Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review: The Best Apples to Buy and Grow

I found The Best Apples to Buy and Grow at the library. It is a thin little book that is a Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-region Guide, first published in 2005 and updated in 2007. It has several people contributing to the book, which makes it a little inconsistent when you are used to a formula format.

The book opens with a history of apples in North America (too bad I forgot about that when I was writing up the history for this blog) and then moves on to heirloom apples. There is a small section about apples for cider and apples for pie before it starts going though “60 Great Apples.” This section is where you really notice the different authors, but they do try to give a description and a little bit of history before talking about culinary uses, harvest time, regions where grown, and growing tips. Some apples have pictures, but not all of them.

The last part of the book is dedicated to the home orchard, including a page on rootstock, grafting, planting, training, thinning apples, pruning, harvesting and storing apples, pest and disease control and including disease resistant apple breeds, deer, rabbit, and mouse control, and planting an apple hedge.

I did like this book enough to put it on my Christmas wish list, and my mother-in-law got it for me. Yes it is small, but I think I would take it with me to the next apple tasting I would go to, and it would be easy to do so because of its size. While it is not as local as Warren Manhart’s Apples for the Twenty-First Century, it does a pretty good job for North America, though there are times where you can see the New York bias, which is where the Geneva apple research center is located. This book also talks about what apples are suitable for cider, but only if they are also good for eating. Can’t have it all, but then again, having a multipurpose apple tree makes more people happy. I get apples for cider, and my husband gets apples for eating.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cider Review: Crispin & Fox Barrel

My husband and I went to the Concordia Ale House in Portland, OR for the Crispin & Fox Barrel Cider tasting on April 8, 2010. Their northwest marketing agent Lauren Heine was there with five different samples of their product.

Heine started us off with the Classic Crispin. I found it very smooth and slightly sweet. This one is usually promoted by Crispin as being served over ice. I asked her why that was, since it sort of seems to cheapen the drink as the ice melts and dilutes the cider. She said they were trying to do something new and different with cider, as it is a relatively unchanged drink for so long. Heine said that she preferred the Crispin draft on ice, but usually did not do that to the bottled product, and also did not add ice if she was drinking it with her meal, as she did drink it slower then, and the ice would melt. I could see how the sweet drink would benefit from ice, as the serving recommendation is that the sweeter the cider, the colder it should be. After my tasting, I went ahead and followed her advice and ordered a draft Crispin on ice, but I think it was too cold, so it became very blah. Also, I had it with food, so the ice did melt a bit.

The next cider in the tasting was Fox Barrel’s Hard Apple Cider. This was a much sharper cider compared to the Crispin. This was followed by the pear cider and the black current cider, both made from apple cider and juice added in afterwards. The pear cider was sweeter, and the black current cider really didn’t taste much of berry, but it wasn’t apple, either. I asked Heine about the future of Fox Barrel Cider since it was bought by Crispin. She told us that the two companies really do not share marketing territory with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, so for now, more attention will be made to expand the Crispin market in the central US, and maybe some changes will happen to Fox Barrel in future years, but there are no plans as of yet.

The tasting finished with Crispin Honey Crisp. This is a cider that they stabilized and then added honey too and did not filter, so it is cloudy. The honey has not been allowed to ferment, so this is not a mead/cider blend, AKA cyser. Basically, this is their mellow and smooth cider with honey sweetness that comes to you at the end. Unfortunately, said Heine, the Honey Crisp will give her a hang over, while the other Crispin products will not.

I debated about attending the Belmont Station Crispin & Fox Barrel Cider Tasting tonight, April 29. They will have Bonnie and Clyde Ciders there, two of Crispin/Fox Barrel’s draft only limited release ciders. I tried figuring out if it is worth chasing down a cider that will be rare and hard to come by. Some could argue that is all the more reason to go try it, yet I wondered if I can’t get it on a regular basis if it is worth chasing after. In the end, I dedcided it was Crispin/Fox Barrel Cider, which I kind of hold on the upper end of the mass produced scale, but mass produced isn’t a good thing.The tastings I had at the Oregon Garden’s Brewfest kind of proved that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bell Pepper Peach Wine

Every once in a while, I mention that I have a bell pepper peach wine that I currently have bulk aging. I’m kind of proud of it, and I hope to enter it into the country fair. My husband was a bit spooked by the idea, but he has since then smelled it when I racked, and thinks it has great potential, too.

I have seen pepper and peach jam before, and I really like Newman’s Own All-Natural Bandito Chunky Peach Salsa. One day in December 2009, I was digging though my freezer and realized I had both frozen red bell peppers and frozen peaches that my mother had processed. While the jams and salsas used other peppers, I decided to give bell peppers and peaches a try.

I used a ratio of 2 lbs of bell peppers to 1 lb of peaches. My recipe was as follows:

2 lbs of frozen red bell peppers
1 lb of frozen peaches
1 gallon of water
2 lbs sugar
3 tsp acid blend
pectic enzyme
Montrachet yeast

I boiled the water with sugar and poured over the frozen fruit, which pretty much got my temperature to room temp. The SG ended up being 1.072, and the acid blend forced it down to about 3.4 pH.

The color of this is the color of peaches, not the red from the peppers. The peaches made it cloudy at first, but the longer it has sat, the more it has cleared up. I’ll probably bottle it in July so that I can enter it into the fairs.

One thing I haven’t decided on is back sweetening or not. When it finished fermenting and was completely dry, I wasn’t too fond of it. The bell pepper was very strong and sharp, so I thought that it might need sugar to balance it out and make the peach perk up. However, the longer it has aged, the smoother it has gotten, so I’m not so sure anymore.

If one were to attempt this, since you would not have my mother’s frozen produce, I would recommended using fresh bell peppers and frozen peaches, or wait until late summer when peaches are good and ripe. I’m also debating about doing a truer 50/50 ratio of 1.5 lbs each.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Legislation to Know About

There are currently two pieces of legislation being pushed through that will have major impacts on me getting this project off the ground.

The first one isn’t so bad. I live in Washington State, which is a liquor control state which has state run liquor stores. During this recession, the state treasurer said that the state could save money if they got out of this business and instead allowed these stores to be privatized. There is now a group called Modernize Washington who is attempting to get this on the ballot this fall. It would create change, but I couldn’t tell you if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

The second piece of legislation is at the national level and much scarier, and is called HR 5034 (full text). It ends all direct shipping of alcohol in an effort to keep a three tiered system of producer-wholesaler-retailer and do away with online sales by the producers. As a result, the wholesalers gain a monopoly while making little producers at their mercy. Make them mad, and they won’t sell your product. Wine Reviewers would only be able to taste what the Wholesalers sell. Even wine retailers believe that there will be a huge impact on their sales.

Portland KGW – Oregon Wineries face more sales limits. April 19, 2010

Text of this video found here.

Additional reading:

Overall, I dislike the three tier system, but believe it would somewhat exist in a free market because it helps to expand the territory in which a product is sold. However, I believe it should be a choice of the producer to use a wholesaler to gain access to this market or not, and should not be legislated.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review of Oregon Gardens 6th Annual Brewfest

Last Saturday, my husband, a friend of his, and a lot of my mother’s family went to The Oregon Garden’s 6th Annual Brewfest in Silverton, OR. There were 43 different brewers represented with 81 beverages, one of which was a root beer. This year, they gave us a pretty sleek 8 oz beer glass as our tasting mug.

There were six ciders there – Wandering Aengus Ciderworks with their new Anthem line up of apple, cherry, and pear, Classic Crispin Cider, Fox Barrel Pear Cider, and Spire Mountain Cider Dark and Dry (this one has “a hint of molasses and brown sugar.”) I took three glasses and filled them with samples of Wandering Aengus Apple Anthem, Classic Crispin Cider, and Spire Mountain Cider Dark and Dry and had people in our party try them. Nobody cared for Crispin, claiming it was watery in taste. Compared to that, the Dark and Dry was much fuller bodied in the mouth and much more pleasant to drink, and thus was preferred out of the two. Wandering Aengus Apple Anthem was very different from the other two, in which people described as sour, but they liked it. I then put the Wandering Aengus Pear Anthem Cider up against the Fox Barrel Pear Cider, and people all agreed that Wanding Aengus was much better, as it had more flavor and was more dynamic. This was a good tasting panel for me to listen to to help me figure out what kind of products I want to be making.

As far as the beer goes, it was the complete opposite of the Winter Brew Fest we attended. At that festival, so many of the beers were brewed for just that event and would be impossible to fine again. At this brewfest, my husband estimated that we could find 70% of them in bottles or on tap, and I remember a good number of them from last year being there last year. My husband indicated that it was sort of a brewfest for the sake of being a brewfest, but that it didn’t inspire brewers to do new things, but to go with what they have.

This would be a good festival for new drinkers and casual drinkers who want to try a whole bunch of beers in little quantities rather than buy a whole bunch of six packs or 22 oz bottles and discover you don’t like it. For that reason, it also allows someone to try a beer style they might normally not drink. However, the serious beer drinker would be disappointed as they would find they have had much of what is available there, but it does allows for tasting them in one sitting or to try beers back to back or head to head. It might be a few years before we return.

Bonus, though, was that touring the Oregon Gardens was free, and we got some ideas for growing things. For instance, they set up some old ladders as bean poles, but I think they would be kind of neat for growing hops.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Review: The Homebrewer’s Garden

The first time I checked out The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher from the library, I thumbed through it and realized most of it was about growing hops. Since I don’t like hop beer, I took it back. With my husband’s recent purchase of hop rhizomes, he suddenly wanted me to check the book out again. I guess it is all about timing, and the first time I had the book we weren’t ready for it.

Written in 1998, this book is broken down into three main sections – growing hops, growing herbs, and growing grains. It also contains some recipes and easy appendices on measurements and conversions and sources for supplies.

For the hops, it talks about various kinds, the ideal place to plant them and how, along with several trellis designs. It talks about hop pests and diseases along with cures, how to harvest the hops, and how to dry them for beer making use. It even contains a design for a hop drier.

The herb section is somewhat generalized, but it does have listed various ways to start herbs such as taking cuttings. Hardy perennial herbs (ones that survive year after year without reseeding) such as mint are easily started by taking cuttings. Again, it talks about harvesting and drying herbs for beer brewing use. It then dedicates a page to an herb, including a drawing of it, to describe the herb, its desired climate and site, along with propagation techniques, harvesting, and brewing. This is the largest section of the book with 42 plants and one page on herbs that were used in brewing in the past but have since then found to be poisonous.

The last section on growing grains and making malts is unfortunately difficult to do in my climate. It starts off with barely, describing it, talking about seed sources and its expected yield before launching into soil preparation, planting and care, harvesting, threshing and winnowing, storage, and how to malt barely. It includes diagrams on the equipment needed for malting with step by step instructions. It then talks about working with amaranth, corn, oats, quinoa, rye, sorghum, spelt, and wheat. Some of those varieties have little written about them, telling you to refer to another grain for instructions, or leaving that grain to the professionals due to difficulty and/or danger if not processed right.

The recipes included with this book are very unusual but they look easy enough to obtain the ingredients for, such as an oregano pale ale. I mentioned that my husband attempted to make a dandelion bitter ale from this book. There is even one recipe called Mumm, which is an ale that you select 6 different ingredients from a list of 18 to make. That means there are 13,366,080 different possibilities from just this one recipe!

Would I buy it? Personally, no. I’m pretty good with growing herbs as it is, but I don’t know much about growing hops, but hops are not my thing. The recipes are not something you find in your average beer making book or beer cloning book, which lead my husband to declare to me last week that he wanted to buy this book. He said there were too many recipes in there that he wanted to copy, and I think he is also concerned with growing his hops. Different needs.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Oregon Gardens Bloom and Brew

This Friday and Saturday, April 23rd & 24th, is The Oregon Garden’s 6th Annual Brewfest in Silverton, OR. I attended the 2nd Annual Brewfest, which was called Bloom and Brew at the time, and last year’s festival. I still tend to call it Bloom and Brew, as several places have a brew fest, but there is only one Bloom and Brew that I know of in this region. It makes it unique.

Admission this year is $15, but the price includes a mug and about 10 tasting tickets. My first year, the glasses were small eight ounces done up in a sleak beer style mug. I heard for awhile that they changed to plastic due to broken glass and a change of sponsors, but when I went back last year they gave us a nice clear coffee cup style mug that had a line on it. The line indicates a “tasting” of 1 ticket versus a full glass, which usually runs at least 3 tickets. My husband and I actually use these mugs as our official homebrew tasting mugs, even for my wines.

The tastings are done in a pavilion, and there are slated to be 39 different breweries or brew pubs represented (actual 40 - Wandering Aengus Ciderworks was a late addition), each one bringing two or three of their beers to try, most of which are bottled and distributed if one looks for it in stores. There is a little bit of food to be had, but this is most definitely a place where I have packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for.

This is an event I go to with my aunt and uncle who do not live very far from Silverton. We get there early to avoid the crowds, as when we leave usually around 3pm, it is very packed. There is no seating, and very few small tall tables. It is also very warm at that point.

After leaving the pavilion, we wander around the gardens for a bit or ride the little tram they have. Thing is, it always seems to be a rainy blustery day, so trying not to overdress for inside, but being dressed enough for outside is very tricky.

The first time I went, I drank very little except for the Spire Mountain Apple and Pear Ciders there because I did not like beer at the time. I really had no interest in going back, but then I got engaged to a guy who loved beer, so I thought I should take him. Luckily, a few weeks prior, we finally found a beer I would drink an entire glass by myself, which was a honey orange wheat. The Bloom and Brew Fest last year had quite a number of other fruit wheat beers that I found to be decent and could drink the small samples and also a glass of one, while my fiancé (now husband) was quite happy that several dark stout type beers were still to be found. Spring is a season where you can find both without much hassle as they fade the darker winter beers out in favor of the pale summer beers.

This was a must return to beer festival on my husband’s list.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Growing Hops

I seem to be rubbing off on my husband with the idea of growing plants for use. He recently bought and planted some hop rhizomes. A rhizome is sort of like a flower bulb or tuber, and in fact, Irises grow from rhizomes.

Living in Washington State, hop rhizomes cannot be sold by mail order, but instead appear be done locally. Our local homebrew store was selling hop rhizomes from Yakima, WA, and my husband decided to buy three varieties: Cascade, Golding, and Fuggle.

Hops grow to be about 15-25 feet tall, and do well with some sort of guide to climb, such as twine or wire. At the SE intersection of NE 15th Ave & Fremont St in Portland, OR, there are some hops growing up the metal grounding wire on a telephone pole. Admittedly, hops grow better on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, even wild at times.

The hop vines grow upwards, and eventually begin to put out vines growing sideways, which will bear flowers called hop cones. These cones will eventually be picked and dried for brewing beer.

Our local homebrew supply store provided a four page document on how to plant the rhizomes, grow and care for the hops, and harvest and dry the cones.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dandelion Beer

My husband checked out from the library The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher. He got all excited when he realized there was a recipe in that book for a Dandelion Bitter Ale, which he attempted to make this last weekend.

I find it ironic that a plant that is almost 100% edible and puts off flowers is considered a weed and undesirable, while grass has no economic or resource value in suburbia, and even costs me money to mow which causes pollution. It is a little upside down in my thinking. I have an aunt who says it is because the dandelion propagates a little too easily that it is a weed. She might be right – if it was less common, people would actually recognize it for its valve.

So this book had a recipe to make dandelion bitter ale, which my husband decided to make only a 3 gallon batch of. He went outside and picked a bunch of dandelions, roots and all, and then cleaned them up for this beer. The recipe called for the leaves, blossoms, and roots, thought he found the roots to be a bit too bitter and eased up on them. I had been reading about making dandelion wine, which just uses the blossom. Most people who did this said not to use the stem, and since my husband’s recipe said roots, leaves, and blossoms, I talked him into removing the stems to make his beer.

He decided to do this batch using an all-grain beer brewing technique, so since he picked the dandelions first, they were left out on the counter while waiting for the beer wort to be ready for them, which was several hours, and not all of it required his attention. There would have been plenty of time for him to start it and then go pick the dandelions and prepare them to allow him to have maximum freshness.

Sadly, due to issues with the all-grain technique, this batch will only have about 3% alcohol, but I’m trying to get him to make it again because the second time around, when you know what you are doing, is bound to be better.

Sometime soon, I’ll go ahead and try making a dandelion wine.

Haha! One of my local newspapers did an article talking about harvesting dandelions today.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Herb Garden

I’ve been gardening a lot recently, trying to get our property in tip top shape to grow a garden and plant my apple trees. This is all so that I have things to ferment.

There was a small flower bed in front of the window of our office that I thought would make a nice little herb garden. I measured it as being about teen feet long, and the space between the down spouts and being flush with the patio concrete was 18 inches wide.

I talked to my father about making a raised plant bed for that space. We found some scrap wood and made it 10 feet long by 18 inches wide on the outside, so the inside was actually smaller. We put in two cross braces to prevent the dirt from bowing the longer sides and to give more stability. The whole thing was screwed together.

In the meanwhile, I had to go remove all the weeds and a few flowers from the location, along with picking out the river rock that the previous owners used as trim that got buried. The soil was all clay.

So I put the new frame down in the space, and it fit perfectly. I then spent about $35 on two bags of dirt and some herbs. I got herbs that I cook with, such as oregano, thyme, chives, tarragon, fennel, curry, sage, and cilantro. Of all of those, I believe the cilantro is the only one that dies every year, but I should be able to plant it every year. I thought about transplanting my rosemary bush into this spot, but it was too big. Also, I did not plant any mint or lemon balm since I have both of those in other parts of the yard, and they do have a spreading tendency, so they would take over the entire bed. I thought about getting lavender, but I decided my use for it would be small. Also, I thought about basil, but it does not like wind and dies back every year, so the ability to maintain it would require some work compared to the other plants.

I also decided to take some of the smaller river rock we had been picking out of our property and make a “river” running though my herb garden to give it a design element. As a last thought, I also put down a little bit of lettuce seed.

I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Now I will have more fresh herbs for cooking, seasoning, and brewing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review: Apples for the Twenty-First Century

When I was researching for what apples to grow, one of the books I came across was Apples for the Twenty-First Century by Warren Manhart written in 1995.

Manhart grew up in the colder climates of Minnesota before coming to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where he had a large orchard established. He talks about 50 different apples that he likes to grow, discussing the usual things like pollination, soil, disease, preferred climates etc, but also adding in history and his own personal experience growing the tree. Since I live just a tad bit north of where the Willamette River empties into the Columbia River, I’m on the northern edge of his climate zone, so his advice is local for me, which I love. However, for others outside of this area, he also talks about other climate recommendations.

Remember though, that this is a list of his 50 favorite apple trees to grow, eat, and cook with, so there are many missing off of this list, and he does not talk about cider making at all and which apples would be suited for that.

Another flaw with the book is that they printed all the pictures of the apples as plates, so when you are reading about the apple, you have to flip to the plates to see what it looks like.

This book also contains a section on how to care for the trees, along with lists in the back regarding bloom times for pollinating and other very useful information that is easy to flip to and find.

All in all, I really like this book and someday I will purchase it. It is quite large, and is most suited as a coffee table book.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Apple Tree Size vs. Cider Yield

“How many trees do you need [to make cider]?” Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols ask in their book Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider on page 128. Giving caution to the weather and breed of apples, both affecting crop size, they give the following approximations:

1 bushel of apples = 45 lbs of apples
1 dwarf tree = 1 bushel of apples
1 semidwarf tree = 4-5 bushels
1 bushel of apples = 2-3 gallons of cider
Therefore, it would take 25 dwarf trees to make 50-75 gallons of cider.

Due to tree spacing and size vs. crop size, I put the question to the Cider Workshop of what size tree yielded the most fruit per land unit. The group did not feel comfortable answering my question head on, but there was a general consensus that they liked working with smaller trees.

Going back to the “small” orchard of Gene Yale in Chicago, IL, who had 97 mini-dwarf apple trees growing on a small 2500 square foot lot. Yale estimates that each tree produces one quarter to one third of a bushel small 2500 square foot lot in Chicago but has 97 apple trees.

1 mini-dwarf tree = 1/4 to 1/3 bushel of apples
97 trees, assuming annual production, would then yield about 25 bushels
25 bushels of apples = 50-75 gallons of cider
This is the same amount as 25 dwarf trees but in less space!

Too read more on apple tree size and crop yield, read Oregon State University’s free paper on Growing Tree Fruits and Nuts in Your Home Orchard.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A "Small" Apple Orchard

Yesterday, I mentioned how rootstock can be used to control the height and the amount of space a apple tree requires. Nothing can sum that up better than Gene Yale's orchard. Take a look!

Yale lives on a small 2500 square foot lot in Chicago but has 97 apple trees! Yale uses Dwarf M27/M111 rootstock and then uses pruning methods to keep them at 5 or six feet tall. Between how he planted them and their size, Yale’s yard looks a lot like a rose garden.

My front yard is quite small, and sometimes I think about turning it into an English cottage garden rather than a lawn, but I think that this technique would look really nice, plus I would have the benefit of apples to eat!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Most fruit trees, if left to their own devices, will grow to be quite large. For instance, pear and apple trees grow to be about 40 feet tall, and require an additional 40 feet of space around them. They take up a lot of space, and they require a ladder to prune or harvest them.

The way that apple and pear trees are made to grow smaller is by using different rootstocks. Since apples and pear seeds are not like their parents, sticks called scions from a parent tree are grafted onto different rootstock to control their size. Some rootstocks will dwarf a tree down to only 6 feet tall! Apple rootstock sizes are usually classified as standard (taller than 15 ft), semidwarf (up to 14 feet), and dwarf (less than 9 ft).

In addition to not getting so tall, the trees do not get as wide and require as much space. Therefore, in an area required for a 40 ft tree, one could plant nine dwarf trees or five semi dwarf trees.

Besides looking at how tall a tree might get when planning on buying a tree on rootstock, take into account the rootstock needs. Some rootstock prefer one kind of soil over another, prefer a specific range of pH soils, require more water, or thrive better at different temperatures. Some rootstock are even more disease resistant than others.

Other benefits to size controlling rootstock also take less time to mature than standard root stock. Since they are smaller, they require less equipment such as tall ladders and pole trimmers. Their small size also means that the care of one tree can be done in less time. And, since apples and pears are not self pollinating, other trees that can pollinate to bear fruit are closer, making pollination more likely to happen.

My two custom grafted apple trees were done onto M9. Out of what the Home Orchard Society offered when I ordered these trees, I felt this would reach the most ideal height for what I wanted. For an actual orchard, they would probably be too tall, but we wanted a little bit of shade on our house, so we opted for something a bit bigger.

For more information regarding size controlling rootstock, including other kinds of fruit, please read the Washington State University’s free paper titled Fruit Handbook for Western Washington.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Today is a day of taking stock of what I have made.

I have made:

  1. an apple wine
  2. sweet still apple cider
  3. another apple wine
  4. an apple cranberry cinnamon cider

They are all bottled and aging now

I still have in bulk storage:

  1. a bell pepper peach wine
  2. cherry mead
  3. blackberry mead
  4. strawberry wine
  5. dry apple cider that needs to be bottled.
  6. 5 gallons apfelwein
  7. and most recently a carrot apple ginger wine

That is a lot of jugs, bungs, and airlocks! I keep running out of airlocks and bungs.

Yesterday, I started two half gallons of a cranberry whey wine using two different kinds of whey, one from an acid based cheese and one from a rennet based cheese. I did them up as small batches because I’m not sure they will work.

What do I have waiting to be made?

  • I found some frozen raspberry puree, and I was given 5 lemons which I juiced and froze, so I’m pondering a raspberry lemonade wine of sorts.
  • I have a few cans of Bartlett pears that could be fermented.
  • People have been recently getting rid of candy canes, which I have been taking because I know can be made into a wine.

However, none of these things are fresh and therefore need me to start fermenting right away. I’ve been pondering what to do next, but since wines can take a year, I keep phrasing the question, “What kind of wine would I want to be drinking this time next year?” My list is really a summer or winter list, and nothing pops into my head of something spring like. Mind you, I do have ideas of things I definitely want to ferment this summer. For instance, our yard has a lot of mint, and I think that would make a lovely wine, especially if a splash of lime was added. I just have to wait for the mint to grow!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wine & Distilled Spirits at the Oregon Spring Beer & Wine Fest

Besides tasting cider at the 16th Annual Spring Beer & Wine Fest last weekend at the Oregon Convention Center, I had a little bit of wine, some of my husband’s beer, some distilled spirits, cheese, and chocolate.

For distilled spirits, I finally got to try out Spokane, WA’s Dry Fly Distillery’s Vodka, which I had been reading about on Facebook. My favorite of theirs was actually their gin. They said they used things like lavender, coriander, and Fuji apples. It made it a mellower gin, one which I think could be drank easily on the rocks, which you don’t do with most gins, or with a splash of juice.

From Portland, New Deal Vodka was there with a few of their spirits, including their Hot Monkey, which was a vodka infused with peppers. I’ve infused tequila with peppers before, but this vodka was way too overpowering, even though they served it to me with 3 parts pineapple juice to one part Hot Monkey. I couldn’t taste anything for a little while. I also had some of their Loft Organic Liqiours, and I loved the ginger cello.

I also had some vodka from Bend Distillery. They also had an infused pepper vodka, but it was much mellower, easier to drink, and doesn’t linger. They used a combination of peppers, and the first pepper you can taste is sweet bell peppers before it moves into the hotter peppers and then cools down. They also had a coffee and hazelnut infused vodka, but it didn’t taste like coffee liquor. It was very good.

I was a bit tickled that one of the vendors among the distillers at the festival was Treetop Home Distillation Systems. As I have mentioned before, distilling without a permit is illegal in the United States and other countries, but if I ever get my cider house/winery up and running, I would attempt to get a distilling license and uses one of their small stove top distillers instead of attempting to build one.

For something unique, I had some Vinn MiJiu Ice, a kind of rice wine/liquor, which was sweet as promised with the honey-pear taste and aroma. I was expecting saké, but this was different.

The only other wines I had was from Gougér Cellars and Nehalem Bay Winery, even though there were many more wineries there. Gougér Cellars made the cut because it is one of the few wineries in Clark County where I live, and the only one represented there. I had their reisling and ended the day with their muscat. While Tualatin Estate Vineyards has a better muscat, it takes some effort for me to obtain it. This muscat will be easier for me to get.

Nehalem Bay Winery makes fruit wines, and I unfortunately didn’t discover at the event until towards the end. I had their cranberry wine, which was good, but I prefer Shallon Winery’s. I’m curious about the rest of their products, so I will have to take a trip out to the coast to try more of their wine sometime.

And speaking of the coast and visiting Shallon Winery, we discovered a new Astoria, OR brew pub at the festival called Astoria Brewing Company at the Wet Dog Café. We will have to check them out and see how they compare to the Blue Scorcer Bakery & Café and Fort George Brewery. Will the Wet Dog Café be able to woo us away?

Lots of local one day road trips for us!

I will talk about the cheese vendors another time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cider at the Oregon Spring Beer & Wine Fest

Cider had a decent representation at the 16th Annual Spring Beer & Wine Fest last weekend at the Oregon Convention Center. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks from Salem, OR was there with their new Anthem cider on tap along with pear and cherry. The Anthem, made only with Newtown Pippin and Winesap apples, is probably my new favorite of theirs, though I would probably have to taste them all to make sure. Last time I saw them at their facility, they had been experimenting with cherries and decided it was best to add to fermented apple cider without fermenting the cherries. The result was something semi-dry with a hint of cherry, but something that didn’t wow me, and I love cherries. It could have been because I had been drinking their pear flavored cider previously. Made the same way the cherry cider was, this drink was sweet and more like something I would expect considering the process.

Part of the problem with the cherry cider also could have been that I drank Milton-Freewater, OR Blue Mountain Cider’s version. I would need to compare the these two side by side. These two cider companies are the largest ones in Oregon, with a few others up and coming.

Six pack ciders were also represented with Crispin Cider and Woodchuck Cider. Crispin Cider likes to have a presence in Oregon, and in fact has its own Twitter account @CrispinOregon. They were there with their Natural Cider along with their newly acquired Fox Barrel Pear Cider. In fact, Concordia Ale House is having a Cider Night tonight, but looking at the ciders they are going to use, they are all Crispin or Fox Barrel. Crispin and Fox Barrel is also having a tasting of their limited release Bonnie & Clyde ciders later this month on Thursday, April 29th from 5-8pm at the Belmont Station in Portland, OR.

As far as Woodchuck Draft Cider goes, it was a bit interesting. In the craft cider world, it is a six pack trash. In the beer making world, people want the recipe and hold this up as what cider should be like. It makes the craft cider makers shutter, trying to explain it is the Budweizer of cider. I had their granny smith cider, which is the first time I ever drank it. I get it now – it is sweet yet has some apple flavor, indicating the presence of apple juice added after fermentation. I can see why so many people like it.

While I was talking to Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, he introduced me to Allen Gould of Carlton Cyderworks, who was there tasting like me. I got to talk to them a bit about attending cider classes and how they are currently selling only out of their tasting room. I hope to get down there someday and try their product out.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Oregon Spring Beer & Wine Fest

Last Friday, I took the day off of work and my husband, his brother, and I took a bus to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, OR to attend the 16th Annual Spring Beer & Wine Fest with the Tour de Cheese. We got there a little bit before noon due to free admission before 2pm, and we had past experience with the Holiday Ale Festival that being one of the first ones in the door means less lines for trying drinks and food.

For being the 16th Annual Fest, things were not as organized as one would have thought it to be. With most beer festivals, you have to buy a cup. This year, they had a plastic cup, and a glass beer mug and a glass stemless wine glass. We were told that we needed to purchase at least a plastic mug for serving beer, but that the wine vendors would have small Dixie style cups for serving wine if we did not purchase the wine glass. The first wine producer I went to did not have any glasses and didn’t know that they should have. I had to sweet talk them into pouring to me anyway. Eventually, I did find a wine producer who did, and I kept that glass for a bit. If we bought the wine glass, the beer people would not have served to us. How crazy is all that?

The event had a little bit of everything for everyone: beer, wine, cider, distilled sprits, cheese, chocolate, dipping sauces, olive oil, and even some other miscellaneous vendors like purses, windows, pans, and a chiropractor. Most beverage and cheese samples were $1, with the size dependant on the style of product.

One thing I had learned from previous festivals is to pack some food. Food at the festivals is sometimes scarse, and what is there is usually high quality and expensive. I packed a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which doesn’t not risk food poisoning from not being refrigerated, yet doesn’t require heating. I also packed an apple and an orange. At one festival, we saw a man who had little pretzels on a string tied around his neck. Great idea to keep some food in your system when drinking, and also eat between drinks to help clear the pallet, making it easier to taste the new drink.

I will give a review of the tastings in future posts.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blood Into Wine

Blood Into Wine is a documentary film recently released about how rockstar Maynard James Keenan of Tool decided to move to Arizona and start a vineyard and making wine. It is an independent film with very limited release. I attended last Thursday the first of the only two showings in Portland, OR at Cinema 21.

Cinema 21 had a rough start for the night. They opened the doors at 8:25 when they said the showing began at 8:30. We waited until 9:00 for it to begin, and the crowd was getting anxious when Eric Glomski, Keenan’s business partner, appeared in front of us and introduced the film. That helped the mood of the theater, but when they started the film, the sound was turned off, causing the crowd to call for a restart of the film. Oye, rough start.

The film is more like something the Arizona Wine Commission, if there is one, would put out, advertising that Arizona can make wine and using a celebrity to draw attention to it. But it was an entertaining film, as they did try to use humor to keep the documentary entertaining, though sometimes they tried too hard.

The film also dealt with the double life of Keenan. Keenan is a rockstar, and a lot of people in the theater were there to see him and could care less about the wine. Yet, that is a good thing, as those people would be exposed to wine when they normally wouldn’t.

At the end of the film, Glomski did a question and answer session for a good amount of time while we sampled some of the wine in the film. One man admitted that he didn’t like wine and was there to see Keenan, but he liked their wine being served.

I don’t know if Glomski said it in the film or afterwards, but the biggest message I got from it for my own personal use is that it is good if he can get you to buy one bottle of his wine, but it is better if he can get you to buy a second bottle. This idea is that people are willing to experiment and try things, but you know you have a good product if they want to buy it again after having one.

All in all, I think I wouldn’t mind owning the film when it comes out on DVD in May. I would watch it again with a notepad to jot down things about the wine industry business and see how I could apply it to my own dreams of opening a cider house.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cider in America Today

Between a shift in rural to urban populations, natural causes destroying apple trees, shady cider making practices, and Prohibition, cider lost its popularity in the United States. Brian Palmer for Slate describes the impact it had, “Most Americans now consider cider—if they consider it at all—to be in the same category as wine coolers or those enigmatic clear malt beverages: chemically suspect, effeminate alternatives to beer. And who can blame them? America's mass-market ciders are comically weak and inexplicably fizzy. Many are made not from cider apples but from the concentrated juice of eating apples, which is a bit like making wine from seedless table grapes.” Admittedly, it is a little sad, as some of the homebrew forums discussions center around how to reproduce these products, as it is the only thing our culture knows instead of how to make quality craft cider.

This time, I’m going to look at where the industry is now, and where it could go from here.

  • In 1990, cider consumption was at 271,000 gallons. In 1996, cider consumption had risen to 5.3 million gallons. In 2004, cider consumption was over 10.3 million gallons. This shows that cider is gaining popularity again. Production in England is growing again, and new markets like China show promise for a cider market.
  • However, in 1999, cider accounted for only 0.2% of the total United States beer market. With the increase in demand, one would hope that there will be an increase in the market availability.
  • Small orchards are beginning to replant cider apples again, and cider houses are popping up. In Washington State alone, three new cideries opened in 2009.
  • Brian Palmer believes that quality ciders are beginning to develop, and that the English and French artisanal ciders are spreading to America, which are light yet complex, unlike beer. He goes on to say, “Cider makers haven't yet been infected with whatever fever has propelled vintners toward unreasonable alcohol levels and garishly imbalanced flavor profiles. Unlike mead, that other resurgent libation of antiquity, cider pairs beautifully with food. And, because cider is an agricultural product, it can lay claim to the currently fashionable quality of ‘somewhereness.’”
  • Ben Watson is optimistic, stating, “Over the past few years, it has become easier and easier for cider lovers to find high-quality beverages made by region cider mills and wineries. And in the twenty-first century, blessed and encumbered as we are with our Information Age technologies, it’s nice to know that something as old and traditional as the art of cidermaking is not only alive and well, but flourishing” (page 28).

My sources include:

Also see:
  • Morgan, Joan and Richards, Alison. The New Book of Apples: The Definitive Guide to Apples, Including Over 2,000 Varieties. 2002
  • Juniper, Barrie B and Mabberley, David J. The Story of the Apple. 2006

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book Review: 101 Recipes for Making Wild Wines At Home

101 Recipes for Making Wild Wines At Home: A Step by Step Guide to Using Herbs, Fruits, and Flowers by John Peragine is a little difficult for me to review the “How To” section because I use Terry Geary’s book instead. This book is new out on the market, published in 2010, and is organized a bit like a “For Dummies” book with boxes. I like it because it has case studies of real people making wine.

Compared to Making Wild Wines & Meads, it is a bit clunky finding recipes. Each recipe has a cute little name. It brings a smile to your face, but you don’t really know what the wine is made from or the finished style. Maybe Making Wild Wines & Meads lacked creativity, but it is much easier to look up a carrot wine in that book than having to figure out that a carrot wine in this book is called “What’s Up Doc?” Plus, the recipes are just thrown in the book with no order and no groupings of plants. The index, too, is strange. For instance, Cherry can be found on pages “273-274, 120-124, 237, 241, 249, 257, 260.” Why are they not put in order in which they appear in the book?

The back of the book does have some good things in it. The last chapter, for instance, is “Ten Common Winemaking Problems.”Appendix A is a table on wine yeasts, which I have not seen in another fruit wine making book, and Appendix B contains some more personal narrations by various home wine makers.

Admittedly, I have not yet bought this book, but instead just checked it out from the library. I’m not completely sure that I will buy it, either, and just read the interesting stories.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Belmont Station

On Tuesday, I said that By the Bottle was voted best beer store by the Northwest Brewing News Readers Choice Awards in the state of Washington for 2009. So who took the award for Oregon? That distinction goes to Belmont Station in Portland.

Belmont Station is a little bit bigger than By the Bottle, though it doesn’t seem to have quite the beer selection. It does, however, give the option of buying the beer as a six pack rather than individual bottles. Also, they give a slight discount when using cash for purchases.

For the non-beer drinker, they have a large selection of six pack ciders such as Wyder, Ace, Woodchuck, and Newton’s Folly. Both of Oregon’s cider makers area also represented, but none of the craft ciders from Washington. They do seem to have a larger selection of mead that I have seen other places, though most still seem to be coming up out of California.