Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beer makers don’t know how to make cider

My husband showed me this forum called Home Brew Talk. There happens to be a forum on wine, mead, and cider there. I’ve been following all three, learning when I can, and helping others if I know.

What I have learned is that beer makers don’t know how to make cider. Yes, I’ve probably made some enemies stating that, but I have my reasons.

First off, beer makers try to have cider drinkable within weeks because that is how beer is made. Because it is made out of fruit like wine, apple needs to be aged like wine. It is possible with the right materials in the right environment to bottle cider in a month, but it needs time to age.

Secondly, partly because there was an Apple Wine recipe that gained popularity on the site, they think they have to add sugar to make cider. This process is called chaptalising, where sugar is added out of fear there is not enough natural sugar in the grapes or fruit being used. My generic wine recipe calls for it, as wine is at least 10% alcohol. Cider is around 7% naturally, and adding sugar raises the alcohol, and therefore bumps it into the wine category. One person on the forum responded that commercial cider makers do add sugar. My rebuttal is simple – craft cider makers spend soooo much time figuring out what kind of apples to grow, caring for the trees, picking the apples, grinding them, and pressing out the juice that they are not going to add sugar after all that work. They want to taste their labor, not cover it up. It is the ciders who use concentrate juice are the ones that are going to add sugar.

Last of all, there is the idea of cold crashing. It is possible with some strains of beer yeast to kill off all the yeast by cooling the beer in a refrigerator, allowing the brewer to add back sugar without fear of it starting to ferment again. For starters, some craft cider makers working out of their home or sheds or whatever have their tanks outside or in unheated buildings. If it freezes, no big deal – it will start fermenting again when it thaws. In fact, they embrace the lower temperatures, claiming it improves taste. There is even a method called keeving where they strip the juice of its nutrients, and then ferment it at 5⁰C, which is 41⁰ F – about the temperature of a refrigerator. Point to all this is, cider doesn’t cold crash, and so these naïve beer makers attempt it and then wonder why their cider exploded when they added sugar as a sweetener.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Make Fruit Wine

To make cider or wine, you need a fruit or fruit juice source. Most wine supply stores sell kits that have what you need for this. Or, the other alternative is to use the following method:

Fruit wine from fruit
3 lbs of fruit in a mesh bag
1 gallon of water
2 lbs of sugar or honey

Fruit wine or Cider from Juice
1 gallon juice – can be from concentrate, but fresh is better
1 lb of sugar or 1 ½ lb of honey – leave out if doing cider

Additional ingredients
¼ tsp of acid blend or the juice from 2 lemons if needed
½ tsp Pectic Enzyme recommended
½ tsp potassium metasulfite
1 packet of wine yeast

Heat one quart of water or juice warm enough to dissolve the sugar or honey, then set it aside to cool. Sanitize the jug or primary fermenter with a ¼ tsp potassium metasulfite and water solution per the instructions. If using fruit, put it in a mash bag and mash it up inside the primary fermenter. Add the sugar water/juice solution and enough water or juice to fill one gallon. Test the pH and the acid blend or lemon juice to lower it to the desirable pH between 3.2 and 3.8 and close the container. When the temperature of the batch is no warmer than 75⁰ F, add the pectic enzyme and cover it. Let it sit for 12 hours before adding the potassium metasulfite and covering it once again. Let it sit another 24 hours before adding the yeast and putting on an airlock. The airlock should start to show some activity around 24-48 hours later, but let it be for a week if it does not before tossing it. After about two weeks, rack the batch off of the lees into another bottle. After another two weeks, bottle the batch, and let it sit for about 3 months.

The directions for making cider are about the same, except that fresh apple juice is used and no extra sugar or honey is added. I cannot stress this point enough. Maybe I’ve been hanging around Cider Workshop too much. My husband’s beer making online research stumbled into a page which just happened to have a forum on cider, in which beer makers are rushing the batches and are worried that the ½ cup of sugar they added to a five gallon carboy of cider isn’t enough. It frustrates me, because real cider contains no added sugar, so their half cup is too much.

For more information, please consult The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey or Cider: Making, Using, Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols. These books go into much greater detail than I have here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cleaning Bottles

Right before I bottled my first batch, I decided to purchase a Bottle Rinser and Bottle Tree. I was very glad that I did, as they are a time and space saver.

The Bottle Rinser, which can be found for about $15 is a plastic bowl with a spring pump in the middle. The bowl is filled up with a sanitizing solution, and the bottle mouth is placed over the pump. Pushing down on the bottle causes the pump to squirt the sanitizing solution up into the bottle. It is much faster than trying to clean it myself, plus it uses less water and therefore less sanitizer. I use a simple potassium metasulfite solution, while my husband uses Star San, an acid based no rinse sanitizer found at the brew supply store.

The Bottle Tree is a plastic pole with a wide base and little pegs coming out of the pole. Each sterilized bottle mouth is put on a peg so that any sanitizing fluid in it can drain out. The base is designed in such a way that it can hold some fluid without spilling on to the counters. A small Bottle Tree holds 45 bottles and costs about $20, and a large one holds 90 bottles and costs about $32. Personally, I’m nervous to have that tall of a tree that can hold 90 bottles at once, so I use the 45 bottle tree. Maybe I would feel different if we were doing larger batches. All I know is that I don’t have to figure out how to keep sanitized bottles clean yet let them drain out.

The Bottle Rinser is designed to be placed on top of the Tree, but I don’t do that because I find it easier to work down on the counter. I also am afraid of pushing down on the Rinser and accidentally tipping the Tree, even though it has a wide base.

If you keep used bottles for bottling, make sure to wash them out after using. This will get the previous contents out and any germs from the drinker. Plus, it will remove the contents that would attract bugs, especially fruit flies. Since the Bottle Rinser contains and sanitizing solution, it will not clean the bottles or remove any particles. I wash my bottles with dish washing solution and a bottle brush, though my husband is nervous about what dish washing soap might do to his beer. I also have a bottle brush to help scrub at the insides if need be, but it is easier to clean them when you finished using them before anything dries or cakes on.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Capping or Corking

There are several kinds of bottles and several kinds of ways to seal it. I’ve only worked with beer and wine bottles so far, so I’ll talk about those.

For home brewing of beer and cider, beer bottles work just fine, but they should not be screw type openings for capping. Bottling them is as fairly simple. A couple of caps are boiled to sanitize them, and possibly even make the rubber ring in them swell to make a better seal. The caps should be allowed to cool so that they can be handled without being hurt. My husband got a capper in which a magnet holds the cap. It is then set on the bottle, and the two levers crimp it down on the bottle. Fairly simple.

For wine bottles, there are corks. The method is similar, where you boil some corks and then use a corker to force the cork inside the bottle. The cheapest corker runs a little less than $10, where you load the cork into a chute, place it on the bottle, and then use a rubber mallet to get the cork into the bottle. This did not sound ideal for me.

The guy who let me try his homemade mead actually grew up on his family’s vineyard and winery, and he told me not to go buy the $20 corker, and yet that is what I did. It mimics the industrial corkers in that you use two levers to compress the cork, and then a third lever to force the cork into the bottle. He warned me that it would take two people, but sometimes I find that I can do it myself.

There was a third variety offered to me that was about $30, and it was a double leaver corker that worked a little more sophisticated than the rubber mallet method. I didn’t care for that kind, and the store clerk didn’t think too highly of it, either.

Once I had decided on a corker, it was time for me to buy cork. Low and behold, they were out of real corks, and only had plastic corks. If given the choice, I wouldn’t have bought the plastic ones because real cork is biodegradable. However, I have to say that the plastic ones are growing on me. The biggest pro I see to them is that they don’t require the bottle to be laid on its side to keep the cork wet. If there is still fermentation going on and the buildup of CO2, corks can be forced out. I would think that a bottle stored standing up would create less of a mess than a bottle laid on its side. Plastic corks also seem fairly easy to cork by myself after I got the hang of it.

There are other kinds of closures, such as the champagne mushroom cork held down with wire. I suggest consulting books and your local supply store to see if you want to work with an alternative method.

It is also recommended that when you are capping or corking to boil a few more than what you will need in case something goes wrong – you drop them, they break, refuse to work, bend funny, etc.

Someday, if I really do open a winery, I’ll have to buy the Floor Corker Machine, which will cost me about $125, but I would think it would be easier on your hands to use.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


In my last post, I said that when the must clears, there is another layer of lees, and the airlock stops bubbling, that it is time to bottle. However, before bottling a batch, test it first with the hydrometer to make sure all the sugar is gone. If there is some present and the yeast continue to work on it in a bottle, the pressure from the released CO2 could cause the bottle to explode. I also rack one more time minutes before bottling so that I don’t have to worry about sucking up lees when bottling. Using a hydrometer, a batch is ready to be bottled if it is 1.005 or less. If it is ready, it needs to be chemically treated to ensure it stops fermenting so that it does not release any more CO2 and create a “bottle bomb.”

Bottling works just the same as racking, only instead of having a second jug, there are bottles to fill up. When I bottle, I put the sterilized bottles on a chair with a large towel that I don’t care if it gets stained or not. The sterilized bottles are lined up to make it easier to process. I rack by either putting a clamp on the siphon tubing so that I can stop the flow and move my tubing to the next bottle, or I use a bottling wand. I got mine from my local supply store, and it is a tube with a ball in the bottom that has a little rod sticking out. Gravity and the force of the flow will push the ball down, blocking the flow, but when it is placed in the bottom of a bottle, the rod pushes the ball up, allowing liquid though.

When bottling, keep the hose or wand at the bottom to prevent splashing and too much contact with air. Fill the bottle as full as possible and then remove the hose or wand. The level will drop since the hose or wand was taking up space. Ideally, the bottle should only have half an inch to one inch of space between the top of the fluid to the cap or cork to minimize the amount of air in the bottle, or headspace.

I find bottling easier to do with two people. One person bottles while the other person takes away the full bottles and replaces them with new bottles. The second person may even have enough time to cork or cap the bottles, depending on the equipment. If there is only one person available for bottling, I highly recommend sterilizing a plate so that the tubing that goes in the bottle can be set down without contamination or the need to sterilize it again.

I should note that this is the method used for making a dry still drink, like wine. I’ll talk about how to make the drink sweet or carbonated in a later blog.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


When I was talking about air being the enemy of cider, I mentioned that when there is no more sugar in the batch, the yeast die and fall to the bottom in process called flocculation and create lees. The lees will be a pile of sediment in the bottom of the jug, which will be easy to see if the jug is clear. If there is no more air passing though the airlock, then it is time to move to the next step of the wine and cider making process of racking.

Racking is siphoning the liquid, now called must, off of the lees. If it is not done, the must will take on an unpleasant flavor from the lees. I once heard a cider maker say something about he had never lost a batch of cider racking to early, but he had lost a batch from racking too late. I use that piece of advice in my winemaking.

It is easiest to take the jug and place it on the counter and leave it for a few minutes so that any disturbed lees can sink to the bottom again. A second container that has been sterilized will be placed at a lower elevation from the first container, such as on a chair or on the floor. I prefer a chair because I don’t have to bend down as much, it is easier to see, and it doesn’t require the hose to be as long or as much worry about it coming out. From here, there are two methods. The cheaper method is to take a sterilized hose and put it in the first container above the lees. After swishing your mouth with vodka to “sterilize” you mouth, drop down and begin sucking on the other end of the tube gently to start the siphoning process, and then place the other end in the second container. The better way to siphon is to purchase a siphon device from the supply store, sterilize it, and follow the directions provided.

Try to avoid splashing when racking to avoid contact with air to help prevent oxidization, which dulls the flavor. Pull the tub or siphon out of the first jug slightly before it would suck up any lees. Place an airlock on the second container and set it aside. After the first racking, the must may still be a little hazy and it may continue to push CO2 though the airlock, which is okay. After a few weeks or even months, if pectic enzyme was added, the must will clear, the airlock will stop bubbling, and there will be another layer of lees present. Then it is time for bottling.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Primary Fermenter

In my attempt to make a peach wine, I used pitchers to put my fruit in mesh bags into with liquid to start fermenting, and I used cotton balls to act sort of as an airlock. After that whole ordeal, I went to my local supply store and asked for a small primary fermenter. Most primary fermenters are buckets with lids on them which can be sold in three or six gallon sizes. Part of the reason I did not pick one up before was because the lid looked wrong to me. There was no place to put an airlock! I mentioned this to the sale’s clerk, and he said they have a special drill to put a hole in the lid that an airlock will fit into. I just finished up a strawberry wine in the primary fermenter last week, and it looked and smelled good, and I now have a bell pepper/peach wine started in it. After about a week in that kind of container, it is best to remove the fruit, which is why a mesh sack in a bucket works, and move the liquid into a glass bottle or carboy for small batches. These allow you to see into the liquid, noting the color, clarity, and presence of lees.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Order a Home Orchard Society Make-A-[Fruit]Tree by December 31, 2009

I forgot that I need to give a plug for the Home Orchard Society. They are a group who are centered out of Portland, Oregon. They have several forums on their website, along with some other useful things such as Mason Bees, some eBooks about rootstock, apple diseases, and apple blooming, along with some articles on other topics.

Why I really needed to put the plug in was because they will take custom orders for trees for $12 up until December 31, 2009. You tell them what kind of tree you want, and you tell them what kind of rootstock you want it on, and they will build it for you. You just have to go pick it up at their annual Fruit Propagation Fair/Scion Exchange in March at the Hillsboro Fairgrounds. Take a look at

Should have blogged about this earlier in case this would be a good Christmas present…

Read the Labels

I was poking though my freezer a few months ago and discovered several packages of peaches my mother has bought, cut up, and froze for me. I got out my copy of The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry A Garey and looked up how to make a peach wine. Well, things didn’t go so well.

First off, I needed to put the peaches in a mesh bag, and put that in a primary fermenter and let them sit for a week with yeast. I didn’t have a primary fermenter, let alone a small one, so I used two juice pitchers and plugged the spouts with cotton balls to mimic something like an airlock, as sometimes the books say to use a cotton-wool bung. I have asked my local supply store for a cotton-wool bung, but sometimes we just don’t see eye to eye, and this is one of them. They didn’t have any.

Originally, I made up a batch and realized I over sugared it, but then I realized it wouldn’t fit into one pitcher, so I split it into two pitchers, added more water and peaches, and figured out the potential alcohol of each. Then I took the pH of both pitchers. My first batch of apple wine called for the juice of two lemons or some concentrate lemonade to lower the pH. This time, I went with lemonade, and got my pH to the desired level.

At the end of a week, I was suppose to remove the peaches and put the remaining liquid into a glass jug and fit it with an airlock. I went to test the potential alcohol at this time to make sure things were progressing as they should. I got the exact same number as when I started, which meant that the yeast did nothing for an entire week. Something was very wrong.

My hypothesis is that the lemonade I added to lower the pH contained some sort of preservative, which killed the yeast, and no amount of fussing with it would make it alive to start fermenting. When I bought the lemonade, I checked the ingredients on the label, but I’m not completely convinced there wasn’t any preservatives present. Since then, I have bought a powdered acid blend to lower the pH from my supply store, and any time I buy juice or processed fruit, I make sure it specifically says no preservatives.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Adding Pectic Enzyme

I have mentioned before the addition of pectic enzyme. It is a chemical which breaks down pectin, a gelling agent found naturally in apples. In fact, to make jams or jellies, pectin is added to make the fruit gel. However, for cider and wine, pectin creates a haze.

Remember my second batch, the one made out of Whole Foods Apple Juice in a glass jug? More specifically, I’m talking about the one I just dumped yeast in and let it turn to cider. Well, I didn’t add pectic enzyme to it, and the results show just looking at it. It is a very cloudy drink. In a normal fermentation, when the sugar is gone, the yeast dies and falls to the bottom and becomes what is called lees. If I had added pectic enzyme, the solids causing the juice to be cloudy would have fallen to the bottom at the same time, and I would have been left with clear cider.

Why couldn’t I add the pectic enzyme later? Well, it turns out that the enzyme really doesn’t work well in the presence of alcohol, so it wouldn’t do me any good.

At this point, my choices are to filter it, or drink it as it is. I’m not really looking to buy a filter at the moment, and I don’t want to increase the amount of air my cider will have contact with. Since it will probably just be my husband and I drinking it, I’ll risk the cloudiness. FYI, unfiltered cider is called scrumpy cider, though I’m not completely sure that is what I have on my hands here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wine & Cider pH

When I was describing the differences between making beer, wine, and cider, I mentioned that they have different pH levels. A quick refresher, pH is measured on a scale of 0-14, where 7 is the middle and is neutral, such as water or milk. Things above 7 are considered basic, such as baking soda, lye, and chlorine, and things below 7 are considered acidic, such as lemons or vinegar. Now, beer, wine, and cider are all acidic, but to different degrees. In my case, I need to make wines and ciders in the 3.2-3.8 pH range. Anything more acidic (less than 3.2) will make it taste funny, which is what could be plaguing my cinnamon cranberry apple cider. Anything more towards neutral (greater than 3.8) could allow bacteria to grow and also have off flavors

Wine supply stores sell pH testing strips, which are great to have around. If the batch needs to be more acidic, lemon juice or acid blends also available at supply stores will help lower the pH. If the batch is too acidic already, the best advice is to try and find other fruit that is less acidic to averaging the pH of the batch.

I am aware that grape wines have three different kinds of acid already present, and that only one of those acids are really desirable, so there are special kits to test for this. However, other fruit do not contain all three of these acids, and so a simple pH test is all that is really needed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cinnamon Cranberry Apple Cider Follow Up #1

After bottling the cinnamon cranberry apple cider, I tried looking up what was wrong. However, the common “sicknesses” as they are called didn’t seem to apply to what I was observing on this batch.

I pulled out my notes on the batch and began writing to the Cider Workshop to see if they had any ideas to what I was observing. My notes did indicate that the pH at the beginning was 3.0, which could be a cause for the off flavors. I will explain more in a later post. However, the group came back to me and indicated that cinnamon is a fickle thing to brew with, and that it might be why it seems a little off. There does seem to be a little hope if I let it age a year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cinnamon Cranberry Apple Cider

Tonight, I bottled my cinnamon cranberry apple cider. About a year ago, my husband and I had a little dinner party, and I put some apple juice with a little bit of cranberry juice in a crock pot with a few cinnamon sticks, just like my mother used to do. Only thing is, I don’t remember it being this tasty! So this year, I decided to see if I could ferment it. It ended up being 3 parts apple juice from Whole Foods, 1 part “Just Cranberry” juice and a few cinnamon sticks in the crock pot overnight. From there, I cooled it, took out the cinnamon, and added all the goodies to make a cider. No sugar – I decided this one was for casual drinking and didn’t need the added alcohol or masking of the flavor. You can really smell the cranberry, and the taste is on the front end, but I’m a tad worried. There is a bit of an off flavor, and I don’t know if it was from cooking it, or if I have another problem going on. I hope it ages out.

It was also very dry, so I added a bit of Splenda because it won’t start fermenting again. Right now, I’m a little bit shaky when it comes to back sweetening things. I did the same thing with my first batch, but I got to talking to some people who seemed to think I might have over done it. This time, I held back, and maybe that wasn’t such a smart thing to do, either. I really want to use sugar or honey, but I’m nervous about exploding bottles. I need to take some classes.

All in all, I still have another jug of that apple juice, so I wonder if I should restart the batch but don't cook it this time. It might give me a better feel of what cooking does to the flavor.

Actually, before I bottled my cider, I first helped my husband bottle a batch of hefeweizen he had brewing. It was done up as a five gallon batch, in which we then racked into five 1-gallon glass jugs to get it off of the lees to make it easier to bottle. From there, he left one alone and added cherry, raspberry, and mango extracts and some POM pomegranate juice to the last. The mango extract has been with us longer and suffered some summer heat during the move to the new house, so it feel to the bottom. Since he also added POM juice, it was decided that those two should be airlocked again and we would only bottle 3 gallons.

Potential Alcohol

The fermentation equation:
C6H12O6 -> 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2
Fermentation converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In my last post, I talked CO2, so I’m going to focus a little more on the creation of alcohol in this post.

The yeast will eat sugar, fructose, corn sugar, or honey to create alcohol. These types of sugars, when added to water, make water become thicker. There is a device called a hydrometer that can be placed in the solution. The thicker the solution, the more the hydrometer rises, and it sinks the thinner the solution is. Water will measure in at 1.000, and a finished dry wine will be a little less than that. This measurement is called Specific Gravity, often noted as SG.

So at the beginning, before yeast is added to the batch, a sample is taken in which the sugar content is found with an SG measurement. There are tables that then say for a given SG at a particular temperature, the yeast’s potential to convert sugar to alcohol will be x amount. This is important because it allows the brewer to know how strong of a drink it will become.

Further tests can be taken to know when the drink is done fermenting, as there will be no more sugar remaining. Also, sometimes the yeast quit working for a little bit, at which point it is “stuck”. Doing the test allows the brewer to recognize this problem and modify it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Air is the enemy

Air is the ultimate enemy of cider, wine, and beer. More specifically, oxygen is the enemy of cider, wine, and beer. Every time a batch is made, all attempts to reduce the amount of air in the fermenting container, called headspace, is made.

Let me put it this way – if you bite into an apple, it starts to brown. This is called oxidization. If you put it down and don’t do anything with it, it might start to rot or mold. For that to happen, there needs to be little germs to eat the sugar and breathe oxygen. That is how a compost bin works, along with other bugs and critters to help the process along.

For brewing, I don’t want it to rot, I want it to ferment. Yeast needs sugar, but it does not need oxygen to work. I don’t need oxygen around my liquid, where, if there are any little germs in my liquid, it could allow them to breathe and ruin my drink. If that happens, it will smell and taste funny, or even turn to vinegar.

So after the brew is put into a container to ferment, with as little head space as possible, with the opening plugged. If everything goes right, the yeast will start to eat the sugar and convert it to alcohol and CO2. When the yeast first starts going to work, it releases CO2 so quickly that it can blow the plug out of the container, or it can even shatter glass due to the pressure build up. Instead, the plug is fitted with what is called an airlock or a blow off. There are two main kinds of airlocks, but both of them force the exiting air from the jug to pass though water and does not allow outside air, especially oxygen, back in. Actually, it is better to use cheap vodka instead of water in the airlocks for sanitization reasons. I had a batch that you could smell the juice on the escaping air, and it attracted fruit flies, and they managed to get into the air lock. I have heard stories of the pressure inside the fermenter dropping and sucking back the fluid in the airlock, so sucking back vodka that had killed the fruit flies and whatever nasty little germs they carried would be preferred to sucking back water with dead fruit flies and live nasty little germs they carried to ruin your batch, as having no oxygen present is not a guarantee that everything will be fine.

I mentioned a blow off. My husband’s first five gallon batch of beer started bubbling so fiercely that the little airlock could barely keep up. He had to remove the airlock and hook up a hose to the plug, and he stuck the other end in a pitcher of water with iodine, which is one of the sanitizers beer brewers use. It worked the same way as an airlock with the escaping gases passing though the water-iodine solution. In this case, he had to monitor it to make sure the pressure didn’t drop enough to suck the water-iodine solution back into his beer. Actually, after about two days, the yeast don’t have as much sugar since they have been eating it, and so the process begins to slow, at which point, the blow off can be removed and an airlock can be put in place again.

There is one other useful thing about CO2. Have you ever combined an acid like vinegar or lemon juice with baking soda? It has a chemical reaction and bubbles, releasing CO2. If you took a candle and placed it in a jar and then lit it, and then did this solution in another jar, you can “pour” the CO2 from the second jar into the first jar with the candle in it. The candle will “drown” in CO2 and go out because the CO2 displaces the oxygen the candle needs to burn. This shows that CO2 is a heaver gas than most air. It sinks, hence the reason it could be poured, and the reason it stayed in the jar to extinguish the candle. This is a good thing when I have to remove the plug from fermenting container to take a sample for measurements. It isn’t foolproof, but the CO2 should stay in the container near the liquid, and protecting it from the potential oxygen in the newly exposed air.

One last note about airlocks and air: I picked up from Andrew Lea was to put a little bit of food coloring in the air lock. This makes it easier to see the air passing through it. This is important because when there is no more sugar, the yeast die and fall to the bottom in what is called lees, so no more CO2 will be given off. If there is no more CO2 being given off, no more air will pass though the airlock, and it is time to move to the next step of the wine and cider making process.

Next Trials

I didn’t wait for my first batch of apple wine to finish before I started my second and third batch. I was at Whole Foods when I discovered they were selling Organic Apple Juice in glass jugs for $8.99. A glass jug costs me $4.75 from my local wine and brew supply store, so I was really only paying $4.24 for the juice. The label read that it was pasteurized, but unfiltered, and nothing was added. This last piece of information is very important, because if there are ANY preservatives present in the juice, the yeast will not go, and therefore, fermentation will not take place. The fact that it is pasteurized is okay with me at this point, but it does reduce my total fermentation time and will affect the flavor in the end.

The label also said it was made with Golden Delicious, Gala, Braeburn, and Red Delicious apples from Sonoma county and Washington State, where I am from. The apple blend is interesting. It is a good blend for fresh drinking, but for cider, only the Delicious apples of that blend would have been used. I’ll explain more on that in future posts, but for now know that apples are usually classified as eaters, dessert, cookers, good for sauce, or good for cider. Braeburn and Gala apples are eaters and dessert apples that have not been around long enough for cider use, though I do know of one local cidery that uses Braeburns for fresh juice, but not in their cider. However, there seems to be a split idea of what apples are good apples for cider out there. Tradition says stick to traditional apples, yet my email group will tell me not to be afraid to try new apples.

Anyway, I bought two jugs of this juice and brought it home. I really didn’t do anything to the first jug but add some yeast to it and start it fermenting as a cider. The second one I added sugar to, but being my first attempt on my own, it took me a little bit to figure out how much, and I struggled with it. Eventually, I got it where I wanted it, and sent it on its merry way fermenting. My overall goal with these two jugs was to find out how different the same juice might taste at different alcohol strengths, which I won’t find out for a few months.

More recently, I bought another jug of it and then added some pure cranberry juice (no preservatives) at a 3:1 ratio, and I put in a few cinnamon sticks before letting it ferment as a cider. I'll bottle that batch this coming weekend. So many experiments that I won’t know the outcome for a few months.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Differences between Wine, Beer, and Cider

So what is the difference between wine, beer, and cider? Simply put, wine is at about 12-18% alcohol, beer is made from grains and hops and is about 6 to now pushing 9% alcohol, and cider is made from apples and is about the same alcohol content as beer. However, cider is made in the same fashion as wine even though it is at a weaker strength.

I’ll admit, I don’t know much about beer. That would be my husband’s department. He is getting ready to bottle his second batch after watching me ferment cider and wine and becoming jealous. What I have observed, however, is that he puts various hops and grains in warm water and lets them seep like tea for almost an hour, a process which makes it tedious for making batches less than five gallons. He has to be very meticulous about cleaning and sanitizing, and some normal soaps cannot be used due to residues. Beer also tends to be at a milder pH than cider and wine, and all in all, a batch is ready for drinking in six weeks.

Wine and cider both use juice, or reconstituted juice, and are not cooked. Sanitizing is still important, but seems to not to get as sick, in my experience, due to the more acidic pH. Unfortunately for impatient people, a batch of wine or cider will not be ready for drinking for several months.

What happens during fermentation is that yeast eat the sugar and convert it to CO2 and alcohol. Because grapes, the traditional material for wine, have a higher sugar content than apples, the traditional material for cider, the finished product then has more alcohol, hence the difference between the two. In the case of my first batch being and apple wine, I had to add sugar to increase the amount present for the yeast to convert.

My First Batch

I started my first batch in early October, which I followed from The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry A Garey. Garey, who I think is a woman, starts her reader off with a simple apple wine where she doesn’t make the reader go buy all the equipment in the world, and the primary ingredients are apple juice concentrate, fresh lemons, sugar, and wine yeast. All that is need is a pot, a gallon jug, a funnel, and some sulfite for sanitizing.

Eventually, I did go buy potential alcohol testing equipment, acid supplements to use instead of lemons, a siphon and tubing, pH testers, yeast nutrients, tannin, and some pectic enzyme along with bottles, corks, and a corker, and many more gallon jugs. I’m now on my sixth batch.

How did my first batch turn out? Well, I thought I would open up one bottle around Christmas, which would be a little over three months since I started fermenting it. However, I am aware that it probably needs another three months or longer aging. It is kind of ironic that here I am, trying to figure out if I have a knack for doing this or not, and I can’t even test my “experiments” until months later. Good thing I am organized, so taking notes is not a problem.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Books on making wine or cider

I was on my honeymoon when I started reading about how to make cider. I used to live in a little studio just blocks away from a library. I found that going to the library was free entertainment, and I didn’t have to worry about storing the books that I might never read again. Now I own my house, and I still go to the library to check out books, but sometimes it is to “test drive” a book. I got my hands on every cider and wine making book I could, and then I determined if it was worthy of me purchasing it, or continue to check it out.

Turns out, there aren’t a whole lot of books written about making cider, and I pretty much ended up purchasing near all of them, including:

  • Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, Third Edition by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols
  • Cider, Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own, Second Edition by Ben Watson
  • Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax
  • Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea

I have to say out of those books, I tend to use Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea the most. Some of that is because I accidentally stumbled on a cider group based out of the UK which Andrew is very much a part of, so I’ve had opportunities to chat with Andrew. However, even Andrew admits that the biggest flaw of his book was that the publisher did not put an index in it, but his website seems to kind of make up for the flaw.

I’ll admit, the process of making cider really didn’t click until I probably read my first wine book. I think it was because it was more tangible. The Encycolpedia of Home Winemaking – Fermentation and Winemaking Methods by Pierre Drapeau and Andre Vanasse (translated into English) had some flow charts of how to make different styles of wine (sparkling or still) out of different materials (grapes, juice, wine concentrate kits, etc). That’s when it clicked. I haven’t bought this book yet as some of the reviews on Amazon weren’t very impressed with this book for advanced users, and I was afraid I would outgrow it very quickly. Our local beer and wine supply store uses Home Wine Making Step by Step by Jon Iverson, which I put on my Christmas list. There are many more books on making grape wines that I barely even glanced at.

I did buy The Joy of Home Wine Making by Terry A Garey, which has been my go to book for wine so far, but I’ll be trying things out of Making Wild Wines & Meads: 125 Unusual Recipes Using Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & More by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling soon. There are other books out there, as I currently have from the library The Complete Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine From Your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations by Ken Schramm. I also see that just this month, a book called 101 Recipes for Making Wild Wines at Home: A Step-by-step Guide to Using Herbs, Fruits, and Flowers by John Peragine was released. Thing is, I was looking at the non-grape wines and realized that there is a pretty simple formula in which one can swap ingredients, but rarely change the amounts. Once you see the pattern, one can be as creative as they want to without trying to hunt down the recipe. I have yet to try making a mead, but I did recently buy the honey I would need for it.

I realize that I should warn my readers that when I say “cider”, I mean “hard cider.” This is the British definition of the word, but Prohibition seemed to make us Americans morph the term into meaning either hard cider or sweet cider, as in something very similar to apple juice. What is the difference between sweet apple cider and apple juice? Well, sweet apple cider is unfiltered, so it is a cloudy dark brown color, where as apple juice is filtered into a clear yellow-orange colored juice.

The Beginning

What am I going to blog about? I am planning on documenting what I hope is a beginning of starting my own business of selling fruit wine and cider.

The idea was a slow growing one. I was raised on a farm, but live and work in the city. The recession was coming on, and I'm always looking for ways to do things myself to save a buck. You know, go back to the basics. I moved in with my boyfriend in a house in the suburbs, and finally got to grow a garden. After my boyfriend was upgraded to fiancé, we went to a local distillery, and I was really impressed, thinking, this would be awesome to do myself, but I didn't really do anything about it. However, there was a man in our tour group who said he had brewed cider, and I thought that would be a better starting point since my parents have about six apple trees on their property. Free material source!

I got a hold of some books on cider and started reading them on my honeymoon since I now had time with the wedding being over. I was strictly thinking of doing it as a hobby at this point. There was one day, however, where I was jealous of my husband's summers off from teaching, and the increased recession fears that my new boss didn't know what to do with me and was going to let me go. This idea of having a winery suddenly popped into my head, and I've kind of obsessed with the idea since, knowing that I wouldn't get summers off.

My winery would not sell grape wine because that can be found anywhere. Instead, I draw my inspiration from Shallon Winery in Astoria, OR. It is run by an old gentleman who makes the most wonderful fruit wines, including a cranberry whey wine and a chocolate orange wine. Last time I was there, before I had my idea, I asked what would happen upon his death, as it would be a terrible thing to lose his recipes. Now I hope that I could purchase at least the cranberry whey wine recipe from him.

It has been about four months since I began my hobby research, and now I am beginning to blog about it. I hope you will watch as I try to turn this little hobby into a business.