Summer Solstice 2012 Cider Showdown Results

On Saturday we held the Summer Solstice Cider Showdown. Three competitors entered their home-brewed cider and many attended to take advantage of the drinks and food on offer.

The winner by a landslide was G-Ram with his deliciously sweet Maple Honey Cider. When he bottled his brew he added not only the required priming sugar, but maple syrup and honey. Somehow he was able to move the bottles without them exploding. When I went to pour them out it was like opening bottles of super-charged champagne! Congrats to G-Ram who walked away with some mayo and fresh eggs, all supplied by the hens. They didn’t make the mayo or package the eggs, but they did lay the main ingredients.

Other notable tastes of the night were LSW’s chicken wings and pizza, Jon’s rum brownies and Mike’s quinoa salad!

Looking forward to next year’s showdown, but if I don’t win next year, I’m not doing it again.

Dandelion Petal Cordial

When you look at any grassy area, you’ll notice the sea of yellow dandelions. Since the provincial government banned many of the harmful weed killing treatments, these flowers have popped up everywhere. I guess you could say they are growing like weeds.

Don’t despair if your lawn looks a lot like ours did the other day. You may see big nasty weeds choking out the grass, but I see delicious possibilities! The other day I dug up quite a few dandelions for beer (more on that later) and noticed that there was still a lot of the little bastards left. Quick internet search (they have the internet on computers now) for what you can make with them, aside from beer, and I found a Swiss recipe for Dandelion Petal Cordial.

Seeing as I have 75L of alcohol brewing in the basement, I thought it was time to make something for the prohibitionists out there.

It’s simple really. Go out to your yard where you’re sure the cat or dog hasn’t left a gift, and with scissors, cut the heads off the dandelion plants. Using this method you’ll avoid bittering the drink with the milk contained in the stems. By pulling on the flowers you squeeze the bitterness all over them and it will spoil the flavour. I cut about 120 heads. I only picked the best of the best (there was quite a selection) and avoided any that were closing or weren’t very brilliant in colour. The idea with this recipe is to capture the essence of a warm day in a syrup. If you pick dull flowers it will taste like a miserable day, and if you want that taste, you’re better off just drinking from dirty puddles and eavestroughs.

Some of the dandelion heads

In the recipe it said to wash the heads. I didn’t for two reasons; I’m not worried about bugs, and why would I want to wash away all of the tasty pollen? If the green portion of the heads are included in the pot, the flavour will become bitter, so the yellow petals must be separated. Easier said than done. I had to split each flower in half and pull away the petals very carefully trying not to pull green with them. Midway through I started to fantasize about a machine that could do it for me. Yes, it’s a sad fantasy. After an hour, all of the heads had been processed. My fingers were a mix of yellow from the pollen, and black from the greens. With black finger nail tips I looked like I’d gone into someone’s nail polish collection and given myself a terrible French manicure.

100% petal, no green.

Referring back to the recipe, things became a little unclear. How much water? “Enough to cover the petals”. But the petals float. I could add 10 gallons and they still wouldn’t be covered! Yelling at computer doesn’t get you far, so I guessed at the amount of water. I brought the water to a boil, gave things a stir, and set it aside overnight with a lid on to steep.

Stop floating!

The next day, I strained off the petals, using a spoon to squeeze out every last drop of liquid. Then, I weighed the liquid and added 95% of the weight in sugar. I re-boiled the mixture until the sugar had dissolved. You’re supposed to add lemon to taste, but I forgot to get one and I couldn’t be bothered to go out so I left it out. Once the liquid had cooled enough, I poured the cordial into two sterilized bottles.

Finished product! Delicious!

Moment of truth. Added an 1/8″ of the cordial to a small glass and topped it up with fizzy water. Wow! It’s like the sun is shining from my mouth! Some people in this household weren’t as impressed and said it was too sweet. More for me.

Summer Solstice Mead

Most likely the first alcoholic beverage ever consumed by humans was mead. Many experts believe that mead wasn’t create by our ancestors, but instead discovered. As mead is essentially fermented watered-down honey, it would occur naturally when honey deposits found in hollow trees were flooded with rain and the yeast in the air would inoculate the blend. After some time it would ferment and would be found by someone thirsty enough to take the risk. Imagine all of the people who must have died horrible deaths from trying something for the first time? I’d like that thank them on behalf of those who survive them.

Once it was realized that you wouldn’t die from drinking this magical juice found in abandoned bee nests, but would instead feel pretty good, people starting making their own mead. Mead has helped ugly people procreate for thousands of years.

I’m not ugly (in my humble opinion) and I’m definitely not ready to procreate, but I thought that mead would be a nice addition to our cellar. When I say cellar, I mean the spare room in the basement that we put cardboard over the vent to stop it getting warm, and blocked out the windows to keep the sun from turning the beer and wine.

I’ve called it Summer Solstice Mead as the recipe I used is a traditional one that takes 18 months for the brew to mature into a drinkable liquid. I started just before New Years 2011, and as I’ve heard that mead is notorious for tasting like sweet cat piss, we will be waiting until the full 18 months are up. This happens to be roughly on the summer solstice of 2013. What better time to celebrate an ancient holiday than with an ancient drink.

Our trees don’t have bees in them. Our trees don’t have hollowed out areas either. To save the work involved in hollowing a tree and starting an apiary, I decided to use a demijohn. Into the boiling water went locally sourced honey, nutrient, and few other bits and bobs. Once cooled enough (this kept me up for a while), the yeast was pitched (added), and the whole lot went into the fermenting vessel with an airlock fitted to keep out the unwanted (bacteria, like the cat).

Mead has a tendency to form a layer of lees at the bottom in its first few weeks of fermenting. If you don’t siphon the mead off of it, it will go terribly bitter and you’ve just thrown out a lot of expensive honey. Never mind the expense, but some poor bees worked all summer to collect that honey for your batch of mead and you’ve gone and tipped it all down the sink!

So once the sludge has stopped collecting, you let it sit in the dark. If you’re worried about it getting lonely, you could put a bottle of cider next to it, but they do go on a bit.

The mead siphoned from its non-tree fermenting vessel, ready to be bottled.

After all the waiting, you then get to do the fun part: bottling! Why fun? It’s 9am on a Saturday and you get to take some “quality control samples” from a nicely sweetened liquor. After you’re done sampling, it simply goes into wine bottles. Using a corker, the stops are put in and you can stand back and look at your collection of prehistoric brew.

A great way to smash all the bottles in one go.

The bottles we used are exactly the same as the bottles with our wine in, so to avoid confusion, I had the brilliant idea of marking the corks with an “M” in script to indicate mead. Only problem with this cunning plan is that an upside down letter “M” looks a lot like a “W” when written in script. Turns out “W” is the first letter in wine. Hopefully the line underneath will remind us of the correct orientation.

This will be a lot more confusing after a few bottles.

So, summer solstice 2013, come visit and we can indulge in a bottle, or two, and toast those who were brave enough to drink out of a tree.

Summer Solstice 2012 Cider Showdown

I know there are a few readers on here that have been making their own cider as well, and I think that we should all put our brews to the test. This Summer Solstice, June 20th, I think we should all meet and have a showdown to blind taste-test each others cider. As the solstice is actually on a Wednesday (booo), and most of us will not be in the greatest shape after sampling all of the brews, we’ll hold it at my place on Saturday June 23rd to give everyone a day to recoup/purge before back to work on the Monday. Anyone else who hasn’t already made a cider is welcome to brew their own and bring it along for the competition. For the winner of the taste-test, I’m offering a dozen eggs (our personnel will be notified in advance to increase production), a bottle of Merlot (homemade in January) and a large jar of jalapenos jelly (from last years peppers).

For anyone who can’t face our evil cat, we’ll send her away to behaviour modification camp, ie our basement, for the duration of the festivites.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to make a cider, bring something equally as good and equally as homemade.

Let the brewing continue!

Good Friday for cider

I’ve been looking forward to today all week. A day off from work, and a day that I pledged to not work on home renovations. Instead, it has been a day of cheese and cider. After the chickens were let out, I went back in to check on the milk I added culture to last night. All smelled well, so within an hour or so I managed to make it into another cheddar cheese.

Cheese done, in press, time for cider. In a previous post I mentioned a turbo cider I had started back in February of this year. I wanted to leave this cider a lot longer than I had a previous batch, and I thought seven weeks was probably long enough.

After everything was sterilized and cleaned, I started by boiling another litre of apple juice. Into this I dissolved 255g of regular table sugar. The priming mixture was added to a 25L bucket. I siphoned the fermented cider from the demijohn to this bucket, taking extra care not to transfer the spent yeast that had settled to the bottom. By mixing the 24L fermented cider with the juice and sugar, the whole batch was primed. Priming means that you have added extra fermentables (sugars) that the active yeast left in the liquid can convert into carbon dioxide. As the bottles are all sealed, the gas can’t escape and instead you end up with a fizzy cider that not only makes you drunk, but with the fizz, makes you giggly.

The spent yeast left in the demijohn. If transferred to the finished product, the taste would be horrible. Nothing wasted as this ended up in next door's compost.

All of the bottles have to be immaculately clean so that other bacteria or yeast aren’t introduced into the brew. Yeast is all around us as it is airborne. If you don’t take care, these yeast can enter your brew and fight the yeast you intended to ferment your sugars. This could result in a less desirable tasting cider. Traditionally, apple cider was made without adding yeast. The natural yeasts that accumulated on the apples would suffice. With the apples left unwashed, these yeast would quickly get to work turning juice to alcohol. To make my life easier and the kitchen less cluttered, I invested in a bottle tree. This keeps the bottles out the way while drying them. Somehow the cat hasn’t taken a liking to climbing it.

Shame bottles don't grow on trees. Although that would make windy days a little dangerous.

Using a sterilized hose and bottle filling wand, each bottle has to be filled with only a little airspace left. One by one, the bottles are then capped and placed in boxes. This is the moment where everyone in the house suddenly has business to take care of right where you’re trying to fill bottles and keep everything bacteria free. The cat has little interest in alcohol and keeps well away. I think she knows she has certain tendencies and alcoholism  is a real possibility for her. She’s not far from rock bottom as it is; she walks in her toilet (aka little box) and eats bugs off the ground.

The clear bottles must be kept out of the light as it can turn the cider skunky, while the brown bottles prevent light from getting in. The bottles, in boxes, in a dark room works quite well and so far, fingers crossed, we haven’t had anything turn.

Perfectly filled bottle of cider.

A really important part of any alcohol making is quality control. This is the point where you help yourself to a glass of the fresh brew to evaluate its colour, taste, texture…..really it’s just an excuse to have a drink and get a little tipsy at 10am.

Our total for the cider:

2 – ½ gallon jugs
4 – pint bottles
53 – 341ml bottles
2 – 750ml wine bottles (not primed with sugar, otherwise the corks would fly out)
multiple quality control samples

Total cost: $24 or ~90¢ a litre

 

Half gallon of apple heaven and a following morning of apple hell.

48 bottles of beer in the box. Take one down, pass it around.

For anyone who wants the recipe and schedule:

February 19, 2012:
Ingredients:
24 X 1.05L cans of pure apple juice (no concentrate, added vitamin C is ok though)
500g white table sugar (add a little more if you want higher ABV)
1 packet of champagne yeast

Boil 2 X 1.05L cans and dissolve 500g of sugar in it. Add 14 cans of juice in primary fermenter. Temperature of juice needs to be above 20°C. Once liquid is between 20-27°C, add yeast, seal bucket with airlock and wait 48 hrs.
February 25, 2012:
After the brew has stopped going insane with bubbling, add 6 more cans of juice. Let sit for 15-28 days to ferment out (longer the better).
March 18th, 2012:
1 can of juice added to “wake-up” the yeast.
April 6, 2012:
Boiled last can of juice with an additional 255g of sugar. Siphon brew into bucket with boiled juice/sugar. Bottle, age for 3 weeks. Enjoy!
The recipe can be scaled down without having to adjust yeast amount (as low as 3L).

 

Turbo Cider (the alcoholic type, not the kid stuff)

After a disappointing apple crop last year, when it came to making cider, we were stuck having to make other arrangements for the juice. Home Brewing by Kevin Forbes (Chapters discount area, but I don’t see why it is) has a pretty good recipe for making Turbo Cider which is essentially just store bought non-concentrated juice. Like a lot of the recipes in this book, you need to do a little additional research online just to double check amounts, etc.

So off to the grocery store to buy 24 cans of regular apple juice (with added vitamin C, but it doesn’t seem to do any harm). Sterilize everything the liquid touches, dump 2/3 (16 x 1.05L cans) of all the juice into a plastic bucket. Some people go straight to a glass demijohn, but apparently this can slow the fermentation process or completely kill it off due to static electricity. I have no idea if this is true or not, but why risk having to tip 25L of juice down the sink. Boil the contents of two cans in a saucepan and dissolve in 500g of regular granulated white table sugar. Most brewers won’t touch white sugar and use dextrose instead, but in cider it works well as it adds to the cidery flavour.

Once the sugar has dissolved, add the hot liquid to the bucket. With a temperature around 23°C pitch (add in) one packet of champagne yeast. Insert bung and airlock.

Once it’s sat for a couple of days, I add all but one of the remaining cans of juice. If you try to add it all at once, the cider can ferment so violently that you’ll have the bung on the opposite side of the room, a ceiling dripping with apple juice and yeast, and a slightly drunk cat.

I started my second batch on February 19th and within a week or so I transferred everything to a large demijohn to sit in the hot room to continue fermenting:

Although the recipe suggests that it is a fast fermentation, I’ve found that leaving it for at least a month really improves the flavour and allows a lot of the roughness to dissipate. If you like rough, just mix apple juice and rubbing alcohol to taste (make sure you get the proportions right, as this will be the last drink you’ll ever have). Before the week is through, I’ll have to bottle the cider so that it can go through its second fermentation in the bottles to give it some fizz. I’ll post the conclusion of the cider brew later in the week. If we have a really good night with it we’ll post the conclusion of the cider consumption in the near future.