Yellow Cat Sweet Cider

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The first time I made hard cider, I used this recipe that I found on the Homebrew Talk Forums: 5 Day Sweet Country Cider. I liked it so much that I ended up making a couple batches of it that year, which was 2011. I’ve made at least one batch a year since, though I’ve altered the recipe and have it down to an easy to remember formula at this point. Just count down from five.

FIVE days in fermentation.
FOUR gallons of all natural pasteurized apple cider.
THREE pounds of brown sugar.
TWO cinnamon sticks.
ONE packet of dry ale yeast.

Yes, this cider is ready to drink in under a week, the only homebrew I’ve ever made that can claim that. As a result, it does need the extra step of pasteurization, which I will cover in a future post. If you don’t want to wait, though there are tons of other instructions on the internet.

With that warning out of the way, I’ll jump into the specifics. I always start with Kauffman’s Bird In Hand Blend apple cider. This is the big local cider, which is widely available at independent grocery stores in my area. There are others, but this is my favorite. I’ve been told by local homebrewers that they prefer another cider, the one from Masonic Village, for fermenting because it is sweeter and doesn’t require adding as much sugar. For this recipe, though, the main goal is to maintain most of the cider’s original flavor and I prefer the taste of Kauffman’s by a wide margin.

If you don’t already have a favorite local cider, it’s time to do some delicious research. Just remember, you need cider that has been flash pasteurized without preservatives. If he cider doesn’t say that it contains no preservatives, it probably does and they will probably kill your yeast and prevent you from fermenting. The ingredients list should tell you for sure, if the other labeling is vague. Potassium Sorbate is the main offender, but there are variants with similar sounding names. Any of them will kill your yeast.

Flash pasteurization means that the cider as quickly heated to kill wild yeast without damaging the fresh flavor. This usually means that there are still some wild yeast left living, but their numbers have been greatly diminished. If you leave flash pasteurized cider at room temperature, it will likely begin fermenting on its own. This could turn into a refreshingly tart, lightly carbonated cider, or some rotten smelling stuff… or bursted bottles and a huge mess. So get fermenting as soon as you buy your cider. You can try experimenting with natural fermentation with a gallon (or half) of your cider, but I wouldn’t commit a large amount to it because it is likely not to turn out well.

BeerLabelYellowCatHardCider

Anyway, for this recipe: pick your cider and get four gallons of it. It wil be refrigerated when you buy it, so let it warm up, but again, not for too long. I like to stop after work to buy it, then let it sit out until close to time for bed, five or six hours, before starting the rest of the process. You can add all but about a gallon into you fermentor once it has reached about room temperature (it will warm quicker in its smaller packages). Most of the bit you’ve kept separate will be mixed with the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Before that, though, rehydrate your yeast quick. I just add the yeast to a two cup measuring cup and then add about twelve ounces of cider. Make sure that the cup is sanitized, of course. With the cider and yeast in, stir it a bit and then cover it in plastic wrap (all sanitized). Ideally, you could let this sit for an hour or so, but I honestly don’t wait nearly that long, normally. I finish the rest of the process which only gives it about ten or fifteen minutes. This has never been a problem, though. I normally use Nottingham Dry Ale Yeast, but any ale yeast should work. Nottingham works quickly and is very neutral. You can use a more characterful yeast, but again, I’m trying to maintain the flavor of the fresh cider in this recipe.

On the stove top, add three pounds of brown sugar to a large pot over low heat. Slowly add the rest of your cider and stir. Once all the cider is in, continue stirring until all of the brown sugar is mixed into the cider. Once you’re sure all of the sugar is suspended in the liquid, add two cinnamon sticks and stir a bit more. Be sure not to boil the cider, just heat it up enough to help the sugar dissolve. The smell of the cinnamon should start getting very strong very quickly. Once you are getting a good dose of cinnamon aroma, only a couple minutes, take the cider off the heat and add it to the carboy with the rest. Just dump the whole thing, cinnamon sticks and all into the carboy (or bucket or whatever). The slightly heated portion of the cider will bring the temperature up even more and ensure a quick start to fermentation. Add the yeast, top with an airlock and watch the yeast get to work.

You can take gravity readings before adding the yeast if you want, I normally do, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. You are going to get a low alcohol cider with this recipe. Mine is usually around 3.5% ABV. The three pounds of brown sugar should add about 1.03 to your original gravity, if only that fermented, your ABV would be just under 3%. As the countdown suggests, I normally ferment for about five days, but I normally check the flavor once a day after the third or fourth until I’m happy with it. The finishing gravity should be only slightly lower than the original cider without the sugar added.

Here is the crazy part. When you like the way the cider tastes, bottle it. It should still be actively fermenting, so there is no need to add priming sugar and it is not going to be clear so there is no need to rack it. If you have an auto siphon, just bottle straight from the primary fermenter. This will carbonate very quickly and if you don’t do anything, it will over carbonate shatter your bottles. You NEED to pasteurize it. Usually the same day you bottle it. As you can tell above, the day you start the fermentation will be very quick. Most of the work comes on bottling day and pasteurization day.

When you are bottling, use one or two plastic soda or water bottles. Then, keep squeezing these bottles every half hour or so to check for carbonation. If they feel hard, open one and if you’re happy with the carbonation, you can start pasteurizing the rest. If it’s not quite there, you have the other bottle to check again a bit later. I find that it usually takes about eight hours, but it could be up to twelve or a full day. It could also be only a few hours, but you should be safe overnight. If you bottle before bed when you have nothing to do the following morning, you should be good. I usually just do it early on a day that I’m off work and pasteurize on the same day.

I use a stove top pasteurization method, but I’ve heard of people doing it in the oven and any number of other ways. The oven makes me nervous because it isn’t evenly heated. Hot pockets could mean shattered bottles (which will not be fun at all to clean out of an oven) and colder pockets could mean unpasteurized bottles. I plan to post about my method soon.

This post has ended up much longer than I thought. I didn’t intend to add a recipe at the end, but in case you don’t want to read all this, I guess I will.BeerLabelYellowCatSweetCiderFINAL

Yellow Cat Sweet Cider
4 Gallons of fresh flash pasteurized Apple Cider
3 Pounds of brown sugar
2 Cinnamon sticks
1 Packet of ale yeast

Process:
Allow cider to reach room temperature, then add three gallons to a fermenter. Of the gallon left, use 12 oz to rehydrate your yeast. Add the sugar to a pot over low heat and then dissolve it with the rest of the cider. Add the cinnamon sticks and stir constantly for about two-three minutes before removing from heat. Add this mixture to the rest of the cider in the fermenter. Then add the rehydrated yeast and top with an airlock.

Check the flavor of the fermenting cider daily and bottle directly from the fermenter, while still actively fermenting, with no priming sugar when you are happy with it, about five days. Pasteurize once it has carbonated, between 8 and 24 hours after bottling.

Cider Week

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Tomorrow, it will be September! In homebrewing, that usually means two things: pumpkin beer, which I covered back in July and of course, hard cider. I have a go to recipe that I usually make every year for sweet cider and a few recipes that I rotate between. I normally do at least two batches a year. Probably more like three.

So I’ll be covering all of the hard cider I’ve made up to this point, including a new batch I’m starting this week as well tasting notes for my recently bottled batch of Wyld Cyser. I don’t think I’ll have room for any more tasting notes, so I’ll be peppering them in through out the fall, but now is the time to get your batches of hard cider fermenting. In most cases, I like to get it bottled and drunk quickly to preserve the fresh apple flavor, so you still have time but don’t wait. I’ll be posting a very quick and delicious recipe for sweet cider tomorrow, it is how I started and it would be a great place for anyone else to jump into the world of fermented apple beverages.

Lemonade Head Tasting Notes

IMG_3722Original Post: Lemonade Head
Style: Hard Lemonade (Malt Liquor)
Brew Date: Summer, 2012
Tasting Date: August 29, 2014
ABV: 6.5%

I guess it’s only right that I fit this in before Labor Day brings an unofficial end to Summer on Monday. This is not a beer. It’s a hard lemonade. It is made with lemon juice, sugar, water and champagne yeast. It has been sitting in the bottle for a long time and I’m curious how well it has held up. Here we go.

This is uncarbonated, so no pop with the bottle cap. It pours very clear and the color is much lighter than normal lemonade. It looks mostly like a white wine. The aroma is also reminiscent of wine. There is definitely some detectable alcohol along with a little bit of lemon (not much) and some sweetness. I hope there is more lemon and less alcohol in the first sip…

Hmm. This no longer tastes like lemonade. It is sweet with some alcohol heat and it is lemony… but it almost tastes artificial. I assure you it’s not, but the aging has done some tricks with it.

IMG_3724In the front, it’s mostly all sweetness. Some lemon comes in quickly, but as it moves to the back of the mouth, the alcohol comes through with a vengeance. The combination of seeming artificial lemon and alcohol really comes off as a cleaning product. In fact, that may be some trick of memory that is causing me to think this has an artificial lemon flavor.

Whatever is going on here, it is not particularly pleasant. There are white wine notes, but I think that is, again, mainly the alcohol. Cheap white wine, malt liquor… it tastes like an easy way to get drunk, but not necessarily have a good time getting there. Or getting over it. I feel like I’m halfway to a hangover right now.
I’ve barely finished half the bottle. This is very reminiscent of college. I’m not sure what part of aging has brought this stuff in this direction, but I don’t plan to repeat the process.

I made two batches of this stuff in consecutive Summers. The first one disappeared quick. The second one moved much more slowly. There aren’t a lot but this is definitely not the last bottle. I’m in no hurry to rip into the others.

Hop Pickles

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I made my first batch of pickles last year after starting to can an unexpected abundance of late season produce from the garden. They were so good with store bought cucumbers that I had to add cukes to our garden this year. I knew that hop pickles were a thing and though I’d never had them, I knew I had to make some. I got an unexpected abundance of early season pickling cucumbers this year and made a ridiculous amount of pickles. Unfortunately, the cuke plant wore itself out before the hop harvest.

I thought my dream of making hop pickles was going to have to wait another year. Fortunately, Amy got a bunch of overgrown cucumbers from a co-worker and I picked a few hop cones early to make my plan come to life.

After looking at a bunch of recipes online, all of which included beer, I decided to wing it. I made a spicy beer pickle early in the Summer and they are the only batch I’ve been disappointed by this year. I’m not looking for beer pickles, I want hop pickles. So I decided to strip things down as much as possible.

I should warn now that this is not a fully fleshed out recipe, if you haven’t guessed by now. It is also not a canning or pickling how to. If you’ve never canned or pickled before, there are plenty of great resources online. My biggest recommendations, though are the book Food in Jars and the website Old World Garden Farms.

If you’re still reading this, here is how I made these pickles. I sliced the cucumbers, then I filled individual pint jars, one at a time because I wasn’t sure how many I’d need. I added three freshly picked Cascade hop cones, one clove of garlic, a quarter teaspoon of crushed red pepper and half a teaspoon of store bought pickling spice and then filled them with cukes.

When I ran out of cucumbers, I ended up with five pints, I measured out vinegar and pickling salt to fill them and mixed them together in a pot as I brought the mixture to a boil. I always use apple cider vinegar, but I guess you could say that malt vinegar would be more appropriate. Again, though, I wanted hop pickles, not beer pickles.

After the vinegar boiled, I filled the empty space in the jars with it. With all of the jars ready to go, I put them in my already boiling processing pot for half an hour, then pulled them out to sit overnight and cool. All five lids popped within a few minutes of coming out of the boiling water.
So how did the pickles turn out? I don’t know. I’m going to give them two weeks in the jar and then, yes, I will have hop pickle tasting notes. My extremely basic recipe is below.

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Hop Pickles
In each pint jar: 3 Fresh Cascade Hop Flowers
1 Peeled and crushed Garlic Clove
1/2 tsp Pickling Spice
1/4 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
Fill with sliced Cucumber
Fill with boiled Vinegar and Pickling Salt brine

Process for 30 minutes in boiling water. Allow two weeks in jars before opening.

Evergreen Imperial IPA

 

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I think this DIPA from last Summer was the first time I really came up with a good IPA recipe. I skipped all the specialty grains and just added a bit of wheat extract for head retention. I added some corn sugar during fermentation to dry it out. Most importantly, I loaded up three ounces of dank hops in the last ten minutes of the boil and another three ounces in dry hop.

This was a dank, resinous, pine-forward ale with face puckering bitterness and enough alcohol to give the impression of balancing sweetness, despite it finishing extremely dry, which in turn kept it drinkable and cleaned up after itself. That was for the first month or so that I was drinking them, at least.

Then the batch gave up its first bottle bomb. Three more followed and the rest were just so over carbonated that half the beer would be lost upon opening a bottle.

An FG 1.010 with no visible activity in over a week should have been very safe to bottle this beer. The 10.6% ABV made me nervous about whether the third generation Nottingham yeast would be up to the task of carbonating this beast, though. As a result, I decided to add a packet of CBC-1 priming yeast.

I had never before and haven’t since used this yeast. I read up before and decided that I could just rehydrate it and add at bottling time. In the future, especially when using a yeast I’m not familiar with, I would add the bottle conditioning yeast a few days before bottling. If it kick starts fermentation, that could mean bottle bombs. If it doesn’t, then it will still be in there and ready to go to work on the priming sugar when you do bottle. More research has told me that the full packet of yeast was probably over pitching for a five gallon batch. Whatever happened, I’ve never had this issue before. It was very weird because I swear it happened overnight, well over a month after bottling. All at once, every bottle was extremely over carbonated.

Even after the gusher problem, this beer still smelled and tasted fantastic. I got into a routine of having a bottle every other Saturday after my midnight to noon shift. After working twelve hours overnight, I’d come home, put a frozen pizza in the oven and crack the cap half off a bottle of this in the sink. Then I’d go take a shower and when I was done, my pizza and beer were both ready to go spend some time with me on the couch before heading to bed.

Sure, by that point it was almost gritty with yeast and still extremely over carbonated… but it really did taste good.

Fruit Spectrum, the IPA I made this Summer and just bottled, is other side of the IPA coin. That beer has all the tropical and stone fruit tinted hops in one place. This one featured mainly piny hops, thus the names. I love the new Southern Hemisphere hops that are the stars of Fruit Spectrum, but for North American hops, the dank hops are my favorite. I also think that they work better in huge double IPAs.

IMG_20130619_163426Chinook, the only hop I used in both IPAs is, along with Centennial, THE classic IPA hop. Yes, Cascades were in a lot the early American IPAs and they still are, but to me, they define the American Pale Ale, as perfected by Sierra Nevada. You can just add more of them to make an IPA, but those have never been my favorite examples of the style. Chinook has some of the grapefruit flavor of Cascade hops, but is much heavier on pine. It is also one of the most powerful hops, in my experience. Chinook is one of the only hops that I’ve added only as a bittering hop early in the boil and still found that I could taste a bit of their distinct flavor in the finished beer.

Simcoe was the hot new hop for a few years and is still very popular, despite all of the new competition from Australia and New Zealand. This hop again shows some grapefruit and is dominated by pine, but it also has some unique fruitiness. Some complain about its “catty” and “piss” characteristics, but I haven’t experienced this when using the hops personally. I have heard that it is one of the hops that commercial brewers make extra sure to check out before buying as some crops do have these problems while others are delicious.

Columbus hops, which sometimes go by other names, are pure, dank, pine. I don’t find that they have the diverse and complex characteristics of some of the other hops, it is just all evergreens. That is not a bad thing when they’re mixed with other varieties. As I learned with Evidence, though, a single hop beer is probably not the best way to go with these hops. The other names the go by are Tomahawk and Zeus, or CTZ. From what I understand, all of these hops are identical strains, but they come from different farms. The slightly different weather, soil and farming practices cause them to have some distinct differences. I’ve only ever used Columbus, so I can’t really comment on how true that is. And you thought only wine was concerned with terrior?

Citra is the one hop variety that I used here which might cause some people to question my recipe. Yes, it is known for tropical fruit flavors along with, of course, citrus. I find that it does have some pine notes, though. I really think it comes through as a mirror image of Simcoe. They both of a very similar set of characteristics, but Simcoe leans more on the pine and Citra leans more on the fruit. As a result, I think they compliment each other very well.

With the hops out of the way, I’ll post the rest of the recipe below. This was a partial mash, BIAB batch. One more note, though. This was fermented with third generation Nottingham yeast. There was a short period of time when I was washing my yeast. For this batch, it worked out well as the yeast was very fresh and fermented vigorously, taking the beer to a very low finishing gravity. Later, I began having some issues with yeast washing and have decided that it isn’t really worth the time, but I’ll write about that another time.

EvergreenLabel

Evergreen Imperial IPA
Style: Double IPA
Brew Date: June 2, 2013
Serve Date: July, 2013
OG: 1.090
Expected FG: 1.009
Approximate ABV: 10.6%
IBUs: 158 (calculated, I’m sure its not actually nearly that high)

Fermentables:
7 lb American Pale Malt
7 lb Light LME
1 lb Wheat DME
1 lb Corn Sugar (added three days into primary fermentation)

Hops:
1 oz Chinook @ 60 min
1 oz Columbus @ 60 min
1 oz Citra @ 60 min
1 oz Chinook @ 20 min
1 oz Citra @ 15 min
1 oz Simcoe @ 10 min
2 oz Columbus @ Flameout
1 oz each Citra, Simcoe and Columbus dry hopped for 7 days

Yeast:
Nottingham for primary, CBC-1 for bottle conditioning

Notes:
Mashed at 152º for an hour, spent ten days in primary in a carboy, then racked to a bucket for secondary for the ease of dry hopping with all whole flower hops.

Grimmuss Irish Dry Stout Tasting Notes

IMG_3694 Original Post: Grimmuss
Style: English Barley Wine
Brew Date: February 6, 2013
Tasting Date: August 27, 2014
ABV: 4.3%
IBUs: 42

This bottle looked like it wasn’t quite as full as it should have been. From experience, I had a feeling that that would mean it was over carbonated and while it wasn’t a gusher, it did take a couple pours to get it all into my glass with the copious tan head.

I get a strong licorice aroma when I sniff said foam. This is a much more aggressive aroma than I’m used to from Dry Stouts. The aroma comes through in the flavor of the first sip, but the smooth roastiness also arrives.

This feels a bit heavy for a Dry Stout. There is more coffee and more malt, along with the licorice than the ubiquitous Guinness. This could be good or bad, depending on your preferences, but either way it doesn’t line up the style guidelines.

I’m not sure where the licorice is coming from. I remember that, even stronger, in my aging bottles of Val’s Portly Porter but I credited that to the molasses in that beer. I don’t remember this flavor in this beer when it was young.

The beer was a bit too hoppy for the style when it was fresh and I thought that it improved after about six months of aging. I was hoping it would still be aging gracefully, but this is definitely way past its prime. This beer was never great and it’s still not terrible. Despite changing more than expected over time, it has remained thoroughly middle-of-the-road.IMG_3696

I mentioned coffee. It tastes a bit stale. Not fresh, starting the day coffee, more just trying to get through the long afternoon several hours old coffee. And it is behind the licorice.

I believe this beer did finish fairly dry. Although it does get extra mouth feel from the flaked barley, I don’t remember it being this thick. It isn’t mouth coating like Maggie Moo’s Cocoa Cream Stout, but it’s not an easy drinking Guinness, either. The foam is right on target, though. It may have been a bit too voluminous in the beginning, but an appropriate amount has stuck it out down the the bottom third of the glass and it tickles on every sip. It is the best you could hope for without nitrogen dispensing.IMG_3697

The initial anise flavor threw me for a loop, but as the beer warms a bit (not too much, I didn’t give it much time) and I am now braced for it, it isn’t as bad as I thought. This beer is definitely past its prime, but as I’ve just shown myself, it is still quite drinkable. Beyond that, though it is very interesting to see how it has changed.

N.E. Pilsener

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This my second lager, after the first batch of Mount Hoodie. It was another partial mash, brew in a bag batch. The beer finished much drier than I expected, according to the hydrometer, but the taste and mouth feel didn’t show much of this.

I was worried because my intent was a Bohemian Pilsener, as opposed to the drier German Pilsners that seem to be more popular in American craft beer lately. I’m glad to see any Continental Pils getting attention is this ale dominated market, but it my trip to Prague the previous year that gave me a new appreciation for Bohemian, or Czech Pilsener.

Why beat around the bush? I’m talking about Pilsner Urquell. Yes, we can get it in American, and I’m very glad for that, but having it fresh, undamaged from the long journey across the ocean in green bottles was a revelation.

Pils is, of course, the original hoppy beer. The original Czech version doesn’t skimp on the malt, though. The ultra dry and bracingly bitter versions found in Northern Germany are refreshing and have their place, but I think that Pilsner Urquell is severely under appreciated in America.

It is hoppy, all Saaz hops, of course, but still balanced. The further you go north, the drier and hoppier the Pils gets. Bavarian Pils is still balanced and delicate, but a little drier. Moving up to Northern Germany and you will find the driest, hoppiest beers this side of San Diego (maybe a slight exaggeration…).

If you want to sample these styles, there are some good examples readily available around America. I’ve already mentioned Pilsner Urquell, which means “Pilsner from the original source” and it really is the original Pilsner, defining the Bohemian style. Warsteiner Premium Verum (usually just listed as “Warsteiner”) is a great example of Bavarian Pilsner that is not only easy to find, but is surprisingly affordable for an import. Jever and Bitburger are both great examples of North German Pilsners. I don’t see them around nearly as much, but any time I get a chance, I order either one that I stumble upon.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Pennsylvania, there are lots of great local breweries embracing their German heritage with great Pilsner. Stoudt’s Pils is one of the early American representations of German Pilsner. It leans mostly towards the Bavarian style. Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils is another great example that I find to be somewhere between the North and South German styles. My personal favorite though, is Victory’s Prima Pils. This is an extremely hoppy and aggressive North German style Pils that I’ve heard many people knock for these traits. If you haven’t had North German Pils, it is hard to believe that a German beer can be this hoppy, but Prima Pils really isn’t pushing far outside the style. People are more familiar with the Bavarian versions and the North German versions that do find their way from America have likely lost a lot of their fresh hop punch during the long trip.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Bohemian Pilsener among all those great American interpretations. That is why I wanted to make one. Traditionally, a decoction mash will help add maltiness and body to these beers. I was unable to do this with my BIAB method and, at least partially for that reason, ended up with a drier beer than I intended. I would maybe throw in some Melanoidin Malt in place of the Carapils to up the mouth feel and malt flavor if I were to do it again.

Traditionally, you should use all Saaz hops. The Alpha Acid content of Saaz hops is incredibly low, though. I opted for some Pearle hops early in the boil to achieve the necessary bitterness and just loaded up on a couple ounces of Saaz late in the boil. I don’t think this was an issue, but if you wanted to spend the extra money on several extra ounces of hops for bittering and then strain them out after the boil, I would salute you for it.

The other key for this beer is a clean fermentation. You don’t want to get any fermentation character in this beer. Tight temperature control is ideal. I, of course, did not have this. Despite all of this, my beer turned out quite well. I have a bottle that I’ve been saving to do tasting notes on. It is extremely past its best buy date, but I am anxious to give it a try. My recipe is below, but keep my notes from the last couple paragraphs in mind.

NEPilsnerLabel

N.E. Pilsener
Style: Bohemian Pilsener
Brew Date: February 20, 2013
Serve Date: April, 2013
OG: 1.053
Expected FG: 1.010
Approximate ABV: 5.7%
IBUs: 47

Fermentables:
6 lb German Pilsner
1 lb Carapils
3 lb Light DME

Hops:
.6 oz Pearle @ 60 min
1 oz Pearle @ 40 min
.5 oz Saaz @ 15 min
.5 oz Saaz @ 10 min
1 oz Saaz @ Flameout

Yeast:
Saflager W-34/70 (Weihenstephan)