When I started this blog over a year ago, I had intended to occasionally chronicle my brewing adventures. Since then, I’ve broken my arm, transitioned into a new job with a new company, and gotten engaged. I’ve been a tad otherwise occupied.
But I digress. Here be the first in a randomly timed collection of intimate guides into my haphazard brewing process! Maybe the “libation” part of the title can actually be relevant, instead of an abstract homage to my propensity to write while intoxicated.
I call it “Cider-mead” because I didn’t commit to either in the brewing process. The ratio of juice to honey is rather random, which will yield either a very strong, sweet cider, or a very light, sweet wine. It’s in the hands of the fates now.
A very nice coworker of mine, Deb, jokingly (or so I thought) offered me a bevy of pears from her trees. I accepted, not expecting her to actually follow through. A few days later, in she walked with a 5 gallon bucket full to the brim with slowly ripening, pear shaped fruit-things.
I decided to do the the only decent thing a person can do when given dozens of pounds of fruit: make booze!
I had planned to just do a cut and dry cider, using a very beer-like process. But after reading about how honey and pears seem to form some sort of angelic union in-fermentation-utero, I opted for the slightly more elaborate (and sweet!) option.
Step 1: Cut them things up!
It’s a good idea to remove as many seeds as possible as they tend to add bitterness to the pear juice, but don’t spend hours trying to dig out every little guy that just refuses to leave his delicious fleshy home. I hadn’t washed the pears yet, but for good reason.
I continued to chop them up until I had halfway filled my pre-sterilized (figured I wouldn’t bore you with pictures of me cleaning stuff) mash pot. This was about 40 pears worth of choppings. If you do this yourself, do not wait until the pears are ripe; they’ll be too squishy to cut without making a huge mess, and a lot of the sugars that will make the cider-mead delicious are already starting to break down.
Step 2: Wash them things!
Since these were from a farm, and a good number of them had been on the ground, or played home to spiders/bees, it was important to wash them pretty thoroughly. I waited to wash them after they were cut up for three reasons: 1) it’s faster, 2) it will knock out any extra loose seeds, and 3) it helps to soak them a tiny bit before juicing them. Make sure you use very cold water. Rinse them until the water runs clear and the large seeds/chunks of gross crap are gone.
Step 3: Juice them things!
This part can either be super easy, or damn near impossible, depending on how equipped you are. The best way to juice them is manually; read: smash them with something big and heavy. This isn’t always practical, especially if the fruit in question is still pretty firm. Manually mashing them into a pulp and then squeezing the pulp through a muslin bag/cheese cloth will yield the nicest, tastiest juice.
That being said, it’s absolutely impossible. After 20 minutes of standing over the mash pot, armed with a potato masher and my Herculean will, I gave up and stuck them in a food processor/juicer (I know, I suck, shut up).
Despite the shame I brought upon my Viking ancestors, using the food processors was much, much, much easier. ~40 pears yielded about 7-8 pints of delicious pear juice. I only needed 92 ounces based on the random recipe I made up in my head, so I drank the last glass and a half, feeling very pleased with myself. One note: the juice will start to brown almost immediately. Be sure you have you mash pot ready before you finish juicing all the fruit.
Step 4: Mix them things up!
Time to actually make the pre-mead, or the must. I always confuse wort (pre-beer) and must (pre-wine), and I don’t even know if there is one for cider. I call it all pre-whatever-it-is; must simpler. Much simpler.
Take your newly juiced juice and add it to your mash pot. If you have an electric stove, it will take a good while for the 5 gallon pot to heat up to appropriate pasteurization temperature. Crank it up as high as it will go; I promise it will still take approximately forever to get to ~200 degrees. The must (erm, pre-cider-mead) will look pretty gross at this point; that’s OK.
Next, dump in a ton of water. 2.5-3 gallons should do. I used Deer Park™, but you can use anything that is clear and doesn’t have weird micro organisms living in it. Distilled water is a no-no as it doesn’t contain the right minerals, but tap water might have all kinds of other weird shit in it, so I can’t recommend that either.
Once you’ve added the water, and added to the time it will take your massive pot to reach any temperature beyond luke-warm, it’s time to add the secret, not-so-secret ingredient!
As per the recipe that came to me in a dream, I added 9 lbs of honey that I bought from Trader Joes™. Make sure you stir it all together so that the honey doesn’t just settle at the bottom. Hopefully your massive tankard of developing joy has gotten slightly warmer, and the honey will dissolve without issue. I also threw in some cinnamon and vanilla extract because I’m recklessly impulsive and they were just sitting there.
Now we wait. And wait. And wait some more. Best to clean up the huge mess you presumably made doing all of the prior (or was that just me), before you fiancee gets home and freaks out because the house is covered in a fine mist of pear juice.
You’re waiting for the must to reach ~190 F. This is very hard to judge if you don’t like have a thermometer like me. I do the “stick your finger in to see if it burns you” trick to get a rough estimate. I know our water heater says that 150 F water coming from the sink can scold your skin in 4 seconds, so I base my whole temperature pseudo-science around that.
Once I’ve burned my finger correctly, I turn the heat off, and prep the pre-washed fermentation bucket. Against all logic and advice offered by professionals, I added ice to the bucket to cool the must as soon as it was added to the bucket. The goal is to get the must to room temperature (~75 F) as quickly as possible, so that you can add your last ingredient.
Step 5: Yeast them things up!
Once the must has cooled appropriately (or not, I was impatient and added it when the must was still warm) you can add your yeast. This is my first time using a pre-suspended liquid yeast, but it turned out to be pretty damn simple. Shake, open, pour, stir, seal, done.
Now we’re basically done! I stirred the whole mixture one more time to make sure the yeast had enough oxygen to start the fermentation process, then seal the lid with a little airlock.
Now we just want and listen for the happy sound of bubbling. In about 2 weeks I can rack the cider-mead into a glass carboy and be able to see the fruit of my labor (pun stretched, and intended). Should be ready some time around Thanksgiving!
Coming soon: LitLib India Pale Ale!