Monday, February 27, 2012

Beer Brewing First Attempt

I normally brew wine, but everyone loves beer...including me.  

I have been desperately wanting to brew some of my own for a while and finally managed to score a large enough pot.  From brewing wine I have almost all of the equipment needed to make beer, aside from a big pot to boil the wort in and a few minor things.  You need to get a big stainless steel pot, mine is 20 quarts (5 gallons) and is considered small by the local home brewers in town, but will work fine.  These pots are a bit expensive and sometimes tough to find.  I found some online, however I found one on sale for a quarter of the price at a local shop. Just lucky I think.

For this batch, I am using a liquid malt extract (LME) kit.  I have most of the materials to do this from scrach except some hops, but since it is my first time I decided to try a kit out.  This is a Porter with some mild spices like coffee and chocolate.

This kit had 2 LME canisters, grains, flavoring spices, grain steeping bag, 3 bags of hops, yeast, priming sugars, and about 60 bottle caps.

So I had to have: a big pot, a big spoon for stirring, a thermometer ( I used a metal meat thermometer, looks like a big nail with a gauge at the head),
a heat source ( yes, it is possible to do it on a crappy stove like mine, but a big propane burner is often used by home brewers, the kind used for turkey deepfrying. there are other options like pots with electric elements in them),
something to cool the wort down quickly ( I used my sink with ice and water, a wort chiller is much better at doing this ), and a primary fermenter with an air lock.

Making the wort is mostly adjusting heat and stirring until your arm falls off.  First, you heat some water until it is between 155-165 F and you steep the grains and spices for 20-25min.  Then you take them out and bring the pot to a boil and add the LME to the water and boil for 20-30 min. Then you add the hops at 3 different stages.  This recipe had the first hops boil for 30 mins, second bag of hops for 25, then the last hops for 5.

At that point I had to rapidly cool the pot down to 70 F without adding anything to the liquid.  So I filled up a sink with ice, salt, and some water and put the pot in there.  I noticed this wasn't working as well as I hoped and started to fill my other sink with cold water and ice.  I switched the pot back and forth between the sink tubs and stirred the brew every once and a while to have it come in contact with the cool sides of the pot. 

Once this was finished, I poured it into the primary bucket and added some water.  MAKE SURE you test the specific gravity before you add the water and WHILE you add the water too.  This kit is supposed to yeild about 5 gallons, but my brew was just about to fall outside of the right SG range at a bit over 4 gallons.  So, if I were to keep adding another gallon, I would have ruined the flavor of the beer and possibly greatly reduced the alcohol content or worse.

I estimate this batch will yield 43 bottles if my terrible math skills are somewhat accurate.

The beer has been sitting in my primary for 6 days.  I have to decide whether or not to use a 2 stage fermentation where I would place the beer in a glass carboy (like a wine's secondary fermentation) to clear up.  I have been reading that this step is not really necessary if you use quality yeasts.  I think I am going to do it to clear it up a little.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Limecello, 2nd batch

Long time, no post.  I have been busy with school lately, I'm in my last semester of graduate school and have a lot going on right now.

Anyways, the first batch of limecello tasted so good that I wanted to make some more, I am making a double batch.  20 limes this time.  I want to make it better too.  There was some bitter flavor in the first batch so I am trying to find a way to get rid of it. 

I figured the bitter flavor could have come from one of two things: Wax on the outside of the lime or pith was on the zest. 

I got the limes on sale but it is hard to find any organic limes in this area, especially this time of year, and they are often sprayed with wax.

I soaked the limes in soapy water and scrubbed them with a vegetable / potato scrubber and rinsed them really well.  Hopefully that eliminates any possibility of wax altering the flavor and screwing things up.

  I also scored a new zester from Target.  It does a pretty good job of taking only the outer layer of the peel and not getting too deep into the flesh.  This should have greatly reduced the amount of pith that might get put in the brew.

The zest shavings are extremely fine and the color of the brew turned dark green in the matter hours rather than days like the last batch. 

The stuff is so dark right now you cant see light through it.  It should be ready to be mixed with the simple syrup as early as Friday. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bottling the Kiwi Melon Pinot Grigio

Finally, bottling day.  It is an exciting time but also comes with a lot of work.

You should only bottle totally clear wine.   If it is still cloudy or has little bits floating around it in, let it sit for a while longer.  You can filter your wine once its cleared up, but there is a possibility that you will alter the taste when doing so.  I decided not to filter this batch.

Here is a before and after of the wine to show the clarity.
Before, looks like OJ
After, clear as glass

Since the wine was cleared up well, it was time to start the cleaning and sanitizing once again.  I needed to clean, sanitize, and rinse the:
6 gallon fermentor
bottling wand
racking tubing
30 bottles
30 corks
I collect as many wine and even champagne bottles as I can and try to get them off of friends as well, so its like recycling and it saves me money.  If your in a pinch for bottles, hit up big lots, or a dollar store and sometimes you can find sparkling ciders or other stuff to salvage the bottle at a cheap price.  These boxes are from a liquor store and can even form a makeshift cardboard wine cabnet if you lay them on the side.

Cleaning all the bottles takes a bit of time, especially because of the labels.  I think some wineries make their labels huge, colorful, and covered in glue because they can only sell a bottle because the label looks cool...not because it tastes good.

So what I do is fill a sink with soapy water and soak the bottles that still have labels on them.  This gets the cleaning part done at the same time.  I scrape the label off with a plastic scraper or a butter knife.  And to get that film off under the paper, I use rubbing alcohol.
The thread of a normal water sprayer bottle and the bottles of rubbing alcohol are usually the same, so here is my tricked out alcohol sprayer ------------->

 Don't forget to rinse the bottles well after cleaning and after sanitizing.

Once everything was cleaned and rinsed, sanitized and rinsed, I put the carboy up on the table and started siphoning.  I like to siphon back into the fermentor because it has a tap or a spigot that is controllable, my bottle wand fits in the tap, and I can focus on not getting the lees (white gunk) in the bottles.

<--- This pic shows the carboy towards the end of the siphoning.  You want to avoid getting that crap at the bottom in your bottles.  Pay attention when siphoning, because you will suck up the stuff on the bottom when the tube is about an inch above it.

I lost my siphon just after this point, and the wine left in the tube flushed back into the carboy, stirring up all the nasty gunk.  I couldn't siphon any more out because I didn't want that stuff in the bottles.  So I estimate I lost about 1 to 1 1/2 bottles from that.

Its all easy after your done with the siphoning.  Just start filling up bottles and corking them.  These labels came free at the shop where I bought the kit.  Sometimes I just use some tape and a marker.  I wrote the date I bottled on each bottle.

In the end I got 27 bottles.  Well, 26...I drank one bottle while bottling.

This stuff turned out better than I expected.  It is the first fruit flavored wine I have done.  It is rather sweet and you can clearly taste the kiwi and the melon.  It finishes with a slight crispness that you get with Pinot Grigio.  I think the flavor of the pinot will come through more with time.  But this stuff is so tasty it may not last very long.