Cyser, Mead and Cider

Cyser, Mead and Cider

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Cyser.  It is a form of mead made with the addition of apple juice.  The word, cyser, is possibly a derivative of sicera.  It’s of latin origins and means an intoxicating drink or liquor.  Or so the Internet is telling me.

I have been interested in brewing and fermentation for while.  In the mid-part of the first decade in the 2000s, I picked up a few books on brewing beer or making cider and wine.  I never followed through with the creation of anything fermented and palatable — with the exception of sourdough bread.

At the old house, near Duluth, we grew grapes among many different fruits.  The hope was to some day grow enough grapes to make small amounts of wine.  The Frontenac vines grew and produced small crops, but not enough for wine.

The place we have now in St. Paul has no grapes worth turning into wine.  The grapes on our property tend to be Vitis riparia, or riverbank grapes.  Riverbank grapes are of little use on their own for wine.  High acid and planty-taste make for crappy wine; not to mention, the fruits tend to be in the tree canopy – up in the air, fifty or more feet.  Vitis riparia, is an important component in the burgeoning cold-climate wine industry here in Minnesota.  The Frontenac variety, for example, is a hybrid cross of Vitis riparia and Landot noir.  We will, though, be getting back to having vines that might some day produce a wine.  The first go at it will be with Maréchal Foch this spring.  Wine to follow in a few years.

Apple pulp wrapped in cheesecloth.

We do, however, have a few very old apple and pear trees.  The dogs like the apple trees as the branches tend to bow down far enough for them to pluck apples right off.  The pear trees are enormous and would take planning to harvest fruit.  The apple trees with their low branches pose an easier harvest opportunity.

During the mid-fall of this last year, I picked a 5 gallon bucket of apples from the two trees.  It was late in the apple season, and most of the good apples had fallen to their demise on the ground: quickly into a hound’s stomach after the fall.  This bucket of apples was not destine to be passed through a hound, it would first sit in the freezer in our basement.  Spread out in what could be a stainless steel steamer tray, the apples slumbered in the freezer until late January.

While looking in the freezer for any remaining chickens, I noticed the steamer tray of now slightly wrinkled apples.  I should do something with these, I thought.

Sometime in the spring of last year, we had a honey-related mishap.  Several (many) jars in storage blew their lids.  Nothing violent, these were more likely slow motion eruptions of a sticky mess.  It was brought to our attention when the dogs were licking the floor.  A few grains of wild yeast had remained in the jars, and with the right conditions, some unwanted fermentation occurred.  We filled half-gallon canning jars with the remains of the unfermented honey, and then pasteurized them in the oven.

IMG_2468-1What does one do with thirty pounds of honey that you do not want to sell because it is no longer raw?

You give some away.  A co-worker used a bit in homemade ice cream.  I chose to ferment some.

Friends of ours, Alex and Larissa, helped out.  They are experienced home-brew-beer makers.

We started with a recipe from The Meadery, and then, did not follow it exactly.

Even though Alex and Larissa are experienced beer brewers, making mead, making cider, or making cyser was new to them, as well.

The Recipe (of sorts).

The apples ended up juicing out to about ¾ of gallon. In addition to the juice, we add 2.¼ gallons of water to a large, stainless stock pot.  We heated this until it was about 120° F.  The end goal was to make five gallons, and we stuck with the meadery’s suggestioof using a pound of honey to a gallon of liquid.  Five pounds of honey (a bit over one half-gallon jar) went into the stock pot to be heated.

January 29, 2016 — Primary Fermenter

Transferring the three gallons of juice, water and dissolved honey in a six gallon carboy, we topped the carboy with an addition two gallons of water to bring our total up to five.

IMG_2533The Meadery’s recipe mentioned using champaign yeast, and that is what we did.  Earlier in the week, I had ordered WLP715 Champagne Yeast along with some yeast nutrient.

We had to wait for the carboy of liquid to cool.  It took a while, but when it was below 85° F, we pitched the yeast along with the nutrient.  With a clean air-lock in place, we set the carboy next to a heat register in the kitchen.  And, we waited.

The air lock bubbled for days as the yeast did its yeasty thing.  By day ten or so, the bubbling was noticeably less frequent.

February 13, 2016 — Secondary Fermenter

Alex and Larissa swung by on a Saturday to transfer the goodness from the six gallon primary fermentation carboy into a five gallon secondary fermentation carboy.  There may have been telltale signs of a slight infection on the top of the liquid.  Even though we did heat much of the liquid enough to dissolve the honey, it was not high enough to kill bacteria or wild yeasts that might have been tagging along with the apples.

This went quickly, and soon we had slightly smaller carboy filled with much less opaque liquid then what we started with a over two weeks prior.

And now, we wait, more.  Around the time taxes are due, we will likely be bottling the cyser.  At which point, we wait more.  Mid-October is about the soonest we will get to find if the running joke of making five gallons of diarrhea is true, or if we have actually made something slightly more drinkable.  We sampled a shot-glass-worth of the yeasty smelling liquid: it was not terrible, but very rare tasting.  We plan to back-sugar just prior to bottling.  We should end up with sparking something.

Devil’s Kettle Revisited

Devil’s Kettle Revisited

Alex J. Upper Falls, Brule River, Dec 31, 2010

Five years ago, around this time of year, my friend Andy and I ventured up the north shore of Lake Superior.  Andy is the fellow that I ventured and adventured with, to the Canadian arctic.  In the time since my first snowshoeing of Judge C.R. Magney State Park and then the arctic wandering with Andy, we both have physically moved.  Melissa and I are now in the metro region of Minnesota and we have been here for what is now approaching four years.  Andy now lives near Seattle and has moved a few times — each time more westward — in the in-between time.

I have stayed in contact with Andy since the arctic undertaking;  I last visited him on a pass-thru Seattle on the way to Tokyo.  He has since moved from his apartment in Kent, Washington, to a more permanent place: he and his girlfriend bought a house in Puyallup.  Needless to say, my past compatriot for wanderings in North America is no longer readily available.

Melissa is not one to green-light my wanderings by my lone self.  She much _DSC1196prefers that I wander and adventure with a willing associate.  She is not available for venturing, however.  She has been spending nearly all of her time away at a friend’s kennel in southern Minnesota raising her first litter of basset hounds.  She has been home to Saint Paul for only three days in the last month.

It was a bit of a whim and bit of a wanting to get back to Duluth and North Shore that I thought of snowshoeing to the Devil’s Kettle once again.  A friend from the office, who is somewhat new to Minnesota, seemed keen to the idea of snowshoeing.  He and I share similar interests – chickens, bees and gardening.  We also happened to have the same first name: Alex.   It was an easy sell, and we picked a weekend.

From St. Paul to Grand Marais, and then on to Judge Magney State Park, is just shy of a five hour drive.  After a stop in Duluth at Duluth Grill for breakfast, we continued up the shore.  Alex had been up to the Iron Range with me in fall of 2015, but he had never been up the shore of Lake Superior.  He liked it – having lived in Boston and Vermont prior to moving to Minnesota, he was missing hilly landscapes.

_DSC1123Judge Magney park is about fifteen to twenty minutes up the shore from Grand Marais; we made a stop in Grand Marais for snacks and bottled water.  A swing thru the Coast Guard Lighthouse parking lot where the sound of ice crushing against the breakwall was the dominate feature.  A collective effort on our parts, we pushed an enormous ice hunk back into the harbor, had a good laugh and were on way to the park.

The park was how I remembered it, with the exception of the road being completely plowed back to the parking area this time.

I had read the air temperature reading in the car several times on the drive to the park from Grand Marais, but it did not register: 42° F.   Very warm for January, very for January in this park of Minnesota.  I left my outer jacket in the car and opted for just a heavy sweatshirt.

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Alex J, Upper Falls, Brule River, January 30, 2016

With camera, tripod, snacks and water in my backpack, we strapped on snowshoes and began the trip in.  It’s about a mile hike back to the Devil’s Kettle.  It’s nearly all up hill, until you get to the Upper Falls, at which it is nearly all down a very steep set of wooden stairs.

It was a fantastic day for snowshoeing and hiking.  Perfect weather, perfect temperature, and only a few people on the trail.

Even though we snowshoed in to the falls and to the Devil’s Kettle, which was nearly completely frozen over with ice, we ended up carrying the snowshoes on the way out.  The above freezing temperature meant the snow had started to melt and collapse a bit.  Besides, the hike out was all down hill.