07 September, 2014

Apples are in Season

To get back on the weekend brew schedule, I decided to pick up the ingredients for the next brew on Saturday.  I was planning to make the same recipe that we've already done, but Greg convinced me to try a fruit beer.  It won't be ready for Halloween (Greg says it'll be drinkable, but won't come into it's own until Thanksgiving or Christmas), but we can brew this one, then next week brew the first recipe again (which will still be ready by the end of October).  So I pulled up some of the recipes that I've been ruminating on and we picked an apple beer.

I like apple beer.  At least, I like the apple beer that Moose's Tooth used to have (they still have apple beer, but the recipe has changed and it tastes more like hard apple cider, which I'm not as fond of).  So I'm interested to see how this turns out.

It was a lovely day yesterday.  Perfect for collecting supplies, manual labor in the yard (for Greg), and brewing beer.  Since Greg spent the afternoon working with the neighbor to put up our fence, we didn't get started brewing until after 8pm.  In the meantime, I picked up the remaining necessary ingredients, which included apples picked fresh from our friends' tree, and a drive down Turnagain Arm to get more water.

Because we were starting so late (and it's fall, so we're losing sunlight faster and faster), Greg set up his construction lights on the deck.  Don't look directly in them unless you want to be blinded.
We started the prep by cutting the apples.  That was a chore all on its own.  Twelve pounds of apples that ranged in size between a golf ball (the smallest) and a tennis ball (the largest) takes quite some time.  Fortunately we didn't have to core them.
The apples are added at the very end, so we started by boiling hops, adding the malt extract, and priming the yeast.  The yeast was dry this time - not a slap pack - so we had to rejuvenate it and ensure it was active.  According to Greg, there's not a persuasive reason to use dry yeast over a slap pack - which is a lot less work.  I asked why we didn't get one this time - he said we're staying as close to the original recipe as possible for the first go-round.  If this turns  out well and we decide to make it again, I'm definitely using the easier method.  Eventually we'll cultivate our own yeast, but we're not ready for that yet.
The apples are supposed to steep in the brew for 15 minutes.  We continued the boil for a bit, so the apples would soften.  We wanted them soft so they'd be easier to transfer into the carboy with the beer.  (Had we been transferring to a bucket, this wouldn't have been an issue.)  Which leads me to the lessons learned this time:
  • When adding hops to a beer that has fruit in it, put the hops in a grain bag.  Otherwise, there's no easy way to separate the hops to keep it out of the carboy.  According to Greg, having the hops in the primary fermentation won't hurt the beer, but it's preferable to remove them prior.  They'll be gone (as will the apples) when we rack the beer into the secondary (in three weeks).  Because of the issues we had with the first brew (where I didn't put the cracked coriander and orange peel in a grain bag, so they blocked the spigot), I'm thinking that we should probably use grain bags for just about everything.
  • When using fruit (apples in this case, but any fruit really), cut them small.  Since we use a carboy (with a very small opening) for the primary, it's difficult to force the apple slices through the funnel into the carboy (and I'm still not sure how we're going to get them out again).  Next time the apples will be chopped (but not diced, because we don't want them to block the spigot of the brew kettle).
Overall, this time things seemed to go quicker and smoother.  As a bonus, we got to watch the moon rise.  Not sure if it's waxing or waning, but it looked close to full.
We finished brewing and transferring the beer at 1am.  Because Greg was getting up early to go hiking, he went to bed and I spent another hour cleaning and sanitizing the equipment, getting things prepped and ready for the next use.  Thank goodness today is Sunday, so I could sleep in.  (Two AM is late on a work night, even for me.)  The finished product is darker than the apple beer I'm used to, but Greg says all the beers we make using extract will be darker looking.
We were a little concerned about whether or not the yeast would be active, because the wort cooled down quicker than we expected (because we added the hot liquid to 3 and 1/2 gallons of from-the-rocks-cold water).  Not only that, but Greg has mentioned several times that there's the possibility that this brew will pop the cork and explode all over the garage.  I'm not sure why there's more of a concern with this one than the last - maybe the apples?  I certainly hope it doesn't explode, but we're sure the yeast is active.  As of this afternoon:
Next week, the plan is to bottle the first beer and brew the third batch.  The third will be the same recipe we used for the first - but this time we're not going to move it to secondary (and I'm going to use grain bags for the hops AND the coriander and orange peel).  I'm looking forward to tasting my first beer.  I'm guessing it'll be at least a week or so after bottling, so in two weeks?

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