Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale

I have recently been flipping though my cider making books, and so I thought I would be more in depth about them.

Real Cidermaking On a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax was published in 1999, and it is a book about how to make cider and is very comparable to Andrew Lea’s Craft Cidermaking. Probably the one thing that makes me love this book is the flow diagram to making either still or sparkling cider. Most of the time, cider making is reduced to eight steps, but the flow diagrams include hang ups that can occur. Call me a visual learner, but looking at something like this is when the process clicks in my head.

This book also contains instructions and drawings to create an apple press, though getting them ground up ahead of time is better left to renting a machine.

Andrew Lea does have a few comments on his website about this book, saying, "REAL CIDERMAKING - On a small scale" by Michael Pooley and John Lomax - ISBN 1-85486-195-6 - Nexus Special Interests, Kent. This was published in 1999, and is a good description of how to make cider in a 'naturalistic' manner on a small scale at home (but it does contain a serious typographical error [about keeving]!). This book, like the Proulx and Nichols one, also includes plans for a small scale cider press, in this case of the 'slatted basket' type. See the Shropshire Apple Network website for more details about the book, the press and associated training courses.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cider Review: J.K.’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic Hard Cider

J.K’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic Hard Cider ended up being my personal favorite at my recent small cider tasting.

J.K’s Scrumpy is a hazy, dark gold, carbonated cider with a pleasant nose on it is sweet. My husband was the one controlling the order in which the ciders were served, but since I had bought them, I knew which ciders we were going to be tasting. Also, each cider has a unique feature, and in this case, it was the haze, so I knew that this is what he was pouring first. This cider is unfiltered, so there is haze, but it is not cloudy.

When I went back and tasted it again later, I realized that this cider actually does taste like apples, which is one of the first things the cider officials tell you not to expect when you drink cider. If wine doesn’t taste like grapes, then don’t expect cider to taste like apples, yet this one does. Their website says that their product contains just juice and yeast and nothing else, but they do describe letting the bottles age for several weeks to properly condition. On a Home Brew Talk Forum, a poster said that they measured the gravity at 1.024. My theory is that they take regular apple juice and let it ferment all the way dry with an alcohol content of about 8%. They then would add more apple juice to make it sweet as evidence of the SG, which would also dilute the alcohol content to 6.0% and give it an apple flavor again. The new added juice could help create a natural carbonation, which they then could have pasteurized to stop the yeast from eating all the sugars and give some stability. I don’t know if I am right, as it is just a working theory of mine.

J.K.’s Scrumpy Organic Hard Cider is produced in Michigan and is at 6.0% ABV and contains no added sulfites. It appears to retail for $6-$8 for a 22 oz bottle.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cider Tasting Vocabulary

Cider tasting uses a similar vocabulary as wine tasting does. In Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own, 2nd Edition, Ben Watson remarked on this, adding, “though [cider vocabulary] tends to be much more basic… than that used by wine fanciers. The taste or smell may be acidic (sharp), acetic (vinegary), astringent (high in tannin), or any one of numerous other adjectives: chemical, fruity, musty, sulfuric, sweet, wood, yeasty” (page 103).

In fact, in 1975, Long Aston Research Station in the United Kingdom performed a study to try and determine what a vocabulary for cider drinking might be. Annie Proulx and Lew Nichol’s Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider reported that the final list from this study contained 163 words, which Andrew Lea posted as being later expanded on to contain twelve major flavor classifications, each split into first-tier terms and re-split into second-tier terms. You can find a list of these terms on Lea’s website.

Watson has an excellent list of descriptors on pages 107 and 108 which he says were once used on a cider score card sheet for the judges at National Homebrew Competition, which was sponsored by the American Homebrewers Association. I borrowed it and modified it for my own cider tasting:

  • Acetic – A smell and sharp taste like vinegar, solvent, or acetone/nail polish remover; a distinct fault in cider, caused by acetic or lactic acid bacteria.
  • Acidity – The presence of malic acid, which balances sweetness and is responsible for the briskness or zing in cider.
  • Alcoholic – The general effect of ethanol and higher alcohols. The taste is warming.
  • Astringent – A drying sensation in the mouth, similar to sucking on a tea bag. Due to excess tannin and acceptable only in a young cider.
  • Aftertaste – The lingering taste in the back of the throat. Ideally long and pleasant.
  • Balanced – No component of the cider overpowers another. An alcoholic cider is balanced by tannin, a sweet cider by crisp acidity.
  • Body – the “middle” of a mouthful of cider. Good body will feel heavy in the mouth.
  • Bouquet – Also known as the aroma, smell, or nose.
  • Carbonation – Naturally carbonated cider has small, beading bubbles. An artificially, forced-carbonated cider has large, uniform bubbles.
  • Clarity – The visual aspect of cider, described as brilliant, clear, slightly hazy, hazy, or cloudy.
  • Clean – Free from apparent “off” odors or flavors
  • Diacetyl – Aroma and flavor described at butter, butterscotch, or toffee; in moderation, and in certain regional styles, can contribute to flavor; in large concentrations, it’s a fault.
  • Dry – A sensation on the tongue that indicates a lack of residual sugar. Dryness varies from bone-dry to dry, off-dry, and semidry.
  • Estery – Sweet-solvent, chemical, banana or tropical fruit flavors; artificial fruity-floral aroma.
  • Fruity – May indicate fruitiness in flavor and/or aroma.
  • Hot – An unpleasant taste sensation due to excess alcohol content.
  • Light – Refers to the body and is descriptive, not negative, as opposed to “thin.”
  • Metallic – A tinny or coppery taste caused by exposure to certain metals; not a good thing.
  • Moldy or musty – An unpleasant smell sometimes compared to damp cardboard or sherry. Due to oxidation or over filtration of cider.
  • Mousy – A cider disorder caused by lactic acid bacteria. The cider smells and tastes like the bottom of a rodent’s den.
  • Oxidized – The chemical oxidation of stored cider in contact with air or containing high levels of dissolved oxygen; color can be dark golden brown; aroma and taste described as stale, leathery, caramelized, or sherry-like.
  • Phenolic – A plastic taste and smell caused by some wild yeasts and bacteria. Also described as smoky, pitchy, medicinal, barny, or leathery.
  • Sparkling – Having carbonation.
  • Still – Lacking carbonation.
  • Sulfuric – A smell or taste like burnt matches. Due to fermentation at high temperatures or excessive use of sulfites.
  • Sweet – The basic taste associated with sugar; appropriate to certain styles of cider. Sweetness varies from semidry, semisweet, or sweet.
  • Thin – Lacking body.
  • Woody – A taste or aroma usually caused by cider aging for an extended length of time in oak casts or in contact with wood chips.
  • Yeasty – A breadlike aroma caused by a cider sitting on its lees (spent yeast) for an extended period.
  • Young – A cider with components that have not yet matured into a balanced whole.

Other Useful Words
Spoiled, off

Proulx and Nichol remarked, “But unlike quaffers of fermented grape juice, most fanciers of the apple do not strive for the quintessential statement by using comparative phraseology to endow their glasses with human anatomy, action, and emotion… Cider goes down very easily, and the most meaningful comment you’re likely to get is a silently extended glass. There’s a story about a Maine lumberjack who was treating his friends to some superior hard cider. Because he prized it so highly, he poured each of them a scant glassful and put the jug back in the cupboard. His friends tossed off their drinks, smacking their lips, and the lumberjack waited expectantly for them to start the conversation. A long silence – a heavy silence – followed until the woodsman took the hint and went to the cupboard again, remarked sheepishly, ‘Well fellers, I guess a bird can’t fly with only one wing’” (page 180-181).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to Taste Cider

How do you evaluate the cider you are drinking?

While reading Ben Watson’s Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own, 2nd Edition and Annie Proulx and Lew Nichol’s Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider on how to host a cider tasting, the books gave excellent advice on how to evaluate the ciders.

A cider evaluation can be broken down into three parts – appearance, aroma, and taste. Ben Watson remarked, “Each of these individual components contributes to the overall quality and drinkability of the cider, and each should be taken into account when you evaluate it.”

When looking at a cider in a glass, you want to take the following notes:

  • Is it a still cider or is it carbonated?
  • If it is carbonated, is it a natural carbonation or a forced carbonation? Ben Watson describes the difference between the two as, “Naturally sparkling cider will foam up as it hits the bottom of the glass, and the bubbles that swirl up to the surface are smaller and longer-lasting than those in an artificially carbonated cider.”
  • What color is it? Example of color descriptions include pale straw, golden yellow, salmon, apricot, or amber. Ciders that have a green, gray, or orange-red tint may not be drinkable, as the color would be evidence to oxidation or cider sickness.
  • Is it hazy or clear? Words to use include brilliant, clear, slightly hazy, hazy or cloudy.

For the evaluating the aroma, Ben Watson explained, “A hard cider’s aroma or bouquet usually comes from the percentage of fragrant apple varieties that were used in the original cider blend… Yeasts, both natural and cultured, plus other fruits, spices or adjuncts… can also contribute to the complex aroma of a good cider. To evaluate the aroma, put your nose near the top of the glass and take a good whiff; the cider’s bouquet should be a preview of the flavor. If it smells bad or is excessively sharp or vinegary, don’t even bother tasting the cider” (page 103).

Last comes tasting the cider, in which the evaluation can be broken into feel in the mouth and how it tastes on the tongue. Take some of the cider in your mouth and do or note the following:

  • “Chew” on the cider a bit or roll it around in your mouth to get a feeling for the body. Full bodied ciders will feel heaver and richer, and thinner, watery ciders will have little sensation. There is no right or wrong to this, just an observation. However, watery ciders will not be as flavorful.
  • Is it a sweet or dry cider?
  • Is there a nice balance between sugar, acid, tannins, and alcohol? That is to say, are all the elements balanced in the tasting, or is there an element that over powers the other elements? For example, if you pucker, it may have too much tannin.
  • Is the alcohol content strong or weak?
  • After you swallow, does the aroma linger on?
  • Please do not fault a cider because it does not taste like apples, as grape wines do not taste like grapes.
  • Other descriptors?

Most importantly about tasting ciders is, “Do you like it?”Remember, it doesn’t matter how you scored a cider in relationship to others, but that you liked the cider, as your tastes will be different from the next person’s.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cider Tasting Party

I have been reading up on having a cider tasting party with my friends this last weekend, but I unfortunately had to postpone it because it ended up being a busy weekend for people. However, we did have one couple come over and sample some of the easier to find ciders, including:Mostly, I had been reading Ben Watson’s Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own, 2nd Edition and Annie Proulx and Lew Nichol’s Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider. From it, I took away these lessons for hosting:
  • The more guests you have, the more lively it will be.
  • Limit cider tastings to 12 to 15 at the most, but try to mix up the varieties. Do some sweet, some dry, some sparkling, some still, some made from only one kind of apple, and some made from a blend of apples.Admittedly, I did one cider per person, with more available if people wanted some.
  • Use clean transparent glasses or cups when tasting to allow people to evaluate the appearance of the cider. Glass is preferred since it will not affect the flavor of the cider. Wine glasses make for excellent cider tasting glasses, allowing the drinker to smell the cider better.
  • Have food available, such as bread, vegetables, pâté, some other spread, and cheese. Spreads should not have garlic that will make everything you taste taste like garlic. The cheese should not be overly strong as to overpower the cider. Cheeses that will go well with cider would also go well with apples, such as a mild cheddar, Camembert, Brie, Gouda, or Gruyère.
  • Blind tastings are the best and fairest way to taste cider so that one does not throw the tasting towards a cider they like, or chose one they like based on a label.
  • While you can serve the ciders in any order, it is suggested that the lower alcohol ciders are served before the higher alcohol ciders, and the dry cider before sweet cider.
  • The sweeter the cider, the colder it should be.
  • Have the tasters rate the cider on a scale of 1 to 10. At the end of the tasting, add up the scores and reveal the winner before guests leave. Watson commented in his book, “In my experience, the ciders that tend to score the highest are well-balanced ones that appeal broadly to the entire group of tasters, but that do not necessarily have the most character or ‘personality’” (p 103).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review: Craft Cider Making

I have recently been flipping though my cider making books, and I thought I would go more in depth about them. The first book I will address is Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea.

I have to admit that I’m a little biased about Lea. He has an excellent website which I reference all the time called The Wittenham Hill Cider Portal, and he is an active participant in the Cider Workshop. Therefore, I have had conversations with Lea, and I find him highly knowledgeable and easy to approach. Obviously, I’m going to like his book.

As a retired food biochemist, Lea writes this book about how to take apples and turn them into cider. While he is technical, he steps though the process slowly with a lot of detail, so you aren’t left scratching your head over what he was talking about and includes a lot of tables to refer to. My copy is riddled with little flags over various information such as making sweet cider, malolatic fermentation, and even a section on apple tree suppliers and equipment suppliers both in the UK and US.

He briefly mentions trees and caring for them, but for the most part, he leaves the topic of growing apples to others and focuses on making cider.

The biggest drawback to this book, which even Lea is disappointed in, is that it contains no reference index. Luckily, his website contains a lot of the same information and is easy to navigate by the table of contents.

But between his clear, detailed, step though process and his website, this is my primary go to book when I have a question about cider.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Making Cider at a Winery

Yesterday I mentioned that Heather from The Rusty Grape Vineyard said what really got them going making wine is acquiring their alcohol license. On the Cider Workshop, a similar topic came up, where one member wondered if they could work with a brewery to make their cider.

The group responded that they thought a winery in the United States could make cider under their license, not a brewery. Dick Dunn from Colorado then shared with the group the arrangement he has with a winery to make his cider and offered suggestions about how an agreement could be reached. I encourage you to read the discussion.

This whole topic has me thinking. One of the problems about being licensed for a winery is that this is not something that can be done in your home. Other things like jams can be produced inside the home for sale, but wine cannot. A start up winery colleague of mine if he could make wine at his home, and the TTB responded with this:

“Winery in a residence - Segregation of Operations Required

A winery must be totally segregated from any living space. TTB must be able to directly access the winery without going through personal space and you must be able to directly access your personal living space without going through the winery. The winery premises should be business use only so you cannot be storing bikes, doing laundry etc. on winery premises nor can you cross winery premises to get to an area where you store bikes, do laundry etc. The winery premises must be secure which includes a lock on any door providing direct access from the residence to the winery.”

So when Heather said to get the license, my mind was whirling because I need a separate facility and I hadn’t quite solved that problem. However, Dick does offer a solution, though I see potential problems if I got ambitious and wanted my own label and/or wanted to leave the agreement set up with the winery. Even though I would be the creator, everything is under their name, so I would have very little legal possession of the cider. However, if I chose not to leave my current job, this would allow me to make cider and sell it without giving up my day job.

It gives me something to think about…

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Volunteering at the Rusty Grape Vineyard

My husband and I had an urge to go check out The Rusty Grape Vineyard one rainy gray January. It is a cute little five acres run by Jeremy and Heather Brown just outside of Battle Ground, WA. Their label is kind of a cross between French beverage drinks in kind of an art nouveau style and old style pin up girls. It is unique, and their website strikes to be different by just being themselves.

We tried all their wines that day, including a strawberry dessert wine, to which my husband and I both hope that my strawberry wine would be half that good. Jeremy answered a few questions about how they ferment things.

Heather and Jeremy are fairly young, and I kept telling my husband, “That could be us.” I mean that their life style of operating a winery could be ours. They have some good ideas, too, like having Friday night dinner and a movie during the winter to try and help increase customer traffic during the slower months.

When the Rusty Grape posted that they were looking for helpers for the chocolate and wine tasting Valentine’s weekend, I signed us up, hoping to see more of the winery, to gain some hands on experience working in a winery, and to get to know Jeremy and Heather more to feel more comfortable asking questions about how they started up their winery.

They put us to work pouring a chardonnay, pinot noir, sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, a sparkling pinot noir, strawberry, and a sweet reisling. For two hours, we poured wine, talked to people, and listened to what Jeremy was saying. He is really excited about me opening a cider house, and even suggested a location in Hockinson as a tasting room. He explained how he got the pinot noir to be sparkling, and how he is currently selling it faster than he can produce it, a list which we put our names on.

I found out from Heather that a cousin of Jeremy’s worked with them to design the label, and even created their own font to do so. I asked her how they really got started up, and she recommended chasing after the alcohol license. She said it took eight months to get, but that once they had it, they felt compelled to use it, and that is what got them going.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wine and Chocolate Weekend

Since we tasted beer on Saturday, we decided to try the wine and chocolate at our local wineries for Valentine’s Day.

We started at the Rusty Grape Vineyards as volunteers for tour hours, pouring wine for people and listening to what was being said. Apparently, a lot of people start there because it makes geographical sense, and because a lot of people feel they have the best wine. I have to admit they have very good wine. The entry to the winery is about the only thing awkward, as the main tasting is down a hall and around the corner, but the place is sort of set up like a Tuscany café. There are a lot of tables and chairs, inviting you to come in, sit down, play some cards, and drink some wine. For the chocolate, they had Majestic Chocolates from McMinnville, Oregon handing out little samples. They did it in such a way that if you were drinking the Merlot, you would eat a hazelnut chocolate with it. Wonderful pairings! There was a chardonnay, five reds, a sparkling pinot noir, strawberry wine, and a sweet Riesling to finish off everything.

Our next stop was Bethany Vineyards & Winery. The Rusty Grape had recommended going there for an experience with the estate, which is nearly 80 acres of vines. The tasting room was large and had a long granite countertop. We tried about seven wines, mostly reds, but they only gave us one small chocolate cupcake. No customizing there. I was a little disappointed they were not sampling the blackberry wine that day.

We skipped ahead in the circuit to East Fork Cellars because of the fish stand next door. Once we had eaten, we went into the Cellars. It was a large room with a counter on one wall, and an area opposite that which served as a stage, complete with permanent lighting. That day, they had a guitarist and keyboardist who were mostly playing honky tonk style music, such as Hank Williams Sr, Buck Owens, and Jerry Lewis. The space seemed a little awkward, as all the people there were trying to press themselves up against the wall as to not spoil the show for anyone else. East Fork Cellars had a box of chocolates out, along with a small table containing crackers, blue cheese, and an aged sheep’s cheese.

We then went back to Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery. It was at a new small acreage of grape vines. The tasting room had sloped ceiling with timbers. They had a barrel room off in one direction, which had windows looking in on the fermenters. They had eight wines total, which they were tasting five per person, so between my husband and I, we were able to taste them all. Strangely, they started us off with the sweetest wine they had. The chocolate they provided was a fondue of fruits and cookies.

Things I took away from this experience that I might apply to my own future business:
Best Chocolate: The Rusty Grape Vineyard with Majestic Chocolates because they were customized pairings, though I have to admit chocolate fondue is something to remember if the customers did it.
Best Tasting Rooms: Three Brothers had the ability to see the fermenters, while the Rusty Grape is probably the most inviting with the café tables.
Best Idea: East Fork Cellars for having a cheese and cracker bar set up

Monday, February 15, 2010


On Saturday, my husband and I toured three brewpubs as part of ZwickelmaniA.

A zwickel is a small tap on a large beer fermenter that allows the brew masters to sample the beer inside to check on the quality of the beer. So, essentially, we went around Portland trying beers from the zwickel and also the finished project. Some of the breweries praticiapating in Zwickelmania do not normally open the brew house for the public to tour.

Since my husband is a beer SNOB (I mean literally – he is a member of Support Native Oregon Beer), he was the one who picked out where we were going to go. Our first stop was Raccoon Lodge and Brewpub, home of Cascade Brewing. There, we tasted a few sour style beers from the zwickel, three beers that were being aged in oak, and one finished apricot sour beer.

From there, we took a little detour to a new home brew supply store called F.H. Steinbart Co. It is a very large homebrew supply store, with a staff member dedicated just to kegs, but they have very limited hours so that they can spend time with their families. It will be difficult for us to make it there ever.

Back to ZwickelmainA, we then went to the Rogue’s Green Dragon, where we got a tour. They are still in start up mode, and really only had one set of equipment going. The unique thing about the Green Dragon is that they allow the Oregon Brew Crew, which is a club of amateur beer makers, to come in, brew on a much smaller scale, and serve it in the Green Dragon at one of their 40 taps.

The Green Dragon also shares space with a distillery called Integrity Spirits, so we got a little side tracked from the beer. There, we sampled chamomile vodka, an unusual tasting gin, and unsweetened absinthe. Apparently, there was a Valentine’s Distillery Tour being put on by Portland’s Distillery Row, and while it would have been nice to join up, we had beer tasting and tours to get back to.

Our last stop was Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB. This was probably the most informative tour, as they talked about equipment and showed us how hops that had been reduced into pellets took up less space than the natural flowers, and they were easier to clean up out of the vats when they were done. HUB claims to be the second largest brew pub in the state, where they are only counting beer sales of their beer within their pub.

From there, we went home, because the next day we were going to be busy tasting wine.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wine Making in 1965

I reserved a book from my local library called The Secrets of Making Wine from Fruits and Berries by Leslie G Slater. When I got it, I realized it was written in 1965. It has some interesting stuff in it. Please note, Slater did not use commas for prepositional phrases, and since I am quoting, I did not add them in.

First off, Slater claims that part of the reason grape wine did not really take off in the Americas was because the native grapes were immune to a disease that the Old World grapes had never been exposed to, so they could not get the vineyards established for over 300 years, “forcing our forefathers to turn to other beverages.” In fact, the very last page of the book is about how to make a grape wine, but the book is dismissive about the topic. “Although grapes are almost exclusively used by commercial wineries for producing all their various types of wine, they from one of the most difficult of all fruits to establish a recipe that would be satisfactory for home wine makers living in different sections of the country.” It goes on to describe the acid, tannin, and sugar content of grapes, but talks about the extremes possible in these three categories. In the end, Slater says, “For making a white wine follow the directions as given for making an Apple wine… For making a colored wine follow the directions given for making a Blackberry wine…”

Another interesting topic Slater talks about is how legal it is to make wine at home. The law sounds about the same as it is today as far as quantity and use goes, but Slater says that “The law requires that before we start to make wine in our homes we must first obtain a permit. There is no charge and the procedure is simple.” I didn’t realize that one had to permit for personal use quantities, which federal legislation did away with in 1979. I wonder if this was a clog in the system, or if they found people ignored getting the permit. I would be curious as to why home wine making on a small personal scale is not required to be permitted anymore. However, just like today, distilling was illegal. Slater claims, “As many types of wines and especially those made from grains, cereals and roots contain minute quantities of the highly poisonous Fusel oil. In natural wine the quantity is so small as to be harmless, however, when concentrated by distillation it can be extremely dangerous.”

Slater later has some good advice when it comes to stretching a particular kind of wine or blending with other wines. While everyone loves strong flavored wines made from blackberries, loganberries, and elderberries, not everyone likes picking these berries. Slater suggests making a mild flavored apple wine that can be blended with the stronger flavored wines to increase the quantity without really compromising the flavor as long as the blend does not have too much apple wine added. Slater also suggests adding dry apple wine to another wine if it is too sweet to cut down on the sugar.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cider Review: McMenamin's Hard Cider

We recently went to McMenamin’s White Eagle, where they had a hard cider on their wine menu. They described it as, “crisp, sweet & delicious this fermented apple beverage is a bubbly alternative to wine… apple cider for adults!” It sells for $6.00 a pint glass, so I decided that I should give it a try.

The front of the taste was full of apples, but it finished highly acidic and unbalanced. It was not what I would call sweet. I recently read a discussion about making dry ciders, as since cider has a strong tendency to go dry, there are no residual sugars to balance the acids and tannins. Therefore, the cider needs to age a while to allow the acids to mellow out. This was not the case for McMenamin’s hard cider. I suspect they used inferior apples and rushed the process and then lightly force carbonated.

I tried looking up some information regarding this cider. According to, this cider is 6.5% alcohol, which is evidence to me that they let the cider go dry. Yet, the following reviews on that same page describe it as sweet apple flavor. Maybe my taste buds consider drinks dry when others consider them sweet? However, my husband the beer drinker agreed with me when he took a sip that it finished highly acidic and that it was unbalanced.

One other interesting piece of information I gathered about McMenamins hard cider came from The Register-Guard in 2005, where they reported, “Oregon’s drink empire McMenamins makes a cider that’s served on tap at all of its pubs. McMenamins started by making 200 gallons of cider in 1990, and now it’s fermenting 2,000 gallons a year.”

Overall, McMenamin’s hard cider fits in with what my husband perceives for McMenamins – they make average beer that won’t win any awards or really be rememberable. In this case, if you are going to spend $6 for an inferior pint of cider, you would be better off spending $8 for a 22 oz of Wandering Aengus Cider that would taste much better.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Add Yeast

Adding yeast to beer wort or wine must to start the fermentation process is called pitching.

When I first started brewing, I would simply add the yeast to my batch. There is nothing wrong doing it this way, but it is not the optimal way. This is because it is sometimes shocked by temperature and the presence of so much consumable sugar.

The preferred way is a method called rehydrating. Take some water at about 100 degrees and add the yeast, and maybe a little bit of sugar, and then let it sit for fifteen minutes up to four hours. The yeast will begin multiplying a little bit and will create a little bit of foam, which is a good sign they are ready to be pitched into the batch.

The difference between the rehydrating and not is that rehydrating creates healthier yeast, which becomes evident as the batch will start fermenting sooner than if the yeast had not been rehydrated.

That said, there are times that I still don’t rehydrate. For instance, I’ve used Whole Foods unfiltered (unfermented) pasteurized apple cider several times now that I know what the SG and pH is, so I don’t need to take samples, and therefore do not handle any of the pasteurized juice. In an effort to reduce contamination from tap water, I will pitch the yeast without rehydrating it.

The important thing is to follow the directions for the yeast, because they are written to provide you with the most optimal conditions for that kind of yeast. My husband recently started a new beer, and the yeast he was using told him just to pitch it without rehydrating it. He thought this was odd, so he decided to ignore the directions, and he went ahead and rehydrated it. Well, that yeast kind of made these little globs, and when he pitch it, the globs floated on top of his beer wort, looking quite odd and causing him some alarm. I’m sure it will be quite fine, but goes to show that one should follow the directions on the yeast packet when it comes to pitching yeast.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Since I knew I was getting some free brewing equipment from dad’s cousin, I decided to take them a bottle of my first wine as a thank you. We opened it and drank it. It is a low alcohol apple wine that is only three months old. Last month, it tasted very much like a butter chardonnay, but this month has mellowed it out a bit more. My mother, who develops a rash if she drinks too much, really liked it.

When I got home, I looked over my brewing closet to see how my batches are coming along. After I made the beginner’s apple wine, I made a cloudy apple cider, another apple wine, and an apple cranberry cinnamon style cider, all of which I bottled and have yet to taste. Since then, I have been on Home Brew Talk where a woman with the handle YooperBrew encouraged me to allow things to bulk age more rather than to bottle age, so my batches have been staying in the closet longer before I bottle. Currently, I have a bell pepper and peach wine, strawberry wine, blackberry melomel, and another apple cider. Only the apple cider needed attention, and that was to be racked into a new jug.

I had some cherry juice out in the garage for awhile, and decided it was time to do something with it. I had asked the people on home brew talk what they would do, and there was a strong consensus to add honey to it. When I pulled out the juice, I realized that I only had 3 quarts, and not a full gallon. I didn’t want to add more water and dilute the juice, which I realized was mostly apple juice, so I went to the grocery store and picked up two cans of cherries. One was Oregon Bing Cherries, which contained cherries, water, and sugar, and the other was the store brand red tart cherries, containing only cherries and water. Then I realized from Terry Geary's The Joy of Home Winemaking that I had enough canned fruit to make 1 gallon, and enough juice to make ¾ of a gallon, for 1.75 gallons total. I mixed both together along with about a pound of honey and tasted it before I had all the water in, and decided to leave it at 1.5 gallons instead. I then added about another ¾ of a pound of sugar to bring the potential alcohol to around 11%. I decided to try a new yeast this time, so we will see how it turns out.

Where to go from here? I am registered to attend the Washington State University week long cider class this summer, and I’m trying to become more active in the wine clubs in the area when I can without investing too much money, such as the NW Cider Society, Home Brew Talk, and I have been eying the Columbia Willamette Enological Society and Wine Maker Magazine.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Astoria, OR

This last weekend, I was in Astoria, OR, were life was very kind to my husband and I in the fermenting world.

After going to the Blue Scorcher Bakery and Café for a bowl of homemade soup and a pear and clove bread pudding, we headed over to Shallon Winery for a tasting. He had his dry black berry, cranberry whey, peach, spiced apple, and chocolate orange wines. Upon me producing a business card, he realized that he had read my previous comments about the winery, and informed me that I did have one fact incorrect. He does add sugar to the fruit wines, or else the alcohol level would be too low. Thank you, Mr. VanDerVeldt, for clearing that up for me and for producing great wines!

After purchasing a peach wine and an apple spice wine, we walked back to Fort George Brewery, where my husband had a bourbon barrel stout and I had the wasabi ginger ale. Mine was a bit bland, and I was since told that sometimes the batches are inconsistent. My husband enjoyed his beer, as he was getting ready to add the oak chips that have been soaking in bourbon to his porter back home to make a bourbon barrel porter.

We then joined my father’s cousin for dinner. My parents had told them before Christmas what we were doing, and they said they had some brewing equipment that they hadn’t used in over ten years that we could have. We ended up with three 5 gallon carboys, two bottling buckets, a 90 bottle tree and cleaner, another hydrometer, a bigger wine thief, a few books, and about 100 bottles. The bottles were unique. I think he said they used to have Bud Light in them, but they were like brown 16 oz Burgundy bottles rather than beer bottles with shoulders. This means that if a batch is bottle conditioned for carbonation, it is harder not to pour what little lees are produced as the neck is not conducive for catching them. There were also some champagne bottles that had the ability to be capped. My husband is thinking about using one of those per his beer batches for occasions like parties.

When we got home, we started scrubbing dust and algae off of things, and sanitizing the equipment. My husband is excited to now brew twice as many beers because he has twice the carboys to do it with!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wine for the Confused

In 2004, the Food Network aired John Cleese’s (of Monty Python fame) Wine for the Confused. It was a low budget film in which he went to wineries near his house to learn about the big six grapes and their wine.

He also had some novice wine drinkers do some blind taste tests. The first one was to identify out of six wines which one was a $200 bottle and which one was the $5 bottle. The results were all over the board. His point to this was that one should not let another person dictate what kind of wine they like or how much to spend because one person’s $200 bottle is another person’s $5 bottle. Go with what you feel comfortable with and with what you like.

However, he did recommend working with a sommelier. By this, he means finding a sommelier that you like and become their regular. You tell them what you like, and they can recommend other things that you might like. However, you have to be willing to try things. There was a spoof, which I can’t find now, about how a person asked about a wine, the sommelier told them about it, but then they asked if it was like a particular style of wine that they liked. Well, it was a different style, so of course it tastes different.

You can watch it for free on hulu.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I won't take a Wine Class from my Local Homebrew Store

Let me give you a little background to my local homebrew store. The owner quit his job as a electronics salesman and started up the store in 1992, catering to beer makers. Then he realized that wine was a growing industry, so he moved the store and opened up a winery next door. He has great staff if you are making beer, but if you are making wine, cider, mead, etc, they all have to get out manuals, cheat sheets, and whatever else. These people don’t know what they are talking about, and I’ve gotten in a few arguments with them and left without purchasing anything. Unfortunately, my husband, who makes beer, is also frustrated with them. Quite often they are out of products, so he finds himself quite often substituting ingredients in his recipes, and it makes him nervous.

Now the winery next door allows you to make your own wine using their facilities. I have to tell you, I’ve been tempted. It would be nice to have some hands on experience using industry equipment, but I won’t because the process is that you pick out the wine you want to make from a kit, and then come back in eight weeks to label the bottles. Whoa! What happened to checking the airlock, racking, bottling, and all that other stuff that happens in that time? Those are great learning experiences!

However, if all you want is a customized wine, don’t want to invest in equipment, and/or don’t want to monitor the production, this is a good route to take, and I know of at least one other place that does this, and one beer brewery that does, too. But this isn’t for me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I’ve been looking around at various classes on cider and wine making, and I am sure excited.

I have signed up for Washington State University’s week long Cider Making Workshop taught by Peter Mitchell in the summer of 2010.

However, since cider making is a tiny but growing industry in the United States, and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks confesses that they operate like a winery and are licensed as one, I’m looking into wine making classes to figure out the business and equipment needed to start a cidery. For that, I have found a few sources.

I’ve also found a few books on the topic of starting a winery or brewery business.

I have checked out from the library, but have not cracked the cover yet:

Please note that I am not recommending the books be purchased from the links provided, but that they are just links to provide some information.

There are many more books and classes discussing running a winery as a business that I have not yet found, but I feel that this is a good start.

Thing is, the wine industry is experiencing huge growth because the 20 and 30 somethings are getting interested in wine, and this is a boom I hope to capitalize on. I think it could happen, as cider is able to market itself as beer or wine, and just judging by the recent press, cider making is also a growing industry.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bottle Conditioning

Cider, beer, and wine are all naturally still unless carbon dioxide is somehow added to make it sparkling. With a keg system, this is easy, as the drink is held under pressure, forcing it to absorb CO2. However, to make a drink in a bottle be sparkling, large bottling plants force carbonate their drinks, a method not available to the home brewer. Instead, the home brewer needs to employ a technique known as “bottle conditioning.”

Bottle conditioning can be done with near dry (1.005 or less) wines, ciders, or beer or a dry wine, cider or beer with a small amount of sugar, usually referred to as “priming sugar,” added to the batch. The batch is promptly bottled without preservatives. The yeast will begin eating the sugar and releasing CO2, but there is no place for the CO2 to go, so the liquid absorbs the CO2. For beer and cider, they are drinkable in about two weeks, and not waiting to consume the beverage helps reduce exploding bottles from building pressure from the CO2.

One can tell if the drink was force carbonated or bottle conditioned by looking at the bubbles. Bottle conditioned bubbles are smaller, more consistent in size, and last longer.

One draw back to bottle conditioning is that there will be a little bit of lees that form in the bottle. The trick is to not pour the lees when pouring the cider, as the lees will create cloudiness in the drink, and can affect the flavor when drinking the cider. Otherwise, the lees can be removed with a champagne technique called degorging. After being bottled in champagne bottles, which can handle higher pressures, and then allowed to age for a year, the bottles are slowly turned upside down, allowing the lees to collect in the neck of the bottle. The necks are submerged into a very cold solution that causes the necks and their contents to freeze, allowing the bottle to be opened, the lees to be removed in the frozen ice, and the bottles to be recorked before the majority of the gas to escape.

Due to the addition of yeast in the presence of residual sugar in a sweet cider, bottle conditioning is tricky and recommended being avoided on the small scale. It is possible after adding the solution and waiting a few days to pasteurize the bottles, but as Andrew Lea cautions, “I suggest goggles and strong gloves for this an a rehearse procedure for dealing the broken glass since burst bottles are a very real possibility.” Instead, consider using a keg system or forced carbonation for a sweet carbonated cider.

For more information, read:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cold Crashing Explained

I wrote a blog about how beer makers don’t know how to make cider. In it, I said that they add sugar when they shouldn’t unless they are trying to make wine, rush the cider instead of letting it age, and they believe they can cold crash cider to stop fermentation to have a naturally sweet cider without chemicals.

Because I knew that UK craft cider makers allow their cider to ferment outdoors, which allows their cider to freeze, yet it will start fermenting again when it thaws, I said that cold crashing cider is impossible, but I didn’t know why. I asked the Cider Workshop, and Jim K responded to me. He explained that cold crashing doesn’t kill yeast cells, contrary to home beer making beliefs, but just makes them go dormant, just like in cider making. However, the sugars in beer are not completely ferementable as they are in cider, so the yeast has a much harder time recovering from being dormant. He believes that the yeast could become active in beer eventually after a few months, but because beer makers rush things so much, chances are the beer is consumed before the yeast can be active again.

Jim also added that most good brewers use cold crashing as a way to clear the beer, much like how I use pectic enzymes, but that otherwise mash temperatures are used to control sweetness.

However, I have since been schooled by a beer maker, CvilleKevin. It turns out that I did not know the proper technique of cold crashing. He said, “Cold crashing is not the same as cooling. Chilling will make the yeast go dormant. Most types of yeast will drop to the bottom at that point. To cold crash you rack, cool, and rack again. Keep an eye on for a week or two to make sure you got it, or else you can go straight to a keg at that point.”

He continued, “By cold crashing, you are getting the yeast and nutrients to drop out of suspension and racking them out. You can do it with just about any yeast, but some are easier than others. Nottingham is very easy. One of its properties is that it flocculates at low temps and makes a nice compact sediment. Most ale and wheat yeasts are easy to crash. Wild yeast, lager yeast, champagne yeast and some wine yeasts are tougher.”

“I've been cold crashing cider for years without problems. I've got about 20 liters right now from last season that have been stored at room temp for over a year with no problems.”

When presented back to the Cider Workshop, Andrew Lea of Craft Cider Making further explained that in this context, it is not the cold temperatures that cause it to work, but instead the allowed “repeated rackings, thereby reducing yeast and nutrient to levels at which refermentation is less likely. So it fits into that hierarchy, and there are no guarantees!”

Since asking these questions, I found Ben Watson had addressed “cold shocking” in his Cider: Hard and Sweet book on page 166. The process is as CvilleKevin described it, adding after racking that “The cider should remain at a cold temperature, and then, before bottling, you’ll need to add potassium sorbate… to guard against refermentation… All this effort strikes me as way too much of a hassle for the amateur cidermaker… A much more practical solution, and one that doesn’t involve preservatives, is to stabilize the cider after bottling by pasteurizing it, bottle and all.”

Therefore, after much research and asking of question, I now believe that “cold crashing” can be done on cider as long as racking is done with the reduced temperatures with the use of potassium metasulfite and potassium sorbate to ensure that the cider would not start fermenting again.