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Cider Recipe – Pumpkinhead Cider

02 Aug

Pumpkinhead Cider capSeasonal brews can become great annual traditions: fruit-filled drinks for the summer, spiced drinks for the winter, and so forth. The catch is that you have to plan ahead. If you want a good Octoberfest brew, you need to start making it no later than August! If you start one now, it will be ready to drink well before Halloween.

With that in mind, I present a new seasonal cider for your enjoyment: Pumpkinhead Cider. I made a test batch last year and am starting a new batch now. This recipe combines standard cider ingredients with most of the ingredients for a pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie filling is a great shortcut for a pumpkin-based brew because it includes the spices needed to make the pumpkin flavor stand out.

Remember, you can tweak my recipes to your own liking. I included a few options in the recipe below. For example, to keep the dark, rich flavor and color associated with most breweries’ Octoberfest varieties, I recommend using either brown sugar (medium darkness) or molasses (very dark) instead of white sugar. I have tried molasses in the standard Panda Beer with great success. I am also trying out different acid blends, which bring out different aspects of the apple flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 6 gallons apple juice
  • 1 cup brown sugar or molasses (your choice)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 30-oz. canned pumpkin (one large can)
  • 60-oz. pumpkin pie filling (two large cans)
  • 2 Tbs. malic acid or an acid blend (try 2 tsp. each of malic, tartaric, and citric acid for a sharper flavor)
  • 2 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 Camden tablets (150 ppm)
  • Champagne yeast (such as Lalvin EC-118 or Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast)
  • Dissolved in two cups of warm water and added right before bottling:
    • 3/4 cup priming sugar
    • 3/4 cup lactose
    • 3/4 cup maltodextrin
  • Follow standard brewing procedureswith a slight variation:
    • When starting the batch, pour all of your pumpkin into a mesh bag (nylon or muslin), tie it shut, and simmer it for 20 minutes in apple juice. Put the bag of pumpkin in your brewing bucket for the first stage and then dispose of it when you rack the cider into a clean carboy.
    • If you don’t have an appropriate bag, you can add the pumpkin straight to the juice; the only drawback is that you will probably end up with more pumpkin sediment left in the cider.
 

Cider Recipe – Shane Summer

18 Apr
Lemon cider recipeBefore I went gluten-free, the arrival of Sam Adam’s seasonal brew on tap at the local pub was a cause for celebration. Fights would break out over the relative merits of Summer Ale versus the Octoberfest variety. The limited timeframe for these flavors made each pint seem precious. When the end of a season came around, finding an untouched case of a seasonal brew was like unearthing buried treasure. Rarity always has a positive effect on value. I was embarrassingly excited recently when I found one last bottle of Mega Man Milk Stout.

In my quest to overtake Sam Adams (which may require going back in time to murder him), I’ve been working seasonal recipes into my repertoire. Today, we hail my answer to the Samuel Adams Summer Ale: the Shane Summer. The simple addition of fresh lemons into the standard Shane Classic recipe makes a world of difference. The resulting concoction is light and refreshing, with a distinctive flavor similar to a lemon drop. This would make a great brew at any time of year, but the association between lemonade and the hot days of summer.

To make a good seasonal cider, you have to plan ahead. After all, it takes several months for a cider to mature fully and achieve its full potential. If you wait to start a summer cider until June, you may end up drinking it in the fall instead. I started this cider at the beginning of March so it would be ready by Memorial Day and barbecue season. Stay tuned for future seasonal recipes; I have a fall pumpkin cider and a winter spiced cider up my sleeve.

Note: I have started using a larger barrel and making six-gallon batches of cider. You can adjust the recipe one of two ways: either reduce all the ingredients proportionally or subtract a gallon of juice and hope for the best (you’ll get slightly different but totally tasty results).

Ingredients:

  • 6 gallons apple juice
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 lemons, juiced and sliced into quarters
  • 2 Tbs. malic acid
  • 1 tsp. wine tannin
  • 2 Camden tablets (150 ppm)
  • Champagne yeast (such as Lalvin EC-118 or Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast)
  • 2/3 cup priming sugar (added at bottling dissolved in 1 cup of water)
  • Follow standard brewing procedures


 

Sugar cane: worth the extra cost (and calories)

17 Mar

Real sugar Coke and tonic waterThe debate over corn syrup and cane sugar is a remarkable case of mercantile debates playing out through public policy. Coca-Cola used to be made with real cane sugar, but now it is made with America’s favorite product, corn syrup. Have you had real sugar lately? Just as a real Coke tastes better than a Diet Coke, a Coke made with real sugar tastes better than a typical, corn-syrup Coke. Sugar tastes delicious. Unfortunately for the thrill-seekers out there, cane sugar has been largely dismissed due to the low price of a native agricultural product.

I don’t want to encourage the consumption of empty calories. Then again, soda isn’t healthy to begin with. I believe that sugary sodas have helped make America fatter. I also would assume that the artificial sweeteners in sugar-free, “diet” drinks may have unexpected (if still unknown) long-term health effects. Therefore, the only safe route is to have nothing.

Good luck with that.

Let’s ignore the agricultural politics behind corn syrup’s low price and go straight to flavor. If you love a delicious beverage, you owe it to yourself to try sodas made with cane sugar. They taste better than the corn-syrup alternative. Drink them in moderation, of course, but if you’re going to drink the calories, you might as well have something delicious rather than merely good. Specialty brands like Jones Soda, Izze, and the recent Pepsi Throwbacks have demonstrated the growing market for premium, sugary beverages.

365 tonic water detailMexican Coke detail

Here are my top recommendations:

  • Tonic Water: Whole Foods’ 365 Tonic Water is the most widely-available tonic water that uses real sugar. Highly recommended for gin and tonics, which are raised to a new level compared to the usual stuff. This will make any tonic-based cocktail better. Even if you don’t normally drink tonic water, buy a six-pack and put in the back of your liquor cabinet as a foolproof bubbly mixer.
  • Coca-Cola: The real Coke is available in many parts of the U.S. at Passover (look for yellow caps marking them as Kosher) and is also available imported from Mexico (check Costco or any local Hispanic store). This makes a much better Coke-based drink than the more pedestrian types of Coke. Recommended for rum and Cokes especially. You also get to enjoy the bottles.
 

Save past-their-prime bananas to make banana milkshakes

24 Jan

Bananas and banana milkshakeI love bananas, and I hate wasting them. Overripe bananas turn soft and mushy inside as the skin blackens. However, that doesn’t make them useless. I have an old trick passed on from my father to turn mushy bananas into a delicious, healthy shake. If you have milk and vanilla extract, you’ll never need to throw away a banana again.

The key is advance preparation. When you have bananas that are mostly black, peel them and freeze them in a plastic bag. Once they’re frozen, all you need is milk and vanilla to make a milkshake whenever you want. Read the rest of this entry »

 

A lifetime supply of vanilla extract

02 Jan

Vanilla extract finished bottlesReal vanilla extract usually comes in small bottles at surprisingly hefty prices. I assume the scheming vanilla barons of the world can’t trust us with too much of their delicious extract at one time. I use vanilla extract casually in lots of things (in sodas, ciders, and smoothies, just for starters) and thought it would be a good exercise to make my own. It turns out that you can make a self-replenishing bottle of vanilla extract with just vodka, vanilla beans, and patience.

Vanilla beans may seem exotic, but the magic of the internet puts them right at your fingertips. A quick search finds many online vendors, including Amazon. Vanilla beans can be fairly inexpensive in bulk (under a dollar each), so I bought a large bunch and made a massive batch of vanilla extract for holiday gifts (I didn’t want to post about it before and give away any surprises). Along the way, I’ve ended up with plenty of vanilla extract for my own evil purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Make flavored ice for instant cocktails

12 Sep

Flavored ice cubesManhattan in progress

Ice-cube trays are far more versatile than they get credit for. When it comes to cocktails, ice cubes containing liqueurs, coffee, or even chunks of fruit have an advantage over regular ice: they add flavor to your drink rather than watering it down. I’ll give you three good examples:

  • Maraschino cubes: Put a Maraschino cherry and a generous splash of the accompanying juice into each section of an ice-cube tray and top the tray off with water. The cubes will freeze solid, although they will have a softer consistency than pure ice cubes. A few cubes in a glass of soda can make a cherry Coke or a Shirley Temple, complete with a cherry at the bottom. For a cocktail party, you can make instant Manhattans by serving bourbon and bitters over a Maraschino cube in a snifter or other small glass. By the time you finish your drink, you’ll have a delicious whiskey-soaked cherry for dessert.
  • Coffee cubes: Save old coffee and freeze it in an ice-cube tray. You can keep iced coffee cold (or even faux-Frappuccinos) without watering it down. Coffee cubes are also great additions to creamy or Kahlua-based drinks like White Russians, making them a hit at Lebowski parties.
  • Lime cubes: This versatile cube can go in all kinds of drinks, from Coke to tonic water and from whiskey to vodka. Just take an ice-cube tray full of water and add small wedges of lime to each compartment before freezing.

Shirley Temple

The possibilities go on and on. Flavored ice is great for parties and punch bowls but also for day-to-day treats. I make batches of various flavored ice cubes periodically and keep them in separate containers so the trays can get back to making regular ice.

Embrace the ice-cube tray! It has a lot more tricks to come.

 
 

Cider Recipe – Panda Beer

07 Sep

Panda beer in bottles

Time for a darker, richer cider! The Panda Beer has a more well-rounded flavor than the Shane Classic, owing mostly to the use of brown sugar and honey as sweeteners instead of white sugar. This basic recipe has repeatedly been the favorite at every cider tasting I’ve run, despite the fact that it has little relation to beer and even less to do with pandas. Try it out for yourself.

(If you’ve never brewed before, you may want to start with the equipment review, the review of possible ingredients, or the basic brewing procedures described here.)

Ingredients:

  • 5 gallons Kirkland apple juice
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups honey
  • 2 Camden tablets (150 ppm)
  • 1 packet wine yeast (I like Lalvin D-47)
  • 2 Tbs. malic acid
  • 1 tsp. wine tannins
  • Dissolved in two cups of warm water and added right before bottling:
    • 2/3 cup priming sugar
    • ½ cup lactose
    • ½ cup maltodextrin
  • Honey is reluctant to dissolve in cold water, so I suggest heating up a couple of quarts of cider on the stove and stirring in the honey until it is a smooth mixture. Otherwise, follow standard brewing procedures.
 

Eat your own cereal, not Kellogg’s

10 Aug

Bowl of cerealEveryone I know has breakfast cereal in their house. I can’t assume this is a universal trait, but there’s something wholesome and American about a bowl of cornflakes, not to mention great pleasures in Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs and the like. It’s more fun to eat a breakfast cereal you invented than one someone else invented. I’ll tell you a secret, too: it’s easy.

Having been a near-connoisseur on the breakfast cereal scene in the late 1990s (I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me), my gluten-free diet put shocking limitations on my cereal options. After all, tasty gluten-free cereals are few and far between…and never cheap. It also stinks to buy a $5 box of cereal only to dislike it on the first bite. Desperate, I went the organic-health route and found making my own blend was easy, delicious, and cost-effective. That’s a rare win-win-win. You don’t even have to go gluten-free to see the benefits of mixing your own cereal. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Make a bottle of mint juleps

03 Aug

If you want a mint julep, the easiest thing to do is to tackle the nearest gentleman in a white suit and hat. In the rare event that you aren’t at a horse race and can’t find any southern gentlemen to relieve of their beverages, you could make your own at home. In fact, you can keep an entire decanter of mint juleps steeping in your liquor cabinet at all times. It’s a good way to talk yourself out of a duel with a pistol-packing Colonel Sanders, especially if you just knocked him down and stole his drink. All you need is a bottle and a desire for sweet, minty whiskey. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Cider Recipe – Mega Man Milk Stout

20 Jun

Mega Man capsThe Holy Grail I’m seeking is an easy, gluten-free homebrew recipe that tastes like actual beer. Someday, I may make a beer with gluten-free grains like sorghum or rice. However, cider is so much easier to make (fewer variables, readily-available ingredients, no cooking involved) that I’d rather make a cider that tastes like beer than start over with a new, more complicated process.

The Mega Man Milk Stout is roughly 7.5% alcohol and shows some real progress towards faking beer. With a blend of coffee, honey, and vanilla, it lands somewhere on the taste spectrum between a traditional milk stout and an espresso porter. The coffee flavor jumps out at you, and the addition of lactose and maltodextrin give it some sweetness and extra body. If not for the light color of the finished product, most people would never realize this was apple cider at all.

Read the rest of this entry »