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Make Hard Cider – Step 2 – Primary Fermentation

So after some back & forth, I’ve finally gotten the call from the orchard that the cider is pressed and ready for pickup.

Apples everywhereAs requested, I’ve got about 3 gallons in each of the 5 gallon carboys.  Now its time to mix it all together.

Now if any of you have done a search on how cider is made, you’re going to come across a whole lot of recipies.  I had pretty much decided which one seemed the most in the middle, and ran it past the guys over at Maltose Express.

They’re the closest “do it yourself” store for brewing guys.  I picked up some new bottle corks, tubing, a racking system (big plastic wand to suck out the cider), some yeast for the mix, a bit of malic acid, and a copy of their own recipie.

Here’s what I did.  For each 3 gallons I poured out some of the cider, heated it, and mixed in 2 pounds of brown sugar.  I did the same with another 1lb of local honey, and another 1/3 lb of sugar in the raw, mixing it all back in.

Sugar mixThe yeast I used works in a packet, filled with the yeast and some nutrients.  You mix it together, open the packet and pour it in.  Because I had a split batch though I poured it into a measuring cup first and doled out half to each bottle.

A swirl later, and away we go!  With this first step some people say you only need to cover it with a loose lid (if you’re using a bucket).  I’m probably stepping it too far, but since I had gotten some airlocks, I decided to give them a try.  You wash the heck out of them, stick them into special corks, put them in place atop the bottle, and then fill it up with some vodka in the lock.  The vodka evaporates a lot slower than water so you don’t need to fill it as often.  The vapor lock keeps the outside air from getting in, while letting the air escape as the yeast does its thing so the pressure doesn’t build up.

Primary FermentationSo now I’ve got the two bottles sitting in the basement, gently warming.  They tell me it takes about a week and a half for this initial stage, then I’m to siphon it off and let it mellow and clarify for another month.  It is really murky and the sugar made it a lot darker than I expected.  Right now it looks like there’s a 1/2 inch of bubbly cheesecake on the top.  I’m excited about the whole process and it has been a bit of a learning curve.  I figure worst case scenario I’ve made a big batch of yuck, but hopefully it’ll turn out good in the end.


Make Hard Cider – Step 1 – Clean The Bottles!

Ugggh - Dirty Bottles!Being interested in beer as I am, I’ve found myself tinkering with the process of making my own.  It seems a good way to begin learning the process is going about a simple batch of Hard Cider.

I began with looking up the information online.  Seems like everyone and their mother has a version of a cider recipe.

I pieced together one, along with advice from others, and began gathering my components.

Other than the obvious of needing some pressed cider, I also needed something to make it in – the bottles.

I consider my self very fortunate in this area.  You see my father took it upon himself to make some very awful batches of wine back in the day.  Occasionally he would step it up with exploding beer, and overly carbonated soda that would make you throw up.  Thankfully however, all of his bottles were saved.

As with many hand me downs from them, it needed some work.  They had collected their fair share of dust  and yuck over the years of unuse.  One had nearly an inch of dark foul smelling things collected at the bottom.

Once I knew I would do this, I had stopped by a “brew-your-own” store ahead of time.  Picked up a bottle brush, and a jar of food grade cleanser.

I began with scouring the entire outside of the bottles.  Moving onto a basic fill and rinse.  Then I dumped 3 cups of bleach into each, and topped it off with water, leaving it to sit overnight.NicoCole 2009 EndOctober 137 (Small)

The next day, I continued.  First with using the brush anywhere and everywhere it could reach.  Flushed it out with water, and then brushed again.  I next put a quarter cup of the bottle cleanser into some water, diluted it, and filled it up halfway.  Another brushing all over, and I even got Nico involved with scrubbing the outside this time.

A half hour later, with multiple rinses, and voila!  I turned them all upside down, let them drip dry, and followed up with a towel down.

I decided to make 6 gallons, but I’m not positive if the tall skinny ones are 3 gallons or 2 1/2.  To be on the safe side I decided to use the (2) 5 gallon carboys and fill them up 3 gallons each.  A call and a stop over at March Farms (the local orchard), and after I receive a fill up call later this week we’ll be on our way :)


How To Save On Heating (In 250 Steps…)

2 tons of wood pelletsSo now that the nights are getting colder and just kissing the freezing mark, I’ve been sparking up the pellet stoves.

In our home we’ve got a different situation than most.  We heat our home fully with wood pellets.  Not just supplementary as most people, but all we use for heat are the pellets.  Good old compressed puppies that look like rabbit food and are made from the sawdust all the lumber mills used to toss out.  We have electric baseboard installed, but only use it when we’re away from the home for a few days and cannot fill the stoves.

We have one stove in the basement and a smaller fireplace insert ono the main floor.  With these both going 24×7 when it gets really cold out, we go through about 5 tons of pellets a year.  5 tons x 50 (40lb) bags = 250 bags.

Garage just having begun moving the pelletsAs you might imagine I spend a bunch of time each year figuring out the best bang for the buck.  There are a lot of brands out there and some of them are just garbage, while some burn better than others.

I typically order from BTPellet out of Bristol CT, but this year I shopped around a lot more.  I went to a few stove stores, a few Agway gardening stores, and even called up the local lumber yard.  Eventually I settled on Home Depot.

Their prices were better than most at $250/ton, and it was flat rate shipping.  Getting it through them saves me nearly $175.

Unfortunately it’s more of a crap shoot.  They label all their brands under a generic “wood pellet” price, and you never know what you’re going to get.  When I first called about prices, they said they had Energex brand, and when I finalized the order the following week, they had FireSide Ultra.  Thankfully both are good so I sprang for it.  One large deferred credit payment later, and I’ve got 3 tons sitting in the barn (detached garage/man cave) and 2 outside our basement door.

2 plus tons of pellets (and Nico and Cole)I keep those 2 tons inside for easy access, then move over a ton or so at a time through the season as it gets low.

The lousy part is huffing it over.  A few aren’t so bad, but when you move 2 tons in a shot, your forearms are killing you.

So far so good.  I like this brand better than my usual – Juniata.  It seems to burn hotter with less ash, and less maintenance as a result.

If you’re considering getting a pellet stove I can’t say enough about them.  To have one installed can be 2-3 grand, but the cost savings over oil heat adds up quickly.  On the downside you may have to load the stove a few times a day, depending on how hot you run it.  But then again, you do get to say your heat your home with fire and wood.  Not to mention you get to get all cocky and say you’re a carbon neutral heated home.  Go green baby!


Heirloom Student Desk

StudentDesk01So I was gifted with a desk on my son’s birthday.  Not just any desk for our home-schooled boy, but the same desk both myself and my father used when we were as young.

Sadly, while very thoughtful – it was a wreck.

Years of disregard, basement mildew, fading, and the occasional cat pee had taken its toll.

I began with a basic overall sanding.  It took care of the light scratches, but there was still a faint odor, which I hoped would be wiped out once the coats were applied.

HeirloomDesk2The top was coming apart a bit, so I separated the boards, applied glue to the joints, and put it in a vise overnight to dry.

Once it set, I pressed some wood filler into the remaining gap.

I moved up the sandpaper grit, making it all nice and smooth and went out to the hardware shop to pick out a stain.

HeirloomDesk3I wanted something not too dark, but not clear or too light.  A nice warm chestnut-like with red overtones.  After toiling over the options I found one by Minwax called Provincial that seemed to fit the bill.

I used some rags to rub the stain on, then had my boy help me mix up the top coat.

I did some research a few months back and spoke to a friend who works at Fine Wordworking magazine.  He tipped me off to a good blend that I’ve been using since of equal parts Tung Oil, Polyeurethane and Mineral Spirits.  The spirits help cut down drying time, otherwise the Tung Oil takes nearly a week per coat.

All done now.  Just recoating and enjoying the glow.  I love how the wood shines and can’t wait for Nico to start using it.