Friday, January 29, 2010

Back Sweetening

Let’s say that you weren’t monitoring the wine or cider batch and the yeast ate all the sugar until the yeast died and the batch tastes dry, but you wanted it sweet. The solution to the problem is called back sweetening.

First off, the yeast should be verified as dead, which can be done by adding potassium sorbate or pasteurizing. From there, sugar or juice can be added to make it sweet. This technique is used with making ciders flavored with other fruits.

In his book Craft Cider Making, Andrew Lea talks about making sweet ciders, “If you want to sweeten dry ciders with added sugar (or with frozen or concentrated apple juice) but you do not want to pasteurise or filter them, it is important that they should be racked and stored for several months after fermentation is complete, to allow the yeast to die out completely before the sugar is added. Otherwise the risk of re-fermentation is considerable. The chances of re-fermentation can be reduced by the addition of yeast inhibitors such as potassium sorbate and benzoate at levels up to 200 ppm. (Both these materials occur naturally in rowan berries and cranberries respectively). Potassium sorbate may be bought from home winemaking suppliers. It is most effective if combined with say 50 ppm of SO2 added at the same time. If the cider is to be sold, however, a total of 200 ppm for the sum of sulphite and sorbate must not be exceeded."

I should note that you do not need to add potassium sorbate to a dry wine or cider if you decide to back sweeten with an artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda). Most artificial sweeteners are not edible by yeast, so there is no risk that fermentation will start up again. However, using artificial sweeteners is sometimes frowned upon as not being natural, affecting the texture of the cider or wine, causing the wine or cider to have an aftertaste and off flavors, and some even claim it gives them headaches to consume such a product, so consider these issues before deciding to use artificial sweeteners.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kill the Yeast

In my last post, I said in order to obtain a sweet cider, the yeast needs to be killed to prevent it from eating any more sugar. There are several ways to do this, including the use of potassium sorbate or pasteurizing.

I have stressed that when picking out sources to make wine and cider from that it needs to be preservative free because the preservatives will prevent the yeast from fermenting. Now, when the yeast is towards the end of fermentation, preservatives in the form of potassium sorbate help kill the yeast to stop fermentation. [Edit: Potassium sorbate does not kill yeast. It prevents it from multiplying. Therefore, when fermentation is done and there is no sugar left, potassium sorbate blocks the dieing yeast from eating at any new sugar added.]

If you don’t want to add chemicals, the other option to kill the yeast is by pasteurizing. Andrew Lea describes the process as follows: “The sweetened bottled cider can then be batch pasteurised on a domestic scale in tanks of hot water e.g. at 68o C for 20 minutes, although it is much more efficient to use a proper flow-through heat exchanger operating at 90o C with a residence time of 30 seconds so that the pasteurised cider is filled directly into warmed bottles. Equipment of this sort does not come cheap and can usually only be justified in the context of a commercial operation.”

In Cider: Hard and Sweet, Ben Watson recommends having a mixture that reads 1.010 on a hydrometer, bottling it, and then possibly waiting a few days before pasteurizing. With “a large kettle on the stovetop, or in a metal tub or livestock trough that’s set over a propane burner outdoors, place the capped bottles in the water bath; the water should come up to the fill line on the necks. Fill one bottle with water that’s at about the same temperature or cooler than the cider, and leave it uncapped, with a thermometer inserted into it. Heat the water in the tub or kettle until the thermometer in the test bottle reads 150⁰F (65⁰C) for 10 to 20 minutes… The bottles may start leaking gas around their caps and hissing; this is fine and isn’t cause for concern. Remove the bottles carefully and cool them slowly to minimize any risk of breakage.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Making a sweet or dry wine or cider

I have eluded to the fact that it is much easier to make a dry wine or cider than it is to make a sweet one. I think it is time to go a little deeper into the topic.

The yeast in cider and wine eat sugar, turning it into alcohol. Thing is, they will do that until one of two things happens. The first one is that the yeast run out of sugar. At this point, it is a dry beverage with no sweetness, which some may dislike. This process is the easiest to accomplish because it allows the yeast to do what it wants to do. To obtain a sweet wine or cider, one must interfere with the batch, either killing the yeast prematurely before all the sugar is gone, or making sure the yeast is truly dead before adding more sugar back. I will explore those options in the posts to come.

How do you know if the wine or cider is sweet or dry? The answer is as simple as taking a specific gravity reading taken with a hydrometer. That reading can be classified into the corresponding sweetness:

  • 1.025 Very Sweet
  • 1.020 Sweet
  • 1.015 Medium Sweet
  • 1.010 Medium Dry
  • 1.005 Dry

It is not really recommended bottling much higher than 1.025, as most people would not find it very drinkable. Also, if the yeast starts fermenting again, the carbon dioxide released could create too much pressure on the bottle, causing it to pop the cork, or worse yet, explode. Ben Watson in his Cider: Hard and Sweet cautions against bottling cider higher than 1.005 if it has not been stabilized, that is, if chemicals or pasteurization has not happened to ensure the yeast will not start fermenting again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fermented Fruit Drink Definitions

As I keep reading, there are all these different ways to ferment fruit into different types of drinks. Here are some that I have found:

  • Apple Juice – To North Americans, it can mean a fresh but filtered apple juice
  • Applejack – an alcoholic beverage made from the freezing and thawing of apple cider to concentrate the alcohol.
  • Braggot – a mead made with malted grain, usually malted barley.
  • Brandy – a distilled spirit made from grape wine
  • Calvados – a brandy made in France from apple cider
  • Cider – to North Americans, unfiltered fresh apple juice. To the rest of the world, a fermented apple drink.
  • Cyser – a melomel made with apples
  • Demi-sec – a rather sweet sparkling wine, or it could be used to describe a sweet cider.
  • Eau de vie – a brandy made from other fruit wines, not grape wines
  • Fruit Cider – a fermented apple cider that then has fruit juice added, such as pear cider or blackberry cider.
  • Fortified – a cider, wine, mead, or beer that brandy, vodka, or some other distilled alcohol has been added, which raises the alcohol content. Port is a classic example of this.
  • Graf – a cider made with malt and hops; a cider/beer cross that is mostly cider
  • Mead – a fermented honey drink that is sometimes referred to as honey wine.
  • Melomel – mead made with fruit
  • Metheglin – mead made with spices
  • Mulled – a drink that spices are added to it and warmed.
  • Perry – a cider like drink made from pears instead of cider. If fermented apple juice has pear juice added, it is usually called pear cider.
  • Pommeau - a Calvados or clear apple brandy/eau de vie blended with fresh sweet cider to produce a lightly sweet, reddish amber liqueur around 16-18% alcohol by volume.
  • Pyment – melomel made with grape juice
  • Slider – an English apple cider made with the discarded sloe berries (similar to a plum) that were soaked in gin to make sloe gin.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Husband’s Fruit Hefeweizen

My husband decided to brew on Thanksgiving weekend a hefeweizen, which is a style of wheat beer. Due to having to cook all the grains, hops, and malts in water to make a “tea”, as I like to call it, beer is seldom made in batches smaller than 5 gallons. The reasoning is why go though all that work for one gallon when it takes just about the same amount of time to do 5 gallons.

My husband got the idea to split the hefeweizen out into five single gallon containers and flavor each with some fruit extract he bought from the supply store before bottling. These extracts are a bit runny and come in a 4 oz bottle that is meant to be put into 5 gallons of water, so he added one ounce per gallon. So now he has plain, cherry, mango, and raspberry hefeweizens.

For the fifth batch, because he likes pomegranates so much, we bought some pomegranate juice to put in it. However, he set that one aside for a week to ferment in case the yeast wanted to eat on the pomegranate sugars. In theory, the yeast could eat the syrups placed in the other bottles, but being a novice at brewing beer, he didn’t know how to solve the problem, and just did it hoping it would explode.

Well, these beers didn’t turn out quite as well as he had hoped, and has since been told that using Oregon Fruit Puree is superior to using the fruit extracts he bought from the home brewing supply store. I still think it was quite cleaver of him to split a batch like that, and I may try something like that with mead and fruit flavors in the future.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fruit Ciders

Ciders made from pears is called perry, but a lot of stuff out there on the market today are labeled “Pear Cider.” What does that mean?

Due to a loophole in the US, some ciders fall under the FDA requirements to put the ingredients on their labels. Reading the label of Original Sin’s Pear Cider, it reads “hard cider, pear juice, yeast, malic acid and sulfiates.” To me, this means that they fermented apple juice, stopped the fermentation, and then added pear juice to it to give it flavor and sweeten it a bit.

Why would they do that? Pears that make the best perry are not really grown in quantities, so this process would make it easier to produce at a lower cost.

However, this may not be the only reason. On my trip to Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, they showed us some cherry juice that they had. They said that they had attempted to ferment it as a cider, but that it tasted horrible, so they planned on adding the juice to already fermented apple juice in hopes that it would make a cherry cider they found worthy of selling.

In fact, on January 22, 2010, they recently posted this on their facebook page:

“Found a great blend for Pear Cider (Fermented cider from apples with added pear juice). To my knowledge this will be the only Pear Cider in the country made from just apples (about 15 varieties) and pears (2 varieties), no flavors added…

Perry did not make the grade though, not enough acidity and flavor. Next year we will try to find true Perry pears, they have the acidity and sugars required to make a high quality Perry.”

There are many other flavored ciders out there, including peach, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, and many more.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sources of Fruit for Wine

Of course, the ultimate fruit for wine would be fresh fruit that is crushed and/or pressed for the juice, and then fermented. No water added. But what to do in the middle of winter?

Well, there are a couple of inferior but cheaper and accessible sources. The first one is to use frozen fruit. This could be thawed out and pressed for juice, or it could be allowed to soak in water.

Another option is to use canned fruits. I recently bought some canned Bartlett pears, and I plan on using the syrup and pears both when I make them. However, canned fruit often contains some form of sugar, so read the labels to make sure you are comfortable with the variety in the product. While I do not particularly care for corn syrup, my husband is now buying a powdered form of corn sugar to use with his beer because it does better than cane sugar.

Probably the most easy source for making fruit wine is buying fruit juice. While more expensive, using juices that are 100% juice usually tastes a little better than concentrated juice. Also, 100% is usually pasteurized, so aside from sterilizing equipment, the juice itself does not need to have potassium metasulfite added. However, when on a budget, concentrated juice works well. My first batch of apple wine used concentrated apple juice.

Remember, if you are buying any processed fruit or fruit juice, check the labels to ensure that no preservatives have been added.

There are also a few choices from your local brew supply store, including canned fruit, pureed fruit, or even kits that have all the ingredients needed in a box. These can be spendy, but at the same time it will be higher quality and preservative free. This stuff is made for making wine.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wall Mounted Bottle Opener

We were staying at a little hotel when I discovered it had a wall mounted bottle opener in the bathroom. I loved the idea. I asked the hotel where they had gotten them, but apparently the hotel had changed owners since they were installed and did not know.

When I got home, I was looking at a home brew supply store catalog and noticed they had one of these. Since then, I’ve found out that about all home brew supply stores sell them for $5 each, along with a little bucket to catch the bottle caps in for an additional fee.

I talked my husband into buying two of them, and then proceeded to install one of them in the kitchen next to the refrigerator. You hardly notice it is there, and it is so handy. We were visiting his parents, and his mother was trying to find a bottle opener in her kitchen drawers, and I was thinking, “I don’t have to do that in my home anymore because it is right there on the wall!” My husband can’t believe how lucky he is to have married a woman who has no problem mounting a bottle opener in the kitchen.

We put the second one out in the garage near the door into the house, as we have a small apartment refrigerator out there full of beer and cider. That location would provide us with an opportunity to open our drinks before going inside, or even if we didn’t. However, this location really needs a bucket to catch the caps. Inside, the bucket would have been a little too big, would have stuck out, been noticeable, and possibly even prevent the refrigerator door from opening wide enough. In the house, our trash can is two steps away, so it is very easy to deal with the cap. But out in the garage, the opener is kind of in a bad spot for opening and catching the caps, so the caps get lost in and under the stuff piled by the door, and if you did catch it, the garbage can is a ways away. The wall mounted bucket would look great there and be highly functional for our needs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reusing Bottles?

As a home brewer, I have choices when it comes to bottling. I can buy empty bottles from my local homebrew store, fill them, drink them, and have empty bottles to reuse. Actually, my husband recently bought a box of Costco beer because it was just a few dollars more than buying empty bottles, plus he got some beer out of the deal. Now all my family members are saving up bottles for us to use, and it is great.

I had this business idea that if I got my cidery/winery up and running, I would offer my customers a coupon if they brought my bottles back. The coupon would be good towards their next purchase in my store, and I don’t have to pay as much to get bottles.

Problem is, it may not be technically legal. There are worries that the bottles would be chipped and I wouldn’t know it, and therefore put glass into the beverage and hurt the drinker. In this day of paranoia, there is also the worry that some customer would poison the bottle with a chemical that my washing techniques would not be able to get rid of. These are all things that would make it so that I couldn’t offer coupons to reuse bottles.

Or is it? There is a new company in California called Wine Bottle Recycling who are collecting bottles, cleaning them up, and reselling them. Doing their research, they found that seven out of every ten bottles ended up in landfills, and the energy it took to melt the glass and reform it was the same as making a new bottle, just not using any sand, so there was really very little benefit to recycling bottles. However, with their system of making bottles reusable, energy is saved. This program could open the doors for me to act on my coupon idea.

For more information on Wine Bottle Recycling, read:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Cidery's Desire to Distill for Pommeau

Wandering Aengus Ciderworks produces a dessert drink Pommeau. Ben Watson’s Cider Hard and Sweet describes Pommeau as a Calvados or clear apple brandy blended with fresh sweet cider to produce a lightly sweet, reddish amber liqueur around 16-18% alcohol by volume. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks describes their Pommeau as:

“Pommeau is a unique apple dessert wine. Select heirloom cider apple varieties were fermented and then distilled. The resulting apple brandy, after aged 5 years in oak, was expertly blended with fresh juice from cider apples that offer diverse character - those with a wealth of tannins and those with plentiful sugars. Pommeau is a delicately sweet, surprisingly smooth, aromatic wine with an incredible brandy essence. Serve chilled or warm and enjoy as an aperitif, a dessert or with a meal. Production of only 100 cases every other year.”

In a way, this is very much like a Port Wine or Sherry, which is wine fortified with, or has added, grape brandy, but in this case, they are using apple juice and apple brandy.

When I was at Wandering Aengus Ciderworks after Thanksgiving, they were almost sold out. I asked them about Clear Creek Distillery, to which they responded that, yes, they did get the brandy from Clear Creek Distillery. However, it was a small custom batch that they requested, so it was quite expensive, which could help explain the $45 a bottle price tag. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks instead expressed interest in obtaining their own distilling and license. They went on to explain that most large wineries blend all their wine from all the barrels together before bottling, but some barrels may have contained a slightly inferior wine. Rather than toss the wine, the makers blend it in with the other wine to keep the volume up believing that such a small amount would not affect the overall quality. What Wandering Aengus Ciderworks hopes to do is take their slightly inferior batches and distill them to make the Pommeau. This allows them to better control cider quality, find a use for slightly inferior cider, keep all of the production at their facility, and lower costs on the Pommeau. I say it sounds like a good idea.

One more thing I should note is that Watson does say it is easy to produce your own Pommeau by taking some fresh sweet cider, and add either cider brandy or clear apple eau-de-vie. He does caution about adding too much brandy, as the higher alcohol content will mask the fruit flavors, while not enough brandy might allow raw sweet cider to start fermenting unless it is treated.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making Alcohol Legally

After saying yesterday that it is illegal to distill without a license, I want to clarify the law when it comes to brewing wine, beer, and cider. Cider: Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols devoted a whole chapter to this topic. Basically, under Federal legislation enacted in 1979:

(A) EXEMPTOIN. – Any adult may, without payment of tax, produce wine for personal or family use and not for sale.

(B) LIMITATION. – The aggregate amount of wine exempt from tax under this paragraph with respect to any household shall not exceed -

(i) 200 gallons per calendar year if there are two or more adults in such household, or

(ii) 100 gallons per calendar year if there is only one adult in such household.

(C) ADULTS. – For purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘adult’ means any individual who has attained eighteen years of age, or the minimum age (if any) established by law applicable in the locality in which the household is situated at which wine may be sold to individuals, whichever is greater.

Proulx and Nichols quoted Jerry Bowerman, chef, Wine, Beer, and Spirits Regulations Branch, Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as saying, “there are no provisions in law or regulations for a period to cover the production of distilled spirits for personal consumption.” He continues:

“A person who desires to produce distilled spirit must qualify as a distilled spirit plant proprietor prior to commencing actual production. Among the requirements prescribed in Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27 CFR, Part 19, Subparts F, G, and H, qualifications would entail the submission and approval of applications for registration as a distilled spirits plant and for an operating permit to cover the various activities to be conducted, the registration of all stills, preparation of a plat, plans, and flow diagrams, filing of bonds and consent of surety, and installation of security devices such as walls and fences to protect the premises.”

According to Proulx and Nichols, “all distilled spirits produced for consumption are taxed at the rate of $13.50 per proof gallon.”

There are two things I would like to point out about this topic. The first one is that many people do not realize that while it is illegal to distill without jumping though all these hoops, it is legal, assuming you are of age, to purchase a spirit and customize it with fruit, syrups, sugar, and other ingredients to make your own liquor. I would imagine this to be much easier process to go though. In fact, Clear Creek Distillery’s liquiors are brandy with unfermented fruit and maybe sugar added to it, though since they are commercial, they do have to gain federal approval for sale. Someone wishing to do this for personal use or as a gift does not have to worry about federal regulations to do this.

However, for those of you how have their hearts on distilling, Clear Creek Distillery offers a class on the topic. I don’t know if that would meet the criteria set by the government, but I imagine it would be a start. I have also recently stumbled across the Society of Wine Educators, and it appears that they have a Certified Specialists of Spirits Program. Could be worth checking out. So look around - there are classes out there to get one started in distilling legally.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Clear Creek Distillery

Yesterday, I took another tour of Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, OR where they make high quality brandy and are especially known for their Bartlett pear eau de vie, which is a fruit brandy.

Brandy is a distilled product much like other spirits such as rum, whisky, gin, vodka. Clear Creek Distillery takes fresh Oregon grown fruit and crush them, and then allow the fruit to ferment to 5%, skins, stems, seeds and all. The batch is then put into a still and heated. Alcohol boils before water does, so that part becomes steam and rises out of the liquid and goes though long cool metal tubes where it condenses, allowing them to collect the spirit. It is a little more technical than that, as the first part of the steam contains some toxins which smell more like nail polish, and Clear Creek Distillery uses as disinfectant due to the high alcohol content. Next is the drinkable part, which is called the heart. The last part includes some water, which diminishes the scent of the spirit, so they hold that part out as well and call it the tail. Since the alcohol is boiled off, the spirits are bone dry but contain the smell and essence of the original source.

Clear Creek Distillery offers their brandy, which is a distilled grape wine product, eau de vie, grappa, and sweetened liqueurs. They even have a brandy made from Douglas fir. They started out making a Bartlett (AKA Williams) pear eau de vie, but they told us it takes 30 lbs of pears to yield one bottle. That’s a lot of fruit!

I mentioned the first time I went to Clear Creek Distillery had an immense affect on me. Granted, at the time, I didn’t completely understand the whole process, especially before stilling, but I think that is the day that started me down the path towards a cidery. I was standing in there thinking, “How cool would if be if I did this,” and because of my roots, I believed that I could.

Well, it turns out that distilling even a drop without being licensed is illegal in the United States, but there was a man in our tour group who started talking about how he makes cider. Before I even knew about the legalities distilling, I thought that cider would be a great place to start. After all, I did have access to apples. Also, some eau de vie, especially Calvados, is made from cider.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mulled Cider

Wassail is really nothing more than mulled cider. Ben Watson included other recipes in his book Cider Hard and Sweet, including this one that have paraphrased from page 136:

½ gallon sweet cider (not feremented)
4-6 cinnamon sticks
6 cardamom pods, crushed
1 whole nutmeg, cracked open
10-12 whole cloves
6 allspice berries (optional)
4-6 anise pods (optional)
Zest of lemon or orange, cut into thin strips

Put all ingredients in t pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out spices by pouring though a cheesecloth lined colander. Pour into cups and serve hot. Sometimes served with 1 ½ cups of rum or brandy after straining. Serves 8 to 10 people

Or… you can buy mulling spices that are in prepackaged tea bags. It might not be as good of blend, but it would be easier to do, especially if it is your first time making mulled cider. These same spices are wonderful as a mulled wine. Yeilds 15 to 20 servings.

I have my own simple little sweet cider recipe that is quite simple. I place about 3 quarts of apple juice in a cock pot set on low along with 1 quart of cranberry juice and a few cinnamon sticks. I let it cook for a few hours, and I will serve it either warm or chilled. It just gets this wonderful spiced sweetness about it.

Other sweet cider recipes can be found online or in Cider Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson or Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols.

Friday, January 15, 2010


There are a lot of wassailing festivals going on this weekend, especially at cideries.

According to Ben Watson in Cider Hard and Sweet, page 137 reads, “… wassail derives from the old Anglo-Saxon toast, Waes haeil, meaning, ‘Be whole’ [well]. It’s like saying, “To your health,” and it gave its name to the custom that took place throughout Britain around Christmastime, when revelers carried a wassail bowl made of ash or maple and festooned with ribbons from house to house, expecting the bowl to be filled with refreshments and in turn blessing the occupants. The traditional wassail punch is made from ale and sherry, sugar and spices….

However, there is a second definition of wassailing, which is a kind of blessing of the apple trees for the coming year, especially in England, which usually takes place on January 17 as the Old Twelfth Night. Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse on Vancouver Island, BC, describes the core ritual, “Intended to awaken the orchard from its winter slumber, the trees are blessed for an abundant harvest. Cider is poured over the roots of one of the orchard trees, and toast is hung in the branches by a Wassail “King” and “Queen” while traditional songs are sung with much noisemaking and merriment to ward off bad spirits.

More Information on Wassailing:

Places Participating in Wassailing:

  • Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse: January 16, 2010, 11am-6pm, Saanichton, BC.
  • Finnriver Farm – Old Time Cider says, “Sunday, January 17th Time: 2:00pm-4:00pm Location: Finnriver Farm Received the above in an email from the Finnriver mailing list.”
  • In the UK

Ben Watson’s Cider Wassail Bowl (adapted)

½ gallon sweet cider
½ cup dark brown sugar
10 – 15 allspice berries
8-10 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg, cracked in half
Pinch of salt
1 cup dark rum
¼ cup calvados or other apple brandy (optional)
1 lemon, halved and sliced thin
1 or 2 oranges, halved and sliced thin

In a large pot, mix cider and sugar. Place spices in a square cheesecloth and tie up like a tea bag before adding it to the pot with salt. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, and then remove from heat.

Remove the spice bag and add rum, optional brandy, and lemon and orange slices. Place over medium heat and stir for 2 to 3 minutes before serving. It is also good with whipped cream.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Parents’ Farm Cannot be Converted into a Cider Apple Orchard

The former dairy farm that my parents own now have beef cattle on it, and a small orchard. I have thought about expanding the orchard so that I did not have to buy apples or pears to make cider with.

The location is a good one, as it has a little microclimate from being an island in the middle of a very large river. The running water and low elevation keep it slightly warmer, so it doesn’t frost early in the fall, and the last frost is also early. When it snows, as it rarely snows on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, it is light and doesn’t stick around.

The real problem, though, is that life would be too easy. The river runs around and also though the soils of the island, creating sub-irrigation. During the summer, it is possible to dig two feet down and hit water. Some rootstocks do not like having so much access to water. Also, having so much water accessible to an apple tree plumps them up full of water, diluting the flavor. So while I might have more juice per apple, it would be a flavorless juice.

I wrote to Stephen Hayes of Fruitwise Heritage Apples in England asking what he thought about the high water table condition. He responded, “Hot dry climate + irrigation= lots of large attractive fruit, but I believe we get better flavours without it. No apple loves drought, but in the hot dry summer of 2003 we had a reduced crop of dessert apples, and they were small, but flavour and sugar levels were high.” That advice there is sort of the nail in the coffin for increasing my folk’s orchard, as they also have maritime summers, where it stays in the upper 70s, which probably isn’t hot enough.

Yes, I still ponder over the idea of having an orchard, but at the same time, I think about how much work it is, and wonder if I should listen to that pear farmer who told me not to plant my own trees but to buy what I need and let them do all the work. It would let me concentrate more on making tasty cider.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Parents' Farm

On my parents’ farm is a small orchard of six apple trees and two pear trees near the house. We don’t know what they all are, as they were planted long before they bought that farm (Incidentally, my dad told my husband on our wedding day that my husband had now bought the farm). The area in which they live has an endangered deer species, so my dad fenced off the orchard as a kennel for the dogs, which makes us responsible pet owners for having the dogs tied up without chaining them, allowing the dogs to run, and it keeps the deer away from the trees.

We do know that one of the trees is a yellow transparent. They ripen in late July. There is another tree that is a Spartan, but beyond that, we aren’t sure. Since I have gotten started in cider and researching apples, I have found out that one needs to pay attention to the bloom time, time they are ripe, along with looks and taste to try and find out what it is. However, I think that one may not be a standard apple, as the tree got diseased and Dad cut it down, but it sent up a new shoot and we have apples again. Since all apple trees are grafted, I doubt that it is the original tree that was grafted, but instead it is the rootstock apple. I guess there is a third option of it being a seedling tree, but the odds would be against that.

As for the two pear trees, I think one of the pear trees is a Bartlett, also known as Williams in Europe, because they are so popular. Since pears are not self pollinating and require a different variety for pollination, my best guess is that the other tree is a Anjou because it is the most popular pear that blooms at the same time as the Bartlett, but it would be easy to be wrong.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Roots

I was an only child growing up on a dairy farm. My parents knew when I didn’t do my chores, as I didn’t have any siblings to pawn them off on. It was a lot of daily hard work with no time off for holidays or bad weather.

When I was a senior in high school, my father grew afraid of the ever increasing environmental pressers, and, in what I call his mid life crisis, sold all the cattle and went back to school. He is now a network troubleshooter for a large telecommunications company. I also went to school in the big city, and have since then been a government worker living in the city.

Thing is, I know how to do things like canning, sewing, gardening, etc. I don’t always do them, but I know how. So when the recession hit, I had managed to find myself a little duplex to rent that had enough dirt in the patio area to plant just a few herbs and tomato plants. When I moved in with my boyfriend now husband, we moved into a little ranch style house, and I started planting berries, peas, more herbs and tomatoes, blueberries, and even tried growing our own flowers for our wedding. My father and my husband made me a composter.

I try to be green when it is useful to me or saves me money. Composting gives me good rich soils without filling up our trash can, which I have to pay to have hauled away. I actually canned for the first time in years a few weeks ago. My parents bought down some apples that had been in storage a little too long, so I made them into apple sauce and then canned them because I couldn’t bear to waste something in which I could make useful while saving money from not having to go buy it.

I sort of have a “can do” attitude, and I think that is why I have taken to making cider and wines so much, and it all started by living on a dairy farm.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pruning Grapes

It wasn’t raining this past weekend, so I got outside and started pruning the grapes that we have. Admittedly, I had to look this topic up in books and online.

Thing is, my established vines look nothing like the picture. I think the previous owner somehow kept piling the vines on top of existing vines, and then the year and a half of neglect… One of my friends, who is into grape wine, told me that the vineyards really whack and hack on the vines, but I wasn’t entirely sure. My husband and I went to Willamette Vineyards after Thanksgiving, and our wine tasting server actually happened to be one of the many founders of the vineyard. I started to explain my grape vines, but she quickly cut me off. “Cut them back! They are vines and will rebound like any other vine, so just cut them back.” Well, there I have it! I guess she had some vines at home, and they take over if let go. Funny, my grandparents used to have vines, but they did so poorly that they were taken out. I think the neighbor’s trees started robbing it of light.

Anyway, I’ve got the vines cut back to a basic skeleton now, but they still need some work. My pruning hand was getting tired, so I will try again the next time the weather is decent.

I should mention that there is a spot in the yard where a grape vine touched down. It might have gotten some dirt kicked over it, but it put down roots and has started growing in the middle of my yard. I should dig it up now that it is dormant and try to give it to someone.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Yard

My husband and I managed to buy a bank owned house. The bank told us that the house had been empty since January, so we took that to mean a little over six months. Talking to the neighbors, we found out that it really meant 18 months. That would explain why the grapes are growing up into the dogwood and into the neighbor’s maple tree. But they were good grapes – neglected with a really hot summer made them really tasty. I just pruned them back into our yard and out of the trees and off of other plants.

Apparently, the original owners hired some landscaper to come in, who planted a whole bunch of evergreen trees. There were 12 trees along an 80’ fence, and all were taller than the house. That is 6 feet of diameter allowed per tree, so the trees aren’t exactly healthy. I would love to keep the blue spruce, but the sides of it are completely dead due to the other trees. In fact, we have no lawn, only moss, as sunlight doesn’t hit the ground.

So, the first thing that happen was that we cut out two trees that were right up against the house, a middle tree in the front yard that you can’t even tell was there because the other two have filled up the void, another tree in a bad place that would get tall if we left it alone, and one very large shrub that was blocking the entire dinning room window. We then limbed up all the other trees, which allowed light in. In one case, limbing the tree allowed visibility to pull out of the driveway safely.

Meanwhile, the neighbors are cheering, as they thought the house looked dark and hated the limbs coming into their yard. I actually have a picture taken inside the house during a summer day, and it looks like night time.

While my father was taking of limbs, I told him to go ahead and remove a tree on the corner of the lot because it had hardly any leaves on it in August. The neighbor’s maple was getting all the light. Only once he fell the small sickly tree did we realize it was a crab apple tree. Curses! I could use those for cider. Or could I? If we couldn’t tell in August that it was a crab apple, then there probably wasn’t enough crab apples on it to use. It was a sick tree.

The place has eight blueberry bushes, which I’m excited about, except that they are also planted too close together and some of them are really tiny compared to others, so I will try to transplant every other one to other places when we get the place a little more in shape. It also had some Marion berries, but last year, they never ripened, but instead were green and started fermenting on the vine. If they don’t do well this next year, we will probably take them out and replace them with something else.

Unfortunately, we recently had a windstorm take out half of a tree, so we called in a logging company, who took out six of the taller, more difficult trees. We hate doing it, and it was costly, but these trees are just not healthy. As a result, our moss lawn is dying because it can’t hack having that much sunlight on them.

I have placed an order for two apple trees with the Home Orchard Society to plant in that area. That’s right – I’m eventually going to put five trees along the 80’ fence line, giving each tree 16’ of space. To boot, they shouldn’t grow taller than the house. Healthy trees, nice shade, happy owner.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Apple & Pear Breeding

Both apple and pear trees are made from grafting one kind of tree, called the scion, to a rootstock which will determine the size of the tree. This is because most apples and all pears are not self-fertile when they bloom. It takes another breed of apple to pollinate an apple, and it takes another breed of pear to pollinate a pear. If pollination does not occur, no fruit will grow.

Because of this cross-pollination, the seeds in the fruit contain the genetic make-up of two different breeds of trees, so the seed will not grow and be the same breed of tree that the fruit came off of, but a new breed. And just like how sibling animals are not exact genetic clones of each other, neither are two seeds from the same apple or pear. Worse yet, I’ve heard that about only 1 in 300 seeds grow up to be an edible fruit tree. Why, I was reading on Home Orchard Society’s forum about someone planting a cherry pit, and 10 years later, the tree has not produced fruit. They did not beat the odds. Makes you wonder how Johnny Appleseed managed to plant all those seeds, but he did.

Since there are fewer pear varieties than apples, the focus is usually on planting the big four – Bartlett (AKA Williams in Europe), Anjou, Comice, and Bosc. Do to their blooming periods, Bartlett and Anjou are planted together, and Comice and Bosc are planted together. Bosc blooms late in the season, and therefore cannot be pollinated by the early blooming Bartlett and Anjou.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Types of Cider Apples

What kinds of apples make good cider? On one level the answer is simple: the kinds you have available. Most amateur cidermakers, and even many professionals, use any varieties that re in season and readily available in sufficient quantities to press into juice. Almost any sound apple, from mouth-puckering wild crab to the most refined dessert variety, is worth adding to your cider blend, at least in small amounts.

“However, as with most simple things, there is an underlying art and subtlety involved in mixing and matching varieties to create the best ciders, both sweet and hard.” – Ben Watson, Cider: Hard & Sweet.

Not all apples are considered good for making pies out of, but they are tasty when eaten raw. Apples are that are soft make for good apple sauce, but maybe they are mild tasting.

For cider, a vast majority of cider makers who use real apples use a variety of apples to create a blend. However, the most popular apples used for making cider are not considered edible, unless they are heirloom apples (old breeds). Cider apples taste bitter when eaten. These include varieties like Dabinett, Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, and Tremlett’s Bitter, varieties you just can’t buy at the grocery store.

If a cider maker does use a common eating apple or heirloom apples in their blend, such as Golden Delicious, Jonagold, or Granny Smith, they actually let it stay on the tree much longer than what fresh eating apples are. Also, cidermakers love using crab apples, which are extremely acidic and high in tannins.

Apples varieties have been tested for their acidic and tannin components. Therefore, cider apples are classified by how much acid and tannin one has:

  • High tannin, low acid – bittersweet
  • Low tannin, low acid – sweet
  • High tannin, high acid – bittersharp
  • Low tannin, high acid – sharp

These descriptors do not indicate how much sugar is in the apple. In fact, most grocery store apples are low in tannin and high in acid, making them sharp, not sweet, apples.

Classifications helps cidermakers create a blend to create a well balanced cider before fermentation. Some apples can be used by themselves to make a cider, but they will lack in some areas and be overpowering in others. This would include color, aroma, astringency, sugar, acidity, and other desirable traits.

Funny thing is, after the officials tell you what apples make good cider, they will also tell you to go ahead and try using other apples. There are new varieties coming out, and they are untested for cider, so they might be good.

If you would like to see some lists of cider apples, take a look at these websites:

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Tannin is found in grapes and apples, and it is similar to acid as it makes you pucker, but it is not an acid and does not affect the pH if more tannin is added. Tannins are sometimes described as the bitter tang and astringency to cider.

Tannin is particularly found in red wines because the tannin is present in the skins, which are not removed until the wine is done fermenting, unlike white wines were the skins are removed when pressed. Some regional ciders are low in tannins, while some mass produced ciders just use whatever apples they can get their hands on have very little tannins. The question of if tannins are a good thing or a bad thing really depend on the taster.

Brew supply stores sell grape tannin as a powder. I use it for fruit wines that probably don’t have much tannin, though others may use raisins to both sweeten their wine and add tannin. Other plant that have tannin include tea, elderberry, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, pomegranates, persimmons, nuts that can be consumed raw, acorns, some beers, cloves, tarragon, cumin, thyme, vanilla, cinnamon, and most legumes.

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to test for tannins like there is for pH, as it a complicated lab procedure which you can read on Andrew Lea's website.

Since it is so difficult to test for, Andrew Lea suggests learning how to taste for tannin in apples. He wrote in a Cider Workshop email, “Think of tannin as the taste of cold tea without milk - astringent, slightly bitter, mouth puckering. Then see if you can identify that by taste in the apple. Be very sure to distinguish it from acid, which is the sharp taste.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


For awhile, the doctors had me give up all fruit with the exception of low acid blueberries, watermelon, and pears. I ate a lot of pears during that period, as it replaced my apple a day. I like pears, especially boscs. They are really good with ginger snaps.

A little while after my diet restriction was lifted and I got the crazy notion to maybe brew cider, we traveled out to Hood River, OR for the Pear Festival in September. We had recently bought a house that was in need of planting some trees, and I thought pears would be nice. I started to ask a farmer a few questions about growing pear trees, and he got very curt with me. He told me not to do it, that we won’t take good care of it and it will get sick or get bugs, both of which will spread to real orchards and maybe his, and that we could buy plenty from him. Ouch! The man had some good points, and for cider, it would be easier to let someone else deal with the trees and fruit while I can focus on cider production, but the whole experience talking to this farmer left me very tentative.

A few weeks later, the Portland Nursery had a apple and pear tasting. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks was there, and he had gotten his hands on a whole bunch of cider, mostly from the east coast, for a tasting. I tentatively started asking questions, a little shy from the pear farm experience. Well, he is answering them, and next thing I know, I'm eating a cider apple that he hands me so that I can taste what a cider apple might taste like. His whole attitude was different from the pear farmer. The pear farmer saw me growing pears as a threat to his lively hood, and Wandering Aengus treated me like if I really did get serious about making cider, I would help boost the cider market and get it going, and that would be good for his business. I'm finding that attitude with a lot of cidermakers and the few mead makers I’ve talked to, and it gives me the warm fuzzies. I think I need to find a cider right now to physically give me the warm fuzzies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I bought The Compleat Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine from Your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations for Christmas. I should really do up some mead here soon. They take a while to age, but they are done up still and not carbonated.

My first taste of mead was when I was at a collogue’ house for my day job. Her husband brewed it up, and I thought it was delightful. My husband said he had mead before and didn’t like it, but this homebrewed stuff was pretty good. In December, I went to the Holiday Ale Festival at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, OR. Mountain Meadow’s Mead from Westwood, California was there. I tried their sweet, cranberry, semi-sweet, and spiced meads, and ended up taking home a bottle of the cranberry mead. Wonderful stuff!

There is another meadery out of California called Rabbit’s Foot Meadery. I recently found in a grocery store their Biere De Miele. It is an ale fermented with honey and is styled after a Kosch. It reads, “We use only the finest malted barley, freshest hops and German Kolsch yeast to create a wonderful and light bodied ale. Lightly hopped to allow the orange blossom aromas from the honey to come through, it is an easy to drink ale, which we are sure you will enjoy.” I mentioned that I don’t care for hops, so this wasn’t bad, falling in the somewhat drinkable but probably wouldn’t buy again. My husband liked it, though.

I went and bought a bottle of Rabbit’s Foot Sweet Mead next. Mead is not cheap, and I was having a little bit of a hard time figuring out from the labels what would be a semi-sweet or a semi-dry and avoiding the dry meads. I did make the mistake of chilling it like a white wine or a sweet cider, but the label says to drink it at room temperature. My husband didn’t like it, as it was too sweet for him.

Monday, January 4, 2010


It is really important to keep good records of what you are fermenting. It lets you know what it is, how long it has been in that stage, helps to identify problems, and lets you know when it is time to drink it.

I came across a nice looking record sheet to fill in while reading The Encycolpedia of Home Winemaking – Fermentation and Winemaking Methods by Pierre Drapeau and Andre Vanasse (translated into English). However, it was an older book, and the link they supplied was long since broken. I tried googling for other record sheets. I found a few, including some software. However, they were all for grape wine, not a variable of fruits, and so I decided to create my own

It is by no means perfect, as I find myself struggling with the fact that I used my mother’s frozen peaches with a can of frozen lemonade, so I find myself writing in the margins. I also don’t test the SG enough to merit the graph, but it took me a little bit to get it into the document and I figure someday I will be working on a large enough scale that I will be taking daily SG readings and that plotting it over time. My husband can tell you – I love statistics and graphing.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out how to post this up as a PDF, and was forced to save it as two JPG files. If you want my log as a single PDF file, email me, and I will gladly send it to you. It works best if it is printed front and back side of one piece of paper.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


As you can see from the picture, I didn’t label my first few batches of wine. I had recently moved, and had no idea where the left over address stickers were from all the self addressed stamped RSVP envelopes were for our wedding. However, I did know where my little bit of yarn was from the times I get crazy enough to take up knitting again. In my notes, I indicate which batch got the pink string, and which batch got the cream yarn with colored spots, etc. The pros to this system are that I can reuse the string, and I don’t have to work to get the label off for the next batch. The cons are that I have to go look at my notes instead of just looking at the bottle to know what it is and how long it has been aging. I kind of think it is time I graduated to real labels.

In The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey, she says she uses labels though her home printer, and they come out looking like this:

High Pitched Wines
Made Aug 93 Bottled Feb 94

She recommends on the label that you want the name, the date bottled, and the percent alcohol if known.

There are premade bottle labels out there at the local supply stores. Basically, they are the right size with a little bit of a border, decoration, or scene that you can run though your home printer to use as your label. They are a little bit glossy and run about $7.50-$10 for 32 labels. This is a little costlier, but it would look nicer than just an address sticker.

There are “machines” that put the labels on the bottle level and consistent. I’ve only seen one at Shallon Winery when he starts talking about the $1,000 machine he needed to handle this very specific paper and glue he wanted to use on his chocolate wine. I’m speculating on how it works exactly, but I’m guessing that he has a professional printer do up a batch of labels on a long piece of paper, much like how you buy children’s stickers by the sticker. He places the bottle on top of two cylinders, and then rotates a crank. The rotation takes the sticker off of the paper and applies it to the rotating bottle. To see a demonstration, watch this.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Shallon Winery

In Astoria, OR, there is a one man operation called Shallon Winery which I try to go to once every six months or so. It is run by Paul van der Veldt, a sort of kookie man who is up there in years but entertaining if you like wine and take your time. It drives him batty over how people are in such a rush these days, and attempting to rush him only makes him grumpy.

He will start you off with a tour of his facility. The main workshop has a mural, including one of Fort George. He will be impressed if you visit Fort George a few blocks up the hill before the tour. Also, take note of his label, the shallon plant. Again, he will be impressed if you know what it is.

After the brief tour, he will proceed with the tastings of whatever wine he has in stock. He does have one grape table wine, but he shies away from making grape wines since there are so many available coming out of the Willamette Valley that he figures he doesn’t need to add more to the market. It is this philosophy that grape wine is so easy to buy while good fruit wine is not that I’ve adapted.

Next is his dry blackberry wine made from Evergreen Blackberries. He will go on a bit about how difficult it is to find these berries due to little old ladies who picked them are dying, and kids just don’t want to do that kind of labor. Honestly, the Pacific Northwest grows Himalayan Blackberries as weeds, so it is a little bit rare to come across Evergreens.

Then comes his apple wine, followed by his peach. I tend to walk out with a bottle of both, though he will say that he is never quite sure about the peach being stable, so it should be refrigerated. I pulled out a bottle of that the other day, and it had lees in it, proving what he was saying.

He also has a cranberry whey wine, and touts the health benefits of adding whey to the wine. It is a pity that ag research centers do not have his recipe. This wine is not milky colored at all, and it is another bottle we take home. He recommends adding a little bit of 7-up to it for the bubbles, which is also excellent. I’ve never eaten it with turkey, which I imagine it would be good with, but to do so would probably mean I would have to share, and I would rather horde his wines.

Only once in all my times there has he had his lemon meringue wine, dedicated to his mother.

After tasting all those wines, he takes away your little glass and then gives you a tiny ice cream cone so that you can sample his chocolate orange wine. He’ll talk a bit about how the recipe originally had four truffles, but then he had to change to six. How the only paper worthy of labeling the bottle cost $1,000 for the labeler. He will recite stories about how indestructible this wine is though the years, and warns you not to refrigerate it, which I did. It causes the chocolate to solidify, so he suggests boiling the bottle, which I did, and the wine was saved. He also will proceed to wrap the bottle up in tissue, string, and foil, and then tell you he is selling it to you at the price of the truffles only, and that he views this wine as the pinnacle of his career, and that he can never beat this wine. It is sad because he is so old that it worries me that this defeatist attitude will not get him out of bed one day.

I’ll admit, we only have one bottle of the chocolate wine in our house compared to the others. The others are drinkers, and the chocolate wine isn’t so much. He does have a list of 25 suggested ways to consume the chocolate wine, such as on ice cream and, um, other methods.

Anyway, go check it out. He is there almost any afternoon, including major holidays. If there is a note on the door saying to call him, do it. The wine world will not know how much will be lost from the tip of Oregon when he is gone.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Taste

What do I like to drink? Well, it seems when my husband and I go and try cider and wine, we gravitate towards the sweeter stuff. In fact, we toured a brandy distillery, and after sampling their products, we only walked away with a liquor and not the bone dry spirits.

Admittedly, I don’t know much when it comes to grape wines, but I do alright with most, but again, I like it a touch sweet. We served Willamette Valley Vineyard’s Oregon Blossom blush at our wedding, which the winery describes as the local answer to California’s Zinfandel. My husband and I also enjoy an occasional Muscat wine. With a good meal, though, about any grape wine will do.

When it comes to beer, it is an interesting story. My first beer that I ever attempted to drink was a Pyramid Ale. I don’t remember what kind, just that I didn’t like it. In my mind, I knew Pyramid was a good quality beer, but I didn’t like it. Over the years, I tried and tried again, but I always made funny faces. When I started dating my now husband, who is really into beer and loves porters and stouts, he started trying to find something I might like. Frambois worked because of the sugar and fruit juice, but most bars don’t serve it. For his birthday one year, we went to the Rogue in Portland, where they allowed us to custom pick a sampler set. I found two that I liked – one was with honey and mandarin oranges, and the other had flavorings of coriander. Both of them were wheat beers. It was like something was knocked loose, as I’m able to drink wheat beers now, especially if they have fruit in them, and an occasional honey lager such as the one from a Canadian restaurant called Earls. I don’t like hops because they are bitter, and my husband’s favorites taste burnt to me. Actually, a lot of beer tastes burnt to me. I’ll taste every beer he gets, but for me, beer is either drinkable, somewhat drinkable and I’ll need someone to finish it for me, or not drinkable.

Admittedly, I’m a bit scattered at the moment with what I want to make – cider, fruit wine, or mead. Thing is, most people think of all three of these as being sweet, but they don’t have to be. I’ve had an excellent dry cider, a dry blackberry wine you drink like a Merlot, and I know there are dry meads out there. So yes, I like my drinks sweet, but it is honestly easier to make dry alcoholic beverage, which will help strike a balance between what I like best and what others might like to buy. In the meanwhile, I’ll just keep experimenting to develop my skills and attempt to narrow my focus.