Batch #2.5: Apple Cider

I’d never made cider before, so I decided to try out the beginner’ version, starting with juice rather than pressing the apples myself. The hardest part was finding the right juice to start with: it had to be all-natural, with no additives, not from concentrate, and either unpasteurized or cold pasteurized. We ended up going with Wellesley brand sweet apple cider:

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It was great (both before and after fermentation) but it also cost $10 for a half-gallon bottle. Even without the cost of the yeast, that made this batch significantly more expensive than buying cider at the liquor store.

The process itself was pretty basic (to the point where it’s not even worth posting a recipe here): we sanitized everything, of course, then poured the cider into a one-gallon carboy, and added some Wyeast brand cider yeast. That’s it!

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Here it is in the carboy, post-yeast addition. Since we did this in the summer (yes, I have been really lazy about posting) it was kind of a challenge keeping the fermentation temperature down. Cider should ferment at a maximum of 24 degrees C (around 75F), which is virtually impossible to achieve in a Toronto summer. I couldn’t find a decent fan small enough to fit in my brewing cabinet, so the solution was this:

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I kept the carboy in a big pot filled with ice water. The ice had to be replaced every day, to keep it cool, and the water occasionally drained off when the daily ice additions made the pot too full. Basic, but surprisingly effective.

After 4 weeks or so, we put the cider back in the original bottles (sanitized, of course) with a bit of dextrose. One of them went in the fridge, the other was left in the cabinet to carbonate. It was a worthwhile experiment, but needless to say the carbonated cider tasted a lot better. Both were extremely dry, since virtually all the sugar had fermented. If I make it again I might add a bit of sugar, but honestly I didn’t mind the lack fo sweetness. It reminded me of French or Quebec ciders, with their mild flavour, low alcohol and light carbonation. The verdict: a resounding success, though I’d like to find a cheaper source of apple juice if I’m going to do this again.

Signal Boost: Broadhead Brewing Company

On my latest trip to Ottawa to visit the family, I stopped by Broadhead Brewing Company to try and buy some local beers. The brewery is tiny – it’s basically a mash tun, a boil kettle, and two fermentors in a small warehouse. The one guy who was working that day was very helpful and patient with all of my questions about sanitizing (apparently they have to lower a guy into the kettle to scrub the insides before sanitizing). 

Oh, and the beer is delicious, obviously. 

I tried a few of the beers, but my favourite was the one pictured above – Underdog. (Okay, all the bottles look the same, but that is actually the one I am drinking out of RIGHT NOW. Picture taken on my balcony.) It’s their hoppiest beer, which at 41.2 IBU isn’t really all that hoppy by my IPA-addict standards. It’s awesome anyway though, a perfect mix of malty-sweet and hoppy-bitter.

Their beers are available at a few dozen pubs all around Ontario. You can find them listed at their website, broadheadbeer.com. If you happen to be in Ottawa, you can also head down to the brewery itself on Auriga Drive and buy the beer 1.89 litre bottles. The bottles are $15, including a $4 deposit – meaning that if you come back with your old bottle, your next one is only $11. It’s well worth it. 

Batch #2: Earl Grey IPA

Ever since I started brewing, I have wanted to make an Earl Grey IPA. The flavours are practically made for each other: spicy, citrusy hops with bergamot (a citrus fruit) and bitter black tea? Yes please! I’m not the first person to think of this, obviously: at least one commercial brewery has done it, and it’s a popular topic on the homebrew forums. Last Monday, Brew Assistant Alex and I decided to give it a shot. There’s no consensus about how exactly it should be done, let alone a recipe, but he hates recipes and I’ve never been one for following instructions, so we improvised. It went pretty well.

Recipe (if that’s your thing):
6.6 lbs golden LME
1 lb Crystal 60 malt
1/2 lb Vienna malt
1/2 lb Carapils malt
1 oz Amarillo hops @ 60 min
1 oz Centennial hops @ 40 min
1 oz East Kent Golding hops @ 20 min
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 gallon very strong Earl Grey tea
1 vial Wyeast London III Ale Yeast

The process:

01steeping_2

Steeping the grain. We used the exact same grains as last time (the difference in flavour will come from the hops and, of course the tea) and steeped them the same way. We even used the guitar capo to hold the grain bag again, because why not? Clothespins are for chumps.

While this brewing session went a lot more smoothly than last time, there were some setbacks… namely the fact that the brew paddle broke as we were trying to squeeze any remaining liquid out of the bag.

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RIP brew paddle. You will be missed.

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Coming to a boil. Without the lid this happened slowly, but without explosions. I continued to use what was left of the brew paddle to stir, since no other cooking implement was long enough for an 8 gallon pot.

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First round of hops! The Amarillo hops were whole/leaf hops, so they had to be steeped in a bag. I didn’t actually order these; my supplier just sent them to me because I’m pretty sure he is on drugs. Or maybe just drinking too much of his own homebrew.

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This is the tea. We used 100 grams of loose-leaf Earl Grey, steeped in a gallon of water (metric and imperial in a single sentence? Oh my!) for about a half hour. The tea came out extremely dark and strong, which was exactly what we were looking for.

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We strained the tea leaves out before adding the tea to the wort, at the end of the boil.

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Straining the cooled wort into the carboy. This bizarre 3(4?)-stage straining process was Alex’s idea, and I take no responsibility for it.

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Here it is in the carboy, right after the yeast addition. This was my first time using Wyeast brand yeast, and it’s odd, to say the least, but it seems to have done the trick.

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After 24 hours active fermentation was well underway. We decided to use a blowoff tube instead of an airlock this time, even though there was probably enough headroom for an airlock. (Yes, the cupboard is a mess.)

The beer has been fermenting for a week now, and we’re planning to bottle in a week or two. This will be a much less hoppy beer than the last batch (3 ounces of hops as opposed to 5, plus no dry hopping) and hopefully the Earl Grey will add some interesting flavour, assuming it doesn’t all get absorbed during the fermentation process. We may add a bit of bergamot oil when we bottle, though that depends whether we can find it and whether we feel the bergamot flavour is strong enough already.

Next up: Cider.

Batch #1: Citrus IPA

This was our first 5-gallon batch (after spending a year or so brewing one gallon at a time – ugh) so it was probably inevitable that nearly everything would go wrong. As stressful as the brewing process was, we did get some good beer out of it in the end, so it wasn’t a total disaster.

Recipe:
6.6 lbs golden LME
1 lb Crystal 60 malt
1/2 lb Vienna malt
1/2 lb Carapils malt
1 oz Citra hops @ 60 min
1 oz Cascade hops @ 40 min
1 oz Centennial hops @ 20 min
1 oz East Kent Golding hops @ 0 min
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 vial White Labs British Ale Yeast
1 oz Cascade hops (dry hop after 2 weeks)

I chose hops with strong citrus undertones to give the beer the fruity, citrusy flavour that I was hoping for. It worked pretty well, though next time I think I’ll add some dried lime or grapefruit peel to further accentuate the flavour.

The process (click for larger images):

2steeping2
Steeping the grain.

3capo

I didn’t have any clothes pins, so I used a guitar capo to hold the grain bag to the side of the kettle. It worked surprisingly well.

5waiting

Here is the wort right after the extract had been added. This, it turns out, was our first mistake: we added the liquid extract without removing the kettle from the element and, not surprisingly (in retrospect) it burned at the bottom. We realized this during the boil when we found little black flakes floating around in the wort:

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Gross, right? It could have been worse, though – Brew Assistant Alex was convinced that the flakes were some kind of dangerous chemical, but fortunately they are just weird and mildly carcinogenic.

6lid

Our next big mistake: covering the kettle while waiting for it to boil. It overflowed and left hot wort (and whatever that residue is) everywhere. Especially on the lid.

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Low boil. Note all the gunk on the sides of the kettle.

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After the first (or second, I forget) hop addition. It smelled amazing.

12chiller

Getting ready to chill the wort. This was our last major setback: it turned out that the wort chiller didn’t attach properly to the faucet (I think it was meant for a garden hose). This meant we had to basically hold it in place, resulting in water everywhere, and very cold hands.

13carboy1

In the carboy, immediately post-yeast addition. There was enough headroom that we just went with an airlock instead of a blowoff tube. I hate blowoff tubes.

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24 hours in it was fermenting beautifully. Of course, we forgot to measure the original gravity (yet another rookie mistake) so there’s no way of knowing how high in alcohol it was.

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Here it is two weeks later when I added the last of the hops. The original plan had been to let it ferment for two weeks before bottling, but life got in the way and we ended up leaving it in the carboy for three and a half weeks, then in bottles for another two. Fortunately IPAs were designed to endure long voyages, so it turned out just fine.

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All bottled up! Grolsch bottles aren’t the best, but they’re what we had and we kept them in a kitchen cupboard so we had no problems with light.

Pictures of the finished product are currently on my lovely assistant’s phone, but I’ll post them as soon as I can. Spoiler: the beer was awesome. Two bottles were infected, which was sad, but two out of 30 or so is a victory as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve got another IPA fermenting right now, so expect another brew-day narrative post soon.