Monday, November 28, 2016

The Fly In The Ointment

Mrs V and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday as we have every year since moving to the US in 2009, at her parents' place in South Carolina. The only beer I took with me was the homebrew I make each year specially for Mrs V's uncle, my plan was to just go to a supermarket for a load of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and then maybe squeeze in a trip to one of the Green's Warehouse Discount Beverages to pick up some stuff that I can't get locally.

After six and a half hours on the road, including sitting in traffic around Kannapolis in North Carolina (traffic is always bad there it seems), the last thing I really felt like doing, having stretched my legs a bit, was to jump back in my car and go to a beer shop. Then Mrs V's mother mentioned that there was a new bottle shop just round the corner from their house, so naturally I was happy to check it out rather than going to a Bi-Lo or Piggly Wiggly hunting for nuggets in the morass of BMC.

Said bottle shop is called, conveniently enough, Bottles Beverage Superstore and they run the full gamut from soft drinks to spirits, they even stock ingredients and equipment for homebrewers. Oh and their selection of beer was excellent. Lots of local South Carolina beers, including the River Rat Broad River Red Ale which I have enjoyed muchly on my last couple of trips to SC, and the staff actually seemed to know their stuff which makes a pleasant change.

Naturally they had endless banks of IPAs from across the US, and they have a really good choice of Central European beers, though I tend to think stocking lager on a shelf at room temperature is a major no-no. I even managed to pick up a couple of beers from the Black Isle Brewery back home in Scotland. Oh and the prices were pretty damned good, $7.99 for six packs of Sierra Nevada beers??? If the in-laws come visit for Christmas I'll be putting in a bulk order for Kellerweis, which is rarer than hens' teeth in this part of Virginia.

I have a feeling that Bottles is going to be a regular stop whenever we are in Columbia, perhaps because of their 30-odd tap growler filling station, however I do have one gripe, and it is a gripe I have made about bottle shops before, selling out of date beer. Checking the dates on bottles has become something I do with British beers, especially Fullers as there are still loads of the old bottle style floating around, and the 4 packs of London Porter being sold at $11.99 (I think) were a couple of months past their best before date. The one that got my goat though was a bottle of Krušovice Imperial I picked up on a nostalgia kick that when I inspected it having got home (yes, yes, I know, caveat emptor and all that jazz) had this on the label


Born on the 24th July 2015, more than 16 months before I decided to drink it on Saturday afternoon. Keep in mind that this is a beer that would have been fermented at cool temperatures and then lagered at near freezing, before being sent out in distribution, where goodness knows what perils it has gone through, to sit on a shelf at room temperature for goodness knows how long.

It has got to the point now where I am going to check every single bottle and six pack of beer that I buy, especially beer not brewed in the US (and even then if it's not from the east coast I'll check that too), so I am not paying full price for a sub-par product. Also as a side note, perhaps it is time for bottle shops, large and small, to seriously consider their stocking strategy. Sure, shelf after shelf of the weird and wonderful looks fantastic to the casual shopper picking up their 18 pack of Budweiser or 12 pack of IPA depending on their particular brand of beery conservatism, but leaving slower shifting stock to sit around until Ragnarök is frustrating to say the least.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Scrumpy!

A while back, when Mrs V and I were training to walk the West Highland Way, at least one day a weekend you would find us out in the mountains with our good friends Dave and Ali traipsing along trails. One of those weekends, and actually an Ali-less hike, we started out from Milam Gap in the Shenandoah National Park headed for the Lewis Falls. Perhaps the most unexpected thing we came across during the hike were feral apple trees.

Before this area was a national park, the Milam apple was a local staple cash crop, and there are some fascinating pictures of apple, and 'sider', sellers at the trail head. As we hiked back to the car we agreed to return in the autumn and glean as many apples as possible with a view to making our own cider. Thus a few weeks ago we returned with a couple of bags to fill with feral apples, mostly fairly small and tart, but a few bigger, blander ones as well - I also picked some thistle heads for making cheese with at some point.

There was however a problem, we didn't have a press with which to get at whatever juice was in the apples. Eventually though Dave decided to invest in a hydraulic press and we got together to see what we could get. First things first though, I must admit that this was a small scale project, just a half bushel or so of apples, and they really didn't look promising, as you can see.


Given the small scale of the project we decided not to worry too much about how we were going to grind the fruit, preferring to pound the apples to a pulp using a 2x4 and an aluminium brew pot.


The important part of this run was to test the press, and as you can see from the following pictures, it was a resounding success.




Once we were done, we had about a gallon and a half of fresh pressed apple juice ready to just sit around and let whatever wild yeast was on the apples do it's thing, and with it plans to increase production on the next run!


Said next run came a week later. Dave had been out walking his dogs around the Crozet area and noticed orchards with lots of dropped apples on the floor. Having inquired as to the ownership of said orchard he learnt that it was possible to glean fallen apples for a pittance, and thus we set a date and time to meet up and gather what we could between the three of us. Again Ali wasn't able to join us, but studying for her PhD defense was an acceptable reason.


Over the course of a couple of hours the three of us managed to glean about 4 bushels of fallen apples, gathered into burlap coffee sacks that weighed down Dave's car to a rather worrying extent.


We headed back to Dave's place to test out his even newer bit of kit, for he had built a grinder!


Having a grinder made short work of turning the shit ton of apples we had gathered into a respectable pulp for putting into cheeses in the press, and after a few hours of grinding, pressing, drinking Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest and my home brew best bitter, we ended up with 17 gallons of juice, all of which is fermenting away to make that most wonderful of glorious booze products, cider. Even though I am first and foremost a beer drinker, I do have a soft spot for cider, especially in summer, with a Ploughman's lunch....ahhhhh the idyll.


We paid $20 for the apples, which works out to $1.18 per gallon of juice, given 8 US pints in a US gallon, we will be drinking cider sometime next year for just $0.15 per pint. Not a bad return on investment for a couple of hours labour in an orchard, and then several hours drinking and pressing juice. Almost makes you wonder what the mark up is on commercial cider?