I talked to someone yesterday who’s been brewing Kombucha. I’d
heard of it but never tasted any, so I picked up a bottle at the
grocery store last night.

I just had some, and enjoyed it. It’s a pleasantly sour
taste. The bottle I bought is a bit sweeter than I would aim for
if I were brewing my own.

So I might just try brewing some. Brewing beer is really a bit
strenuous and space intensive for my current way of life, but I do
like having living things to watch in my kitchen.

Mulled Cider

This is simple enough to be more of a procedure than a recipe,
but since I’ve seen people spend a lot more time and money for
less good results, I’m going to tell you about it anyway.

I do this pretty much any time in the winter that I’m having
people over. You have to be able to buy cider without
preservatives. For this purpose, pasteurization doesn’t matter,
but I’m sure the preservatives make a difference in the flavor,
and they aren’t at all necessary.

I always use the crock pot, because having the drinks out of my
(small) kitchen is a good idea if I’m also doing any kind of
cooking. But if you have the right traffic path, you can
certainly use a large pot on the stove.

Then you need something like a tea ball or a small cloth bag or
just a handkerchief or other cloth. Put all the whole
spices in your cabinet into the center of the handkerchief or
other receptacle and close it. (In the case of the
handkerchief, you tie the opposite corners together.)

I think you should buy cinnamon sticks for this purpose if you
don’t have them. Otherwise, use whatever you have. Some possibilities:

  • The little
    slivers of nutmeg that you can’t grate any more on the grater
    without grating your fingers, too.
  • Cloves
  • Whole allspice
  • Cardamom. (Take the seeds out of the pod, if you have the
  • Star Anise

Put the cider and the spice ball or bag into your chosen pot.
Bring to a boil and turn down to a very low simmer. If you do
this before the guests arrive, you can offer them hot cider when
they get there. They will appreciate this if it’s a cold day.
Otherwise, have it with dessert.

There are people who will sell you official cider mulling
spices, and if you don’t have any of the above items in your
cupboard and can’t think of anything you want to do with them
except make mulled cider, that makes sense. But if you put
cloves in ham or star anise in pork or fresh ground nutmeg in
anything, you don’t need the mulling spices too.

For some reason most of the recipes add sweetener, but I’ve
never seen any necessity for it. Maybe they used to make cider
with less sweet apples, and the recipe writer haven’t noticed
that plain cider is plenty sweet enough now.

If you’re thinking about one-ingredient hard cider, this is the
wrong way to go about it. After the boil and simmer, the cider
doesn’t ferment anything like as fast as the stuff straight from
the store does.

Group brewing

Yesterday’s was another time-delay post; I was in West Roxbury
brewing a imperial oatmeal stout.

My homebrew club has
discovered the joys of using a 60 gallon liquor barrel as a
fermentation vessel, but of course, homebrewers don’t have the
equipment to brew 60 gallons at a time. But the club
has several dozen people with the equipment to brew 5 gallons at
a time. So the organizing problem is how to get at least a dozen
people to brew their 5 gallons to the same recipe at the same

It isn’t anything that would have occurred to me, since I do
all my brewing on my kitchen stove. But the answer they came up
with last year and refined this year was to get people to bring
their equipment to somebody’s back yard and all brew together.
The way this works is that people with better access to their
back yards than I have have usually concluded that it’s faster
and less messy to do the boil on a propane stove in the back
yard. So in theory, everybody brings their stove, their
brewpot, and their mash-tun to the group brewing site. I said
that I could only bring the pot and the mash-tun (in my case a
10-gallon Gott cooler with a plastic false bottom), and they
assured me there would be an extra propane burner for me to

It was actually a brilliant piece of organizing. There were
about a dozen people brewing, and two or three other people
dropped by to be assistants or just hang out. Some people were
able to brew more than 5 gallons, so we ended up with a couple
of fermenters going besides the barrel, which will be used to
top up the barrel, and to provide a control to see what flavors
are being contributed by the wooden barrel.

They had the grain all crushed and measured, so when you were
ready to mash, you just took a bag and added it to the heated
water. The hops were similarly measured out in little bags for
the 60 minute, 10 minute and 1 minute additions.

One of the assistants manned the grill, so there were sausages
and sweet potatoes for lunch, and donuts, cookies, chile, and apples for breakfast and
snacks. Brewing is mostly waiting around between bursts of
activity, so it was nice to have people to talk to in between
the activity. And of course, you get to see everyone else’s
equipment in action. And we had ideal weather — 50’s and sunny.

My major reason for going was that I haven’t brewed since the
hip arthritis flared up, and I thought it would be good to get
back into it with lots of strong young men around to help with the
heavy lifting. I think they weren’t really any more necessary
than they would have been 15 years ago when I was brewing twice
a month or so. But there was an incident that would have lost
more wort if there hadn’t been assistants easily to hand.

Plans for the month

I have the major pieces of what I’ve been meaning to do on the
websites done, although I’d still like to have better searching
for pieces on SerpentPublications.org
and better graphic design both places.

But the big thing that happens in the near future is a lot of
more “formal” entertaining than I do the rest of the year.
There’s the family Thanksgiving dinner, which happens at my place
and includes some friends who like having a family dinner but
their families are too far away. Then there’s the Christmas
party, which this year will probably be December 20, which is
usually the largest number of people in my apartment at one time.
And two months later, some time around February 25, is my birthday

Because I have the band over every week, and we sit around
eating and drinking and socializing after the rehearsal, my public
rooms stay superficially more combobulated than they would
otherwise, but it’s still a good thing to get some real
housecleaning done this time of year.

So that’s what I’m planning to spend some of my copious spare
time on this month. There’s a woman who claims to do
environmentally friendly carpet cleaning that I might call, and I
could try to hang the handmade quilts I inherited from Bonnie, and
recover the chairs with stains or rips in their covers, and maybe
do something about the sofa cushions.

This is not to mention the upstairs cleaning. If I got rid of
all the obsolete or non-working computer junk, there might be room
to unfold the futon in the computer room. And I’d feel more like
brewing if the room the brewing stuff is stored in had the stuff
decreased or arranged better so that I could get to the stuff more
than 4 feet from the door.

Of course, housecleaning of any kind would be less difficult to
contemplate if my lungs weren’t still in reactive mode after that
cold I had a month ago. So maybe it will be the website
improvements that happen after all.

Carboy pictures

I thought I should have taken pictures to illustrate the cyser
post a couple of days ago, so here they are.

[cyser carboy]

This is the cyser carboy, while I’m adding the extra honey.
This is two days after adding honey, and probably 5 days after
the cider was pressed.

[cider carboy]

This is the one-ingredient cider 5 days after pressing. The
bubbles are coming through the fermentation lock every 5 seconds or so.

Cyser making

I don’t seem to have blogged about making cyser since 2006, but
I do still do it every year.

Last year I experimented and made three beverages from the
cider I bought at the ciderfest
and fermented them all on the wild yeasts from the Carlson Orchards
apples. It was reasonably successful, although none of them is
really ready to drink yet. (A year is a pretty short time for a
cyser, and should be OK for a cider, but it really tastes like the
slightly sulfurous quality in the one-ingredient cider is that
kind that goes away with age.)

So this year I’m making 3 gallons of the one-ingredient cider
(simplest recipe in the world — put the cider in a carboy and put
on a fermentation lock and forget about it for a few months, then
bottle) and 5 gallons of the cyser (almost as simple except that
you add between two and three pounds of honey for each gallon of

I still had about 8 pounds of the 20 pounds of honey I bought last year
from an apiary in Lowell in a Wort
group buy. The hard part about making cyser if you
don’t buy the honey and the cider at the same time is that the
honey has crystalized, so you have to heat it gently to convince
it to turn back into a liquid so you can pour it intoyour

Last year I skipped that step, and used a brewing bucket
instead of a carboy, and missed watching the liquid clear as the
yeas flocculates out. So this year I swore I was going to do it
right, so I spent half an hour or so this morning watching honey crystals
reliquify, and pushing the ones that hadn’t through the funnel
with a skewer.

I also have 10 pounds of honey that I bought yesterday from Mike Graney, which
would have been easier to use but I thought I should use the older
stuff first. I’ll add some of Mike’s honey when the krausen
(a thick layer of bubbles from actively fermenting yeast, which
usually disappears after a day or two) has gone down, but right
now I’m closer to the top of the carboy than I like to be.