2011 Sauvignon Blanc Is Finally Fermenting

September 28, 2011

It has been ten days since I crushed and pressed the Sauvignon Blanc, and as of tonight fermentation is finally underway! Yes, it usually takes off 36-48 hours after pressing, which is 12-24 hours after pitching the yeast. However, I made the most common beginner mistake with this wine – I added 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite per gallon of must instead of 1/4 tsp per five gallons as is called for. So instead of 45ppm of free SO2, I got 225ppm. Much of the free SO2 gets bound up in the first 24 hours as the gross lees settle. Still, it was too much for my yeast and the fermentation went nowhere.

I tested for free SO2 on Saturday and found it to be down to 72ppm, so it was getting close to where a new pitch of yeast would be able to make it. Monday I ordered some new yeast & GoFerm. Also on Monday one of the carboys started to show some signs of life.

Today the new yeast (D47) arrived. I tested for free SO2 and found the one that had started fermenting had 0ppm and the one that hadn’t started was at 56ppm. 56 is low enough to pitch yeast, so I did. I also pitched fresh yeast into the one that took off because there likely isn’t much of a colony left alive in there after the battle it went through. Those that survived are probably very stressed. So reinforcements will be welcome.

The one that had started fermenting was down to 23° Brix from it’s starting point of 24.9. In other words, it hadn’t made it too far.

I thought this wine might have been ruined. I thought I wasted 180lbs of grapes. But as of tonight, I’m leaning to the side of “it’s gonna be alright.” The juice that hadn’t started yet smelled the same as when I pressed. The juice that had started smelled great. Still very sweet, but more wine-like. They both tasted very good. Neither was giving off any sulfur smell or taste. Onward!


Follow-up Tasting: Brown Porter (Beer #20)

September 25, 2011
I has been about three weeks since I posted the “first tasting” notes of Jess’s Brown Porter. I’ve noticed that the beer has been getting better since then, so I figured I should take some new tasting notes.

Very dark brown with reddish hues around the edges. Very clear. Creamy light-tan head that lasts. The head cascades when first poured from the tap. It’s a pretty beer to look at.

Medium-roast coffee, cocoa, caramel, toffee, and generic “roasted malt.” Very pleasant smelling. No hop character.

Coffee, cocoa, roasted malt, toffee, caramel, hazelnut, and a slight hint of fruity ester. Balanced bitterness from the hops & dark malts. Slight earthy hop character. Perhaps a hint of a smoky phenol. Flavor fades quickly, leading way to a dry, thin finish.

Thin body that is improved somewhat by the carbonation. Slight astringency on the finish.

Overall Impression
Not a bad porter overall. It suffers from lack of body, a bit of one-dimensionality, and a hint of astringency on the finish. It is very drinkable, but could be better. The good news is we’re going through this keg pretty quickly, so a re-brew shouldn’t be too far off. For the next brew we’ll change two things. First, we’ll adjust mash water chemistry using brewing salts. Our tap water isn’t cut out for brewing dark beers. Second, we’ll be sure the wort is a couple of degrees below the target fermentation temperature before we pitch the yeast. For this beer we pitched in the mid-seventies then put the carboy in the chamber at 67. Fermentation took off too quickly and over-attenuated somewhat. I’d like to have a sweeter, fuller-bodied beer and I think we can achieve that without increasing mash temperature.

Even though we’re not totally satisfied with how this beer turned out, we’ll be shipping it off to a competition to get the judges’ notes. We just want to see if our take on the beer jibes with what the judges think.


First Tasting: APA (beer #21)

September 25, 2011

I kegged the APA about ten days ago and have been stealing tastes (read: full glasses) of it ever since it got to be fully carbonated. Today I felt it was time to take some “first tasting” notes.

Golden orange in color. Hazy. 3/8″ off-white head that dissipates to a ring around the glass. Good lacing as the beer disappears from the glass.

Toasty, biscuity malt. Pineapple hop aroma with light hints of pine and citrus. A strong hint of earthy washed-rind cheese.

Very nice balance of malt & hop character. The malt is bready and the hops are piney, resinous, citrusey, with a strong pineapple quality. Hop bitterness is very nicely balanced. It’s not bitter like an IPA, but it’s bitter enough to please IPA drinkers. The washed-rind cheese is present in the flavor, too.

Medium-full bodied with good carbonation. Pleasant. Very slight alcoholic warmth on the finish.

Overall Impression
This is a good example of an American Pale Ale. It comes in at 5.9% abv, but that alcohol is well hidden. It does not taste alcoholic and it will sneak up on you if you drink a pint or two. I’ll gladly drink several pints of it.

I plan to fill some bottles from the keg to enter into competition. I am happy with this beer, so I would love to get some judges’ notes on it. I will wait a couple of weeks to see if it gets any clearer before I bottle any of it.

The best part of this tasting… The lunch that went with the rest of the glass:


Barrel Tasting: 2011 Chilean Syrah

September 25, 2011
The 2011 Chilean Syrah was crushed about four months ago. About six weeks later it had finished alcoholic fermentation, been pressed and racked to carboys, finished malolactic fermentation, and was racked again into other carboys with two American oak spirals in each carboy. It has now been bulk-aging on the oak for about two and a half months, and I felt it was time for a first barrel tasting. (Of course I’ve tasted it before now, but this is the first time I took notes.)

The wine is very deep purple-red in color. It does not thin much towards the edge when tipped.

The nose offers lots of earthy coffee up front. If you’ve had Indian monsooned coffee, that’s what I’m talking about. There is also a ton of blueberry, blackberry, dried cherry, and a hint of anise. After swirling the glass, it opens up with lots of vanilla and oak, more anise, and a touch of alcoholic heat, all in addition to the aromas you get before aerating. As it sits in the glass for a while, I start to pick up a toasty, caramel quality.

The taste mirrors the aroma. The attack comes big with coffee, red fruit, and blueberry. There’s more blueberry on the midpalate, accompanied by vanilla and a hint of spice.

The finish is long, warm, and lingering, with coffee and vanilla coming through.

The mouthfeel is medium bodied with good tannin levels. Tannins coat the gums but it’s not overly-drying. I might add one more french oak spiral per carboy.


Follow-up Tasting: Belgian Dubbel (Beer #18)

September 25, 2011

We entered a couple of beers into the Son of Brewzilla competition that was put on yesterday by the Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers in Cleveland. We didn’t have anything fresh to enter; we just sent in some stuff we brewed earlier in the year to get some judging notes on it. We haven’t received the notes yet, but we can see our scores when we log in to the competition web site. Jess’s Double got a 19/50. (Ouch!) Now, I know this beer was decent when it was fresh. I was thinking it was a mid-30’s beer. To see a 19 left me confused. Did the bottles get mixed up? Did I happen to send a bad bottle, even though none of the ones we’ve opened have been bad? I’ll have to wait for the notes to arrive, but I decided to pour one to taste to see if maybe the beer is no longer good. Today’s tasting notes are below.

Dark amber to light brown with ruby hues. Crystal clear. (The glass is covered in condensation in the pic above.) 1/4″ off-white head that doesnt’ last long.

Weak aroma overall. Raisins, plums, “Belgian” spice. A bit metallic. No hop character. Some sherry-like notes.

Thin and dry, solventy. Raisin and plum are overwhelmed by alcoholic heat. Not much Belgian character. A touch of cardboard.

Very carbonated. There’s an acidic bite on the tongue from the carbonation. Thin bodied with a short, dry finish. A touch of astringency on the finish.

Overall Impression
Overall, this just is not a good beer. It’s lacking in flavor, aroma, and Belgian character. The main thing you taste is alcohol.

This beer fell off the cliff rather quickly since we last drank some. We took a couple of bottles to the T.R.A.S.H. meeting in late July, and they were good then. I’m not sure what happened since then. The beer has been in the fridge the whole time. I guess this is a good lesson in how beer can go bad over time.

I am looking forward to getting the judges’ notes on this beer to see if they jibe with what I’ve just posted here. We need to re-brew this beer sometime soon to see if we can get it right and if we can build a beer that stands up to some aging. This beer has oxidized qualities to it. I recall it was racked into a secondary fermenter because I needed to free up a primary for another batch or some wine or something. I bet that extra racking introduced a lot of oxygen to the beer that shortened its lifespan.


DIY Carbonator Caps

September 25, 2011

A side benefit of having a kegging setup is the ability to fill plastic bottles from the keg to take with you. And if you have Carbonator Caps, you can top the bottle off with CO2 to keep it well-carbonated. Even better, if the beer is not yet fully carbonated, you can use the Carbonator Cap to quickly force-carbonate the beer in minutes. To do this, you just blast the bottle with 30 psi, shake until the bottle becomes soft to squeeze, pressurize, shake, pressurize, etc. until the bottle stays firm after a good shaking.

Carbonator Caps are great, but they are expensive. At $20 each, having enough to take a few bottles with you really adds up quickly. That’s where the DIY Carbonator Cap comes in. I can’t take credit for inventing this. I merely copied something I found online. I’d link to the original source, but I’m not sure who or where that is.

Making a DIY Carbonator Cap is very easy. You need the cap from a 1 liter bottle, an automotive tire valve stem, a drill with a 3/8″ spade bit, and a 9/16″ wrench. Start by drilling a 3/8″ hole in the center of the bottle cap. Then just put the pieces together in the order shown in the picture above. Tighten the 9/16″ nut snugly. Don’t over-tighten. And that’s it.

To use the DIY Carbonator Cap, simply attach an air line tire chuck to your CO2 source and use it to fill the bottle with gas, just as you would to fill your car or bike tire with air. With the right NPT to 1/4″ MFL adapter, you can even thread the tire chuck into the MFL quick disconnects that you likely aready have attached to your gas-in disconnects on your kegs.

One advantage the commercial Carbonator Caps offer is that they allow you to attach your ball lock disconnects directly to the bottle without having to attach a tire chuck. That is a nice feature, but is it worth nearly eight times the cost of the DIY cap? Not to me.

A note about the valve stems: I used the chrome ones. I got them from Amazon where a pack of four cost $6.99. They have them at the auto parts store, but they’re significantly more expensive there. There are also rubber ones that you could buy. I have read that the rubber ones could cause your beer to smell or taste like rubber, so I went with the chrome ones. I haven’t confirmed that the rubber ones impart smells, so it might be worth investigating if you want to save even more money.


Gear: New Pint Glasses

September 20, 2011

I just finished racking the Schwarzbier into a keg so it can start lagering. Now, to figure out what to do about the Sauvignon Blanc that hasn’t started fermenting yet. But first, check this out…

The new pint glasses I ordered a while back arrived today. Behold their majesty!

I don’t often buy glassware. In fact, the only beer glasses we ever bought are the #include <beer.h> ones Jess got for me way back when. All of our others are freebies or door prizes. The streak of only collecting free glasses ended when this deal popped up on Homebrew Finds – $18 for twelve of these glasses. (It came to about $25 with shipping, so about $2/glass.) Usually these glasses sell for about $9 each, so I was happy with this find. Yeah, I’d never pay $9 for a beer glass, but $2? Definitely. Especially one that’s so well hyped renowned.

I have to say, I wasn’t sure if the glasses would actually get here, and if they did, if they’d be intact. They came from some bargain basement web store and they were shipped via some package company I never heard of. And when they arrived, this is all the packaging they had:

But they all made it here without breaking. For that I am glad.


2011 California Sauvignon Blanc – Crush Day

September 18, 2011

The weather was cool and cloudy this morning. It was a perfect day for crushing some grapes. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes I ordered were harvested last Friday and they arrived at the produce warehouse last night.

The fruit was in very good condition – beautiful actually. It came in at 24.9° Brix, 7.5 g/L of TA, and a pH of 3.04. No adjustment is necessary.

That’s 180 lbs of fruit – a puny amount for most amateur winemakers, but for a complete beginner like me it’s plenty. If I’m going to screw the wine up, I don’t want it to be a thousands-of-dollars mistake. After pressing I got a little over 10 gallons of juice. That’s a somewhat low yield, but the berries were very small, which reduces juice yield in favor of flavor concentration.

These beautiful grapes came from the Lanza Family Vineyards in California’s Suisun Valley.

The trusty crusher did its job admirably. The nice thing about white wine is you don’t have to destem the grapes. Crushing the clusters is enough. After crushing, the whole mess goes into the press to squeeze the juice from the fruit.

We took our time sorting the fruit. We pulled all the raisins we found. It seemed like there were a lot of them, but at the end of the crush this was it:

That’s probably about four ounces of raisins out of 180 lbs. of fruit. The fruit had no mold and very little material-other-than-grapes. There were maybe five leaves in the whole lot, and just as many spiders.

All done pressing:

With that, the fun part was over. Time to sulfite the juice then clean up. Cleaning up this mess sucks.

The juice doesn’t look very tasty now, but it will make a very nice, clear, crisp wine that I plan to have bottled for next summer. As of now the juice is in buckets in the fermentation chamber at 55°F, where it will settle for a day. Tomorrow after work I’ll rack it into carboys – leaving the gross lees behind – then I’ll pitch some D47 yeast and set it to ferment at 54F. A low, slow fermentation should preserve all the aromatic qualities of these grapes.

Last year I fermented the Traminette horribly. Instead of fermenting in carboys and keeping the temperature low, I fermented the juice in a brute container and plopped ice bombs in a couple of times a day. The temperature went up and down like a roller coaster and much of the aromatic qualities of the wine were blown off with the rapid CO2 release. This year’s white wine should be much better…


Gear: Keezer Build

September 17, 2011

Our keezer is up an running! A “keezer” is a kegerator made from a freezer. I think the term originated in this thread on HomeBrewTalk.

I wanted to build one of these things for a long time, but it’s a substantial investment in both time and money. But then Jess bought me a single keg, CO2 tank, and picnic tap for my birthday. I think she was tired of hearing me bitch about bottling beer. Her gift was a sign that it was time to take the plunge and go all in. I saw the chest freezer that will hold 5 corny kegs on sale at hhgreggrrhghhehhreeggg. I ordered all my kegging parts from Keg Connection. Their prices were good and the stuff came quickly. $7.95 flat rate shipping for a 50 pound package was nice, too!

I still need to get some tap handles. I have an idea for some cool ones…

Here’s the guts:

In the lower left is the wiring from the Love TS2 temperature controller. This is similar to the TSS2 that I used on the fermentation chamber, except this one does not handle both heating and cooling; it is for cooling only. Or heating. It can only do one thing – is what I’m trying to say. The temperature probe for the TS2 is in a wine bottle full of water. This is to buffer against rapid temperature swings. In the upper right is the CO2 manifold. This sends a single source of CO2 evenly to four kegs. It can be expanded later to support a fifth keg, or I can daisy-chain another manifold onto it. At the bottom right you can see where the beer lines connect to the tail end of the faucet shanks. Right now only the right-most one is serving beer.

And here’s a picture of the first pull of beer, Jess’s Brown Porter:

My APA is currently hooked up to the gas, carbonating. It should be ready to tap later this week.

I still have some work to do on the keezer, but it’s functional now. I need to make tap handles. I need to built a platform on casters so it can be wheeled around. It needs a drip tray below the faucets. I have to order one. Lastly, I want to get a bottle opener to mount on the collar between the TS2 and the faucets.


Coming Soon…

September 13, 2011

The parts for the keezer came today. I hope to have it up and running by the end of this weekend.