Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yeast Quest

Some years ago, back when we lived in Vermont, my next door neighbor brought home a truck-load of apples and owned a cider press. Since he had an essentially unlimited supply of apples, he made a deal with me: Press a gallon of juice for him and I could take a gallon for myself. That seemed overly generous, so what I would do is press two or three gallons for Joe and then fill a juice pitcher for myself.

Along the way I got the idea of trying to make cider. The unwashed apples should have plenty of native yeast on them and the acid of the juice would tend to suppress bacterial growth, so I figured that all I had to do was put the juice into an air-tight container and wait. What I used was a plastic juice bottle with a screw-on lid and I just let it sit in the garage until I noticed some swelling from internal pressure. I would loosen he lid gently to relieve most--but not all--of the pressure every day or two. I kept doing this until the fermentation slowed down to a crawl and then gently poured the cider into a fresh clean juice bottle, leaving all the sediment out. A couple more rackings and I put the cider into wine bottles and was done.

In the intervening years, my wife and I have gotten hooked on hard cider, especially the Woodchuck Draft Cider -- Granny Smith. The stuff is good, but it is pricey and so I have been of a mind to try my hand again at making cider. The only problem is that the cider you purchase in the grocery store is pasteurized, so if you don't add yeast it will just sit there. I began looking into yeast and there are no brew shops very close to where we live. I could order some on-line but I hate the idea of buying something for a buck and then paying five dollars for shipping, so things remained so until last Saturday.

We were up in Nashua a-clothes-shopping for the oldest girl and on the way to Old Navy, we went past a place that looked like a brew-shop. Not wanting to loiter in a clothes store, I dropped-off the wife & daughter and went back the half-mile to the brew shop. The shop turned out to not be quite what I expected: They were a place where you do brewing. You pay something like $200 and they supply all the equipment and supplies as well as help for their customers to brew beer. Then you come back in two weeks to bottle your 6 cases of 22oz beers. So they didn't offer to sell me any champagne yeast, but did give directions to a place about five miles further up the road. The directions were long and complex. While listening to them, I was thinking to myself, "There is no way I'm going to even try to find that place, I'll just bag-it till another time...". But I hadn't heard from the girls and the thought of standing around in a clothes store was daunting, so I set-out in the direction given and figured I could turn around if I got lost, or a call from my wife. The directions were perfect. The shop and the shop-keeper were perfectly charming. I got my yeast for 75 cents and even picked up a fancy 24 ounce beer 9.5% EtOH by volume for about 5 bucks.

I'd rather pay $5 for a fancy beer than for shipping. You can't drink shipping.

Monday, November 09, 2009

A day of gasoline powered things

Sunday was as pretty a day as one can expect in early November for New England. It must have been close to 60F and sunny. It was the perfect time to run over leaves with the mulching mower. I was about half way through my 2nd tank of gas and the mower had been getting increasingly sluggish, so I figured it was time to clean the air filter. Indeed, it turned out to be fully packed with leaf dust--I really wondered how it could have run at all with such clogging. The machine had other ideas: I put the clean filter back on and the mower would not start, or would start for a second and then quit. I checked the gas. I checked the oil. I cleaned the spark plug. I adjusted the carburetor. I got blisters on my hand from the pull-cord. Finally it began to run and ran like a champ til I was done: A tank and a half later.

After that, my wife wanted to run the leaf grinder--to deal with leaves in places I cannot mow, like flower beds. Given my bad experience with gasoline-powered devices, I approached starting the leaf shredder with dread. It got going on the first pull, not bad considering that it hadn't been used since last Fall.

Since I had reached the back of the garden shed I figured I may as well pre-position the snow blower to the front of the house. It too started right up and it still had old gas from last Winter in it.

Just for the sake of completeness, I should have seen if I could get the chainsaw running. It is a good thing I didn't think of this: If I got the saw running I would want to cut down a tree (lots of them need to be cut down) and this would have just created a lot of work for myself. It was already Sunday afternoon and I had the rain gutters to clean still.