Batch 4 – Primary

With batch 3 done, I’ve got nothing going at the moment.  Time to get another couple of gallons going!  This time, I want to experiment with adding a bit of sugar to the primary to increase the original gravity (and therefore, alcohol of the final product).  Since I’m doing two gallons, I’m going to try brown sugar (4.1) and maple syrup (4.2) for my sugar – and compare them at the end!  To that end, I’m going to use Nottingham Ale yeast for both so that the only thing different is the sweetener.

 

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I’m using generic brown sugar and Grade A maple syrup.  Note that while these sweeteners will probably affect the flavor, its not going to taste like brown sugar or maple syrup.  Most of the flavor will be eaten by the yeast.  I’m expecting a woody flavor from the maple syrup.  I plan to later try a regular batch of cider where I add maple syrup in secondary – which should actually give it a maple taste.

The process is only slightly different.  I poured out some cider to take a gravity reading (both carboys are at 1.050).  I then took that cider and heated it up a bit to add the respective sugar source in.  I didn’t quite boil the cider, but heating it up allows for a supersaturated solution (thank you high school chemistry), so that I can mix all the sugar I need into this small amount of liquid.  I used ~1.5 tablespoons of brown sugar, and ~2 tablespoons of maple syrup in their respective solutions.

I then added the solution back into the carboys and let it sit for a while to let the sugar spread out and reach equilibrium.  I then took the gravity again to see what I was working with.  The brown sugar mix had reached 1.053 and the maple syrup mix had reached 1.052.  Not bad.  That should increase the default ABV from ~6.5% to over 7%.

The process from there is the same as always.  Pitch the yeast and pop an airlock on there.  Time to wait.  We’ll have to see if the additional sugar causes the yeast to get too excited and bubble over.

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I’m also thinking about bottling this batch with a bit of sugar in the bottom of the individual bottles to give it some carbonization and sweetness.  We’ll see how I’m feeling when I bottle it though.

How to use a Hydrometer

A hydrometer is a device thats used to measure the gravity (density) of a liquid compared to water (which has a gravity of 1).  The more dense a liquid is, the more the hydrometer will float.  Knowing the gravity of our cider means we can approximate how much sugar is in our cider.  Hydrometers are calibrated at a certain temperature, so you may need to use a calculator to figure out your actual gravity if your cider is at a different temperature.  Mine is calibrated for 60 degrees F, but my brew area is 71 degrees.  So I’ll be using a hydrometer temperature calculator to adjust my gravity.

Usually, our final product will end up with a density of 1.000.  Knowing the starting and finishing density can help us calculate the percent alcohol of our cider!

I grabbed this hydrometer for about $5.

So how do we actually use it?  Its a ~10 inch long glass tube with a weight at one end.  The weighted end will sink, and the other end will point upwards, so we need a container with enough depth to allow the hydrometer to float.

Some hydrometers come with a container that holds liquid and can be used to take a reading.  Mine didn’t.  So I also picked up a 250ml graduated cylinder.  The graduated cylinder is ~14 inches tall, which ensures that we have enough room to allow the hydrometer to float.  There are similar glass tubes, however a polypropylene tube is going to be much harder to break/crack.

 

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Like always, the first step is going to be to sanitize everything.  Throw your hydrometer, tube, and funnel into the star san to get ready.  You may want to do this some time in advance to allow things to air dry.

 

We’re then going to pour enough cider into the graduated cylinder to mostly fill it up to allow for a reading.  Stick your hydrometer in the tube, weight side down, and wait for it to settle.  Then think back to your high school chemistry class to try and remember how to take a measurement.  Put your eyes level with the cider and find where the surface of the cider meets the hydrometer.

 

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The angle of the camera is a bit off from where you want your eyes to be, but you can see that it is approximately at the first line below 1.050, so the reading here is 1.052.  But remember that I’m using a different temperature!  Plugging my info into the calculator from before gives me an actual original gravity of 1.053.  We can then either pour the cider back into the carboy (especially if you let your graduated cylinder air dry the sanitizer), or you can leave it out to give your cider a little more headspace.

You can continue to take the gravity of the cider throughout the fermenting process.  When you have the same reading for a few days in a row, then fermentation has stopped and you’re good to move onto the next stage.  Alternatively, you can stop it at a specific gravity if you’re aiming to bottle it at a certain % alcohol or sweetness.  If you don’t want to measure every day, then you can simply wait a few weeks to ensure it finishes fermenting, and then take 1 measurement at the end to check.

 

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Your final gravity is likely going to be pretty close to 1.000.  Again, my picture isn’t the greatest, but its right about 1.000 – perhaps 0.999.  Going back to our temperature calculator, the actual final gravity is going to be 1.000 – exactly what we expected!

So now we have our two gravity readings.  My hydrometer has approximate % alcohol on it for the starting gravities, so I’ve got an idea of what my final product has, but lets plug it into an ABV calculator to make sure.  Looks like my cider is going to have a 7.22% ABV content, wooh!  A standard 1.050 (which is what my starting juice with no added sugar comes out to be) ends up right around 6.5%, which is like a typical beer.

Now you should be good to use a hydrometer – and have a much more accurate picture of how alcoholic your cider actually is!

As a final note, it may seem like a good idea to skip the graduated cylinder and simply pop the hydrometer into the carboy itself.  While the carboy is certainly deep enough, getting the hydrometer out can be quite difficult.  If you do want to try this, grab some unflavored dental floss and tie it to the top of the non-weighted end.  This should hopefully let you pull it back up when you’re done.

 

 

Batch 3.1 – Bottling

After a very exciting experience with the cherries and orange peels, v3.1 is rather plain.  I let the fermentation go a bit long, and opted to bottle straight from primary.

 

 

Bottling is a pretty smooth process now.

 

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This batch already tests better than the first batch of EC-1118 yeast.  Can’t wait to see how it turns out.  I’ll probably going back to the Nottingham Ale yeast for a bit, but I think the EC-1118 would pair quite well with some berries.  I’m thinking a blueberry-infused cider might be something I try soon.

Batch 2.2 – Bottling

I’m super excited for this.  Look at that deep red color.  After two rounds of filtration, things have settled and they look good.

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Bottling went nice and smooth with the help of my flatmate again.  We got to try a very tasty cider.  The cherry flavor came through strong, making it a bit tart.  The hint of orange was light, but present.  Its not too bad now (especially for someone who doesn’t mind sours) – but this will become quite smooth in a few months.  I can’t wait.

 

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Batch 2.2 – Update 2

After ~10 days or so, I’ve decided that batch 2.2 has had enough time absorbing the flavors of the cherries and orange peels.  Instead of using the usual bottling process with the tubes, I’ve decided to use a funnel and filter to filter out all the solids, half of which are still floating.  You can see that theres some sediment that got stirred out.  I’m going to let it settle for a bit before either bottling or doing another round of filtering.

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Batch 2.2 – Update

So after a couple of days I got scared for batch 2.2.  The entire bottle seemed to be full of some cloudy material that I was afraid was a growth.  I was almost ready to write the entire gallon off.  But I decided to wait a few days…

Oh man was I glad I waited.  Turned out the clouds were from the cherries disintegrating, and not from a growth.  You can see some of the clouds still (and can imagine how it looked fully cloudy) in the picture below.  The clouds started to settle, and this beautiful deep red liquid appeared.  I’m even more excited for it now.

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Batch 3 – Primary

After dealing with batch 2, I’ve got room for another gallon.  I decided to go back and try another EC-1118 batch after opening one of my original growlers.  It turned out pretty good after some more aging.

Remembering the overflow I had in batch 1.2, I knew I needed to take a little out.

Which was pretty convenient, since I also needed to use my new hydrometer and graduated cylinder to figure out the gravity!  I’ll go over the details in a different post – but the OG is 1.050.  Assuming the previous ciders from whole foods have a similar OG, my cider is probably around 5% alcohol since I’ve let my primaries go until fermentation ends and the cider is dry.

Pretty excited to see how batch 3.1 does.

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Batch 2 – Secondary

At the same time that we bottled batch 2.1, we racked 2.2 into secondary with a bit of flavoring.

This cider is going to have orange peels and cherries for flavoring, to pay homage to one of my favorite ciders, Angry Orchard’s Old Fashioned.  I’m not usually a huge fan of Angry Orchard, as they are usually very sweet and almost syrupy.  But the Old Fashioned is very different than most of the Angry Orchard flavors.  Its got waaaaaay less sugar, and lets the flavor from the cherries, orange peels, and bourbon barrel aging provide a hint of sweetness.  Its pretty good.

I don’t have a bourbon barrel to age things in, and while I could look at adding a bit of vanilla extract or something, I’d prefer to keep it easier for my attempt at adding flavoring.

I bought and peeled a few oranges.  To prevent anything from growing, I soaked them in vodka for a few days before draining the vodka (and keeping for some orange-based vodka drink).  The cherries I froze and thawed a couple of times.  This keeps things from growing, but also breaks down the cherries a bit to allow for the flavor to easily transfer to the cider.

I use a straw and an empty beer bottle to pit the cherries.  I originally had a mash bag that I was going to put the fruit into, so I could easily remove it later – but the narrow carboy opening made it too difficult to use.  Putting the fruit in directly is fine, but will make removing the fruits later somewhat difficult.

 

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After adding the cherries and orange peels, I topped it off with a new airlock to let it go into secondary.  Adding a bit of sugar from the cherries means that it will probably ferment a little more, but shouldn’t be too much.  The combination of racked cider (minus the yeast sediment) and fruit filled up the carboy to just the right amount so I didn’t have to worry about oxidation or overflowing.

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Looks pretty good.  I’m not sure how long I should leave the fruit in.  If I leave it in too long, then the cherry flavor might overpower everything.  If I leave it in for too short, then I might not actually get much flavor.  I’ll keep and eye on it and see how it goes.

Batch 2 – Bottling

Batch two has been going for a month or so now, so its time to bottle!  Or at least, its time to bottle half of it.  I’ve decided to bottle 1 of the carboys to see how it differs from my first batch of Nottingham Ale.  The second carboy I’m going to move to secondary and add some flavor – but more on that in the next post.

With my lessons learned from the first batch, I’ve enlisted the help of my new flatmate to bottle things.  Having an extra set of hands is going to make things much easier.

As usual, I’ve sanitized everything in preparation.  I’ve got my carboys on a high table, and my bottles on the ground.  I’ve also got a nice new set of 16oz pop top bottles to bottle into.  And a few smaller ~11oz pop top bottles that happened to contain some good German Dunkel (good excuse to buy and drink some beer, I needed the bottles!).

 

A second set of hands really did make everything easier.  I’m able to hold the pump steady to avoid disturbing the yeast.  My flatmate is able to hold the bottles and use the bottling wand.  I’ve even got an extra hand to take some photos of the process!

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A taste test proves pretty promising.  It already tastes better than the first batch.  I’ll let these age for a bit, but I’ll be breaking them out at some event or another.  I ended up with 7 full 16oz bottles and a half-full 11oz bottle – which I’ll drink quickly since it isn’t filled up to the neck.  Batch 2.1 is looking pretty good.

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Guest batch!

I visited my parents for a couple weeks for the holidays and had plenty of downtime.  Turns out my dad had a couple of cider/beer making kits laying around and wanted to try making some cider!  Since he had pieces and parts from two different sets, we Frankensteined something together…

His first set of supplies was from a Mr Beer cider refill for a plastic keg set that we’d gotten him a few years ago.  The keg wasn’t super high quality and didn’t survive a move – but he still had a cider pack that came with concentrated apple juice, yeast, and sanitizer.

The second kit was a more traditional set of supplies.  It came with a 1 gallon carboy, airlock, and bottling tubing.

So we looked up the instructions for the Mr Beer kit, halved it since it was supposed to make 2 gallons – and made the cider base.  It ended up being the concentrated juice, water, and brown sugar.  We added that to the 1 gallon carboy, pitched the yeast, and popped on the airlock.

I won’t be there to bottle it (or try it) – but I’m sure it will be interesting!

 

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