Making hard crab apple cider: racking day – what happened? (updated: I found out!)

This morning, after doing my morning rounds, I gave the sun room door frame a second coat of paint. Tomorrow, we hang the door back up.

I had an audience. 😀

Also, while I was painting, I found that Nostrildamus has figured out to jump over the threshold after it’s been painted! 😀


Today was finally racking day for our first attempt at making hard apple cider, using our own crab apples. For new visitors, you can read up about that here and here. (links will open in new tabs)

Here is how the gallon carboys looked before I started. As expected, there was a LOT of sediment at the bottom. It’s not just the lees from the yeast, but the sediment from the raw, unfiltered juice.

We had some concerns with the fermentation. Activity in the airlock stopped a while ago. I think the room temperature became a problem. While they were actively bubbling, their temperatures tended towards 18C/64F, though we did also keep them wrapped in a towel and, every now and then, I’d heat up a rice-filled warming pad in the microwave and stick it between them to help keep them warm. We had used an electric heating pad, when making mead, but where these were sitting, there is nowhere to plug it in.

Racking from a 4L to a 3L carboy meant a lot of sediment heavy liquid left behind. Though I tried to hold the racking cane well above the sediment as long as I could, I could still see wisps of it being pulled up the siphon.

As I racked each jug, I made sure to get a hydrometer reading.

I just don’t know what to make of it.

For one of them, the hydrometer pretty much sank to the bottom. I had to add cider almost to the top for it to float enough to get a reading. The other was only slightly better. When they were first tested, it floated quite handily.

Unfortunately, I just can’t get it straight on how to read the specific gravity on that thing. So I write down all three readings.

The readings still don’t make any sense to me. Why would the numbers all drop so much? From what I can figure out, this is basically telling me there’s no alcohol in one, and almost no alcohol in the other.

I did taste test it, of course, and they both have a VERY sour apple taste. It also does taste alcoholic, but that is almost overwhelmed by the sour apple taste. Which is interesting, since the apples we used are actually quite sweet, and there was quite a bit of sugar added to the juice, too.

As for the hydrometer reading this time around, the only thing I can think of that might be affecting it (besides something going weird with the cider itself) is the temperature. Both carboys had a temperature reading of 16C/60F. The ambient temperature in the room is 15C/59C. From what I’ve been reading, newer hydrometers are calibrated for about 20C/68F. I’ve found a site that will calculate the adjustment for temperature, but there is virtually no change in the reading. So what gives?

I have no idea.

Considering that the traditional way of making hard apple cider is to press whole apples into a barrel, set it aside for a few months and BOOM, you’ve got booze, I didn’t expect this to be so complicated.

Anyhow. The 3L carboys are now set up with their airlocks for a second fermentation. As for the liquid left behind with the lees, I ended up straining much of it, and we now have about half a liter of filtered baby hard apple cider.

Hmmm… I wonder how it will go with the ham I will be roasting today?

The Re-Farmer

Update: When I started the hard apple cider, I did it based on this video from CS Mead and More.

There is a reason I included them among my Recommended sites!

I went ahead and contacted them about my readings, and got a very prompt response, and I am very happy!

It turns out, everything is working fine. My problem is with reading the hydrometer, then figuring out what it’s telling me! 😀

And now I know what to do with the information I’m getting off the hydrometer. I may not be using the AVB or Brix to work it out, but I’m writing them down anyway, because I can see those readings better. I can then use the printed out chart that came with the hydrometer to see where that lines up with the Specific Gravity and actually read that number on paper, instead of trying to see it in the liquid. When I take pictures and upload them to my desktop, I can usually zoom in and read it, but sometimes I find the hydrometer moved as I was taking the picture and I still can’t read it. :-/

The formula I was given to calculate the alcohol percentage is to subtract the new reading from the first reading, then multiply the answer by 135. So for one of my ciders it’s:

1.100 – 1.020 = 0.08
0.08 x 135 = 10.8% ABV

For the other one it’s:

1.090 – 1.009 = 0.081
0.081 x 135 = 10.9% ABV

We definitely have booze. 🙂

Mead Baby 2.0: third ferment

Time for an update on our mead making!

The last time I posted about it, we had added a few raisins to the mead to boost fermentation.

Yesterday, my daughter was a sweetheart and racked it to another 1 gallon carboy.

It is now back in its little corner, all swaddled like a baby.

The mead was very clear before it got racked, but between the raisins floating on top and the sediment on the bottom, a fair bit was lost in the process. The jug wasn’t full anymore, already, and now it’s about 2/3rds full.

We’re still going to keep it in the 16C – 20C range, though I’ve read that cooler temperatures are just find by this point. We really could have bottled it, but we will leave it to ferment with an air lock for a while longer.

Now that it’s separated from the sediment, it should not develop any off tastes. At least according to what I’ve been reading. Any fermentation that continues at this point will be very slow.

I figure a couple more weeks, maybe a month, we’ll bottle it and do another test with the hydrometer to check the alcohol level. Given how much was lost to racking away from the sediment, I’m hoping we get 2 full bottles, plus a some left over to test and taste. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Mead Baby 2.0: boosting fermentation

For those who have recently started to follow this blog (welcome!), here are the previous posts about our second attempt to make mead. All links should open in new tabs, so you won’t lose track of this page. 🙂

Mead Baby, redux (includes links to our first attempt)
Mead Baby 2.0:
active fermentation
it’s a temperature thing
temperature success
overnight temperature status
second fermentation

Since then, we have been monitoring the Baby closely. While there has been virtually no visible activity in the air lock, when we looked at the liquid itself, we could see that it was clearing up, and there was a steady stream of tiny bubbles of carbonation moving upward. If the temperature dropped to 16C, we would turn on the warming pad, which would typically bring it up to about 18-19C.

Recently, its temperature would drop to 16C a lot faster, and we could no longer see the carbonation. It was looking a lot clearer, and we could see a fair bit of sedimentation at the bottom.

However, it was less than 2 weeks since we started the second fermentation. While I’ve read a mead can be ready in that time, most videos and websites I’ve been looking at showed active fermentation for about a month, and gave advice on how to reactivate fermentation if it stopped to early.

Since that was the problem we had with our first attempt, we debated. Is it done and time to bottle it? Should we rack it into another bottle to get it away from the sediment and leave it longer? Do we add something to boost the fermentation?

I’ve read various ways to boost fermentation in mead, including those that recommend adding a chemical that is used in wine making.

Or we could just add some raisins.

So that’s what we decided to do.

With a 1 gallon carboy – and it’s not full – not a lot of raisins would be needed.

We added three.

Here are photos, taken a day apart, showing before and after we added the raisins.

As you can see in the photo on the left, the mead had gotten quite clear, and there’s a pretty thick layer of sediment on the bottom. It’s hard to tell with the reflections, but in the second photo, you can actually see a couple of the raisins floating at the top. The mead is cloudier, but when we shine a light into it, we can once again see that steady stream of bubbles going up to the top.

We’ve been checking its temperature regularly and, aside from an initial warm up after adding the raisins, it’s been keeping its own temperature at 19C.

Right now, the plan is to leave it until we can no longer see those bubbles, rack it into another carboy to get it way from the sediment, then leave it for a while longer before bottling it.

A lot of the information about mead making I’m finding is conflicting, but one thing that all our sources agree on is, the longer the mead sits after bottling, the better it tastes. Most recommend at least a year.

I doubt we’ll wait that long, but with bottles at 750ml, even with having less than a gallon in the carboy (and I expect we’ll lose more after racking it again), we should still be able to get 3 – 4 full bottles out of it, so we can have one right away, then try the others at different ages.

So if we want to start a malomel (mead made with fruit) as we planned, we should pick up another air lock and two, so we can have multiple batches going at once.

You know, for someone who doesn’t actually like alcohol all that much, I find the process of making it quite enjoyable!


The Re-Farmer

Making mead, part 2; give it a stir

Using a set of instructions we found, the must is to be stirred basically once every 12 hours, for the first 48 hours.

This is what the must looked like after the first 12 or so, and before I started stirring.

I have no idea if this is what it’s supposed to look like at this point. Of the various instructions and recipes I found that included pictures, I never saw one that included pictures at this stage.

I expected more of a yeasty smell, but there is barely any smell at all at this point.

After about a minute of stirring (the instructions said stir for 2 minutes, but I didn’t want to have the bucket open for that long), I popped the lid back on top. Then I made sure to write on a sticky note that the first stir is complete and left that on the lid, so no one else would accidentally pop it open and stir it again.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this works!

The Re-Farmer

How Sweet it is! Making Mead, part 1

Today, we started up a batch of mead, using the wine kit we recently acquired.

Here are the contents of the kit, plus a 5 kilo bucket of my cousin’s liquid gold!

Looking up how to make mead had us all over the place. At its simplest, you can mix honey, water and yeast into a sanitized glass jug. Stick a balloon over the opening to allow the gasses to expand, tuck it in a cool dark place and forget about it for a few weeks.

Other sources had elaborate recipes with multiple steps and finicky measurements every step of the way.

We’re going to be doing something in between.

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