Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I will explain this in non-scientific terms. It shouldn't be hard to find a more precise description of how to use a hydrometer to estimate alcohol content. But I hope this qualitative explanation is more user-friendly than most.
I haven't figured out captions yet. These pictures show my hydrometer, then the 6 percent potential alcohol reading in some fresh cider. Finally you can see the 11 percent reading after I added four pounds of sugar to five gallons of cider.
During fermentation, yeast eat sugar, and leave behind two by-products: carbon dioxide and alcohol. Starting the process with more sugar means the yeast will have more food to eat. It also means they will make more alcohol. Up to a point. Fermentation stops at about 12 percent alcohol no matter how much sugar you put in. Like most living things, yeast can only live in their own waste up to certain limits.
Don't bother going above 12 percent potential alcohol. Like I said, fermentation stops at that point.
As fermentation progresses, the potential alcohol in the liquid goes down. When the number reaches zero, you know that fermentation is done. If my 11 percent reading goes down to zero, then I'll know that my finished cider has 11 percent alcohol. At that point the finished product will taste "dry" (I won't be able to taste any sugar).
Monday, November 17, 2008
Awright, I'm game, is it easy to make hard cider? Cuz I've heard it's hard
to make easy cider.
Washington Heights reader
Both, in fact, are true. Making hard cider is like making compost. It shouldn't be more work than you want to put into it. And once you know how the basics, the secret is just letting the little critters living in there do their thing.
I promise to publish posts on both hard cider and easy cider in the near future.
Another reader writes:
I just used wine.net to calculate the amount of liquors i will need at my
next party of 40 guests, for 10 hours with a 40-20-40 beer-wine-liquor ratio.
But it says that I only need 112 servings of beer, 56 servings of wine, and 112
servings of 750ml bottles of liquor, which seems a little low. Is this somehow
related to infusing bacon into vodka?
Yes, that's right.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
1. Mix together different types of apples. I don't know exactly how this works, but it works. Different apples have different levels of sugar, are more or less tart, etc. So one type of apple balances another.
2. Sanitize everything. Use campden tablets to sanitaize all of your equipment. They can go right into your cider and will kill off any unwanted bacteria or mold. This will also kill off any naturally-occurring yeasts, and so you'll need to add yeast.
3. Use a hydrometer to figure out your potential alcohol. Add the appropriate amount of sugar.
4. Add yeast. I never know what kind of yeast to buy in the brewing supply store. I usually use champagne yeast in cider. I like to start the yeast in a glass of cider. When the glass is nice and foamy I pour it into the rest of the cider.
5. Use a stabilizer when fermentation is done. Available in a brewing supply store. This kills off any remaining yeast and keeps fermentation from starting up again after bottling.
6. Back-sweeten. If all goes well, you cider will taste dry when fermentation is done. You may prefer to drink it sweeter than that. I like to add some brown sugar or honey.
7. Bottle. I collect empty wine bottles from frienda and buy new corks. I've used three different corking tools and here I do find that spending more money makes the job easier.
8. Age. Sometimes the cider tastes great as soon as I bottle it. Sometimes I am less than impressed. Sour or bitter cider generally improves with age.
It's not hard to do if you have a few friends to help. You do need some equipment, but this can often be borrowed or rented. Most people agree that you get the best cider when you mix different varieties of apples.
1. Find some apples. Surely you know someone with an apple tree who can't use all of the apples.
2. Sort the apples. Blemishes are okay, but use common sense and don't press anything that is rotting.
3. Wash the apples. Even just letting them sit in a tub of water for a minute or two will remove dust and bugs from the surface.
4. Crush the apples. I rent an apple crusher. This smashes things up - skins, seeds, and all - into a pulp.
5. Press the apples. I rent a wine press. Put the pulp into the press and press out the cider.
6. The fresh cider will keep for only a few days in a refrigerator until it starts to ferment. You can:
a. Drink it quickly and give it to friends.
b. Freeze it.
c. Boil it to kill off the naturally-occurring yeasts.
d. Make it into hard cider.
What's left after pressing can be composted or gifted to a local horse farmer or pig farmer. It looks tempting to use the pulp to make applesauce or a pie, but you will quickly realize that an apple with all of the juice pressed out of it tastes pretty much like cardboard.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Mmm. That is the most delish blog on the web. I hope you find ways to work pork and pork products into yer vodkablog. Cuz vodka and pork are essentially the food of the gods.
-Ego in Park Slope
I remember when I was in college there was a house that was rumored to have a bottle of "pork schnapps". I never actually saw it, and assume it was a homemade concoction that gained mythical status only because no one dared drink it and it stayed there on the cinder-block-and-stolen-lumber shelves.
Just for you, Ego, I plan to go to the grocery store this afternoon to buy some Nueske's bacon to make some bacon-infused vodka. I promise to share the results.
A friend recently suggested pastrami vodka. Too bad I can't find any REALLY GOOD pastrami in Minnesota. I believe Katz's has a slogan that says "Send a pastrama to your boy for good karma". I'm just sayin'.
We've got spirits. Yes, we do. We've got spirits. How 'bout you?
-Eamus in Pittsburgh
I'll cut to the chase here: We've got more.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
1. Fill a quart canning jar with raspberries
2. Pour a cup of sugar over the raspberries
3. Fill the jar with vodka (about half of a 750ml bottle)
4. Close jar with a tight-fitting, two-piece canning lid and ring
5. Let the jar sit upright for one week
6. Turn the jar upside down amd let sit for one week.
7. Turn jar weekly until vodka has infused for six weeks
8. Strain through a colander or similar strainer
NOTES: Mom says if you press the raspberries when you're draining them, the infused vodka will be cloudy. When left to infuse more than six weeks, the finished product tastes seedy.
My parents have been making raspberry vodka for years. They grow a lot of raspberries and are always looking for new ways to use them, especially at the end of the season when they are most bountiful. Honestly, my parents are not realy drinking people, but this recipe quickly became a family staple.
Early in the fall my parents' kitchen is dotted with quart jars infusing. Dad says once he came home for lunch and was halfway through a bowl of raspberries before he realized that they were infusing. Evidently it was a long afternoon.
Each year's new batch is generally first served at Thanksgiving. About ten years ago, Berger came to visit for Thanksgiving. He was really quite enamored with the stuff and my dad shared the family secret: "Very cheap vodka. VERY expensive raspberries".
This stuff is quite good to sip on its own, though some will certainly find it too sweet and syrupy. I suspect you could use half the sugar and shorten the infusing time and would still have a rich-tasting infusion. I sometimes thin it out with more vodka.
My dad makes a cocktail with orange juice - let's call it a Raspberry Sunrise.
I like to mix it with hard cider and call that a Pink Hoo-ha.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
4 pounds mulberries
4 cups of sugar
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 tsp acid blend
1 tsp pectic enzyme
1 campden tablet
I lay sheets out on the ground and at peak can collect a gallon of mulberries each day for a week.
I used a recipe I found online somewhere. I believe it involved cans of frozen grape juice or some such thing. The resulting wine was quite sour. Frenchy was the only person willing to drink it and I think he drank every last bottle of the stuff.
Next time I'll add more sugar and make the primary fermenting period shorter. Maybe I'll mix it with some other fruit as well. Mulberry-rhubarb might be good.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
750 ml vodka
Jim came back from a trip to Poland with a jar of organic honey from the farm where his grandmother was born. This was some good honey. I thought he was wasting it when he poured several ounces into a quart jar and then filled the jar with vodka.
After shaking the jar for several minutes the vodka was a beautiful amber color. And the flavor was amazing. The vodka smartly highlighted the range of flavors in the honey.
My parents grew up in a Finish town in Central Minnesota, and each year on the 16th of March the town celebrates Saint Urho's Day.
When my father's father bought a farm from one of the original Finish settlers of the area, the farm came with a grape vine. My grandfather took a cutting of the vine with him when he retired and left the farm. My father took a cutting from this new vine.
The wine from these grapes is highly drinkable. I am guessing they might be Concord grapes, as the wine tends to taste a bit like Welch's.
375ml vodka, charcoal-filtered
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp sugar
This is an easy one. Just drop a couple of cinnamon sticks in and let it sit.
After five days the flavor was quite nice. At the time of this posting this batch has infused 12 days and it's still getting better. I understand this one can sit for weeks and it will be just fine.
I've never had much luck growing fennel in my yard. The bulbs never amount to much, and the seeds drop all over the garden. The hundreds of seedlings that come up in the spring are only discernible from dill when you smell them. Pleasantly-aromaed weeding is still weeding.
So I have fennel plants. If I am still paying attention to them late in the season, I snip off the seed heads so that the hundreds of seedlings don't become thousands.
I'll admit that the fennel vodka came out an effort to find something to do with fennel seeds rather than out of some desire for fennel-flavored vodka. But my goodness this has been a pleasant surprise. The taste is reminiscent of ouzo, of course, and when I first tasted the stuff I immediately wondered if mixing the fennel vodka with other flavors like ginger and cinnamon would make something jaegermeister-like.