Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quick and easy cider recipe and tasting

Here's my super easy grocery store cider recipe:
5gal vol.
12-14 cans of apple juice concentrate.
1 tbsp yeast nutrient (DAP)
5 bags of Earl Grey tea
Water, probably ~4 gal
S-04 or T-58 yeast

Lactic Acid 88% at bottling (to taste)

Any kind/brand of juice will do, as long as it only has ascorbic acid as a preservative. So just juice, ascorbic acid, water.

Heat 1 gal of water to just off-boiling. Add the tea bags, and steep for 5min. Take out tea bags. The tea bags add tannin to the cider. If you have access to good cider apples (most apples sold are the desert kind, not really great for cider) then this step is unnecessary. Tannins add structure. In large amounts, tannins give red wines their "chewy" character, but in small amounts they lend a subtle body.

Add hot tea water to 2 gal of cold water. Do not add hot water directly to fruit juice. If you do you'll set the pectins and the cider will never clear.

To the now cool 3 gal of tea water, add most of the apple juice concentrate. Check gravity. Adjust volume/gravity until you hit 1.050 and have around 5 gallons of juice.

For a sweeter, appley-er cider, ferment with S-04. For a drier, tart, slightly spicy (think cloves) cider, use T-58. Ferment as close to 60* as possible. Should be ready to bottle within 7-10 days, but verify via hydrometer. T-58 will take longer to clear. S-04 will blow through the sugars within a few days and flocc out quickly.

My T-58 bottomed out at 1.010. My S-04 hit 1.016 and flocc'ed. I transferred to secondary and it's still very slowly bubbling away. I bottled the T-58 part of the batch a few weeks ago, and I'm drinking it now. It tasted a little lifeless at bottling time, and the pH was around 3.4. I added 15ml of lactic acid to drop the pH to 3.0. At that pH, it tasted "brighter."

Tasting notes

Appearance: Clear and golden.

Smell: Lightly apple, some bergamot/citrus aroma.

Taste: Fairly dry, a little bland in the middle, but it has a very nice finish. The bergamot from the Earl Grey really shines through in the finish, and nicely complements the apple flavor.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation ended up a little bit low, but it has a nice texture. The tannins complement the dryness well.

Overall: For how simple and easy it is, it makes an easy-drinking, semi-dry cider. I've made cider previously with better juice and wine yeasts and was underwhelmed. Ale yeasts are much better for cider making. If you have access to higher quality apple juice, the product will turn out much better. I was limited by what was available at my local Wal-mart. I think the combo of T-58 with good juice would make a really nice cider.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New glassware

I moved to rural Missouri from Colorado for work. I grew up in Fruita, went to school in Boulder, and lived in Denver most recently. Pretty much everyone is perplexed as to why I would move here, even native Missourians. I would've guessed the natives liked living here, but they all seem to think Colorado is nicer. In a lot of ways it is, but there are some cool things about living out in the boonies. One of them is the awesome antique stores and flea markets. You can find some really good stuff here for pretty cheap. My latest haul was $5.

Here are my latest beer-related finds:

A Löwenbräu weizen/pils-ish looking glass and an Old Milwaukee chalice. I was pretty happy to find the chalice. I used to have a Belgian goblet, but I lost it somehow.

I also found an old medicine jug. Not sure on the volume, but it looks like it's about 3L. I've been looking for a good 3L-ish jug for starters. I've been using 3L plastic jugs so far without issue, but I'm worried about long-term contamination issues.

I found some 10gal ceramic crocks like my grandparents used to use to make beer in, but they were in great shape and were $110, so I didn't pick those up.

First Berliner Weisse, pt. 3 - boil and pitch

Gravity when pitching yeast: 1.016
PH when pitching yeast: 2.3

After 24 hours, the wort + sour starter was going nuts. A white pellicle covered the entire top, and lots of CO2 was coming off. The pellicle was there in the morning, but when I went back in the afternoon to take a picture, it was mostly gone, but you can still see a bit on the edges:

After reading a bit more about different Lacto strains, it seems most of them are heterofermentative, even the strains from the yeast labs. My pre-boil gravity was 1.028, and when I checked the wort, it had dropped to 1.016 and the pH was down to 2.3. Lactic acid has pretty much the same gravity as sugar. The gravity drop was most likely due to the lactic acid producing alcohol. It tasted fine, a bit sour, but still pretty sweet. I think once it's done fermenting it'll be pretty puckering.

Here's the bit that I did differently from most Berliner Weisse recipes. Most Berliner Weisses aren't boiled, or are only partially boiled. Since my pH was plenty low, and since I had no idea what other nasty bugs I may have cultured from the grain, I chose to boil a little under half of the wort, and pasteurize the rest.

The half I boiled got the hops, then after a 30min boil, I added the rest of the wort and held between 145-150*F (That's 63-65 for the Centigrade folks) for 30min. The process is called vat pasteurization, and should provide a 3-log kill (99.9%). You can pastuerize faster at higher temperatures, but since my bugs made alcohol too, I didn't want to boil off all the alcohol of an already low-gravity beer.

After I chilled it, I pitched about half of a yeast cake from a batch of Koelsch. This is definitely overpitching in normal circumstances. With the low pH, I was worried about poor yeast performance.

I was quickly running out of daylight last night, so I didn't get a lot of pictures, but here's one of my setup. Bayou Classic KAB-4 burner, 60qt pot, little March pump, and a homemade immersion chiller.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

First Berliner Weisse, pt. 2 - Mash and souring

Got the wort into the carboy to start souring tonight. Here's a picture of the setup for the sour starters:
After about 24 hours, the starters smelled strongly of lactic acid (think sauerkraut). They may have had a slight acetic (vinegar) smell, but were otherwise very clean. I was worried about mold/funk/terrible aromas and flavors, but none of that happened. PH for the solutions were 2.9, +/-0.1, indicating Lactobacillus activity. While they tasted sour, they also tasted sweet, so the Lacto didn't eat all the sugars from the starter.

The bug I'm interested in is called L. delbrueckii, which I believe is homofermentative and thermophilic, meaning it likes hot temperatures and just makes lactic acid, not acid and alcohol like some Lactobacillus strains do. By keeping the temp as high as possible, but below 120*, the L. delbrueckii should grow preferentially over other bugs that may have been on the grain.

It turns out I didn't really need any of that headspace, so next time I'll fill them up higher to minimize O2 and the risk of acetobacter.

Here's the recipe I made for this beer:
Batch Size (L): 18.00
Total Grain (Kg): 2.62
Estimated OG: 1.034
Estimated SRM: 2.4
Estimated IBU: 5.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 30 Minutes

68.7% - 1.8kg Rahr Pils Malt
31.3% - 820g of Colorado Malting Company Red Wheat Malt

25g - Willamette (Pellet, 2.0% AA) for 5.4 IBU

Reused Wyeast 2565 Koelsch

Water Profile
Profile: RO

Mash Schedule
Saccharification Rest - 8L infusion, 30 min @ 151* F
No mash out
Sparged with cold water ~ 70* F

Collected more volume than anticipated.

Berliner Weisse isn't a very big beer. The grain bill looks tiny in my 10gal MLT. I chose to mashout with cold water because I was pressed for time and needed to finish up in a hurry.

I ended up collecting more wort than I anticipated. I'll check the preboil gravity and volume after it's done souring to adjust boil time and hop schedule as necessary.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

First Berliner Weisse, pt. 1 - Sour starter

The next brew in the works is a Berliner Weisse. This will be my first sour beer so I wanted to start off with something easy. The first step is to make a starter for the Lactobacillus delbrueckii. Pure strains are available from Wyeast and White Labs, but malted base grains are lousy with Lacto (among other things). Since my LHBS is an hour away and doesn't have any bacteria anyway, and it would cost too much to buy a culture online and ship it, I chose the grain route.

Here's the recipe I used:

Into 4L water
Add 400g dextrose
Heat to 110* to dissolve sugar
Divide into 3 growlers
Into each growler goes 1 cup of base malt

One growler got wheat malt, one got pils malt, and one got pale malt. PH of the sugar/water solution was 7.1. I placed the growlers in the shed and wrapped them with a brewbelt heater. Target temperature is 110-120* to maximize Lacto growth.

I wanted to do three separate starters to increase the chance of success. When I harvested wild yeast in the past, half of them took off with good bugs/yeast, and half of them got really rank and nasty. So this way, hopefully at least one will come out alright.

The camera ran out of batteries today, but the next update should have some pics.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Candi syrup secrets, and how to make your own

There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about candi syrup, what it is, and how it's made. After making 100 or so batches of candi syrup, and hundreds of hours of work and research, I have some insight on this.

First, let's start with what it is. "Candi syrup" or "Kandijsiroop" or "sirop de candi" is dark, richly flavored syrup made from sugar utilizing Maillard reactions and caramelization. In Belgium, tariffs and subsidies make beet sugar much cheaper than cane sugar, so the "authentic" Belgian syrups use beet sugar. There is nothing particularly good about beet sugar. It's just what they use because it's cheap and convenient. The sugar refining process removes any impurities, leaving only the pure sucrose. Beet sucrose is chemically identical to sugar cane sucrose.

Maillard reactions are a complicated set of interactions between a nitrogen source and reducing sugars. Examples of reducing sugars are glucose and fructose. Sucrose is not a reducing sugar, therefore it is impossible for Maillard reactions to occur with sucrose. It is impossible to have Maillard reactions with pure beet or cane sugar in its natural state. To allow the Maillard reactions to occur, one must invert the sugar from sucrose to glucose and fructose.

Sugar can be inverted by heat or acid, or both. The rate of chemical reactions increases with temperature. While it may take several days for acid to invert sucrose at room temperature, it can happen in 30min if boiling. Once the sugar has been inverted, the sugars have become reducing sugars, which can form Maillard products. Any remaining acidity must be neutralized with a base of some kind.

All the manufacturers of candi syrup that I'm aware of claim their product contains only sugar, and is made by repeated heating and cooling alone. This is unlikely to be true based upon the chemistry involved.

The misinformation over candi syrup is caused by two factors. The first is that recipes cannot be patented. The only way to keep your secret recipe from being stolen is to keep it, well, a secret. The other factor is FDA regulations on food labeling. "Process aids" do not have to be included on ingredient labels. "Process aids" are defined as "Substances that are added to a food for their technical or functional effect in the processing but are present in the finished food at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that food." Candi syrup manufacturers are not required to disclose which acids and bases they use in producing their syrups, and to disclose them would mean anyone could reverse engineer their product.

The FDA has guidelines on what products can be used in the production of caramel. Acceptable food-grade carbohydrates:
dextrose (glucose)
malt syrup
starch hydrolysates

Acceptable acids:
acetic acid
citric acid
phosphoric acid
sulfuric acid
sulfurous acid
(In the UK hydrochloric acid is also used)

Acceptable bases:
Ammonium hydroxide
Calcium hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide
Sodium hydroxide

Acceptable salts include any combination of the following:
Ammonium, sodium, or potassium carbonate, bicarbonate, phosphate, sulfate and sulfite.

Lyle's Golden Syrup is a type of invert syrup made with hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. The acid leaves chloride ions, and the base leaves sodium ions. Together they form sodium chloride, or common salt, in the final product.

Knowing accepted ingredients and a little bit about chemistry, we can make an educated guess into the true nature of candi syrup. I have no doubt the product begins as sucrose. Some acid and heat is added until the sucrose inverts. Any residual acid needs to be neutralized. Ammonium hydroxide (NH4OH) would both neutralize any residual acidity and provide a source of nitrogen for the Maillard reaction. If an alternative base is used, some other sort of nitrogen would be needed. Phosphates increase the rate of Maillard reactions, so an ammonium-phosphate salt would have the dual purpose of providing nitrogen and phosphate.

With this information, it is not difficult to devise a substitute for candi syrup. Here is a recipe I've come up with:

3oz Dextrose (corn sugar)
13oz Sucrose (table sugar)
1c H2O
1/2tsp diammonium-phosphate
1/2tsp potassium bicarbonate
1/2tsp lemon juice

1) Bring water and sugars to a boil
2) add 1/2tsp lemon juice
3) simmer for 30min between boiling and boiling+10*F (212*F-222*F at sea level)
Add water as necessary to keep temperature in correct range
4)Add 1/2tsp DAP
Add 1/2tsp KHCO3
Stir well to dissolve

5) Heat to 320*
Add 1/2c H2O
Stir well (be careful as sugar will sputter)

6) Heat to 310*
Add 1c H2O
Stir well
Pour in mason jar or other heat-tempered glass jar, or allow to cool and store in plastic

The reason I include a portion of dextrose (glucose) is that I've found dextrose will darken at lower temperatures than fructose, so having more dextrose will result in a roastier, darker syrup, while more fructose will result in a fruitier, lighter-colored syrup.

Another tweak you can make is heating the syrup to lower temperatures (you can get some nice vanilla flavors around 260*). You can also experiment with the number of heating/cooling cycles.

I encourage lots of experimentation to find what works for you. Maillard reactions are responsible for some amazing flavors, but also foul, acrid flavors. Finding the proper balance between the good and bad flavors is the hardest part of making your own candi syrup.