Friday, November 27, 2009

Cider and Perry Make Me Merry

Last weekend, we drove out to Fieldstone Enterprises in Overbrook, KS and bought 15 gallons of apple juice & 10 of pear. The apple blend we got was made from four varietals: Spitzenburg, Seek No Further, Neuho, and Bramly. The pear juice is made from four varieties of Asian pears.

With our 25 gallons now in our possession, we dug out 5 fermenters while the juice thawed. We'll do a dry (still) and a medium-dry (sparkling) for both apple & pear, leaving one apple batch that we'll split in the summer when other fruits are ripe. I'd like to add blackberries to one split batch; the other one is still TBD but I think we might do persimmons.

So how do you make cider? At the easiest end of the spectrum, you can buy preservative-free apple juice at the store, put it in a sanitized fermenter, add yeast, and let it go. Done right, it'll ferment completely into a very dry apple cider that is much less sweet than the commercial ciders on the shelves today. However, if you want a cider with a balance of sweetness, tartness, and tannin, you can do a few things to manipulate the outcome.

First, get preservative-free 100% juice and check its pH. A quality cider that has enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the apples will be somewhere around 3.2 -3.8. Any lower than that will likely be too acidic, and higher than that will lack the tart finish, depth, and complexity good ciders possess (it'll be "insipid"). Malic acid, calcium carbonate, and low-acid juice are common approaches to altering pH. As a side note - malic acid stinks. I spilled a little on the floor (maybe 1/2 tsp) and it got wet; a few minutes later, the entire area smelled like a gym bag. Not awesome.

Once you have your pH set, check your starting gravity. It should be between 1.045 and 1.070 and can be manipulated via dilution or the addition of sugar. Our starting gravities all hovered around 1.042-1.048 which were lower than we wanted. The addition of simple syrup to each carboy put all our starting gravities around 1.055-1.060.

Next, kill off wild yeast & bacteria to avoid bacterial infection and to ensure only the yeast you want are fermenting your juice. We added potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets) which is probably the most accessible approach. The juice's pH will determine how much sulfite to add and we followed the guidelines laid out by Andrew Lea in his book. You can find similar information on his website.

Since apple juice is nitrogen-deficient and yeast need nitrogen to thrive, I also added yeast nutrient and energizer per my mead measurements:  1 tsp diammonium phosphate (DAP) and 1/2 tsp Fermaid-K per 5 gallons. I won't be doing staggered nutrient additions; a one-time addition for cider & perry should be fine.

That's pretty much all the hard work and requires about as much precision as you want to give it. The more precise you are, the closer your end result will be to what you want. The sulfited juice needs to sit for 24 hours before the yeast is pitched so that you don't kill off all your cultured yeast along with the wild stuff.

I used all Lalvin wine yeasts; for the apple ciders, I selected 71b-1122, K1-V1116, and EC1118. The 2 perrys are fermenting with 71b-1122 and EC1118. Specific properties of these yeasts can be found on Lallemond's site.

Unfortunately, there just isn't much information at all on making perry. About the only information I've gleaned is that it's similar in process to making cider, but has a higher starting pH. For more information on making cider, the best resource I've found to date is Andrew Lea's book, "Craft Cider Making." I got another book by Proulx and Nichols and it's perfect for learning more about specific apple themselves - growing, harvesting, pressing, etc. While the authors do cover cidermaking to a good extent, the Lea book was much better. With those two books, you'll be familiar with dozens of apple varieties and how to take them from seedling to cider.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More use for Spent Grain

One of the byproducts of brewing all-grain batches is, of course, the spent grain. And lots of it. You can do quite a bit with it - dog biscuits, cookies, bread, pretzels, and so on. I've done both cookies and bread (I thought I posted about that... can't find it), and for the last brew day I thought I'd use some spent grain from a recent Pale Ale to make crackers. I tried two recipes: one from, the other from While both crackers seemed to go over reasonably well, I thought the homebrewchef crackers were the winners by a long shot.

The recipe using only whole wheat flour took longer to bake and the crackers came out tasting like, well, flour. They were certainly edible, but reminded me of something that would only sell well at a health fair. The longer baking time to make them crisp, plus the whole wheat flour, made them very dry - in a dehydrating sort of way. You definitely wanted to wash the cracker down with something. The crackers made with white flour were easier to make because the dough was softer, and they tasted like a gourmet cracker you'd buy at Whole Foods for $4 per box. (They reminded me a lot of Wisecrackers.) They were crisp and crunchy, similar in texture and crunch to a non-greasy pita chip. I also used a homemade blonde ale for liquid, which added a fantastic sweet, yeasty character to the beer.

Here are a few tips for those of you interested in making these (and I highly recommend it - they were very good!).
  • Use 100% all-purpose flour (bread flour is too high in gluten for crackers)
  • Dry out your grains as much as you can, use less water, use more flour, or all of the above. The more water your spent grains have, the wetter your dough will be. You want the cracker dough to be firm and barely tacky; not sticky.
  • Roll out the dough as thin as you can get it. Some people have used pasta rollers to make crackers; I used a rolling pin on a floured countertop.
  • If you want small, regular-shaped crackers, cut them after rolling and use a metal spatula to transfer to your baking sheet.
  • Cool on a drying rack so air can circulate around the crackers, avoiding any sweating - no one likes a sweaty underside! ;-)
  • I found that I had to bake them for 30 minutes to get them to a desired crispness, not 15-20 as the recipe dictated.
These were served with a spreadable Cranberry/Apple/Cinnamon cheese and a Devonshire wedge, but are really suitable for anything. I think I'll make more this weekend; these really did turn out well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beer Tasting Tonight in Shawnee

I got an email from KC Hopps last night about an O'Fallon tasting at the Barley's Brewhaus Shawnee location. A little advance notice would have been nice, but if you don't have plans tonight and love making last-minute arrangements, here's a suggestion. They still appear to have space remaining (I can offer a guess as to why...)

The items offered with food pairings are:
-  Pumpkin Ale
-  5 Day IPA
-  Smoked Porter
-  Cherry Chocolate
-  Rye IPA

Seems rye beer is all the rage these days; even Michelob has one. Like wheat, rye adds body to beer to give it a bit more substance and a smoother mouthfeel. Unlike wheat, however, it adds a little spiciness to the beer, making a great pairing with seasonal comfort foods.

Sounds like it could be a great beer for Thanksgiving dinner...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beer of the Week: Cider

Yeah, I know cider isn't beer. I debated naming this "style of the week" but didn't want to limit myself to BJCP styles (or have to dump a bunch of stuff into category 23). And now here I am thinking I should have gone with Style. Oh well.

Anyway. Now that our bizarre warm weather appears to be behind us, it definitely feels like the time of year for those comfy winter drinks. Winter Warmers, mulled wine, hot toddys, hot buttered rum - and cider. We're getting ready to make a few batches of cider and perry (pear cider) and wanted to try some true English cider so we picked up a bottle of Aspall Dry yesterday at Lukas in Martin City. Consensus? Both of us agree this is the best cider we've ever had, and at $6.99 per bottle it's a deal.

I've had probably close to a dozen different ciders, none of which are authentic cider styles (Wyder, Blackthorne, Strongbow, Magners, Ace, and so on). Real apple cider should drink more like a wine and have a completely different profile than its unfermented cousin. It should not taste like alcoholic Mott's, much like wine should not taste like boozy Welch's (well, good wine anyway). The typical cider options we have are poor examples of good cider; they're the Arbor Mists of the cider world. That isn't to say they're particularly bad, they're just not what I'd consider proper cider.

Apple cider should have a clear appearance, though it's still ok for it to be somewhat hazy for a more "natural" style. It should also be a bit acidic with a bit of tannin to provide body and substance to the cider. This is, I think, what is missing from most commercial ciders and why I tend to prefer the drier ones (Wyder's Pear & Strongbow Dry). The tannin really helps add some complexity to cider, much like hops add depth to beer.

Apple cider has a long history in both England and France, but enjoys its own legacy in the US as well (thanks to European settlers in the 17th century). While we're all familiar with common sweet apple varieties such as Fuji, Honey Crisp, or Braeburn, there are dozens of other varieties more suited to ciders - and definitely not good to eat. Apples are split into four categories: sharp, sweet, bittersharp, and bittersweet. Each contributes to different qualities in cider, and are typically blended to create a balanced taste in a cider. There are few apple varieties that contain all of the desired flavor qualities (sweetness, acidity, astringency/tannin), such as Kingston Black, and they're not easy to find. Therefore, nearly all cider you'll find out there is made with a variety of apples (just as many beers are made with different malts to achieve desired characteristics).

If you're interested in making your own cider, it's extremely simple to do so. We found an orchard out in Overbrook, KS that we'll be visiting next weekend to pick up both pear & apple juices. This year's harvest wasn't that great, but you can start making plans for next year. They publish their harvest dates on their website so that you can plan your trip around different varieties. Alternately, you can bring a bucket or carboy to Louisburg Cider Mill and they'll fill it for you. Just call them a few days in advance to make an appointment; they'll tell you what apples they'll be pressing and will arrange a time for you to come by and get the unpasteurized juice. (A note on that - you can ferment both pasteurized & unpasteurized juice. Each will result in different flavors and you might experiment with both to see which you like best.) If you don't want to wait until next fall, you can make cider from preservative-free apple juice at the store (preservatives will prevent fermentation).

The steps to make cider are pretty straight-forward:
  1. Buy juice & pour it into a sanitized fermenter
  2. If using non-pasteurized juice, add campden tablets (1 per gallon of juice) to kill any wild yeast or bacteria in the juice & wait 24 hours
  3. Pitch yeast
  4. Wait a few weeks for fermentation to finish & add finings for clarification
  5. Rack to another container, let clear a bit more, then package (keg or bottles)

The process can be much more complicated than this, but that's the basic concept. Using different yeasts will result in different cider flavors. Adding juice & halting fermentation will create a sweeter cider; adding acid, oak, or tannins will change the cider further. Of course cider can be either sparkling or still, and the addition of spices will add a seasonal flair to your finished product.

If you're interested in learning more about cider, here are some great references to get you started:
  1. BJCP Guidelines for Style 27
  2. BJCP Guidelines for Style 28
  3. Andrew Lea's book on Craft Cider Making
  4. Andrew Lea's website (now with frames!)
  5. Another well-regarded book on cider by Proulx and Nichols
  6. A great webcast on making cider with Jamil Zainasheff, Jon Pliese, and awesome guest Gary Awdey
I'll follow up at a later time on our own experiences making cider. My meads & braggot are coming along and I'll post more on that when they're ready to drink (just a few more months!). In the meantime... beer it is!

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Tap Around Town

Sure are a lot of new beers going on tap lately.

Barley's out in Shawnee has had some rare Bear Republic kegs on tap the past few weeks. If you haven't had Racer X or Mach 10, they're a (west coast) hoppy treat - and they probably won't be around much longer.

McCoy's in Westport just put on a keg of their Imperial Steam Beer. I haven't had any yet but am looking forward to trying it. I'll be curious to see what an Imperial steam beer is like... I'm guessing lots of sweet & bready flavor with a bit more fruity esters. Most people are probably familiar with Anchor Steam but don't know that it's a lager brewed at ale temperatures. German brewers who immigrated to California in the 1800s didn't have the technology or cold Alpen caves to lager their beers, so they fermented their lagers at California's more temperate climate. Anchor trademarked the "Steam" name, so you might see this style called California Common elsewhere.

Speaking of California Common, Free State just put one on on tap ("Prairie Fog Ale") along with a new Vienna Lager. Vienna Lager is a cousin to the Oktoberfest and Märzen styles and isn't very easy to find (outside of Negra Modello). You can read more about these three closely-related styles in Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers or George Fix's Vienna/Märzen/Oktoberfest edition of Brewing Classic Styles. I've become a fan of Fix - reading about chemistry seems about as appealing to me as getting jabbed in the eye, but his Principles of Brewing Science was actually really interesting. If you're curious about what happens when you do hop additions during the wort boil or what is actually going on during fermentation, I highly recommend Principles.

But I digress. McCoy's also recently put on a Bohemian Pilsener and should have their Coffee Stout available as well. They'll be coming out with a Winter Warmer here some time soon. I'm not sure when, but it'll be at their Christmas Ale dinner on 12/1. Not to be left out, 75th Street is tapping a keg of their Coffee Porter tonight (11/13) and will have it on nitro to give it more body & a creamy mouthfeel.

And finally, next Thursday Flying Saucer will be tapping a keg of Sierra Nevada's Harvest Estate ale, an American IPA that was made using only hops & barley grown on the brewery's property. With almost all of the brewery's energy coming from their own private solar array and their efforts to use recycled water, perhaps one of these days we'll see a Sierra Nevada "Off The Grid IPA" on the shelves.

So there you go - plans for next week!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brew Day Reminder...

Just a reminder that Brew Day #5 and the last one of 2009 is coming up on Saturday.

KC Hop Head is hosting this brew day, and the theme is English beer with a focus on session ales. As with the others, please bring some commercial beer or homebrew, some snacks, a camp chair or two, guests, and anything else you would like to bring.

We have I think two brews going this time, and I'm considering my options on making another base mead. I procrastinated on buying my honey, though, so I'm not sure I'll be able to do it this time. If you have any questions or need directions, send me a note.

Highlights from previous brew days can be found here:

  1. June
  2. July
  3. August
  4. October
See you Saturday!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Feeling Crafty

Since this is a beer blog, I don’t mention much about other hobbies. Today, though, I am going to talk about another hobby of mine: knitting! (Don’t worry, I’ll relate it to beer. I promise.) Though I haven’t yet developed the courage to knit us up a hydrometer holder or decorative tap handle covers, I have tried to come up with a clever way to mix beer & knitting together (other than the obvious; that’s been done, with sometimes disastrous results). They seem like strange bedfellows; I have seen a blog that combines knitting and beer, and the author even hosts beer/knitting classes. But I knew the combination of the two had hit the mainstream when I saw them in print. Last month, I received a KnitPicks catalog in the mail and spotted not only one ad featuring beer, but TWO!

The first was for a book featuring patterns and suggestions for knitting projects you can do with friends at a pub. ("Purl" is a type of stitch in knitting.)

They’re even ranked by complexity to help you know how much concentration is required. Cute, but I can figure that out on my own.

A few pages later, I happened upon this:

Not only are those two hands sporting what would be some great winter homebrewing gloves, and not only are they holding bottles of beer, they’re holding HUB bottles! (Don't ask me what that little green guy is off to the left. Kind of creepy.) Winner of 2 GABF gold medals only 1.5 years into its existence, Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) hails from my home town and makes some mighty fine brew. It was fun to see it in a rather unrelated setting.

The intersection of craft beer and knitting really isn't that far-fetched, though, especially if that craft beer is home-brewed. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating something from scratch, understanding how it is made, and sharing the final product with others. Whether knitting, woodworking, gardening, or brewing beer, hobbies get us involved in the creation of something personal. And sometimes, multiple hobbies can be combined. Farming hops and brewing beer, for instance. Building your own brew sculpture. Making a keggle.

Or, knitting your own carboy cozy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Kind of Studying

Mr Wort Hog has been talking about becoming BJCP-certified for a while now, and recently signed up for an exam sitting in January. We've been accumulating study materials as a result: books, articles, and - of course - beer. I'm not taking the exam, but I am learning more about beers as he studies them and we discuss them. While it's fun to try standard examples of styles and note their qualities, there's another aspect of studying that I'm finding particularly fun: detecting off-flavors.

You can easily create most off flavors yourself with a handful of common household ingredients (and a few extra available at a homebrew store). I picked up a six-pack of Sam Adams Light, since the base beer for doctoring should be pretty clean & light - and must have a pry-off crown cap. Guidelines for modifying beers with off flavors are listed on the BJCP site in a handy table. Want to see what an oxidized beer tastes like? You could add 3/4 of a teaspoon of sherry to a 12oz bottle of beer, or simply oxidize the beer by opening it, allowing the CO2 to escape, re-capping it, and storing it at over 100F for a few days. How about a skunky beer? Set a beer (in a green or clear bottle) in a window for a week. (Or, buy a bottle of Grolsch).

I've been doctoring up the bottles & presenting glasses containing the adulterated (and some unadulterated!) beer to Mr Wort Hog for his analysis. It's been fun and a good learning experience. The biggest take-away so far has been that off flavors are most easily detectable when you let the beer warm up (to maybe 55-60 degrees) then swirl it around in your glass. The swirling releases some of the CO2 from the beer, carrying the aroma out of the beer and around the mouth of the glass. And for anyone who has had warm beer, you'll know that when it's warm, the flavor is intensified. (Similarly, I'm sure that's why a lot of people like ice-cold beer - you can't taste it.)

If you're evaluating or reviewing a beer, you'll also want to know if what you're tasting is really an off flavor. If you have a beer that has just a hint of sherry, is that always a bad thing? If it's a Pale Ale, it shouldn't be there - but it can actually add depth and complexity to a Barley Wine. Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) adds a cooked veggie characteristic to beer, and a little bit is just fine in, say, an American Lager like Budweiser. If you've had a Schlitz Gusto and thought that there was a little roasted corn flavor - that's DMS. But what if your beer tastes buttery? Medicinal? Like almonds? BJCP has answers. Additionally, a great explanation of these flavors can be found on John Palmer's website, or in his book of the same title.

Off flavors are, unfortunately, pretty easy to introduce to beer but can be avoided with some care. For homebrewers, the main concepts are simple (sanitation, fermentation temperature, avoiding exposure to oxygen after fermentation starts, etc) but the details are endless. I still have trouble remembering everything and have a long way to go.

There are also some things we can do as consumers of beer, starting with avoiding beer in clear bottles or the ones near the window at the liquor store, and storing our beer in dark, cool locations of the house (say, the fridge). I know I have been guilty of lazily leaving a six-pack on the back porch in the dead heat of summer. Beer nerd fail!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beer of the Week: Cream Ale

This week's featured beer is a little less exotic than those that proceeded it, but perhaps more misunderstood.

Cream Ale is one of two unique US beer styles, along with California Common (Anchor Steam being the predominant example) which originated prior to prohibition and is currently in large scale production. We owe the survival of Cream Ale through prohibition to Canada, where it was popular and brewed during much of the US prohibition.

The name "Cream Ale" can be misleading. The beers contain no cream or milk and do not have a particularly creamy mouth feel, being instead light and thirst-quenching. Adding to the confusion is that some breweries adopt the Cream Ale moniker for beers that better fit into other light ale styles.

So then what is a Cream Ale? It is an American Lager (think Budweiser or Coors) which is fermented instead as an ale. The style has its genesis in East Coast breweries which aimed to compete with the popular American Lagers but were not equipped to carry out a lager fermentation.

Like American Lagers, cream ales are light in color and flavor and thirst-quenching. There may be some residual sweetness and a corn flavor, if corn is used as an adjunct. Most are brewed with adjuncts but there are some all malt examples (surprisingly not at all correlated with the size of the brewery). The primary difference between an American Lager and a Cream Ale is that the Cream Ale may have some fruity esters from the ale fermentation. The lack of a crisp drying sensation from the sulfur produced by lager yeasts may lead to a perception of a fuller mouth feel, but the mouth feel will not approach "creamy".

Modern Cream Ales are often cold conditioned or use a lager yeast for all or part of fermentation. There is no historical basis for this, however, as the lack of refrigeration was the entire motivation for the creation of the style.

There are not a lot of Cream Ales on the shelves, but you should have no problem finding one. Craft brewed examples include Spotted Cow by New Glarus (Wisconsin only) and Summer Solstice Cervesa Crema by Anderson Valley Brewing Company. The latter is unusual in that it is all malt, has a distinct crystal malt sweetness, and has a subtle addition of vanilla.

The next time you are mowing the lawn (which is hopefully no time soon), put down your American Lager and grab something a little more uniquely American.