Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's time to put it in cider

I'm often asked, "What's your favorite thing to put in cider?"
Hmmmmm, that's a hard one.  I really like to put the wood in cider. Spices, fruits or vegetables can all go in cider but if you cram to much in, it can be ruined.  There is also a lot to be said about not putting anything in cider, just taste and enjoy its natural flavors.
With fall comes apples and with apples comes homebrewers carrying bottles of cider which tastes of paint thinner and nail polish.  This is a basic mistake and it doesn't take much to put some great flavors in cider.
To make it good you need to first understand what is going on in there.  With beer, we are breaking down starch into sugar, so the yeast can eat it, but the breakdown is not complete so there is a lot of residual sweetness.  Apples are made up of much simpler sugars so the yeast is able to consume nearly all of it.  The result will be a solventy and dry concoction which is not drinkable.
Here is the way to hear cheers and win awards in cider.  Take your five gallons of fresh juice or cider and freeze two gallons.  Add a Camden tablet and sugar to the other three gallons until you have a OG of around 1.070 to 1.080.
Add your yeast.  I have used ale yeast, cider yeast and wine yeast and the wine yeast has worked best for me.  The others seem to fizzledick around and then crap out before it is finished.  You want a yeast that will get in and get things done in cider.
Then just wait until fermentation is finished and the FG reads 1.000, or around there. Transfer to a boil kettle or a spouted vessel.
At this point the cider will just be a mess.  It will taste absolutely horrible and you will be tempted to dump it.  First, add the two gallons of fresh cider you have saved, this will bring the apple taste you are looking for back.  Give it a stir and taste it, then start adding sugar until it tastes as sweet as you want it.  I like it crisp, but not to tart.  If you want something more like a pie then add apple pie spices.  Everything is done to taste so the sky is the limit.  I guess you could make a carmel appletini cider if it floats your boat.
When the cider tastes exactly how you want it to it is time to arrest fermentation.  Potassium sorbate is supposed to work but I have never had much faith in it.  I normally heat my kettle to pasteurize the cider and then keg it to add the gas back.  If you don't have a keg system then get with the program, or just have still cider.
However, it is not always sunshine and roses in cider.  The juice is stuck inside apples and getting it out is a giant pain in the ass.  Hand presses can be built or purchased for not a ton of money but they have the disadvantages of being slow and hard work.  Luckily for me, my in-laws have an orchard and industrial cider press so I get about as much cider as I want without any real work.  If I didn't have this option I would probably buy cider instead of trying to press it.
Every brewer should keep a stock of cider on hand.  It doesn't count as drinking before noon because it is juice, it's gluten free and lots of people without a real taste for beer will go bonkers over all the things that go in cider.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Brewstand rises with hidious glory

I admit the Curiosity rover is Ok. Sure, it traveled 150 million miles and landed on another celestial body, but it is not going to make beer like my brewstand.  Ultimately, what is more important?  Furthering the cause of science by learning about a place I will probably never visit.  Or getting me drunk.

On the other end of the spectrum is my brewstand.  Rising in my garage with cycloptian grace, it is a HERMS, two tier, double burner, pump driven, rolling brew station.

This was not what I imagined my stand would look like when I started this journey.  I had initially yearned for a tippy dump but there were several factors which led me to the ultimate design.   Dr. Frankenstein also never considered his creation a "monster" until it was finished and laying on the slab.  "Oh crap, I should have taken that home economics sewing class," is what he thought.
Most of the mashes I do are a simple single infusion.  However, I wanted the possibility of doing a step mash and all it took was a retrofit of an old wort chiller.  I can also use it on the cold end by filling my HLT with water and ice and running the wort through my plate chiller and then through the HERMS coil to get down to lager temps when my groundwater is too hot.

I liked the look of a single tier system, like a Brutus 10, but I only wanted to buy one pump.  I have seen three tier systems out there but they are bulkier than I wanted to deal with.

Probably the most daring feature of the stand is it is made of wood. I made this decision because I have all the tools to work with wood, I could make drawers and it is cheaper.  Now I will pause for the inevitable Natty Light drinking troll commenter to point out wood is flammable (Thank you Dr. Science!). 

The wood in questions is 14 inches from the nearest flame source and I don't leave a flame unattended for much longer than it takes to pee.  I've brewed on the stand six times and haven't seen any evidence of scorching.  If it appears to be a problem then a couple of pieces of thin sheet metal can form a heat shield. 

If the wood were to catch fire I'm not sure what I would do.  If only there were three large vessels containing 20, or more, gallons of water sitting on the stand.  To bad it is not as simple as just turning the valve on the hot liquor tank to have water come out. 

So far I am really pleased with my stand.  I have done step mashes and even a decoction and everything works pretty well.  I really like I can fill everything with water in place so I don't have to try to lift 9 gallons of water over my head.

However, everything is not sunshine and unicorn ejaculate.  I purchased the cheaper plastic quick connects from MoreBeer but don't really like them.  They don't seal really well and it is pretty easy for the pump to lose its prime, especially as soon as I dough in.  I would appreciate any tips from someone who knows how to prevent this.

The only other thing is the lag on a Ranco controller makes it pretty easy to overshoot your temps, especially if your hot liquor tank is really hot, so this takes a little bit of attention with cold water. 

Don't fear the wood.  As long as you take some fairly small precautions with set up and design, combined with a basic understanding of how fire works, you aren't going to torch your stand..

Here is the slideshow of more pictures:

Enter the 1,001 Ways to Screw Up Beer brewstand naming contest!

The brewstand needs a name.  Post a comment with your suggestion and I will pick the best, or if I think they are all lame I will taunt you.

Winner will gain the renowned of being mentioned on a beer blog with a global audience, my undying gratitude and a small village deep in the Amazon will be appointed to worship you as a primary deity.