Posted: March 21st, 2009 | Author: Stacy | Filed under: Experiments, Gluten-free, Homebrew, Mead | No Comments »
Lehua blossom, source of delicious honey
I just got back from a week on the big island of Hawai’i, home of Pele’s volcanos and the Ohia tree with its gorgeous red lehua flowers. Lehua honey is especially delicious, more buttery than any other honey I’ve tasted, and we thought it might make a good mead. So we returned with 10lbs of lehua honey in our checked baggage (yep, it’s ok to bring honey back to the mainland, but you can’t bring bees – go figure) and dreams of tasty mead.
Since you need 15lbs of honey to make 5 gallons of mead, I’ve added 2.5lbs of pasteurized agave syrup and 2.5lbs of raw agave syrup to lighten the color and flavor of the mead. I figure it worked well with the first mead, so why not try it again? I’m also going to pitch kolsch yeast along with champagne yeast with the hope of duplicating the success of my first mead-making accident. It turned out to be fantastic mead!
So here’s to Ohia and Lehua, whose love are making this (hopefully) wonderful mead possible! Cheers!
Posted: December 16th, 2008 | Author: Stacy | Filed under: Beer Reviews, Gluten-free | Tags: Gluten-free, reviews, sorghum | 2 Comments »
Fancy new packaging and labels!
I was at Fred Meyer the other day doing some grocery shopping when I noticed they had Bard’s Sorghum Beer on the shelves. What really caught my eye was the new design of the packaging – a complete departure from the previous pseudo-Celtic affair. A few months ago, during my gluten-free month, I had reviewed Bard’s Tale Dragon’s Gold beer and found it lacking. Not only was it spendy, but it was a shadow of what real beer is. But now that Bard’s Tale had re-branded as “Bard’s”, dropped the dragons and uncial script, and developed a whole new look, I figured it was only fair to give the beer another chance.
Poured into a pint glass, the beer has a golden honey color and is crystal clear. There’s little head retention, and some lacy foam on the glass as the head recedes. The main thing I noticed is that it’s sweet on first taste, medium bodied, carbonated like a macrobrew – a medium bubble that’s like soda from a fountain rather than a can. It has a little metallic taste, slightly tangy from the sorghum, but not bitter. There’s a spicy, honey-like finish with a little alcohol flavor. In this case, the tang of sorghum seems to cut the sweetness of the beer, making it pretty drinkable.
I was really surpised to find that I enjoyed Bard’s re-branded beer. While it is still expensive, it’s less so than last spring, and they seem to have improved the recipe. They’re no longer calling it a lager, focusing instead on being the “original sorghum malt beer” which means all bets are off for style. It’s basically a sweet amber ale, as before, but not as rough around the edges.
Besides, I like the new packaging design. Good work, Bard’s!
Posted: March 11th, 2008 | Author: Stacy | Filed under: Gluten-free, Homebrew, Mead | 2 Comments »
Double, double, toil and trouble…
Ever since we visited Lindisfarne
in Scotland and had some delicious Holy Isle mead, I’ve wanted to try my hand at mead-making. Those monks make a mead that isn’t sticky sweet, even tastes good at room temperature, but is unfortunately expensive to purchase in the US. Lots of local meads are delicious, too, like Mountain Meadows Mead
from California (I really love their cranberry mead), but they’re also a bit expensive. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to make my own? Of course!
All I needed was 15 pounds of honey, yeast, and 5 gallons of water. Simple! We bought 9 pounds of local clover honey mixed with 2 pounds of blackberry honey and 2 pounds of mesquite honey from Trader Joe’s. To top that off to 15 pounds, we also added 2 pounds of agave nectar because, hey, why not! Mountain Meadows makes an agave mead, after all.
I had tried to buy yeast a few weeks ago, but some joker bought out the whole mead yeast selection at FH Steinbarts. Having grown weary of Steinbarts consistently being out of stock for at least one brewing item I needed every time I go there, I decided to call Let’s Brew to see if they had mead yeast. The 11am phone call went like this:
Let’s Brew Lady: “Let’s Brew, how can I help you?”
Me: “Do you have any yead meast?”
Kathy: “giggle giggle giggle”
Me: “Uh giggle giggle giggle I mean mead yeast… giggle giggle”
Kathy: “giggle giggle giggle”
Let’s Brew Lady: “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that…”
Yeah, that should have been a sign that perhaps this wasn’t the weekend to make mead. But no, I wouldn’t be deterred. We got to Let’s Brew and bought some champagne yeast rather than sweet mead yeast because we wanted a dry mead. Sounds good so far. Later that afternoon, I boiled 15 pounds of honey/agave with 1.5 pounds of water. Boiling took a long time! And of course, I had to taste the mixture and it nearly made me diabetic it was so sweet. Shocking, I know.
Finally the boil got rolling, I let that go for 10 minutes to kill off bad bacteria, then I put the sweet mixture into my carboy along with enough water to bring it up to 5 gallons. And so the yeast had to wait until the wort temperature got down to at least 78.
Enter the next morning… I reach into the fridge to get my yeast out, and set it on the counter to warm up for a few hours before pitching it, then I go to softball practice. On my return from practice, I pitch the yeast only to notice that is was my German lager yeast and not the champagne yeast! Aaaargghhhh! What to do? Beer yeasts don’t have the alcohol tolerance that wine yeasts do, so the mead would turn out low alcohol and really sweet. Yuck. So I did the only thing I really could do; pitch my champagne yeast in there too!
Two days later, it looks like there’s some fermentation happening. I have no clue how this will turn out!
Posted: February 24th, 2008 | Author: Stacy | Filed under: Beer Reviews, Cider, Gluten-free, What's that in your fridge? | 2 Comments »
Blue Mountain Cranberry Cider
I already knew I loved Blue Mountain ciders
, so buying their cranberry cider when it was on sale at Belmont Station was a no-brainer.
What a gorgeous ruby red color! It’s so perfect and clear, juicy and gem-toned. I can see why hummingbirds are drawn to red nectar-bearing flowers. Just the color alone begs, “drink me NOW!”
And what a lovely tart, refreshing drink it is! I’d imagine that they use fairly sweet apples to offset the tartness of the cranberries. The bottle states that it’s their Walla Walla 5 apple blend, with a splash of cranberry. The aroma is very clearly of apple, but the tang on the tongue and in the back of my mouth is definitely all cranberry.
This would make a great wine replacement at Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Or most of the time, really. It’s tart enough that you don’t want to guzzle it, but has such a nice light honey aroma and flavor that you just can’t stop drinking it.
I’ll definitely buy this again, especially if it’s on sale. I love buying local ciders made from local apples! It’s the best thing next to having my own cider, and I think I might try a cranberry cider blend next fall.
Posted: February 22nd, 2008 | Author: Stacy | Filed under: Cider, Gluten-free, Homebrew | No Comments »
Cider is ridiculously easy to make. I’m not sure why it took me until this year to bother, but I’ve now made two batches of it and I know I’ll make more next fall.
Hard cider is made of:
- Apple cider (or pear cider, or apple/fruit you like cider)
- Honey (2lbs of it)
- 2 Campden Tablets (sulfites that kill bad bacteria that turn cider in to vinegar — optional if you’re feeling brave)
And that’s all! So easy. I haven’t made it from commercial ciders at all, preferring to buy cider from the local farmer’s market, but I bet you could do that in a pinch. Do the math on how much 5 gallons will cost versus buying six pack after six pack of commercial hard cider. If the average six pack costs $6.99, and you can get roughly 8 six packs from 5 gallons of cider, then the cost of commercial cider is about $56. Compare that to making your own, where 5 gallons of locally-grown and pressed cider will likely run you about $30, plus maybe $8 for the yeast, and assuming you’re using bottles you already had — you can see the savings. Plus it tastes better! And it’s easy to make!
Making the cider
- You take 1 gallon of your cider and heat it in a pot with the 2lbs of honey to melt the honey.
- Remove 1 pint of the honey/cider mixture and store it for bottling (I freeze mine).
- Pour 4 gallons of cider into your sanitized carboy, add the remaining honey/cider mix, and check the temperature. It needs to be at around 68 degrees before you can pitch (aka “pour in”) the yeast.
- Once it’s 68, crush the Campden Tablets (if using) with a mortar and pestle, pour that into the carboy, pitch your yeast, put on the fermentation lock, and wait for it to start fermenting — around 24 hours.
- After fermentation is solidly underway (like on day 2), put the cider out in a cool garage or cellar where it can stay at 50-60 degrees.
- When it’s time to bottle the cider, pour it into your bottling bucket along with the reserved pint of honey/cider mix. This will activate the remaining yeast so the cider carbonates in the bottle.
- Let the cider condition in the bottle for a couple of weeks, or until the cider clears and is no longer cloudy.
The key to cider is a low fermentation temperature, just like making a lager beer. You want to ferment your cider at 50-60 degrees, so it’s best suited for winter when you can put it in a cold garage for a few weeks/months. Bottle it when there’s no fermentation activity at all — the fermentation lock doesn’t bubble so much and there’s no active yeast on the top of the cider. Fermentation really can take months with cider, so be patient!
Try different types of cider to see how they turn out. My first batch was made with a tart, crisp apple cider that was flash-pasteurized. I opted not to use campden tablets in the interest of making a sulfite-free cider that doesn’t induce headaches for some folks. And I used a dry cider yeast. The result was a very tart, dry cider that was similar to a geuze beer in nature — crisp, tangy, champagne-like. With this one, I left the cider fermenting indoor for several days, which was probably not the best thing to do. It finished fermenting in about three weeks.
My second cider was made from an unpasteurized mix of apples, so I did add 2 Campden Tablets just to be safe. For this one, I used a sweet mead yeast, hoping for a sweeter cider. It worked! That cider is mild, lightly crisp, refreshing, and sweet like a Braeburn apple. Kathy reports that it gives her a tiny headache due to the Campden Tablets, so that’s the only drawback. This cider fermented in my cold garage for over a month before I bottled it.
Cider, like beer, is light-reactive which means the flavor can be ruined when it sits in the light for a long time. Your cider will just go bad. Be sure to wrap it in a towel or blanket if you’re leaving it someplace that gets daylight (even indirect daylight).
Really, making cider is like cheating it’s so simple! Not only is it naturally gluten-free, you can also make it sulfite free, and it’s delicious. We’re going to have it as a beer alternative at our wedding!