Friday, November 4, 2011

Hidden Fermentation

I've been worried that the new batch of hydromel I started last weekend hadn't been fermenting; the bubbler wasn't going at all, and, while there was sediment, and surface yeast, it was as much as the previous batch had given me.

A few days ago, I tried to re-pitch it by taking a sample from the hydromel I have resting, which didn't have much of an effect.  Today, I noticed a small amount of bubbling, which was harder to see than I had expected because the water level in the bubbler was a little low, making the bubbles smaller.

I took a density measurement, and got 10.0 degrees Brix, barely lower than the 10.4 that I started with.  So I decided to repitch again with a fresh packet of yeast.  I started to shake the carboy to get the yeast distributed, and the bubbler started going like mad, shooting water up out of the top.

Apparently, it had been fermenting, but trapping all the gas in solution!  Shaking it released all the gas at once, leading to the violent de-gassing.

Hopefully it keeps bubbling smoothly, but I'm definitely going to be more careful with these recipes in the future.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New Mead, and Racking Old Mead

This weekend was fairly busy, brew-wise; nothing is done yet but I'm still pretty excited.

First, on Thursday I started a blackberry short mead kit (really a metheglin, since it includes some spices, interestingly steeped in boiling water), given to my by my mother, which she bought over the summer, using two pounds of blackberry honey from the same source.  The kits are pretty slick, but I didn't follow the directions entirely —I used boiled tap water rather than bottled, and I didn't trust the instructions to just cover the bottle with the supplied cloth, so I put a bubbler on instead.

I'm using a new three-piece bubbler, which is easier to clean.  This recipe calls itself a "short mead" because it suggests that you only ferment for 7-14 days.  I'll have to see how it tastes—mead doesn't normally have a lot to cover up off flavors produced by short fermentation, but maybe the blackberry and spices will hide it.

I also racked my existing summer honey hydromel* and re-filled the container with new, fall honey hydromel liquid.  There were some pretty striking appearance differences I noticed through the course of this.  The batch started out very opaque:
But slowly cleared up to the point at which it was totally transparent, and I could read through it.  Racking shook it up a little, but it's still remarkably clear given how it started out:
You can see in the background the fall honey hydromel.  It's much darker than the summer honey.  I wonder what flowers were being used!

I hope there's a noticeable flavor difference.  They summer batch didn't taste great when I tested it, but it's only about halfway through the amount of time I planned to give it, so that's unsurprising.  What's been a little surprising is that it has kept bubbling slowly this entire week, which is unusual.  Hopefully it's not a sign that something is wrong, but I'm going to have to keep burping the containers so they don't explode.  At least the end result will be bubbly!

*This is what I've decided to call it.  I'll have a post on it once it's done and I can come to a decision on whether I like it or not, but the idea is to make beer-strength mead by using less honey than normal.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hard Cider

It occurred to me that my experiments in homebrewing might be interesting for other people to read.  While I'm still at an early stage, it seems to be a good way for people with patience and foresight to make cheap, tasty alcohol in quantity.

I had made some briefly-fermented sodas in the past, which mostly worked out well, but I didn't attempt to ferment anything fully until this summer, when my brother graciously let me make some mead on his equipment.  That is to say, it started as an attempt to make honey soda, but the container didn't seal well, and we just let it go the rest of the way.

Today, I opened the first thing I've produced on my own:  a gallon of hard cider, fermented to 4% alcohol.  Cider is nice because it's dead simple to produce, much easier even than short mead, and far easier than beer.  Here's the recipe I wound up using:

  • Just under a gallon of sweet cider.  I used Littletree Orchards cider from the Ithaca Farmers' Market; it tastes sweeter and fresher, at least when fresh and in-season, than the seemingly more commercial cider available from Wegmans, or the Cornell Orchards, and I like supporting small local farms.
  • A packet of Red Star Champagne Yeast.  I can't recall if I used the whole packet or just part of it, you'll probably want at least 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoon, but I think the whole packet would be overkill.
  • A gallon container.  If your cider came in one, use it, if it didn't for some reason, make sure you sanitize your container before use.
  • Some kind of air lock.  I used a two-chamber S-shaped bubbler, but anything for the purpose would work.  I've heard of people even using a rubber balloon, but I can't vouch for that.  Bubblers aren't expensive.
  • A rubber stopper with a hole that fits both your container and your bubbler.
  1. Clean the parts of the stopper and bubbler that are going to touch the inside of the cider.  I wasn't particularly fastidious with this, but it's always a contamination risk.
  2. Drink a small amount of the cider to make sure there's some head room to mix air in, and to make sure it tastes fine.
  3. Add the yeast to the cider.
  4. Plug the cider with the stopper and bubbler (which should have a small amount of water in it to act as a seal), and shake the container carefully but vigorously to aerate the cider.  This seems counter-intuitive, because during the rest of the process you want to keep oxygen out, but at this phase, the yeast will need oxygen to synthesize fats and reproduce, so air is good.
  5. Let set in a dark place.  I used my closet.
  6. After it stops bubbling, rack it to a new container.  I let it go about 3 weeks between the end of bubbling and racking because I didn't have a siphon or sanitizer yet, but you could probably do it soon after fermentation has finished (no more bubbles).
  7. If you want bubbly cider, or are worried about too much oxygen getting in during racking, you can add a small amount of extra sugar to the container after racking (and use a container that seals, like the screw-cap I used).  I dissolved about a tablespoon of honey in a cup of water, and boiled it in the microwave.  Be careful not to let too much pressure build up, or your bottle could explode.
  8. Let rest in total for at least a month.  The longer you wait, the fewer off flavors are likely.  I let mine sit for about 40 days.
The finished product:
Total cost:  about $6, if you ignore the cost of the equipment.  You could probably get away with decanting it if you didn't have a siphon, although that would risk getting more air in.
I measured the alcohol content using a portable refractometer.  I measured the density of the cider before and after fermentation, performed some calculations, and determined that it has about 4% alcohol in it.  Not real strong, but not too bad either!

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