Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Review: First Steps in Winemaking

My local library has a donation box, and every few months they have a sale of the books put into that box to help fund the library. This time around, I found a gem, a 4th Edition book called First Steps in Winemaking by C.J.J. Berry. The book, which was published in Great Britain, does not give a date published, but I believe it was from 1970. Today, you can buy the 8th Edition published in 1994.

Berry gave a little introduction, saying, “This little book really started as a collection of recipes, reliable recipes which had appeared in the monthly magazine, “The Amateur Winemaker”. First published in January 1960, it was an instant and phenomenal success…”

It is a lot like today’s wine making books. There is a nice cartoon diagram showing the process in which fermentation happens, and black and white pictures of various winemaking activities by people with 1960s haircuts. This book does talk about growing your own grapes a little, including varieties, planting, and cuttings. It also talks about how to form a winemaking club, and how to organize a wine competition.

The bulk of the book, though, is dedicated to 130 recipes set to a suggested calendar. For instance, one would make a prune wine in January from dried prunes, and cherry wine in July when cherries are ripe. However, some recipes are for making liquors, such as taking fresh pineapple juice and adding enough brandy to it to keep it stable.

Some of the more odd recipes that I have not really seen before include: Birch sap wine complete with tapping instructions, primerose wine, coltsfoot wine, cowslip wine, farmhouse tea wine made with wheat, tea, and lemons, hawthorn blossom wine, sack wine as mentioned by Shakespeare, wallflower wine, pansy wine, oakleaf or walnut wine, honeysuckle wine, marigold wine, marrow wine, meadowsweet wine, golden rod wine, vine pruning wine, and cornmeal wine.

An odd thing is that before all the recipes, it has a warning about poisonous, doubtful, and not recommended plants for making wine out of. I say odd because the not recommended category contains items that there are popular recipes for today, such as potato (how else do you make vodka?), pumpkin, and tomato. Berry claims, “they are not suitable winemaking material either because of fermentative difficulties or because they are not palatable.” Winemaker Magazine would beg to differ on the tomato, as they had several pages on the topic in their June-July 2004 issue!

One nice thing is that since Britain was attempting to go metric at the time of publication, all recipes are given in the British system, metric system, and US system.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Washington Initiative 1100

This fall, I’ll be able to vote on Initiative 1100, which would allow privately owned stores to sell hard liquor instead of state run stores.

It is really easy to find those in support of I-1100 like me, but I think the best neutral article I have see actually comes from Oregon. The two states have very similar liquor control laws (with the exception of transporting homebrew), so the outcome of this election could very well push for a change in Oregon as well. I recommend you read it.

Part of the reason I am interested in this is that if I-1100 passes, it would also do away with requiring wholesalers. I believe in a perfect world, wholesalers will still exist for distribution, but it would make a small winemaker or cidermaker such as myself able to sell my product directly to a mom and pop grocery store. This is good, because if the wholesaler thought that I didn’t produce enough to make it worth their while to distribute, or didn’t think that the grocery store dealt in enough volume, the wholesaler could deny either one of us business. Doing away with the required use of a wholesaler would promote local business. However, if either business were to grow, then the use of a wholesaler would be beneficial, but only on a voluntary basis.

Further reading:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Clark County Winery Ordinance

In the United States, to produce cider commercially, one must have a winery license. In my home county, the wine industry is barely beginning to grow, and county officials wanted to know, as published in The Columbian, “Was this a commercial use of agriculture land? Retail? Is food being served? Does the health department know about this tasting room? What about the fire marshal? How many customers are going to come, and are neighbors going to be calling the county to complain about noise and traffic?”

Part of the reason this created some conflicts was that Washington State Liquor Control Board will not issue a liquor license until a winery proves that it is in compliance with local land-use laws, and the local officials were not exactly sure how to deal with wineries, and so a new business that could draw in money to the local economy would be vastly delayed in opening.

So local officials and wineries came together and had the Board of County Commissioners approve an interim wineries ordinance, which will probably be made permanent by November 30, 2010. The Clark County news release says,

The ordinance was drawn up in consultation with winery owners after some were delayed in receiving their Washington State Liquor Control Board licenses because they could not demonstrate compliance with local land use laws regarding wineries.

Clark County did not have regulations governing wineries, which have increased in number only in the last couple of years, and so winery applicants either encountered a confusing permit process or filed nothing with the county.

To better support fledgling ventures and ensure that wineries and tasting rooms comply with fire, building and land use laws, county staff developed codes specifically applicable to small scale wineries in Clark County. These codes clarify and simplify the development process and establish permit fees for wineries, distinguishing them from large-scale development projects.

The interim ordinance also designates acceptable functions at wineries in order to protect neighbors. It sets out regulations regarding access, parking and use. For example, a winery can host a maximum of 24 events annually and events must be completed no later than one hour after sunset. Food can be available on a limited basis, but charging admission for the primary purpose of listening to live music is prohibited.

As approved, the interim ordinance requires compliance with applicable building codes, which will help ensure the safety of those who work in or visit wineries and tasting rooms. Agricultural buildings, including older ones, have been converted to winery use, and a permit assures an annual inspection to be sure the structure is safe.

Video: CVTV news clip (requires Windows Media Player)

I’m glad this is in place, as it will help me open up my cider house some day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oregon Homebrew Laws

So it turns out that it is illegal to transport homemade wine and homebrew outside the home in Oregon. The law has always been there, but recently the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has decided to somewhat enforce this.

I say “somewhat” because it does things like cancel the this year’s Oregon State Homebrewers competition after 22 years. Brew clubs are somewhat canceling tasting events, or pushing further underground.

This is a pity, because Oregon has a lot of breweries, and they would have gotten their start with homebrew clubs and winning brewing competitions like the state fair. In fact, the Oregon Brew Crew nominates a brewer every month to go to the Green Dragon Bistro and Brewpub in Portland, OR to brew up a batch. How can they select a person and recipe if they can’t transport the beer to test it first?

It is a sad time in Oregon….

Further Reading:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Don't Ruin My Wine Smelling Experience

My mother is allergic to perfume, causing her to not be able to breathe, and she starts coughing a lot to try and breathe. So many cousins’ graduations missed because people wore perfume and she couldn’t breathe. I was taught young not to wear perfume.

Good thing, too. When I was in college, my roommate worked for Starbucks, who forbid their employees from wearing perfume because it would change the flavor of their customers’ coffee. I’ve also heard that chocolatiers also can’t wear perfume, as chocolate will absorb smells out of the air, effecting the taste. I believe it because one year, Mom bought a box of peppermint patties and chocolate peanut butter cups, and the peppermint smell was absorbed by the chocolate peanut butter cups, and they tasted awful.

Shortly after spending money to take a “Le Nez du Vin”: The Nose of Wine class, the Oregon Wine Press ran an article by Janet Eastman in their May 2010 issue titled “On-the-Nose Advice” about avoiding breath mints, perfume, and even smoking when tasting wine. With the mints and smoking, it would be difficult to taste the wine as these two items would have covered up the taste buds with another flavor, making it difficult. With wearing perfume, aftershave, lotion, etc, it is hard to tell if the wine smells like roses, or if that is just you. In all cases, the smell also waifs off, affecting other people smelling and tasting. Some wineries, Eastman wrote, will have polite pleas, “We request that you be considerate of others at this event and refrain from wearing scents that conflict with the enjoyment of the bouquet of the wine. Thank you for your respect.”

In Tasting Club: Gathering Together to Share and Savor Your Favorite Taste, Dina Cheney does say that when sending out an invitation to people for a tasting to include, “A request not to wear perfume of cologne (which would interfere with everyone’s olfactory abilities).” The Wine Club by Maureen Christian Petrosky seconds that.

At my cider making class a few weeks ago, there was a man who wore heavy scents, and I avoided him, especially when it came to drinking cider, as I wanted to smell and taste my cider, not his cologne.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review: The Wine Club

The Wine Club: A Month-by-Month Guide to Learning about Wine with Friends by Maureen Christian Petrosky caught my eye as being something different when it comes to learning about wine. Most books talk about specific wines and leave the door wide open for your own experimenting, possibly leaving you still overwhelmed and lost at where to begin. This book is organized to take it slow, one month at a time, with a specific wine and instructions on how to do a tasting that month.

The book still has the generic opening you will find in any wine tasting book, but the most interesting part about the intro is the calendar it has for throwing a wine tasting party. It is set up in a grid, and it kind of reminds me of the check lists for having a wedding, including setting up music, polishing glasses, and even sending out thank-yous after the tasting.

As for the wines included, they are not your usual, and she does chose wines that go well for that time of year, such as she starts with Champagne due to New Year’s. The wines included are:

  • January – Champagne: Become a Bubblehead
  • February – Cabernet: By the Flight
  • March – Syrah/Shiraz: A Spicy Sip
  • April – Merlot: Merlot, My Dear
  • May – Viognier: Chardonnay’s Sexy Sister
  • June – Riesling: Picnics and Porch Swingin’
  • July – chardonnay: The Queen of Whites
  • August – Sauvignon Blanc: Get It While It’s Hot
  • September – Dessert Wines (aka Stickies)
  • October – Zinfandel: For an All-American Tailgate
  • November – Pinot: Waxing Poetic with Pinot
  • December – Pick your Poison

Each chapter then has a “Getting to Know”, a suggested flight of wines, and food and wine pairings for that month. She also provides a “Bang for Your Buck”, a “Mona Lisa” of a super special splurge recommendation, a “Salvador Dalí” wine that is quirky and funky and less mainstream, a “Wine Trend” of gizmos and gadgets, and a “If the Glass Fits” to teach about different types of wine glasses. There is also a page called “Get Your Drink On,” explaining the color, aroma, taste, body, and finish one would expect in that month’s wine style.

Most importantly, each month there is a different “You’ll Never Forget it” and “Wine Speak.” These are the lessons about learning to appreciate wine, and are doled out slowly from month to month instead of all at once. For example, she talks about tannins, vintage, aging wines, and decanting in February, wine spoilage and wine legs in March, and Old World vs New World and terroir in April. It leaves you not so over whelmed, and you are having fun while learning.

When it comes to December, Petrosky sets you lose to host your own wine party, saying that you have the tools from the rest of her book, and that you should be confident in your wine tasting abilities. The rest of the chapter is dedicated actually to cheese and wine pairings, using the format from her other chapters now on cheese, such as “Cheese Speak”, and then talking about regional wines from around the world.

At the back of the book, there are some extra sections. The first one is on etiquette, such as avoiding lipstick to make it easier to clean glasses, don’t wear perfume, sending back bad wine at a restaurant, and more. There is also a page of recommended websites and another for recommended books. The next page is a cheat sheet of popular white grapes and red grapes, and geographical “places that make yummy wine from them.” Just before the index is the very important Tasting Notes sheet for your parties, including complete name of wine, grape variety, vintage, tasting date, price value, aroma, color, taste, body, finish, notes on food pairings, and overall thoughts.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miracle Fruit Food Tasting

I was all set up to leave the topic of miracle fruit today, but when I got home last night, we kind of had an impromptu miracle fruit food tasting dinner.

My husband broke out of his beer cellar a Dogfish Head Festina Peche sour beer and a Deschutes Black Butte Porter, both of which we have had before and are easy to find. The Festina Peche, being a sour beer, turned syrupy, much like the other sour beer did that I had before when I had miracle fruit. My husband did not like it, and I ended up drinking it. The Porter took on a creamy kind of caramel quality, of which my husband said was kind of like a milk stout. Later, I tried it again, and I could still taste the hops, but it is a lower hopped beer, and the added creamy flavors did suppress it a bit.

As for foods, I used a list provided by Miracle Fruit Man as kind of a guide. Basically, we found there to be three categories: no change, syrupy sweet, and a slight change. The foods that had no change were ones like most cheeses, olives, and semi-sweet chocolate, we found no change. The syrupy sweet foods were ones like Ikea lingonberry sauce, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice. Here is a run down of what we had, and how it changed:

  • Porter Beer – creamy, sort of caramel
  • Peche Sour Beer – syrup
  • Granny Smith Apple – this tart apple was now a very sweet apple
  • Cheddar Cheese – no difference
  • Unknown Soft Cheese (Havarti?) – no difference
  • Parmesan Cheese – this normally nutty sharp cheese got mellower
  • Ikea Lingonberry Sauce – syrup
  • Dill pickles – became kind of an interesting sweet dill taste, but not like sweet pickles since this still had dill. My husband, who gags on dill pickles, still gagged.
  • Tomato – this was the BEST transformation, as it went from tasting just a large salad type tomato to tasting more like a cherry tomato or the small, really ripe, sweet tomatoes.
  • Kiwi – very similar reaction as the tomato, where it now tasted like a sweeter, riper kiwi
  • Kalamata Olive – no change
  • Lettuce – no change
  • Broccoli with Lemon Juice – the lemon juice got disgustingly sweet that I couldn’t eat it. The list included suggestions of oysters in lemon juice, but I have to wonder who would want a sweet oyster? I mean, we regularly do not sweeten our veggies and meat, so trying it this way was horrible.
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate – no change
  • Dijion Mustard – no change
  • Balsamic Vinegar – sweet with a little bit of pucker still
  • Tabasco sauce – sweet and hot. We had two drops, and while the heat had been turned down due to the sweetness, it was still there. In fact, both of us later commented that we could feel our throats burning, but not our tongues.

I was all set up to have a salad since the lettuce and olives had no change, and the tomatoes were great, but the things I usually used as a dressing were now too sweet, so I abandoned that idea. I will also note that at the end of all this, we decided we needed to have a real meal, so I made nachos because I knew they would taste the same, and it didn’t take long to whip up.

Besides being a fun experiment, I could see how may those allergic to sugar, diabetics, or those seeking to lose weight might find this useful, as one could potentially bake desserts without sugar, using lemon juice instead and becoming reduced in calories. However, it would be easy to add too much lemon juice and therefore make it too sweet. The Miracle Fruit Man does have some recipes posted. Some of them I don’t think I would try, such as the watercress and endive salad because I just don’t think I would like my watercress and endive sweet, but other things like a fruit salad with yogurt dressing made with plain unsweetened yogurt sound great!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Miracle Fruit and Beer

After reading the Mad Fermentationist’s blog titled “Miracle Fruit Sour Beer Tasting”, I bought some Miracle Fruit Tablets and decided to try them out at the Portland International Beerfest 2010.

I didn’t consume a miracle fruit pill when I first got there, as there were some things I wanted to taste as is without altered tastebuds. It was when I got a Franziskaner Dunkel-Weisse beer that I finally tried out one of the pills. I didn’t really make that many notes regarding this beer ahead of time, simply stating, “Eh, it is beer.” So even after five 4 oz samples of cider, mead, and fruit beers, I wasn’t really caring to drink beer. Then I took the miracle fruit pill, and then tried the Franziskaner Dunkel-Weisse. It tasted better to me, and I was starting to pick up more creamy and caramel notes, which were probably already there but hidden. Since sourness was being toned down and replaced with sweetness, these characteristics were coming though stronger to me.

Since there were a lot of sour beers there, I tried New Belgium La Folie. I turned to my husband and said, “Wow, this beer must be really sour, because this is syrupy sweet to me right now!” In fact, it was almost too much so, but it was good. When we came back the next day, my husband got a sample of the La Folie again, and it was really sour, but I could still detect the syrup taste on the edges. Again, it was probably always there, but the sourness just put it into balance, and once it was stripped away and converted to sweetness, the syrup taste became dominate.

With my altered taste buds, my husband got 21st Amendment Double Trouble Imperial IPA, which is a very hoppy beer, too hoppy for my husband. When I tried it with my altered taste buds, I pushed it away. My husband was shocked, “You can still taste that?” “Yes.” He was a little disappointed, as he hoped that with my altered taste buds that I would like it and drink it for him! Also, if I liked it, I might start drinking more beer with him. Now, everyone has different tastes, and everyone reacts differently to the miracle fruit, but this experience is why I believe the CSI: New York got it wrong when they said it makes bitter foods sweet, as the IPA was still very bitter to me.

In hind sight, I should have gone and gotten a porter, which are typically less hoppy and more creamy with chocolate or coffee notes, but I did not think of it at the time. I’ll have to have a miracle fruit tasting sometime in the future, so I’ll try an remember then. I’m excited!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Miracle Fruit

I remember an episode of CSI: New York titled “Forbidden Fruit” in which the murdered victim was found dead at a party in which people were eating foods that normally are avoided because they are unpleasant tasting. The detectives found out that the people at the party had consumed a Synsepalum dulcificum berry, AKA “miracle fruit” from West Africa that alters the taste buds. In this case, it allowed the victim to ingest dangerous levels of drain cleaner without knowing it due to the altered taste buds. The episode showed the head detective biting into an onion and declaring it tasted sweet.

Now, I believe the writers did twist the truth a little bit writing that episode, as Lindsey claimed that it makes bitter foods taste sweet, but most research, although not all, I have seen says that the berry makes sour foods taste sweet, not bitter foods. In my experience, I tend to agree. Another flaw with the clip is that she did not tell him not to break open the seed of the berry, as so many warn against. Still, this clip does a pretty good job explaining how it works, though I remain skeptical that one could drink drain cleaner.

Miracle Fruit recently crossed my path again when I was reading a blog by the Mad Fermentationist titled “Miracle Fruit Sour Beer Tasting.” Reading about his experience, I decided that since I was kind of talking about taste that I would get my hands on some Miracle Fruit Tablets and try it out myself because it sounded fun.

One thing I should point out that the TV clip got right is how dangerous it can be to alter your taste buds, even for a little while. Taste buds are there to protect you against potentially harmful foods, as you will not ingest something that tastes bad to you. This helps to protect you against some poisons and harmful bacteria.

See also:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Portland International Beer Fest 2010

This past weekend, my husband and I went to the Portland International Beerfest 2010. Admittedly, this is more of my husband’s kind of thing this time around, but I had fun. It was held in the North Park Blocks of Portland near Powell’s Technical Books. The weather was pretty near perfect.

As with any beer tasting festival, we got a glass for tasting. My husband and I were expecting a larger plastic mug like we had been acquiring from so many other festivals, but this time it was a small stemmed beer glass that only really held 4 oz. I really liked it, and will probably use it as my tasting glass when I am tinkering with my own products at home.

Portland International Beerfest 2010 4 oz tasting glass

I started off my tasting with local Wandering Aengus Ciderwork’s Cherry Anthem Cider. I like cherry, but I found this to be a tad bit on the cough syrup side taste wise.

I tried out Unibroue Éphémère Apple beer, which I really liked. It smelled like an apple crisp, where you had the apple and the oatmeal smell together.

Next, I had Mountain Meadows Agave Mead, which was kind of like drinking undistilled tequila, but it was much more complex. I think the next time I see it in a store, I’ll buy some, and I’ve been eying agave syrup maybe to try making my own.

From there, I tried out Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry Ale, which my initial reaction was that it was very much like a raspberry Framboise, that is to say, a very syrupy fruity beer. However, when I came back the next day, one of the few drinks I consumed was a Lindemans Raspberry Framboise and then the Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry Ale, and the Lindemans Framboise was very sweet and not a whole lot of beer flavor, and the Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry Ale was milder in sweetness with a little bit more beer coming though. Both were very good, but I think the Lindemans Framboise is more of a special occasion and drink it with cake, where as the Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry Ale is a little more every day. However, one should not confuse this with a normal fruit berry, as it is definitely fruiter and sweeter than most fruit beers.

After having that much, I decided that my taste buds were probably numb enough to try a beer without fruit, so I went with a wheat wine at 10% alcohol called Trois Mousquetaires Imperial Weizen, imported by Shelton Brothers. It had a wheat smell to it, and my husband said he was getting a lot of esters (fruit smells) from it. However, I didn’t drink it very fast, so as it warmed up, it got worse in my opinion, and there was some banana notes coming though, indicating a warmer fermentation.

I followed that up with Franziskaner Dunkel-Weisse beer, which is a Bavarian Dark Wheat. By that point, my note writing kind of trailed off, and I began conducting an experiment in which I will write about in a few days.

As I have mentioned, we did return the next day, but I had pretty much tried what I wanted to, so I just had the Framboise and Raspberry Ale back to back so that I could be sober a few hours later for driving, as we took the bus on Friday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: Tasting Club

Tasting Club: Gathering Together to Share and Savor Your Favorite Tastes by Dina Cheney

While researching about supertasters, I called up the catalog online for my local library to see what books they had on taste. I came across a very interesting one called Tasting Club: Gathering Together to Share and Savor Your Favorite Tastes by Dina Cheney.

This book starts out covering the basics, including a brief blurb on how the tongue tastes food. This chapter is really devoted to actually having tastings, forming a tasting club, and an extensive section on how to conduct a tasting. It includes how to send an invite, and what to provide your guests to assist with the tasting, such as pens and a tasting grid found later in the book.

From there, the book has a chapter on wine, chocolate, cheese, honey, tea, extra virgin olive oil, cured meats, balsamic vinegar, apples, and beer. For example, with wine, Cheney talks about terroir, how wine is made, different types of wine, location, grape varieties including a table talking about characteristics, finding wine, shopping and storing wine, choosing food accompaniments including a menu and a few recipes, organizing the tasting, learning your palate, a tasting grid for wine, and a wine glossary of terms. This organization and detail is repeated for the other foods, with minor tweaks to better match the subject.

I was fairly impressed with this book and I may try a tasting from it, such as in the balsamic vinegar chapter. However, for something like apples where there are a lot of different varieties out there, this book oversimplified things and only stuck to the grocery store apple varieties.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I’ve been writing about tasting here recently, and this weekend is the Portland International Beerfest 2010, of which my husband really wants to go. He has been on a sour beer kick recently, and I’m counting six that are going to be there.

But what would I like? Well, since I don’t like most beers because they are too bitter, I look for the IBU rating to help guide me as to what beers I might find drinkable. International Bitterness Units (IBU) is a measurement of 1 mg of isomerized hop oils per liter of beer, so beers that used a lot of hops have a high IBU. And since I don’t like beer due to bitterness, I gravitate towards really really low IBU beers, which includes wheat beers, and, apparently, sour beers. I’m guessing that the bitter hop flavor interferes too much with the sour flavor.

I should note that IBU measures how much hop oil is in beer, but it doesn’t really reflect how bitter the beer might truly be. This is because there are other things that can make the beer bitter (dandelions, orange peel), and then things like sugar or perceived sweetness can balance out the bitterness. For instance, malt is not completely fermentable, leaving a sweetness, and alcohol is also perceived as sweet. If two beers are at 50 IBU, but one is 5% and the other is 8% alcohol, the 5% alcohol is going to taste more bitter. However, usually if a beer is at 75 IBU or higher, regardless of the alcohol content, it is thought of as being a very hoppy beer.

I tire of beer at the festival, there is cider and mead! Local Wandering Aengus Ciderworks should be there with their excellent Wanderlust and Cherry Anthem Ciders, both on tap. JK Scrumpy is one of my favorites, who will be pouring their Orchard Gate Gold. And cider powerhouse Crispin Cider is suppose to be there with their Artisanal Honey Crisp and The Saint. I’m also glad that Mountain Meadows Mead will be back up from California. I’ve sampled and bought their cranberry mead, which they will have with them this time along with the agave mead.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Results of Supertaster Tests

My husband asked me what was so good about being a supertaster. Well, more things can be too sweet to them, or more things can be too bitter. Vegetables, in fact, taste bitter to a supertaster, so they avoid them, and thus are more susceptible to cancers, and it is proven that they have more cancerous colon polyps than non-tasters.

However, besides bragging rights, supertasters can be skinnier, especially women in their 40s, because they are more sensitive to sugar and dairy fats, which leads them to not crave junky foods. They also eat less, so there could be less heart disease.

But the real thing to remember about all this is that different people have different tastes, and that really matters in the wine, beer, and cider world. A supertaster and all of their ability to taste might really dislike a drink that a regular and non-taster love. Remember John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused? He had blind taste tests between six wines asking people which one was worth $5 and which one was worth $200, and the group had no consensus. So one person’s $5 bottle is another person’s $200 bottle, and vice versa. While Mike Steinberger was learning if he was a supertaster or not, he said , “I also had a conversation with Tim Hanni, a Napa-based master of wine who has done extensive research into the science of taste—research that has convinced him that wine criticism is pretty much worthless, given how much individual palates vary.”

So remember:

  • Everyone had different tastes.
  • Find out what you like.
  • Don’t let people push you around on what to consume.
  • Do use other people’s experience on what they tasted guide you.
  • Don’t expect your tasting experience to be same as someone else’s because you are two different people.

As for me, well, I tried the dye experiment, but found it too difficult to count as the paper was either too far away to see though the hole, or it was getting wet from my tongue. So I went to and purchased a test kit. It was a little piece of paper that you put on your tongue. According to the directions, a supertaster will find it to taste very bitter, a taster will find it to taste mildly bitter, and a non-taster will find it tastes like paper.

My husband said it tasted like paper, and therefore, he said he was “bitter tolerant.” I found the paper to taste bitter, but not in such a way that I was spitting it out, so I am just a “taster.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Are You a Supertaster? Take a Supertaster Test

There are three main ways to test if one is a super taster – count taste buds or consume two products.

As I mentioned before, supertasters have more fungiform papillae type taste buds, which makes them a little more sensitive when tasting. These taste buds can be counted by swabbing your tongue with a cotton ball with blue food coloring. The fungiform papillae will not turn blue, but instead remain pink. From there, take a piece of paper with a hole cut out of it and count how many pink spots you see in that hole. Supertasters will have more than 30 papillae in that area. BBC Science and Nature shows a good example of this demonstration.

Another easy test to conduct is a Saccharin Test. Take one packet of saccharin (Sweet’N Low) and combine it with two-thirds of a cup of water, and then taste it. For some, there will be a dominate sweet taste, indicating that they are an undertaster, while others will notice a dominate bitter taste, indicating they are a supertaster. Those who find balance between sweet and bitter are regular tasters.

The last test is to consume PROP, which will be violently bitter to supertasters, bitter to regular tasters, and tasteless to undertasters.

I highly recommend reading wine critic Mike Steinberger’s journey to find out that he was one of the 5% of nontasters (not a supertaster) who could taste PROP. This resulted in more testing.


Monday, July 12, 2010


Supertasters are people who have a few more fungiform papillae type taste buds, which makes them a little more sensitive when tasting. One quarter of the population seems to be supertasters.

When I first heard of supertasters, it was in conjunction with drinking wine, and I thought, “Nope, I’m not one. I have such a hard time smelling and tasting things in wine that I can’t be.” Then I took a “Le Nez du Vin”: The Nose of Wine class. They said that supertasters avoid coffee because of the bitterness, which I do, so that got me looking into supertasters a little bit more.

Here is a list of foods supertasters avoid with comments about how supertasters taste in () when available, along with my reactions:

  • Burssel sprouts, cabbage, and kale –not part of my normal diet so I couldn’t really say
  • Coffee (too bitter) – smells nice, but I need a ton of sugar and cream to drink it. And very little coffee.
  • Dark chocolate – I don’t like it, and will consume only milk chocolate. I won’t touch chocolate chip cookies due to the semi-sweet chips used. And I will hardly eat baked chocolate, such as a cholocate cake or brownies, but it does help to have some milk to wash it down.
  • Hoppy beer (too bitter) – yup, that’s me!
  • Grapefruit juice – won’t touch it
  • Green tea – it is okay, but I would much rather have black tea
  • Spinach – I like it as a 50/50 mix with lettuce, but straight spinach sometimes tastes, well, dirty to me. However, there are certain lettuces I won’t eat, either, because they are too bitter. I won’t eat Iceberg lettuce because, well, I’m picky.
  • Soy products – not part of my normal diet so I couldn’t really say
  • Carbonation – sometimes soda is overcarbonated and annoys my nose, but carbonated beer and cider doesn’t bother me
  • Chili peppers (burn is more intense) – I can handle them in moderate doses
  • Tonic water (more bitter) – I love gin, but I won’t drink it with tonic water, but 7-up instead
  • Olives (salt is more intense) – I like black olives, but not green
  • Sugary foods (sickening sweet vs no such thing as too sweet for regular tasters) – I do have issues with too sweet, but mostly too rich. So this is a toss up. I prefer fruity desserts, or even things like rolls, but not really cakes. However, I do like sweet tea.
  • Frosting (yucky) – don’t care for it
  • Saccharine (strong after taste) – I don’t remember
  • Alcohol (too sharp – less of a chance of being an alcoholic) – well, I don’t like my alcohol dry, but I don’t consume a drink a day.
  • Ginger (burn) – I like ginger
  • Foods should be tepid – even if I did drink coffee, it is served way too hot for me.
  • Different levels of milk fat (can tell) – We normally keep nonfat milk in the house, but I went to see the in-laws who had 2%, and it tasted sweeter and creamier to me. Same thing at restaurants. And I can tell the difference between goat’s milk and cow’s milk and their cheeses, and a lot of people can’t.
  • Broccoli (don’t like when raw because it is bitter) – I’ve always avoided raw broccoli, but I love cooked broccoli.
  • Fatty foods (undesirable due to texture) – okay, I like fat to a degree, but I probably don’t avoid it like they suggest supertasters do. For instance, I love cheese!
  • This could explain why I don’t like 90% of beers – the hops make it too bitter for me.

Supertasters are also suppose to be skinnier, which any doctor would consider me on the heavy side.

Supertasters don’t care for vegetables, either, so they are more at risk for cancers and there is a link between supertasters having a higher number of colon polyps due to vegetable avoidance. Compared to my husband, to plays with his food rather than eating, I like my vegetables more cooked than him (though not took cooked), which reduces bitterness. I eat them because I know I should.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Cider Class: Finalizing Cider and Sensory Evaluation

All the talk about apple selection, proper levels of acid, pH, and sulfites, and a healthy fermentation was leading up to making a good base cider and the final steps of blending to make a good final product that consumers will buy. Since the cider is fermented dry, many will add some sugar in some form, especially apple juice, to bring some balance to the sharp acids. Some companies, because they added sugar at the beginning to achieve a higher alcohol, will add water at this point to dilute it back down.

My class was broken into teams and handed some base cider and told to reduce the alcohol content slightly and blend it as we saw fit. We had access to a few apple juices, and cut the cider down with that to reduce the alcohol, but felt it wasn’t quite sweet enough, so we added some glucose. At the blind taste test, our cider took second. I felt it was a pretty balanced cider that was slightly sweet, but I felt it was a little watery, but that could not be helped due to the assignment.

What makes a good cider? There is no answer really to that as everybody has different tastes, so a good cider is made by tasting. The process to do a sensory evaluation (tasting) is pretty similar to tasting wine with a few exceptions. This is what our instructor Peter Mitchell had us do:

  1. Appearance: observe color, thick or thin, ability to create “legs” on the glass, sparkling or still, if there is some foam or “mousse” on top, clear or cloudy, and how “bright” it is.
  2. Odor: smell the cider much like you would wine and think of words to describe it.
  3. Taste: When tasting the cider, think of it only in these four words: sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. Technically, this is all we can detect, and taste is a combination of those four. If no one word or group of words jumps out at you, then the cider is “balanced.” Swallow the cider when you are through.
  4. Aroma: with the cider in your mouth, do you smell anything you didn’t before?
  5. Mouth feel: how does the cider feel in your mouth? Is it silky, thick or thin, like velvet, course, tingly, etc? After you swallow, do you have the feeling of dry mouth?
  6. After-taste: After you swallow, how long can you continue to taste the cider, and which of the four descriptions do you detect?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cider Class: Touring Cideries

As part of my cider class in Mt. Vernon, I was able to tour three different cideries.

We toured the first one on Monday in Mt. Vernon. Red Barn Cider had partnered up with Tulip Valley Vineyard, and was next door to the WSU research orchards. Years ago, Gary Moulton of WSU had some cider apples and offered them up to someone to make cider. Drew Zimmerman took him up on the offer, and traveled to England to attend Peter Mitchell’s cider making class. Two things came out of that. Peter Mitchell began traveling to Mt Vernon to teach cider making, and Zimmerman started producing cider commercially. I liked the simplicity of his operation. Zimmerman took us through his dwarf bittersweet apple orchard, and then let us taste his cider products, in which he did use Jonagold and Gravenstein dessert apples. From there, we exited out the back side of the tasting room though the laboratory, and went into a three walled open air building to look at his apple crushers and presses. Next door, he had a climate controlled container from the back of a semi truck that he used for bulk storing of cider. On the other side of the crusher/press building was a semi-cylindrical room in which he fermented and bottled his ciders.

On Wednesday, we loaded up in a bus and took a ferry from Anacortes, WA to Sidney on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

From there, we first went to Merridale Estate Cider. Merridale was a bit different in that it had a much larger production, and it also attempted to diversify into a spa and restaurant. One owner, Rick Pipes, took us around. We started with his semi-drawf orchard, in which he said they also contracted with 3-4 other orchards for their apple needs. Their apple crushing and pressing area was under cover against the main building, in which the fermentation tanks were inside. We also toured their bottling area. Pipes also had another project going on, and briefly showed us his alcohol distiller, in which they distilled cider and other products into eau de vie. We then sat down to try some of the products with lunch, including the eau de vies, cider, ciders fortified with eau de vie, and ciders in which sugar was added at fermentation time to increase the level of alcohol. Interestingly, Merridale bottles the ciders in plastic bottles, as it is easier to recycle than glass, uses less energy, and lowers their carbon footprint. However, plastic has a shorter shelf life than glass, so they have an employee out rotating their product on store shelves, which sort of limits their ability expand their market.

Next, we went to Sea Cider, which is a smaller and newer cidery that sits on a hill looking down at the water and over their dwarf apple orchard. Christine Smart, who was a former student of Peter Mitchell’s, took us into their fermentation room, which also doubled as their bulk aging room. From there, we went out and around the building to the back side, which was an area covered with gravel that they used for crushing and pressing apples. When we were there, that same space was being used for pasteurizing cider bottles that had come out of the bottling room. Smart commented that a lot of money had gone into the planning of the building, but I felt it had a lot of wasted ceiling space and half thought out ideas such as a partial catwalk. It was also very cramped! There is a saying that vertical space is cheap and horizontal space is expensive when it comes to cider production buildings, but I have to wonder if they could have saved some costs from building up and spent it to build out. Also, Smart admitted that not a lot of thought had gone into a storage area, so they sometimes had to ship their products somewhere else for storing. At this point in the tour, we were a little pressed for time to catch our ferry, so we rushed the cider tasting more than I would have liked.

All in all, it was very good to tour all three facilities, see their operations, and get ideas for how I might build my cidery.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cider Class: Cider Laboratory

Back in May, I attended a wine conference and listened to a lecture about testing the level of acid in wine. At the end of the lecture, the presenter gave a demonstration of how to use basic laboratory equipment to do it, but I was unfortunately sitting in the back, and the demonstration was not projected nor was the presenter elevated on a stage. It was very frustrating to me.

Well, this last week at my cider class with Peter Mitchell was much much better.

Mitchell went though and talked about pH and how ciders between the pH of 3.2 to 3.8 taste better and are less likely to develop infections, with the ideal pH around 3.5. We then got to test apple juice for pH using the strips that I use and also an expensive pH meter.

From there, Mitchell talked about the total acid content in the juice, and gave a demonstration at a small laboratory station on the technique used. The idea behind it was that if the pH was too high, the acid content would be too low since the more acid there is, the lower the pH would become. By testing the total acid, one could make a calculation of how much malic acid, the primary acid found in apples, to add to lower the pH.

pH is also important when working with sulfites. Sulfites have been used since ancient times when water with sulfur was probably used for cleaning and discoveries of how little infections would set in. The thing is, the lower the pH and the more acid that is present, the less sulfite is needed to prevent infections. To add more sulfites would just be a waste of money.

So after we found out our pH, we added sulfites based on our findings. Thing is, sulfer disappates after time, and some people are allergic to it so there are government regulations of how much can be present in cider, so tests need to be run to insure the cider does not become infected while not harming people. Once again, I actually got to run this experiment in the lab. Got to love hands on experience!

Mitchell recommended using the book Chemical Analysis of Grapes and Wine: Techniques and Concepts published in 2004 as a guide to help set up a cider lab.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cider Class: Learning About Apples

The first day at my cider class up in Mt. Vernon focused a little bit on marketing and a lot on trees.

Gary Moulton of WSU Mt Vernon gave us a presentation on the care of apple trees, including nutrition, disease, grafting, and pruning of cider apple trees. It isn’t that it is really all that different between growing apples to eat and apples for cider production, but eating apples need to be symmetrical in shape and blemish free, while cider apples just need to taste good since they will be ground up. Therefore, maintenance is aimed more at tree health for taste, not looks.

Indeed, even picking cider apples is done differently than picking apples for eating. Normally, apples are picked a little green to withstand shipping and storage. However, when they are picked green, they contain more starch, which is not fermentable. If the apples are allowed to stay on the tree longer, the starch is converted to sugars, which are fermentable, and in addition the apple is much more flavorful to give a much better taste to the cider.

So what is a cider apple? I had mentioned before that they are apples in which they have been breed for the production of cider and generally don’t taste all that great when eaten. Apples varieties have been tested for their acidic and tannin components. Therefore, cider apples are classified by how much acid and tannin one has:

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

However, these descriptors do not indicate how much sugar is in the apple. In fact, most grocery store apples are low in tannin and high in acid, making them sharp, not sweet, apples. Most grocery store apples are usually refered to as “dessert” apples, and can be used to make ciders, though they are not as good and do better when blended with a higher tannin apple. Since the acid is high in dessert apples, they are usually blended with bittersweet apples, allowing the two to have a balance between acid and tannin.

In this part of the country, dessert apples are readily available and easy to buy, so all three of the cideries we visited had an acre of bittersweet apples growing, like Dabinetts and Kingston Black. They would grow the bittersweet apples and then buy the sharp dessert apples to make their product. Interestingly, both Red Barn Cider and Sea Cider went with dwarf rootstock to have about 1,000 trellised trees per acre, while Merridale Estate Cider had semi-dwarf trees. Red Barn Cider said that they used M9 and Bud 9 rootstock and planted them 6' x 12' apart, thought would probably increase to 14' in the future.These small trees allowed them to not use ladders on the trees and do all work on them from the ground.

One of the highlights of learning about apples was a taste test that Moulton brought us of cider made from a single variety of apples fermented dry as part of the WSU research. The first cider was Jonagold, which is a dessert apple, and therefore sharp tasting and thin due to low tannins. The second cider was a Brown Snout, which is a mild bittersweet apple. It had a better aroma, was darker in color, and more mouthfeel as it was thicker and creamier and very pleasant. The last cider we had was a Medaille D’Or, which was a very bitter bittersweet apple. It was very bitter, and Moulton compared it to drinking an IPA. It definitely had more tannins, as I had the dry mouth cotton feel from it. While horrible to drink alone, I could very easily imagine it blended with other apples to tone it down while it gave interest to other more bland apples. And in the cider world, blending is at the heart of cider production, just like a cook gathers together different ingredients for a sauce.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Learning About Cider with Peter Mitchell

This last week, I was in Mt. Vernon, WA studying cider with Peter Mitchell. Mitchell is a cider consultant who, in addition to teaching cider classes, tastes cider for issues and helps plan or troubleshoot cider facilities. Because he is a consultant, he is very good at not making judgments about certain practices in the industry and/or even the taste of the cider as long as they do not hurt the consumer or is a waste of money. For example, when he tastes a cider that a student made, he is objective and only comments on if it is bad if he can detect some bacterial or chemical flaw with it, and comments on what he tastes reflect just that and not his opinion. Therefore, when it came to certain practices such as adding sugar or water to cider, or making cider from concentrate, he goes ahead and teaches them so that the technique is done correctly. These practices are sort of frowned upon by craft cider makers, and at first we, as craft cider maker students, kind of held our breath in resistance, unsure that it was acceptable to learn such topics. Mitchell assured us we didn’t have to use those techniques, but that we should know about them so that we could make up our own minds if we wanted to incorporate the knowledge into our own personal products or not. As I said, he was being objective and not judging us, but instead giving us the tools to decide on our own how we want to make cider, and therefore knowing correctly how to use the tools. However, Mitchell still believes in a good quality product.

The class was a five day event, which included learning about apple trees, going though the steps of making cider, starting to ferment some cider and doing some laboratory work, touring three cider production facilities, and a little bit on performing objective cider tastings. It was a very good class which I recommend to anyone interested in making cider, and I will talk more in depth about it in the coming days.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Out Studying Cider

I have been in Mt. Vernon, WA at the Washington State University agriculture research facility studying cider for the past week with Peter Mitchell. I plan on telling you about this class next week.

In the meanwhile, please do look at the WSU cider website, including the annual fruit reports that I have used to help guide me in my selection of cider apple trees.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cider Review: Red Barn Cider

I was fortunate enough to tour the Red Barn Cider and Tulip Valley Wines in Mt. Veron, WA earlier this week and sample their ciders.

We began our tasting with the Burro Loco, which is a sharper tasting cider due to being made from mostly crab apples. This is my husband’s favorite cider from Red Barn.

That was followed by the Fire Barrel Cider. This cider was aged in former bourbon barrels for at least 12 weeks but maybe up to one year. They said this would be most like an English Farmhouse style cider. To me, this was a bit sharper than the Burro Loco Cider.

Next was the Jonagold cider, which is a semi-dry cider and quite possibly my favorite cider that they produce. He said that when it was done fermenting, he sweetened it with Jonagold concentrate juice that he made. This was a sweeter cider than the previous two.

Last of all the ciders was the Sweetie Pie made just from Gravenstein apples, which I also find very nice. As the name says, it is a sweet cider, and probably more of a dessert cider. It was very good with cheddar cheese.

We had an opportunity to try a Perry. However, this was not a traditional perry since it was made from Comice and Tayor’s Gold pears, so malic were added to compensate for the shortcomings of the eating pears. I really liked it, but the thing I really noticed was that aroma was so vastly different than the other products.

All of Red Barn’s Ciders are slightly carbonated. Red Barn also has a line of wines. They allow three complementary tastings of either, and most all their products are priced at about $11-$12 a bottle.

Thing is, this is probably a cidery whose products I really admire and would probably use as a model for making my own cider products.