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Limoncello (+ lime, bergamot)

3 May

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Peels of each type of citrus (meyer lemon, lime, and bergamot) soaked in vodka for a month in a dark cupboard, swirled gently every few days.

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After a month, I strained the peels out of the vodka. Instead of just adding a simple syrup, I got another set of each type of citrus (meyer lemons and limes from friends’ back yards, and I was fortunately still able to find fresh bergamot at Bi-Rite) and made each into an oleo saccharum– and then used that citrus-oil-infused sugar as the sweetener.

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From left to right: Limecello, Bergamot Arancello, Limoncello

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High enough in alcohol to keep a bottle in the freezer without it turning to ice,  good as an after-dinner digestif.

Homebrew, Cider, Snacks

14 Apr

What was going to be “an informal bread, cheese, and homebrew hard cider tasting” expanded a bit, as it always does.

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Highlights were the small carrots roasted in cider, the hummus made with plenty of garlic and a little cider vinegar in lieu of lemon juice, #3 of the hard cider experiments (made with unpasteurized cider and champagne yeast), the fennel salami mail-ordered from Seattle (which I’ve wanted to do ever since having it on a trip) and the Russian Imperial Stout (rich, coffee-like, well-hopped (not actively bitter but it kept the alcohol in check), 10% ABV, aged 4 months so far since brewing and really supposed to go 6+).

And the small, excellent group of friends-in-partaking.

Homebrew(?) #8: Making Hard Cider

1 Feb

I had four one gallon glass jugs and airlocks from the Rye ESB experiments (dosing with different hops and juniper), so I was on the lookout for another side by side brewing experiment. Then late last year I saw some fresh unpasteurized (rare!) cider at a farmers’ market and I had a project.

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There are so many things you can vary in cider– pasteurized or unpasteurized starting cider, type of apple, yeast (natural, cider, ale, champagne), adding extra sugar pre-fermentation (which primarily just boosts the alcohol, not the sweetness, since the yeast consumes it all), sweet vs. dry,  sparkling vs. still, and so on.

I decided to keep it simple this time and just make three batches, varying the source of cider, yeast used, and pasteurized vs. not, but staying with a simple dry, sparkling, no-extra-sugar style without any added flavorings. I made half a gallon to a gallon of each, and a month later bottled them (and of course couldn’t bottle something without making a custom label…). In a few months I’ll see how they turned out…

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This was all originally inspired by reading a stranger’s documentation of 80 one-gallon hard cider batches made with different yeasts, juices, and sugars:

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And to look up later– jotting down a few notes collected from reading and talking to people who’ve made cider:

  • Hard cider was traditionally made with more tart, sour apples– modern eating apples aren’t really the ideal source of juice for it.
  • You could make hard cider by just letting unpasteurized cider sit for months– the wild yeast on the skins will eventually ferment it, though you have less control over the final product and it could take a long time
  • People also often add yeast to have more predictable fermentation, ranging from champagne yeast (a neutral taste, ferments it very dry like a wine) to beer ale yeasts, to cider yeasts (selected over time to not handle high alcohol levels well– more about that below)
  • Unlike beer, which has a range of more complex sugars in the wort that yeast can not easily ferment (which leads to some residual sweetness and body after the fermentation is complete), the sugar in apple cider (like most fruit sugars and cane sugar) is simple and easily fermented. This means that unless you interrupt fermentation in some way (such as “cold crashing” — setting cider in the fridge to drop most yeast out of suspension, or adding something that kills the yeast), all the sugar will be fermented and you will end up with a completely dry cider with no sweetness (a final specific gravity of about 1.000). Some people like this, and older ciders were this way, but it’s a question of style.
  • You can’t get a sweeter cider by just letting it ferment dry and then adding significant sugar before bottling– the residual yeast will ferment this sugar in the bottle, produce CO2, and eventually build up enough pressure to cause the bottle to shatter.

So generally, your easy options for some combination of sweetness and/or carbonation are either:

  • A dry sparkling cider (let it ferment fully, then add a measured small amount of priming sugar before bottling, just as you would when bottling a beer– this sugar will be consumed by the residual yeast and produce the CO2 for carbonation). This is what I did for this batch.
  • A sweet still cider (do something to halt the yeast before it fully ferments the cider, and then bottle– but with the yeast halted, no carbonation will be produced)
  • A sweet carbonated cider through non-standard sugars (ferment dry, use yeast plus priming sugar to carbonate, and also add Splenda, xylitol, or some other non-sugar sweetener that the yeast can’t digest). I had no interest in using this sort of additive.
  • Or, do what larger breweries do and brew a sweet, still cider, deactivate the yeast, then force carbonate it with a cylinder of CO2 in a keg.
  • Some specially-bred cider yeasts have been selected over many generations to go dormant in the presence of moderate alcohol levels– so they stop working before every last bit of sugar has been fermented and leave a slight bit of sweetness.

Homebrew #6: Thee No Cees IPA

31 Jan

A remake of homebrew #5 (my anti-Cascade/Columbus/Chinook/Crystal IPA) which had turned out quite well. I tweaked a few things in the recipe and brewing process but mostly tried to replicate it.

I brewed on Christmas day, bottled mid-January, just cracked open the first bottle– and I’m happy with the results.

A powerful, fresh citrus and herbal smell with no dank/pine in it, a moderately strong (7% ABV), slightly malty, slightly orange flavor, and a long hoppy aftertaste (but not in a bitter way). Just the style of IPA I like to drink (in some ways, like a higher-alcohol extra pale ale).

And of course I had to make labels:

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On a reused Abita bottle:

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Just standard beer ingredients– pale malt and a little red wheat and rye, plus Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Sorachi Ace hops (with a light hand on the bittering hops and a huge dose of dry hopping with especially Sorachi Ace five days before bottling), and our excellent San Francisco Hetch Hetchy water (plus a campden tablet to remove any chloramine).

Infusing Bourbon

15 Dec

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Some purists might say– a waste of good bourbon!

But I had a bottle and a half of Woodford Reserve left from Derby Day and I haven’t been drinking it… so it was time to split it into smaller batches, soak various herbs and spices in each, and strain into bottles….

Homebrew #5: “The NO.C. IPA”

24 Sep

Early August brewing -> Labor Day bottling party with friends -> obligatory caps:

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A few weeks later:

IPA #5

I’ve had a cyclic love-hate relationship with IPAs over the years.

While I love so many bitter foods (nettles, beetroot, sorrel, tonic water, chicory, escarole, campari), many IPAs including broadly well-regarded ones like Pliny the Elder are a complete turnoff to me. After a few years and a disappointing visit to the Oregon Brewers Festival, I’ve figured out that I don’t like the heavy bittering hops, astringent hops, or the piney Northwestern hops (especially Cascade and Columbus), but can enjoy the smell and a range of the more fruity, dank, or spicy hops. And while I like many session beers, I generally like my IPAs balanced with plenty of alcohol and malt, pushing me into the Double IPA / Imperial IPA territory.

So I set out to make an IPA based around just the hops I liked most from some old Mikkeller single-hop beer tasting parties. Maybe I’ll call it “The NO.C. IPA” (or “The Noh Sees”?… depending what kind of California in-joke I want to make). No Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, or Citra hops. No Crystal malt. Just:

  • Pale malt (two-row barley), plus a little rye and wheat
  • Warrior hops for bittering
  • Amarillo for flavor, and aroma (dry hop)
  • Sorachi Ace (I had to mail order them) for flavor and aroma (dry hop)
  • A small amount of Simcoe in the dry hop, but trying to keep it subtle
  • A neutral American ale yeast (US-05)

I brewed it strong, ending up around 8% ABV. After the usual brewing processes (including fermenting in the cool garage around 60F, four weeks in a primary with no secondary, dry hopping 5 days before the end, cold crashing, and bottling), I let it sit for a few weeks.

And I’m happy with how this turned out. I’d give it an (A-) and would pay real money for this beer.

Notes I wrote down when tasting it early, before bottling:

Orange/lemon/tangerine. No pine(!) — good. Subtle simcoe. Mellow fruity/oily hop, slight tropical. No obvious NW. Still a sharp bitter hoppy aftertaste (maybe from the 75min boil).

And then a few week later, after conditioning and carbonating:

Some grapefruit/lemon smell but more tangerine/orange. No bitterness on nose. Very faint musk (Simcoe). A little bite/spicy on the roof of the mouth. No longer any lingering bitterness or aftertaste.

Homebrew #4: Sour & Salty (Gose)

18 Aug

For my forth batch, I wanted to try something more adventurous. I’ve always liked sour beers, but many of them take 6 to 12 months to ferment… but I heard from a friend about another way to make a sour beer using a starter, and I’d recently had a Leipziger Gose I enjoyed, so I decided to try something in the general Gose vein:

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Per Wikipedia:“Gose is a beer style of Leipzig, Germany, brewed with at least 50% of the grain bill being malted wheat. Dominant flavours in Gose include a lemon tartness, a herbal characteristic, and a strong saltiness (the result of either local water sources or added salt). Because of the use of coriander and salt, Gose does not comply with the Reinheitsgebot. It is allowed an exemption on the grounds of being a regional specialty.”

I made the sour starter by leaving about 2 Tbsp of cracked two-row malted barley and 1 Tbsp of agave syrup in a cup and a half of water out on the windowsill, letting the bacteria that naturally live on the grain husk start to ferment the sugar. After a few days, there was a white scum on the top, it smelled sour, and the pH had dropped well below 4.0, which was a good sign: at this pH, bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus can live and produce lactic acid (the sourness present in yogurt and one way to sour a beer), but it’s too acidic for bad-tasting or more dangerous bacteria (e.g. botulism) to survive.

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I then prepared the main wort:

Base grains:

  • 3/4 lbs 2-row barley
  • 1 lb malted wheat
  • 0.5 lbs flaked wheat
  • 0.5 lbs rolled outs
  • 3 lbs wheat DME
  • 2.25 lbs pilsner DME

I mashed the cracked grains for 45 minutes in 1.5 gallons of 150F water, then added 2 more gallons and the dry malts. Rather than boiling the wort and adding hops at this point as I would with a normal batch, I let it cool to about 100F, poured in the windowsill-soured starter I’d made the previous day, covered the pot and wrapped it in insulating towels, and let it sit for a day. This let the bacteria in the sour starter take over the wort, multiplying and souring the entire batch.

The next afternoon, I resumed brewing– I brought the now sweet-and-sour wort to a rolling boil, which also has the effect of killing any lactobacillus and other wild flora growing in it– this means the initial souring is as sour as the beer will get and I won’t get the more complex flavor of many sour beers, but I also don’t have to worry about other contamination multiplying after I bottle and ruining the beer over time. I boiled it for an hour as usual, adding hops and other flavoring typical of the Gose style:

  • 0.5oz Santiam hops @ 60min
  • 0.8oz salt @ 60min (about 0.5oz sea salt + 0.3oz lemon flake salt)
  • 0.45oz coriander seeds @ 5min

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After cooling with a borrowed wort chiller, I tested the OG and it was 1.057 (corrected for temperature)– exactly what I’d been shooting for. Into a second bucket it went (since my first bucket was busy fermenting a Rye Session):

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I pitched in the yeast started I’d also prepared the night before (Boiled 2 pts water + ½ cup pilsner DME for 10min. Cooled the light wort covered in a cold water sink (maybe 15min) until cool, around 85F. Put in a sanitized quart jar, pitched room-temperature White Labs 029 Kolsch yeast, covered w/ sanitized foil, shook for about a minute to heavily aerate, then set on counter to sit overnight) and off we went.

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It fermented vigorously over the next few days, and other than a few tastes and gravity samples I let it go for three weeks, until the yeast dropped out, the SF stabilized at 1.015 (about 5.5% ABV), and it cleared up, eventually looking like this. Mysterious.

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Before bottling, I took a taste (uncarbonated): it had a lightly sour smell, a pale, malty body with a hard to pin down “funky yogurt-like” taste, not really lip-smacking tart or citric acid acidic. We’ll see if it ends up undrinkable or interesting.

For extra amusement, I decided to label it Gözer, as a shout-out to both everyone’s favorite Ghostbusters villain and the Gose style:

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