Friday, August 8, 2014

A Cider for Summer: Watermelon Hard Cider

It's been over a year since I last posted a recipe and nearly a year since I last posted anything, so it seemed only fitting to spend one of my first free days since turning in the manuscript for the beer book sharing a new recipe. I say "one of my first" free days because the very first free days were spent sleeping absurdly late on weekends, gorging on episodes of Supernatural, and spending many glorious hours doing nothing at all. It was divine.

Yes, the manuscript is done, the edits are even (mostly) done, the photo shoot is done (I plan on sharing some photos of that soon), and life seems to be stumbling its way back to normalcy. Let this be a lesson to you (i.e., me), working full time and writing a cookbook that involves long, tricky, fermenty projects is really exhausting. I have promised all those near and dear to me that I will not take on any new big projects like that for quite some time.

I posted a photo over on Instagram a few weeks ago of some Watermelon Hard Cider I'd made, and was both delighted and slightly surprised to get several requests for the recipe. Delighted because I actually wrote down the recipe and am happy to share it, and surprised because, frankly, I wasn't sure how many people apart from myself would think that watermelon cider sounded good!

This was actually a random cider that I made over a year ago with a huge-ass watermelon that a friend gave us from their garden. It was an experiment, and I was keeping my expectations low. Watermelon is a funny fruit to brew with; it's mostly water, after all, and that can mean a watery-tasting brew. But hey, there was a hulking watermelon on my counter and it was going to be impossible to eat it all, so why not?

I cracked open a bottle about three months after brewing, and thought it tasted...ok. Not bad. But not particularly watermelon-y. So-so. I left the rest of the batch in the cupboard and forgot about it for a while. Another few months past and I gave it another try - bingo! Apparently this one just needed a little extra time to age.

In the end, this has a lightly sweet watermelon-like flavor with a nice crispness. It's a bit like biting slightly too close to the watermelon rind. It's super refreshing on a hot day, so I suggest making a batch now and then letting the bottles sit in your cupboard until next summer.

Oh, P.S. Use only the freshest, juiciest, pinkest watermelon you can find for this brew. Subpar sad watermelons will not do. Use both the fruit and the rinds in the primary fermentation. A lot of the pink color and watermelon flavor is in the fruit sediment, so don't be too finicky about leaving behind the sediment when you transfer from vessel to vessel. I ended up with a teaspoon or so of pink watermelon sediment in my bottles - it's fun to pour this light, straw-colored cider into the glass only to watch it turn bright pink at the end.

Watermelon Hard Cider
Makes 1 gallon (9 to 10 bottles)

Note: All brewing-specific ingredients are available at homebrewing supply stores or online at

Target Original/Final Gravity: 1.050/1.005
Target Final ABV: 6%

1 (12-pound) watermelon, very ripe
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Campden tablet
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
2 teaspoons acid blend
1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
1/2 packet dry ale yeast, or any equivalent yeast
.8 ounce (22 grams) corn sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water and cooled, for bottling

Sanitize a 2-gallon bucket, its lid, the air lock, and a spoon for stirring.

Cut the watermelon into slices and cut the fruit away from the rinds. Chop the rinds into pieces and put them in the bucket. Remove and discard any watermelon seeds, then puree the fruit in a blender. Transfer the fruit puree to the bucket. You should have a little over a gallon of liquid; add additional water as needed to make slightly over a gallon.

Crush the Campden tablet and stir it into the juice. Snap the lid on he bucket, fill the airlock with water, and attach it to the bucket. Wait 24 hours for the Campden to sterilize the juice.

Once the juice is sterilized, stir in the yeast nutrient, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and 1/2 packet of the yeast with a sanitized spoon. Stir vigorously to distribute the yeast and aerate the cider. If you like, take a hydrometer reading to determine original gravity (though it's a bit tricky to get an accurate read on this one since there's so much sediment). Snap the lid back on and reattach the air lock. You should see active fermentation as evidenced by bubbles in the air lock within 48 hours.

Let the cider ferment undisturbed for at least 1 week or up to 4 weeks until fermentation has slowed and the sediment created during brewing has had a chance to settle. At this point, the cider is ready to be transferred off the sediment and into a smaller 1-gallon jug for the longer secondary fermentation.

Sanitize a 1-gallon jug, its stopper, a racking cane, its tip, a siphon hose, and a hose clamp. Siphon all of the cider into the jug. Tilt the bucket toward the end to siphon all of the liquid. Keep transferring even when you start to transfer sediment, but stop when you see the liquid in the hose become opaque (Bottom line: Don't worry about transferring/not transferring a lot of sediment at this point. Just use your best judgement). Seal the jug with its stopper and insert the air lock. Let it sit somewhere cool and dark for another 2 weeks or up to 3 months.

To bottle the cider, sanitize a stockpot, a hydrometer, ten 12-ounce beer bottles or five 22-ounce beer bottles, their caps, the siphon hose, the racking cane, its cap, a measuring cup, and the bottle filler. Siphon 1/2 cup of cider to the hydrometer and use to determine final gravity. Drink the cider or pour it back into the jug once used.

Pour the corn sugar solution into the stockpot. Siphon the cider into the stockpot to mix with the corn sugar solution, splashing as little as possible. Siphon the cider into bottles, cap, and label.

Let the bottles sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for at least 1 month or store for up to 2 years; I find that this one is best about 6 months after brewing. Refrigerate before serving. The cider itself is a light straw color; the pink comes from watermelon sediment remaining in the cider. Be sure to pour a little of the sediment into each glass to give it a rosy color - trust me, it's tasty! If the cider tasted a little tart, add a tablespoon of simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, simmered until the sugar is dissolved) to the pint glass before serving.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Announcement Long Overdue: New Homebrewing Book in the Works!

Somehow in the hustle and bustle of True Brews being released and general life craziness, I neglected to share a key bit of information: I have a new brewing book in the works! The tentative title is Malts Water Hops Yeast and it will be an introduction to homebrewing basics along with 65 awesome recipes that I've been working on all summer. You want a hefeweizen? You've got a hefeweizen. You want a mango-infused Belgian-style tripel? You've got your mango-infused Belgian-style tripel (plus, perhaps, some coconut). 1-gallon or 5-gallon batches, newbie brewer or old brewing pro — my hope is that there's something in this new book for everyone.

Malts Water Hops Yeast is currently due out summer-ish 2015 from my favorites over at Ten Speed Press. Apologies for the lack of posting while I'm away working on the book. Thanks, everyone!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Homebrew Recipe: Strawberry Kombucha

If I have one regret in writing True Brews, it's that I didn't discover the magical duo of ripe summer strawberries + kombucha until it was too late in the game to add it to the book. This combination is like kismet — it's just meant to be. It's fizzy and tart and sweet and juicy all at the same time. This is drink that (I'm convinced) will make kombucha drinkers out of the kombucha dubious.

Ever since strawberries started showing up again at our markets here in Northern California (the real ones), I've been making batches of strawberry kombucha nonstop. It's the perfect thing to do with those few over-ripe or slightly squished strawberries that inevitably come with every pint basket. Kombucha doesn't care if the strawberries aren't the prettiest in the bunch, and once you take a sip, you won't either.

Kombucha and ginger are old bffs, so I throw some into the jar when I have it. The ginger adds a warm, spicy note that, if possible, makes the strawberries shine even more. Try it both ways and see which you like better.

Also, I don't know how the weather is where you are, but my scobys are loving the warm weather — which at least makes one of us. I can see streams of bubbles filtering up through the layers of scoby and the sweet/tart/fruity flavor is spot on. My bottled kombucha is also fizzy to the max. Love.

Strawberry Kombucha
Makes 1 gallon

3 1/2 quarts water
1 cup white granulated sugar
4 bags black tea (or 1 tablespoons loose tea)
4 bags green tea (or 1 tablespoon loose tea)
2 cups starter tea from last batch of kombucha
1 scoby
1 pint strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced ginger (optional)

Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Drop in the tea and allow it to steep until the water has cooled.

Remove the tea bags or strain out the loose tea. Stir in the starter tea. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon glass jar and gently place the scoby on top. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band.

Keep the jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and where it won’t get jostled. Ferment for 7 to 10 days. Check the kombucha and the scoby periodically.

After seven days, begin tasting the kombucha. When it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle.

With clean hands, gently lift the scoby out of the kombucha and set it on a clean plate. Measure out your starter tea from this batch of kombucha and set it aside for your next.

Combine the fermented kombucha, diced strawberries, and ginger (if using) in a clean 1-gallon jar (or divide among smaller jars). Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheese cloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band. Keep the jar at room temperature out of direct sunlight for two days. Strain the strawberries and ginger from the kombucha and bottle. Leave about a half inch of head room in the bottles.

Store the bottled kombucha at room-temperature out of direct sunlight and allow 1 to 3 days for the kombucha to carbonate. Refrigerate to stop carbonation and then consume within a month.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

True Brews: Your Questions, Answered!

Hello! Welcome to this handy FAQ page regarding the new (and fabulous!) homebrewing book, True Brews. Wondering what this book is all about? Curious if it's the right book to adorn your shelf and/or coffee table? Live in Nowheresville and want to know where to find brewing supplies? You've come to the right place.

Is this book just about beer brewing?

Nope! We have eight whole chapters with eight entirely different fermented beverages going on in here: soda pop, kombucha, kefir (both milk and water kefir), hard cider, beer, mead, sake, and fruit wine. Each chapter starts with a master recipe that will walk you through the particular quirks and techniques for that particular beverage, and is followed by a whole bunch of recipes you can make at home.

My apartment is tiny. Can I still make these brews?

Definitely. All of the recipes in this book are scaled to 1-gallon batches or smaller. This means smaller equipment (and less of it) and less space needed to store all your goods.

Wait, 1-gallon batches? Why so small?

Aside from taking up less space,  I think 1-gallon batches are ideal for beginners just learning how to brew things like beer and mead. It's easier to keep track of all the various steps and avoid mistakes when you're working with a gallon or smaller. Plus, smaller batches means you'll drink through them more quickly, which means you get to brew another batch of something else! Also if something does go wrong, it's a lot less painful to pour 1 gallon down the drain than 5 gallons or more. Trust me on that one.

Once you master the 1-gallon batch, it's an easy step up to larger batches. The process is basically the same (using bigger pots and bigger carboys) and all the recipes can be scaled up.

How many bottles can you get out of a gallon?

About 10 bottles.

I've already been brewing beer [or mead, wine, etc.]. Will this book still have something for me?

I hope so! Part of the reason I wrote True Brews was because I wanted to try brewing all these different kinds of beverages — beer was my gateway into homebrewing, and it just made me all the more curious about brewing soda pop...and then mead...and eventually all the rest of them. I think that if you're already knee-deep into brewing one kind of homebrew, chances are good that there's another project in this book that's going to spark your interest.

If I'm brewing all these things, will I need to buy a lot of equipment?

Nah! All the recipes use the same basic brew kit, so you won't find yourself constantly buying new tools just for one project. A lot of the equipment will be things you probably already have in your kitchen, like soup pots and canning jars. The few truly brewing-specific tools, like carboys and racking canes, can easily be found at your local homebrew shop (and since this is the Age of the Hipster, I am willing to bet that you have a local homebrew shop somewhere closeby).

Not me! I live in Nowheresville and there's not a single homebrew shop to be found. Where can I pick up all the special equipment and ingredients I need to make these awesome brews?

The internet is your friend! Here are my favorite sources for homebrewing equipment and supplies:

MoreBeer - soda, beer, cider, mead, wine
Northern Brewer - soda, beer, cider, mead, sake, wine
Cultures for Health - kombucha and kefir

Hopefully this little FAQ takes care of your most burning questions! Wondering about something that I don't mention here? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Paige Green (c) 2013 for True Brews

Monday, May 13, 2013

Upcoming True Brews Events!

MAY 2013:

5/21 - Omnivore Books, 6-7pm, 3885a Cesar Chavez Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

JUNE 2013:

6/8 - Homebrewing 101 Lecture at the Brisbane Public Library, 2-4pm, 250 Visitacion Ave, Brisbane, CA 94005

6/17 - Homebrewing 101 Lecture at the Foster City Library, 7-9pm, 1000 E Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404

AUGUST 2013:

8/18 - Farm to Fermentation Festival, Santa Rosa, CA

This page will be updated as new events are added.

(Image: Paige Green (c) 2013)