quality homebrewed cider from scratch

For yeast I chose to go with White Labs 775 English Cider yeast, after having tasted an aged mead made with the yeast. The description also mentions that it preserves apple flavors in finished ciders! I also spent some time searching the web, and found little on the yeast except one post on the greenboard. Most of the references to cider yeast seemed to be talking about Wyeast's version, which is thoroughly disliked. That greenboard post though made me feel good about the yeast choice, as there were two tastings with a variety of yeasts. In the first round relatively quick after fermentation 775 scored pretty low, however, with a year aging it blew all the others out of the water.

Apple Cider 2011
Granny Smith CiderFuji Cider
42lbsGranny Smith Apples40lbsFuji Apples
3/8tspSodium Metabisulfate5/16tspSodium Metabisulfate
Yeast - WLP775 English CiderYeast - WLP775 English Cider
Notes: Yeast was added 24hrs after sulfiting, however fermentation did not take off very quickly (likely too much sulfites in solution from low pH) so I added more yeast about 48hrs after initial yeast pitch. Fermentation then proceeded moderately quicklyNotes: Yeast was added 24hrs after sulfiting, and fermentation has proceeded fairly slowly, which I hope helps to retain a lot of apple flavor. No nutrients were added to either juice.

From the top left clockwise.
1 - Granny Smith apples prepped for grinding (halved, stems and bad spots removed.)
2 - Fuji's Prepped and sitting on the grinder, a dowel was used to push them down in.
3 - An apple "cheese" being made using a cut down 5gal pail and some cotton cloth.
4 - Apple pomace left after pressing, nice and dry. Great for dog treats or in the compost pile

Review - 2/3/2013 - Comparison with Gravenstein and Haldi Varietals

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Black Currant Melomel - Recipe & Tasting

Appearance - Dark Burgundy some ruby highlights when held to the light, extremely clear but should be after 3yrs in the bottle

Aroma - Dark Fruit, hints of leather, currant and blackberry, with a honey-like sweetness lingers

Taste - Tart, bursting with the flavor of black currants, slight bit of alcohol like you get in most red wines, and a very dry tannic finish that lingers on the tongue. Slight warming feeling as you drink more

Mouthfeel - Very full bodied and velvety

Drinkability - Nice dry red wine that pairs well with a rich meal, and I typically don't like dry red wines.

Notes & Thoughts - I actually like this now that it has aged quite a bit. Early on it reminded me of acidic tomato juice, and I was always on the lookout for ways to use it up (cooking/vinegar/etc). I'm glad that a couple bottles survived and I got another chance at tasting this. I think this is something I might do again in small batches, so that I can forget about it and occasionally pull out a bottle. I really think that a smaller amount of juice in the batch could make this one age a bit faster and soften the acidity which would improve the taste. So If I were to brew it I would halve the amount of currant juice.

Ombres Tombent Melomel

Amt (lbs)Type
6.0Wild Flower Honey
32 oz*Black Currant Juice (Knudsens)
YeastLalvin K1V116
~13% abvFG1013
Notes: * - I would suggest using half this amount of juice, as I feel that the currant is a bit too strong in the batch as it was made

Friday, November 11, 2011

DIY Apple Cider Press

Ive recently been becoming more and more interested in cider making. In most of my past experiences Ive used store bought juice like TreeTop or Cider from WholeFoods or Trader Joes. While the ciders come out OK they have always sort of lacked the punch I hope for.

I have always wanted to use fresh pressed juice, but there really aren't any orchards nearby me that press juice. Contrary to what you might think though, there actually are quite a few apple orchards in Arizona, and a few located within metro-Phoenix area. I actually have a fairly heavy bearing apple tree in my backyard, I just have always seemed to be out of town when harvest time comes around. And when I get back the birds have decimated my crop.

All of this aside, I recently picked up quite a few apples from orchards in and around Arizona, and I needed a way to press them. Ive always been a do it yourself kinda guy, many times the build is more fun for me than using it....

Googling around there are some good ideas out there for easy to build apple presses. So by no means is this an original design, but I thought Id do a post anyway to show just how easy it is to put on together.

For my press I decide to go the hydraulic jack route for both ease of construction and efficiency. The whole press is pretty simple to put together and required less than an hour of my time once I gathered all the materials. In the end I think it totaled somewhere in the range of $70-80 for everything so quite a bit cheaper than many commercial presses out there.

DIY Apple Cider Press
  • 4"x8" x 6ft
  • 2"x4 "x 20ft
  • 2"x6 x" 6ft
  • 1/2" x 12" x2 Hex Head Bolts + nuts
  • 1/2" x 8" x2 Hex Head Bolts + nuts
  • 1/2" x8 fender washers
  • Bottle Jack 2tons+
  • HDPE catch basin
  • Followers (I used scrap plexi-glass)
  • Scrap Steel plate
  • Plastic Tray for Catching Juice - I used a grout mixing tray
The dimensions on my press were worked out after I determined how far my jack could extend (~13"), and taking into account the wood followers and how thick I might make the apple cheese's. So if you decide to build on of these you have to take that into account as well.

Essentially What I did was cut all of the wood to length using my table top miter and when that was finished I laid all the pieces on top of each other and clamped them together. I was then able to stand all this up and check if it was level, and finally drill holes through the supports that would take the 1/2" hex head bolts. I found it much easier to start by tapping a screwdriver into the wood where I wanted to drill, and using a 1/2" paddle bit to drill through the wood. After I drilled the holes I fed through the bolts and tightened the whole thing down. I placed a couple steel plates on the pieces of wood that would be in contact with the hydraulic jack. I did this so the jack wouldn't tear up the wood much. Eventually I also found a thick piece of aluminum in my garage that I used for this same purpose as well.

The overall dimensions of my press are 36" side to side. It is 42" tall and the press opening is 30".

To make the apple "cheese's" I cut a 5gal pail so that it had about 4-5" of the sidewall left. I then place a square pieced of cotton cloth (40x40") into the bucket, dump the ground apple in and tied the top together.

For the followers (what goes between "cheese's" instead of going with hardwood, I instead used some scrap plexi-glass I had lying around. It was 3/4" thick so it held up well and has worked like a charm in the press. It was also much much cheaper than buying several pieces of solid white oak! I also used this for the top of the press where they hydraulic jack sits, however I added some wood on top of it to spread the force a bit. A picture can describe what I did much better than I ever could and I attached one below.
Saturday, November 5, 2011

Kottbusser - German/Polish White Beer with Treacle and Honey

With the holidays coming up soon I decided that I need to get brewing something that would mesh well with all the food I'm planning on absolutely stuffing myself with. A couple years ago, I brewed up a batch of a historical beer style called Kotbusser. At the time I had been reading Radical Brewing, and Mosher's description of the style really got me interested. I googled around at that time and there really wasnt any other references to it. Even now, there still isn't much out there about the style either. It really makes me wonder a bit where he dug up the info on it to begin with..

At any rate Kotbusser is a German/Polish white beer that relies heavily on wheat and oats, with a small addition of both molasses and honey. To me that combination sounds wonderful! A Witbier-esque grain bill with a hefe yeast, and a pinch of molasses and honey for flavor. To me at least that combo of flavors and aromas instantly makes the think of Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie!

During my first attempt with the style, for the most part I went with Mosher's recipe (with a few grain bill tweaks). After everything was said and done, the beer was interesting but the flavors didn't mesh well at all. Looking back at the recipe, I think the biggest issue was the suggested hopping schedule. There were quite a bit of flavor and aroma hops, and I think that the IBU's were a bit too high. For my tastes, the combination of too many IBU's, the molasses twang and yeasty phenolics was quite harsh on the palate. Eventually the keg I kicked the keg, but it stuck around for quite some time, and made me very hesitant to rebrew the style.

I have become a much better brewer since the last time I made this beer and I'm at a point where I think I could go back and fairly easily fix the problems that I had the first time around. One of the biggest improvements to the beer I hope to make is giving it a sweeter base.Im betting that a hint of sweetness could really help blend and accentuate the molasses and clove from the yeast. Tying those flavors together would really help make the all of the other flavors in the beer a bit more harmonious. I also think that a moderately high mash temp will help to really thicken the beer and leave it velvety smooth, and will compliment the honey and molasses.

I also decided after some further experiences with molasses that I really don't ever want to use it in beer again. Once fermented out it has an extremely metallic taste that really ruins a beer for me. However tasting and playing around with treacle has me much more optimistic about getting that molassesy flavor in a beer. Some have argued with me that Treacle is simply molasses with cane syrup, and for some brands that could be the case. However, I don't think I will ever be persuaded, as the flavor difference between the two once fermented is immense. I have even gone as far as mixing cane syrup into molasses in an attempt to recreate the flavors of black treacle and it doesn't come close. There are tons of discussions about the difference on discussion boards across all types of hobbies, and even wikipedia articles on both treacle and molasses.

There is a lot of dissension about this topic, and while I will admit the flavor of the two are similar, especially when not fermented, there are distinctly different in a finished beer. Maybe I'm just more sensitive to it, but fermented molasses has a strongly metallic edge and black treacle does not. Ive never used or tasted the Ragus Treacles linked above, but I'm guessing that its not quite the same as Tate & Lyles. In the end though I will never be convinced that they are the same, and I probably wont ever use molasses or the Ragus treacle in a beer, to me its just not worth ruing a batch.

Kotbusser the Guzzler (Name for some reason made me think of the Ghost Busters)
Malt Bill
Amt (lbs)Type
2.75White Wheat
1.0Flaked Oats
0.25Honey Malt
7.5 ozMesquite Honey (after primary Ferm)
2.0 ozBlack Treacle (after primary Ferm)
Amt (oz)TypeTime
0.75Fuggles (6.0%)60
Mash Schedule
170F1.75qt/lb15min - vorlauf
YeastHefeweizen IV WLP380 (1L Starter)
6.0galOG1043 - 1047(sugar additions)
85% effIBU14
7gal BoilFG---

Review - 12/20/2011 - Notes & Thoughts

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