Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sauerkraut Hard Cider

As will happen in fermenting at home, I seem to have accidentally stumbled on a new way to make hard cider - with leftover sauerkraut juice.

I had just finished eating a batch of sauerkraut - laced with beets in my usual style - and there was leftover juice in the jar. Kraut juice is a precious thing, and not to be wasted. I added some cider, towards the end of making a drink out of the whole thing. The cider would hopefully mellow the somewhat harsh kraut juice. So I poured cider into the crock, then this happened:
Fermentation bubbles in the crock
It bubbled up! Alcohol was being created by the sauerkraut bacteria. I'm not sure why I didn't expect this, but it hadn't crossed my mind at all that the kraut organisms would cross over to winemaking activities. Naturally, I became curious and added more cider - topped it up to about a half gallon. Then let the bacteria do their work. It has since gone into an airlocked jug.

Initial tasters were not excited with the results! A round of trials at Thanksgiving yielded no one clamoring for more kraut cider. Too much saltiness and too much sauerkraut smell. I'm standing by my little kraut bacteria, and I have a feeling it will get better. I racked it once into a clean jug, with lots of dead yeast cells left behind. Those go into my special wine dregs container in the fridge. Meanwhile, the cider continues to mellow and hopefully improve with time. Here's to more happy accidents!

Friday, December 6, 2013


Another updates post because of how many things are going on in my fermentation world

-Fresh sauerkraut in the crock - packed full of savoy cabbage and red cabbage. This is a pretty simple batch - no beets - and I'm hoping that will translate into a cleaner, better flavor in the final product.

-The all wild yeast maple wine is all gone! We drank it at Thanksgiving in Boston, with gusto. It was delicious - exactly what I had hoped. Dry but not too dry, strong maple nose, a little bit of effervescence. The aging definitely benefited the wine. Makes me want to dive into making another batch of wild yeast stuff and aging it good and long.

-Beet wine went over pretty well at Thanksgiving. No clear consensus on what it actually tastes like. Some people swore they were getting too much beet, some couldn't taste beet at all. Many people thought it was funky and not altogether great. Some hopeful signs though, even some requests for a bottle. Someone made a blended spritzer out of it too, which came out good.

-Sauerkraut cider was kind of a dud. Too much sauerkraut flavor for everyone who tried it. The process will need refining.

-Distributed some sourdough starter to my mom - interested to see how it develops separately from the mother culture.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fun weekend and updates

I found a cool beer and wine store in Bethesda on Saturday, and have acquired not only the venerable Weihenstephaner Vitus (referenced in my earlier beet wine tasting post), but a dry-hopped Woodchuck cider which promises to be an interesting mix of flavors.

Fermentation updates:

-Brought the Memorial Day mead to Boston, where it didn't go over great, probably due to its own overwhelming sourness from having sat on the spent yeast for too long. I am going to have to persevere with this stuff, since I have about a gallon and a half left in the carboy. I'm thinking of blending it or using it for cooking or vinegar

-The beet wine is ready for racking, which I hope to do later tonight. I'm also going to do an experiment where I add extra must to the spent yeast in the jug after I rack it. I want to see how much life is left in there. It's going to be a challenge not to drink the beet wine before it's ready; it looks and smells so good right now.

-I sunk some of the beets that were boiled to make the beet wine into my current sauerkraut batch. They've been in about two weeks, so I'm getting ready to dig them out and see how much the kraut juice has penetrated into the cooked beets. Hoping for some kind of pickling effect, but absent that I still don't think there's any downside.

-Made sourdough starter from scratch and baked with it this weekend! The stuff works, simply based on capturing wild yeast from the air. All credit to Sandor Katz's recipe in Wild Fermentation, the bible of my current projects. The bread was good, and plenty sour, but I'm already thinking of ways to improve it.

That's all for now!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Illicit Tasting

After an ill-fated attempt to go to the Shakespeare Theatre last night, I came home and snuck into the basement. I was there for all the wrong reasons. I wanted a taste of the highly immature, barely week-old beet wine. It's way too early for that, and there's no way the wine is ready, but my curiosity would not be sated. As is often the case, I had to know what was happening inside that beet-red jug (get it?).

I went down with a jug of extra must that I've been storing in the fridge to top up after my tasting. Removing the airlock, I poured a little in a glass. The aroma! And the taste. Yeasty, funky, a little weird, but much different than what I was expecting. The sweetness from the added sugar in the must is mostly gone. That Montrachet yeast has been very active, gobbling up honey, cane sugar, and residual beet sugar to turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. What remains is somewhat viscous and redolent of fruit flavors and a strong hint of banana. The yeast and shredded beets have mostly settled, but there's a lot of sediment in what I poured, leaving a chalky residue on the glass. The thing it reminded me of most is this beer.There was an immediate connection in my mind to the Weihenstephaner Vitus. The yeasty banana flavor is written all over it. There's also a musty, almost savory taste to it.

I topped up the jug with some more must to feed the yeast a little bit and replace the airlock. Needless to say, can't wait to taste the finished product.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beet Wine - now with video

I spent Monday afternoon making beet wine. It was a long time in the offing, but surprisingly easy when I actually started doing it. I boiled about 3 pounds of beets, removed the beets from the water, added sugar, honey, and orange juice concentrate.

 Boiled that mix, cooled, added a yeast-orange juice starter mix, and voila. Beet wine, in a brilliant purple-red color. Won't be ready for at least six months, so temper your expectations, please!

Here's the video of the must bubbling away in the fermenter:

Waiting for this to finish fermenting and aging is not going to be easy. I want to drink the whole thing right now! Definitely encouraging to try something that seemed so complex and find it a fairly simple proposition. I will not hold back from attempting outlandish wines or other fermentation projects in the future. As the truism goes: you can't succeed until you try. Or something like that....

Monday, October 14, 2013


In preparation for the beet wine batch today, I'm sanitizing jugs. One problem - my kettle is too small (really just the biggest pasta pot we have). I've ended up pouring sanitizer into the jugs and sloshing it around a little. If it sounds amateurish, that's because it is. We'll have to make it work!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Quick post: Weekend Plans to brew for Columbus

I will be making beet wine this weekend! At last, the day has come. Montrachet yeast ordered, orange juice concentrate stocked in, beets to be bought, 5 lbs of honey in the basement. Just need to rack the maple mead out of the primary fermenting bucket, and maybe bottle it. I even bought fresh corks for the bottling process. Hurray for me!

This means I'll be sterilizing and siphoning all weekend. That's what Columbus would have wanted on his feast day! This recipe should only be for a gallon, so quantities are limited. Leave a comment if you'd like me to reserve you a bottle.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

3 gallons of maple mead - what's a twentysomething to do?

This past weekend, I finally broke the big Memorial Day Maple Mead batch out of the primary fermenter (where it was still sitting on the lees after 3-4 months). Oops! Why did I wait so long? First, I'm a neglectful mead maker who's better at starting things than finishing them. It came out dry, as I should have expected. This is what happens when your must is light on sugar. The yeast eats through everything and brings out a dry white wine flavored beverage. On the whole, though, not bad at all.

It initially tastes like white wine, almost on the sour side. The flavor carries on, though, and has a complexity that is very welcome. Add a little extra maple in the bottling process, and you have yourself a tasty homemade wine. I have to admit that the first public tasting of it was as part of a blend. I mixed some of the big batch with maple syrup and the tasty dregs of a separate wild yeast maple mead in a half-gallon jug. Mixed it up and served it at a game-night/party. The verdict was good. My only tasting note was to tell everyone that it was approximately like white wine mixed with maple syrup (which in essence it was!). Reception was good overall, including the reception that I gave it. I may have had half the jug, but it was only to gin up support for the product of my labor. It was a little sweet, with the complex white wine flavor, and it went down easy. It was at least a competitor with beer for the attentions of party-goers.

I siphoned out two additional half-gallon jugs from the primary fermenter and added maple. They're topped off with airlocks and aging up a little bit before Thanksgiving, when I will serve them to my unsuspecting family. Let the adventures begin! The only problem I have: There's still at least a good 1.5 gallons left to deal with. This may turn me into a small-batch winemaker for a while. Get in touch if you want some.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dance Yrself Clean (Wine Edition)

This weekend, when I'm not rocking out to the breakdown at 3:08 or attending the National Book Festival, I'm going to make Spiced Beet Wine. The 1 gallon recipe from the wild wines book I got from my mother calls for 3 pounds of beets, 2 pounds of white sugar, and 1 pound of honey. I'm using packaged Montrachet yeast and some yeast nutrient for this go-round to ensure a lively fermentation, but I'm not averse to doing this recipe with the wild yeast air-capture method in the future. The spices also seem pretty mild in the recipe. No reason why the amounts shouldn't be jacked up to nausea-inducing levels of fresh ginger rather than a pinch of dry. This seems like the perfect time to try and fail with exotic recipes. Beets, tomatoes, garlic wine. I may learn something, even.
May the beet wine I make now be dug out of a dusty cellar in 2088!

This project has partly come about because I'm obsessed with beets and their color. It's But not just red, it's a living, pulsating reddish-purple. I want to capture this color and turn it into wine and keep it in a bottle for several years. The color is itching to get out of the beets, too. If you scratch them they will bleed deep dark red juice into your hands that doesn't come out except under prolonged scrubbing. If you cut them, your hands and your cutting board will bear the mark long after. I wear it as a badge of honor now, the pink hand of the beet-preparer. They have a sweet, earthy, wholesome taste as well and a delightful crunch. I would eat them every day in an ideal world.

Image credit: untitled (Alexandre Moha) / CC BY 3.0

Monday, September 9, 2013

17 or more Fermentation Possibilities, who's counting, really?

Potential future fermentation projects:

-Kvass (Russian bread soda, basically)
-Beet kvass kraut (or pickled beets, you might call it)
-Beet wine
-Beet hot sauce (sweet and hot)
-Fermented beet and corn salad (very close to becoming a real thing)
-Beet yogurt (getting the theme yet?)
-Tomato wine
-Sourdough pizza
-Fermented tomato sauce (we'll need this on our sourdough pizza)
-Fermented peach preserves
-Sour pickles
-Hard cider

-Beet hard cider (why not?!)
-Fermented ginger preserves
-Pickled potatoes

Any more suggestions? I'm open for business.

Let's not hold back here. The possibilities are limitless, constrained only by imagination and equipment. People have laughed when I told them my plans. I understand fermentation is easy to dismiss as a mad scientist-type hobby without productive consequences. This is real, though. I'm going ahead with it anyway, but I want people to know that it's not a joke. There are vast opportunities for fun, financial savings, and health improvement. I plan to laugh all the way to a tasty bank of jars containing the products of my labor combined with friendly bacteria.

It's mostly for fun right now, but it feels good to have a modicum of skill that creates something you can eat and drink and give to people. It feels good to make your own. And when people laugh at you, you can go home to your pickled beets and feast until your lips turn red.

Also, let's not lie, it's fun to be able to make alcohol. It's not just fun, it's easy too. I'm a little short on jugs, but once I get my operation running, there's going to be a large quantity of wine in production. If you're nice to me, you'll be on the distribution list.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Latest sauerkraut

New batch of kraut going in today. Equipment has been sterilized and the summer heat is waning fast (air conditioning off) so I'm hoping to avoid the mold bloom of the last batch. This batch is only cabbage, beets, and salt. I want to keep it pure and simple and see how that lets the straight kraut flavor shine through. Beets may add a little bit of sweetness, but the ratio of cabbage to beet is probably 5:1. I want crunchy cabbage with brilliant pink hues to catch the eye. I want the magic of creation again. Where there was cabbage, there is now kraut. We will feed on it through October as the temperature drops.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


The kraut. With carrots and cabbage and beets for color. The real magic is in the bacteria. Lactobacillus! Creating lactic acid and thus inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. It also provides the tangy, alive flavor I've come to love. Made in the home, consumed there, not for sale.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fermenting for Life

Fermentation is the gift that keeps on giving. This sounds fatuous, but I promise you it's not. Making fermented food is about creating the conditions for new life to exist. It's about nurturing microbes. You make friends with the microbes, and they provide you with food and drink that is teeming with life and delicious to boot. It's a symbiotic relationship. The microbes also live in your intestines and protect you from harmful bacteria. You scratch their back, they scratch yours.

Making fermented foods is so cheap it's almost free! There are limited startup costs for equipment, which you can scale according to how fancy you want to get. There's no reason you can't start making sauerkraut right now with a head of cabbage, salt, and a jar. No need to get any more sophisticated than that. It's very forgiving of beginners and perfect for those who like to experiment.

Why aren't you doing it already?!

Progress Reports:

-Wild Yeast All-Maple Mead (went in on 6/16) is still bubbling up nicely. It has been tasted several times by Matt and I, with impressions all favorable so far. The fermentation is probably less vigorous than it would have been with refined yeast, but there is undeniably something going on in there. Also forming is a big clump of dead yeast on the bottom, which is why the meadmaker is advised to rack the mead to a new container (to get the mead off the spent yeast, which may be imparting yeasty flavors). I'm thinking about leaving it for a while. The big problem is going to be keeping myself from drinking the whole thing before it's ready. Age can only improve the product.

-Fresh batch of kraut is in the jar right now, with radishes, beets, red and white cabbage, and a moderate quantity of garlic. It smells great after 5 days, and may be ready for tasting soon. I favor frequent tasting, especially in the early stages when the flavor is still relatively mild. You get a sense of the evolution over time. This one is being kept in the basement because the air conditioning is off upstairs and the basement is the only consistently cool place in the house.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Progress Report

In the primary fermenter: 3 gallon batch of Memorial Day Honey-Maple Mead.

In the 1 gallon small-batch testing jug: Wild Yeast All-Maple Mead (went in on 6/16)

In a recycled salsa jar in the fridge: Beet-Hot pepper spicy fermented chutney.

I had to throw out a batch of sauerkraut that went bad, sadly. I came back from Ghana to find it molded on top and smelling of serious rot. You can't win em' all. This is really my first setback in the sauerkraut arena- everything else has been coming up roses. I have fresh cabbage and beets stored in and am ready to dive into the next batch. Try, try again!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Some background

Here's my philosophy: you should try anything. Why not? Why shouldn't I throw some vegetables in a jar and let them sit out under brine for a few weeks, just to see what happens? Why shouldn't I be responsible for making my own food, rather than spending dollars to support a corporate food industry that is by all accounts unconcerned with the health of its customers? Why shouldn't I experiment?

If you make your own, in many ways you can taste the effort and the hand craft that went into it. You can go further towards being self-sufficient and running your own home economy. You can create flavors and smells which have never existed before in the world and are delicious to boot. You can keep traditional methods of food preparation alive for generations to come. You can do it all! Go forth and ferment.

All credit for any success I have in these endeavors goes to my parents for raising me the right way and teaching me to ask questions and be mindful of what I eat and where it comes from, to my brother the farmer for being ahead of the curve on everything sustainability-related and for inviting me to dinners at the Hive, and to Sandor Katz, whose recipe I used for my first batch of sauerkraut.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The schedule

After Monday, mead is in the primary fermenter and bubbling hard! Much more on this later, including pictures. Tonight I'm planning to make a quick ginger-carrot-cabbage ferment, just because I can't stand to not have vegetables pickling themselves in a jar in my kitchen. Perhaps to be made on the weekend: fermented salsa! The hits just keep on coming.

Monday, May 27, 2013

So it begins

My name is Allan. Fermenting things has become my hobby. This is going to be my outlet for the things I create.