Alright, let's get started. This is going to be my version of Ginger Beer with Ginger Bug from Sandor Katz's Art of Fermentation. Step 1 was to make the starter, which can be found in a previous post. Step 2 is to grate the ginger:
...lots of Ginger. The original recommendation is for a 3" - 4" piece of ginger for each gallon of finished ginger beer, but I have got significantly more than that. I grated it up and put it in my big brewing pot with about 2 1/2 gallons of water and started heating it up.
My stove doesn't quite have the power to get a real boil going in this giant pot, but it gets hot. Next I added the palm sugar which is in little round pucks. I bought a 3.3 lb jar from the Asian grocery where I got the ginger. I don't think that's going to make it very strong from an alcohol perspective, but this is going to be more of a "tonic" beverage than a real beer. I hope you like ginger...
I gave it about 15 minutes of "almost boiling" after the sugar was fully dissolved, then cut the heat, added another gallon of cool water to start bringing the temperature down, and started draining it into a clean carboy. As expected, the hose flowed freely for a while, but eventually got clogged with ginger chunks. Ma femme had a great suggestion to use a strainer/slotted spoon over the intake, and after that, all the liquid drained out with no problem. We scooped it out into a big strainer:
and poured the rest of the water to make up 6 gallons through the pulp, including a couple rinses in the big pot to get all the sugar. I had originally intended to put all the ginger in there with it, but there's no good, quick way to get chunks of junk into a carboy... let alone get it out a month from now.
By the end of the night, it had cooled to body temperature (maybe a little higher) so the starter went in, and the air lock went on. Hopefully it starts bubbling away. Adventure!
I can set up conditions hospitable to the organisms that make vinegar!
On the left is my second(!) batch of Czech Pilsner malt vinegar. I may have mentioned that this beer tastes like wet newspapers. That grossness is totally gone in the vinegar. I made some salad dressing with the first batch and it was really good. It does not seem as strong as the store-bought 5% vinegar, but I don't know yet whether that's because it's really not as strong or if it's still got some sugars and alcohol in it because it's still young. Learning!
On the right is the Ginger Bug starter that will go into my Ginger Beer. It's starting to get actively bubbly, so I think it's time to get on with the brewing for that. But this post is about vinegar...
Here I'm starting a new batch of malt vinegar using some Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Porter that tastes like ashes from too much black malt. I started it with 1 bottle of beer, ~6 oz of "finished" malt vinegar with its mother, and 1/4 cup of table sugar. Degas the beer, stir in the sugar, pour in the vinegar, and plop in the mother. I put finished in quotes, since the fact that this batch regrew its own mother just a week after being strained from its old mother tells me that it's not completely finished; also, as I mentioned above, it's not as strong as some of the commercial vinegars I have.
The addition of a significant amount of finished vinegar helps acidify the mix right away and prevent the growth of mold until a new colony of bacteria can get established. I'm starting to get a cycle going, and pretty soon I want to have three or four kinds of vinegar going, one bottle finished in use, and one batch with the mother colony in process. Then when it's ready, I can split the active batch, strain some for use, and feed the rest with more beer/wine/cider/etc to keep things going. Vinegar also seems like a great thing to give away once things get going.
This week I found myself at Sugar Maple where they had Southern Tier's Pumking on Firkin. I am a big lover and proponent of cask-conditioned beer. It was so good. I have said before, if you told me 5 years ago that I would be drooling over flat, room temperature beer, I would have said you were crazy, but it's really the best.
I think it is more difficult to get right, and less tolerant of aging effects and mediocre beer. It's the kind of thing that's better when it's better and worse when it's not. It doesn't scale up well, since the casks have to settle in, and yet it requires a certain level of consumption, as the clock starts ticking once you tap it. It's the kind of dichotomy that I love, any faster or slower, any more or less technology, and it only gets worse.
I have been meaning to compile a list of bars in Milwaukee with an engine, perhaps that's a good idea for a separate page of links and ratings/reviews...
I was reading the Sour Tonic Beverage chapter in The Art of Fermentation on the plane to DC and one of the things that stuck out in my mind was something he called "Ginger Beer with Ginger Bug." The Ginger Beer is the resulting beverage, and the Ginger Bug is the starter, or probably more accurately the unique combination of yeast and bacteria that populate the surface of ginger roots; which you feed and propagate into the starter; which you feed and propagate into the Ginger Beer.
I went to an Asian grocery that I have driven past many times but never visited to acquire the ginger. While perusing the isles, I came upon palm sugar which I decided to get as the fermentable portion of this concoction. It has a roast-y caramel-y taste, which combined with the smooth but grainy texture reminds me of some of my past attempts to make caramel corn topping that crystallized. It is formed into little half-rounds that must be the shape of some cooling tray it was poured into during processing. Perhaps it no longer needs to be made that way, but hey, that's how palm sugar comes...
I also bought several pounds of ginger, and I have my fingers crossed, since Katz mentions his suspicions that much of the ginger that comes into the US is irradiated (therefore sterile) and that you need organic to make the starter (once it's going you can use anything for the bulk of it.) I grated a couple medium-sized nodules and crushed up half a chunk of palm sugar, covered it with water to make a slurry, cheeseclothed it, and into the cupboard it goes.
I also fell victim to the siren song of the roasted pork belly under heat lamps behind the counter at Rhino Foods. I asked for "one half pound" and walked out with one AND a half pounds. Luckily it is delicious, and the whole experience is worth it for a taste of the chili-onion-hot-pepper-fish-sauce it came with.
I've had my first real success with vinegar. Other people who talk and write about vinegar make it sound as easy as falling off a log, but it has eluded me. I got a nice robust new mother to grow on a jar of old beer and it fell the other day, so I tasted it and it's great.
It's ready to use, but of course it's full of mother and sludge, so pictured below is the following process of filtration and renewal: on the left is a coffee filter slowly separating the finished vinegar from all the mother and sundry other gunks. In the center is the remainder of the unfiltered vinegar waiting its turn to be strained, and on the right are two more bottles of beer poured into a gallon tub to degas and receive the solids in the coffee filter and turn into *more vinegar.*
I also added 1/4 cup of sugar to the 24 fl. oz. of beer to give the bacteria something to munch on besides ethanol and hope. Now the cheese cloth goes back on and the jar goes back on the shelf. I'm thinking that this batch should go a little faster since I'm putting more mother in (the initial chunk plus what grew this time) and the particular bacteria that did well on this particular diet of beer should be right at home. For now... we wait...
We've entered a new era. One in which I can make awesome Kimchi. I know it looks like garbage (please do not inquire about how it smells) but it is so good. The brine is good, the crunch is there but things are definitely "tenderized," the salt level is nice, the spice is just about right-on; it's the whole package, and I'm really proud of it.
The best part is that my second batch, which I transferred last night from the initial fermenting bucket with jug weight to glass jars, is even better! I think I don't really like the taste from the daikon in the first batch. I've never really liked radishes, and while whatever harsh flavor they had is definitely faded, there's still a radish-funk that I'm not totally into. Totally edible, though. Totally. Oh, and a shout out to Susan where I work who grew the napa cabbage (which she called bok choy) for the second batch. Teamwork. I need to get her some, but I'll probably put it in a pint jar... it's too good to give away too much.
As ma femme often points out, brewing is not my hobby. Bottle washing is my hobby. Taken in manageable chunks it not really ever difficult or tiring, it just consumes a lot of time and it seems like I am always doing it. At least I get to drink beer while I'm at it. I am getting close to being caught up with empties in my basement... then I remember the ones in my trunk. I should bring those in.
In fermenting news, I have transferred the Belgian and started another Pinot Noir:
The Tripel was very cloudy after 2 weeks in primary; it also still tasted pretty sweet. I'm not in the habit of measuring gravity, but that certainly would have told the tale. Perhaps a beer this big at temps this low should have had more time. It just seemed ready to go based on airlock activity. After just 24 hours in secondary, it is dramatically clearer, there's already an inch of trub on the bottom of the carboy, and there's an inch of really clear beer at the top. Previous iterations of this beer have been hazy at bottling, but poured very clear from bottles (initially) with lots of loose sediment.
My previous batch of Pinot Noir is apparently a big hit at get-togethers this holiday season, and while I still have plenty of it, good results with wine take 6+ months, so I started another today. Wine is so much easier than beer, it almost seems like cheating. I do like all the mixing steps at the beginning, it makes it seem like you are really doing something, and I like all the little packets that come with the kit. I always just toss the preservatives and clarifying agents, so I could do without those, but all the kits I've had seem to come with bentonite clay and oak chips or powder. I'm not exactly sure what the clay does, and I think I read somewhere that adding oak in primary helps take out "vegetative" tastes in the juice. It's worth some more exploration. For this kit, I put in the Lalvin EC-1118 yeast that came with it, and also supplemented that with two packs of Red Star Montrachet.