Quiet season

Cider activity has slowed down since Thanksgiving, with five carboys settling in secondary fermentation (more at Holly’s) and cold weather setting in. We got our first real snow, about 8″ last weekend, and it’s been cold enough to keep it around; there’s still a bunch in the neighbor’s apple trees and bushes across the street. We’re starting to burn through the wood pile as well; too soon to say how long the two cords will last, but so far we’ve used less than a quarter tank of heating oil and maybe a third of a cord of wood. The programmable thermostat lets it get down near 50 at night, but it rarely gets that cold if the wood stove is loaded with a full charge and dampered down at bedtime. Then the furnace kicks in to warm things up before we wake. With plenty of hot tea and a 30 watt electric pad on my chair, I can tolerate sitting at the computer all day with the office at around 56 degrees. It is possible to live in a brick house with uninsulated walls, but not recommended. At least there’s thermal mass – I’ve kept a quart lexan bottle of water out in the garage (also brick) and it hasn’t frozen at night despite nighttime temps around 10F, presumably because of thermal mass and leakage through the common wall with the house.

Yesterday I hauled four of the carboys from the office closet (temps mid fifties) out into the garage, where temps in the thirties should further tamp down residual fermentation and help clear the cider. The fifth is the single-variety roxbury russet, which continues cloudy and is just now showing first signs of clearing. There aren’t so many weekends left till Christmas; gotta get the bottling and labeling done soon.

I also cleaned up another skanky used Cornelius keg (courtesy of Holly, who bought a bunch online a few years back), to receive the cider from the secondary carboys. These are the tall, cylindrical stainless steel soda kegs that used to be the standard for delivering soft drinks in restaurants. They are naturally useful for other types of carbonation as well. There is an elliptical port in the top that’s big enough to admit a (skinny) arm for scrubbing out the inside, and a gasketed plug that seals up the hole. There are also two quick-connect ports on either side of the top, one to admit gas, and the other with a dip tube that draws liquid from the bottom. We typically reverse the ports to send the gas in at the bottom for carbonation, and shake the kegs vigorously for a few minutes while connected to a CO2 tank to speed the carbonation, which can otherwise take days to go to completion. It would be nice to have a way to meter the amount of CO2 going in; maybe a project for next year.

Finally, I soaked the labels off of a bunch of cappable empties that I’d been keeping, cleaned them up, and got them ready for filling. Every time I do this I remind myself what a pain in the butt it is, and how cheap bottles are at the brew store, but I can’ t bear to see good bottles smash into the heap at the bottom of the town recycling station, especially if they are larger than the usual 12 oz.

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