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.

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.