If you’ve read that post below you’ll notice my desire for experimentation. I love to drink a certain style of beer, and I love making it repeatedly. But the thing I think that draws me to brewing so much is the creativity afforded me. For a reasonable investment, I can try new things and fully unleash what little still remains of my creative side. This weekend I had several moments of just such inspiration and creativity.
Saturday was AHA National Mead Day, and while I’m no longer a member of the AHA I felt a desire to participate in something that connected me to the brewing community. I prepared myself to make some mead, and decided it would be a grand time to do a cyser as well. I didn’t feel like trying to find a recipe, so just ended up winging it. I have such wonderful experiences when I do this. 🙂
The mead was fairly simple. 15 lbs of a locally produced Basswood Honey and 4 gallons of water. I had originally planned on using Wyeast 3632 Dry Mead yeast for this batch but Northern Brewer disappointed. I live about 4 hours from their physical location, so ordering Wednesday afternoon I was reasonably confident that ground shipping via UPS would ensure the arrival of my yeast on time. I’ve never had an order take more than two days for delivery this way. But, Northern Brewer decided to ship the yeast USPS instead (even though I’d paid for UPS shipping). As such the yeast still has yet to make an appearance.
After leaving work on Friday I scrambled for how to proceed. Living in Iowa your choice for homebrewing supplies is almost non-existant. Locally the best I can do is a liquor store that cares a few things from L.D. Carlson in the corner of the store. Most of the supplies have been there as long as I’ve been stopping by, so I knew my chances of finding a White Labs yeast tube was almost non-existant. Outside of that my next best choices are driving the hour+ to Davenport, or 1.5 hours to Des Moines. Given my scheduled flying lessons Friday evening, I knew the local store was my only choice. The store did not exceed my lowered expectations. I ended up getting a couple of wine dry yeast packets to make the mead. A Red Wine and a Champagne would have to do.
So back to the mead. Once I returned home from the liquor store I decided to make a starter for the mead. I didn’t feel that using pale DME was a good choice for the mead, as it runs counter to the spirit of mead (though it surely would have worked and provided no difference to the flavor). I ended up running to the grocery store and making starters from pure freshly squeezed grape juice! I bought 10lbs of green grapes from the grocery store, cleaned, processed, and strained the juice out of them to make my starters. What better starter for wine yeast than grape juice!
Saturday morning arrived and I knew it was time to get ready. The mead was going to be simple, I just needed to pick up some RO water from the grocery store and I’d be good to go. The cyser was a different matter. Basswood honey has a unique, very “green” flavor to it that’s quite prominent. Your average apple juice didn’t seem to have the flavor to complement nor stand up to the honey. I needed something different. It occurred to me that the green flavor was an ideal match for a tart apple. I originally thought that Jonathan’s would work, but this appears to be the wrong time of year. The grocery store had plenty of Granny Smith’s though, and Granny’s have an abundance of tartness. I bought 20+ lbs of them. Knowing the difficulty I had with the grapes and my food processor, I decided to get a fruit juicer.
I was now set for brewing. I had my honey, my apples, and my water.
The first batch was simple. 15 lbs of honey, four gallons of water. Bring the heat to 160 degrees for 10 minutes, then cool and pitch the yeast. After about an hour it was all done, and bubbling away. The O.G. for this ended up reading 1.110!
The cyser was a bit more work. As said above, I had around 20+ lbs (I’m not really sure the exact quantity, but around that amount) that we needed to turn into juice. Derick quartered the apples, and I started processing. Once we were all finished we had about 1.5 gallons of Green Granny Smith Apple Juice!
We added four gallons of water to the apple juice and 5 lbs of honey and again brought the must to 160 degrees for 10 minutes, then chilled and transferred to fermentation. When all was said and done the O.G. for the cyser was 1.042. Not too shabby!
One thing I had forgotten though was a conversation from Thursday with Mark and Mark at Old Capitol. Mark (the non-brewer) had heard Mark (the most excellent brewer) and myself talking about doing our mead’s on Saturday. As is usual when home-brewers start talking “shop”, we started mulling over different things to add to the mead to make the products turn out unique and tasty. Non-Brewer Mark overheard us talking and asked if anyone had ever made a coconut beer. This started Brewer Mark and myself down a path trying to figure out a good reason we couldn’t do one. We failed. 🙂
While finishing the cyser I was reminded again of this conversation, and decided I really wanted to do something with a lot of coconut in it. As I sat around this morning the idea continued to percolate in my head, and I eventually came to the decision I wanted to try brewing a pina colada. No rum, or anything else, just coconut, bananas, and a bit of honey. But first I had to make sure it was doable. Originally I had thought I’d take advantage of my juicer on some fresh coconut but my internet searching suggested this was a bad idea. Coconut milk (as the juice from the white part of the nut is called) is very high in sugar, but also very high in fat. While some people local to coconuts create a fermented beverage from the milk it’s usually drank quite quickly after creation due to a tendency for it to go rancid due to the fat. This obviously won’t work for an alcohol that really needs some time to mature.
Further reading though showed that the juice of the coconut (the liquid sloshing around freely inside them) was mostly just sugar and water. Zero Fat! We had a winner. I imagined buying many coconuts, using my power drill and draining the juice away. Then I spoke with Derick, who mentioned many chinese grocery stores carry pure coconut juice in cans. A trip to the store was in order. Lo and behold Hy-Vee had just the ticket!
10 cans of Coconut Juice with 30 grams of sugar per can and zero fat (once the coconut junks were filtered out) gave me 1.4 gallons of coconut juice, perfect!
I also needed some bananas. You simply can’t buy banana juice, and I had a feeling my juicer wasn’t going to be much good with raw bananas (later proven 100% true!), but I needed the banana flavor to make my CocoNana Wine (this is the official name for it now). As usual, I forged ahead (or is it bulling ahead?) anyways, and bought 16 lbs of bananas. Dumped all these guys (but one bunch) into the food processor, and made a lovely banana paste.
I worried that this wouldn’t be enough sugar, so I bought five lbs of clover honey from the grocery store. I wasn’t worried about the flavor being imparted as I was reasonably sure the banana and coconut would overpower it, so the generic honey was selected for cost considerations.
I combined all these ingredients into my brew kettle with 3.5 gallons of water. I brought the must up to 160 degrees for 10 minutes, and added 5 ounces of dextrose (pushing the sugars ever higher), chilled and transferred. The CocoNana is currently very “pulpy” with the body of the bananas in suspension. It’s starting to stratify out, and I hope this stratification continues, as I’m worried about trying to filter it. 🙂 At any rate, it smelled and tastes wonderful so far!
So, that was my weekend. Off the cuff and experimental brewing at it’s finest. The very things that make this such a fun hobby to begin with!