Cider with a twist, Cyser

This fall was pretty hectic, starting a new job, having appendicitis, and a trip to California. All of this happening in the span of 3 months really cut into my free and brewing time. So much so, I nearly missed making my 2nd batch of cider. It’s not like making cider is time intensive either. The basic recipe is Cider + sugar + yeast + fermentation time. While I did finally make a batch, I did miss my preferred cider mix from the local farm. During picking season the farm will have single varietal fresh ciders along with their normal blend. These aren’t hard cider specific apples known for their acidity, or tannins, just single mac, macoun, or my favorite, honey crisp. Last years batch was a mix of honey crisp and cider blend, and after malolactic fermentation, aging on various items, it turned out quite well. Well enough to take a ribbon at a club only cider comp (1 of 8 or so).
This year I was hoping to do something similar, but in large quantity. However I missed my window, and this years crop was much more expensive than in past years. I was finally able to pickup cider in mid december. Thankfully making hard cider really isn’t that time consuming. This years batch was made with 3 gallons of Lull Farm unpasteurized apple cider blend. I first added 1 camden tablet, and peptic enzyme, to the cider and allowed it to sit over night to pasteurize the cider. Next, I added a pound of local wild flower honey. Which making this actually a cyser, instead of a true cider. In addition to the honey, I added yeast nutrient, and one packet of safale us 05. A lot of folks use wine or champaign yeast, I assume because it can better metabolize the fructose and glucose in apple cider, since grapes are similar in composition. My understanding is that cider is highly fermentable, so I’m not too worried about us 05, a known hearty yeast, being unable to ferment it out. Last years nottingham yeast did just fine.IMG_4831
After pitching, during the fist week of fermentation, I tried to degas the cider a few times. I was also meaning to stagger the yeast nutrient as a local accomplished mead maker recommended during many podcasts this past summer and fall as a key to meed making, and I assume since honey is a portion of the fermentables in cyser, the same would apply. However, I slacked, and didn’t manage to do so.
I did however ferment the cider much cooler than I ferment ales, which tend to rip through at 65+, this sat at 55-60. It was in primary for 28 days, and now it’s been transferred to a keg for cold conditioning. The last batch I made seems like it underwent malolactic fermentation some time after it went into the keg, it went from very dry and acetic, to much more mellow after a few months in the keg. I’m hoping this happens again, as the first batch wasn’t any good until that transformation took place. When I transferred I took a sample, and it wasn’t bad. We’ll see if I need to back sweeten or try to inoculate for malo lactic fermentation.

Recipe can be found here:

Current status: Transferred on 1/5/13 for cold conditioning, gravity was near 1.001.

Book Review: Brew like a Pro by Dave Miller

This is one of the more recent additions to my brewing library.

I picked it up because I heard about the book on Beer sessions radio and I’m a sucker for brewing books, as my library can attest. This is an advanced how to brew book that’s focused on all grain. This is intended as a brewing book based on the author’s experience as a professional brewer. I appreciate the single focused approach, this is the way Dave brews, and how he brews consistent beer. I feel the author eschews some common homebrewing methods like batch sparging, extract or dme, and the use of star san, choosing more complex methods, such as using a pump, a grant, a cold liquor back, and more complex sanitizer. While I feel Dave really has a grasp of how to make quality beer, I don’t understand some of the trade offs, the complexity, and then some of the short cuts. For example, He recommends building a bulkhead, but it requires costuming fitting. Why not just go to bargain fittings and buy a pre made bulkhead and call it a day. Then when it comes to yeast, the recommendation to direct pitch dry yeast, just seems lazy. While liquid yeast, yeast starters, and propagation are covered, fermentation temperature control for ales is completely overlooked. The biggest sin, however is the Kolsh style beer recipe, rather than explaining the fermentation nuances of the beer, the recipe defaults to using a non kolsh yeast strain. The project guide at the rear of the book help is helpful in completing those projects. However I think that many of those projects have been covered ad nauseum all over the internet.
I hate to sound negative about the book, I enjoyed reading it cover to cover. I just don’t personally agree with all of the methods detailed. I’m certain the work for the author, but I feel this is a book intended for a person who wants explicit methods on how they can brew all grain beer. Specific and detailed methods with instructions, and it does a good job of providing that information. It’s also provided me plenty of food for thought on many aspects of my processes, and methods. There are two tips I’m going to take away are that most kegs that are converted to keggles are of suspect origin, and should be treated as such. These things cost professional brewer far more than the deposit left for one. I’m not saying all kegs are stolen, but you should ask it’s origin before purchasing one. The next is that a fancy sculpture isn’t necessary, Dave has an advanced setup w/out the large infrastructure of a multi tiered brewing rig.
My summary is this, if you want to simply brew, and don’t care too much, get Joy of home brewing, if you want a detailed technical resource covering all aspects of brewing, get How to brew, if you want a concise set of brewing instructions, this might be the book for you.

Entering Competitions

Brewing beer is reward in itself. You get to take part in a centuries old craft, turning simple ingredients into something so much more. You even get to enjoy fresh beer in the style of your choosing. What more could you want?
Well, some also seek affirmation from their peers that their efforts are worth it. It’s not too hard to get positive feedback from family and friends after quaffing a free home brew. While appreciative of their approval, I’ve found I can get more critical feedback by entering competitions.IMG_1934
I’ve only entered 2 BJCP sanctioned competitions the Samual Adams Longshot competition, and the New England Regional Homebrew Competition. These are large scale competitions, with hundreds of entries, and bjcp certified judges. The BJCP program trains judges to detect beer flaws and rate beer against it’s guide lines. Which means you’ll get qualified feedback, in a standardized format (BJCP scoresheet).
The feedback on my score sheets has been useful, and has provided information I’m certain will help me score better in future competitions. Note, I didn’t say help me brew better beer/cider. I find there is subjective feedback about brewing methods or assumptions about brewing methods that I don’t think are very helpful. I also think the rigid structure can lead to judging against how a beer is to style, more specially being dead in the middle of the style guidelines appears to be goal, and this may not reflect how good a specific home brew is. However, there are some very objective feedback about how various aspects of the beer can be tweaked, and what flaws the judge identified that is very helpful. After all, the judges have a well train taste buds. There are also some guidelines I feel aren’t about the beer, but rather about presentation. Meaning you can get dinged for things that otherwise are meaning less in the big scheme of things, such as bottle fill level, or higher levels of hop flavor or aroma for a particular style. With that said, it’s an opportunity I think a home brewer should take the time to do at least a few times, perhaps even while trying to hone a particular style. To get impartial feedback on your beer.

Here are some recommendations for picking a competition for your first entry, and how to prepare your entry.
First off, pick out a local competition. Having the competition local will make it a lot easier to drop off your entries, rather than shipping them. There are complications to shipping that are better dealt with after you’ve figured out the other competition logistics. It also gives more time to brew, if you have up to the last day to drop of the beer, and don’t have to wait for delivery. You want to ensure is that your beer isn’t going to be mishandled during delivery. When picking the competition, make sure you have enough time to get the beer packaged for it. Enough time to brew, dry hop, carbonate / bottle condition, etc. You don’t want to trying to force your beer to be ready for drop off. If bottle conditioning, make sure your beer is at the proper carbonation level. For your first competition, you may want to consider a style that doesn’t require being at the peak of freshness, or a very popular category (IPA/Pale Ale), brew something you know you do well, but more importantly brew something you know you brew well that is in the middle of the road for that category. Brewing a hoppy wheat, or some other beer outside the style guidelines isn’t going to score well, no matter how good it tastes. I recommend picking bottles that have the right fill level, don’t grab any low or high fills. Make sure if you’ve bottle conditioned, that they are carbonated to the correct level, if you are using a counter flow or other bottle filler, the same goes. Ensure you have a good fill level, and after a few days, make sure your carbonation holds up. These are easy items that will keep you from getting dinged for ‘free’ points. Also make sure you read the style guidelines for the category you are submitting. For example, if you are submitting a cider, make sure to specify the adjuncts and flavorings used, as well as the carbonation level. I’m unsure if that is required for other styles, but I certainly got dinged for not including ginger as a flavoring in my cider.


After brewing, bottling, dropping off, whats next? Unless you are a winner, expect to not hear anything back for some time. It takes a while for the organizers to get those sheets back into the mail. When you do get them back, expect 2-3 score sheets, and an assigned score sheet. The individual score sheets will contain the judge info, including an email address and the scoring. Which might be helpful if you have questions about specific feedback, but keep in mind judges reviewed many beers that day, and unless your beer was really good or really bad it’s unlikely to be memorable for them. Keep in mind that feedback is both subjective and objective, and that it’s intended to be constructive, not tear you down, It’s trying to point out where you can improve in the future. Don’t get down if you beers only score in the twenties, that’s the best mine have done so far, it’s just more room for improvement.


New Years Eve Miracle, Milk Stout

I try to brew as often as reasonable, which is usually when I’ve got a keg free, when I’ve got a competition to enter, or it’s been way too long. In 2012 it was more like every 3 months, despite wanting to brew more often. Which is what makes brewing 3 times in december quite an accomplishment. This last batch pushed the 2012 total to 6 batches, 5 beers, one cider, an extract only batch, extract and steeping grains, a partial mash, all grain, and brew in a bag all grain. To say I’m a dabbler might be an understatement. One thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot is what I brew.

This New Years eve brew session was pretty much on a lark. I had picked up a pair of 2.5 gallon kegs from adventures in homebrewing as a christmas gift to myself. From a trip to Valley Malt this fall, I have a stock pile of grain. From stocking up during the fall harvest I also have an abundance of hops. I’ve been thinking of how to fill one of the small kegs, while taking advantage of what I had on hand. 90% of the grain, 100% of the hops, came from what I had on hand. I did still have to make the trip to the home brew shop to pick up yeast, and a few misc things, but it was a little easier on the wallet. I only needed caraffa II, lactose powder, and yeast. Anyone guess what I brewed from the ingredients I picked up? Since kicking the Oatmeal stout, I’ve wanted to brew something dark to go beside the pales I usually brew, and have on tap. My wife likes stouts more than my typical beers. I wanted this to be smoother, richer, than the last stout. In an attempt to smooth this out, I modified the recipe I based my beer off. I swapped out the Roasted Barley, thinking the chocolate malt I have is going to have that edge, and roasted bitter flavor, I swapped the barley for carafa 2. I realize that some might argue that it’s not a stout if it doesn’t contain roast barley, well, it’s going to be a lactose porter then. Trust me it’s dark enough, and I’m confident it’s going to have enough bitterness to match the sweetness. I also plan on dosing the stout with some cold brewed coffee, and a vanilla bean in the keg for added complexity.IMG_2011
Since I was brewing a small batch, I decided to simplify my brew day, keep me from lugging all my equipment up from the basement, and allow me to stay out of the cold, I decided to brew in a bag (BIAB). It’s an all grain technique in which you take all of your brewing water, heat it to strike temp, add the grain to a large mesh bag, and add it to the pot. After 60-90 minutes you remove the bag and grain, and are left with your pre boil wort. It’s less efficient than other brewing techniques, but it’s far simpler. Even for this 3 gallon batch my 5 gallon pot is a little undersized. I had an overflow trying to get the grain bag into the pot. After bailing some water, I got the mash started. I struggled to keep the mash temp in the high range (156) to keep body, and a richer beer, even keeping the burner below the pot on low. The thermometer read 150ish most of the time. Removing the large bag of grains from the 5g pot was also a bit of a chore, trying to prevent a big mess while draining wort from the grain. I rinsed the grain in my 8qt pot to get some additional extraction, because I was planning on topping up the pot anyway.
The boil was uneventful, with our large 3 ring burner, I can get a boil pretty quick. Skimming as it came to a boil, and after hop additions kept the foam at bay from a boil over. As you can see above, I can barely fit the chiller into the pot, but with the cold temps, it chills quite rapidly. I chilled to 65, poured the wort into the fermentor and pitched wyeast 1028. I was really hoping to use 1099, as it’s less attenuative, and more temperature tolerant than the 1028, but the local shop was out. I checked the fermentor tonight, and it’s slowly bubbling away.