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Homebrewing & Bottling: A Message to Micro/Craft Brewers & Wineries

While writing my last cider entry I inadvertently exposed a pet peeve of mine regarding the bottling practices of a few micro-breweries and wineries. After a little thought I was thinking I'd like to go into the topic a bit more.

Besides my momentary tastes and the quality of the product there is another huge factor that drives the purchase of my specialty fermented beverages. Being home brewer I'm always on the look out for bottles (much to my girlfriend's dismay) that I can use for my brewing projects.

Buy bottles new at any given home brew store it will cost you 50¢ a piece for 12oz and $1.00 each for 22oz... maybe a bit more some places. Since they purchase in bulk it doesn't cost the commercial brewer 50¢/$1.00 per bottle however if the contents are good and if those bottles are able to be reused they have an extra "added value" to me. I suspect a good number of loyal craft beer customers like myself are home brewers too, so breweries... Listen up if you care.

There are certain bottles and styles I prefer however and I'd like to review those first.

Rogue Stoneware BottlesFlip Top Bottles (EZ caps).
Man I think flip top bottles are always nice to use when home brewing. Most or pretty big which is nice, they are fairly easy to use when bottling (no capping) and I feel really they just add a classier touch to some company's packaging and identity. Without a doubt I always end up gifting my flip top bottles out first, or saving them for the best occasions.

Besides a few examples like Redstone Meadery's cool cobalt blue flip tops and Rogue Brewery's kick ass stoneware flip tops they use on some of the premium beers, it is hard to find something delicious in a flip top. It is even harder to find something drinkable and affordable. They are expensive to purchase and bottle in regardless of who you are, and it should be understood that cost is passed along to the customers.

Big Bottles
Old Quart Size Beer Bottles22's and their larger cousins seem to make bottling time a whole lot easier and faster. They hold more volume which means less bottles to clean, less bottles to sanitize and less bottles to cap. And let's the face facts if I'm sitting down to a cold bottle of home brew, 22+ oz bottles are a better size. My all time absolute favorite bottling bottle ever was the now extinct (I think) 1 liter beer bottle. Now those kicked ass. They were huge. And better than that I liked the dimensions of these bottles, they remind me of the Olympia or Lucky Lager"Stubbies" in a way. I don't recall what happened to the rest of my stash but they are gone and out of my life forever I am afraid.

Orval BottleUnique or Custom Shaped Bottles.
Provided they don't have branding cast into them I like funky and different bottles. Some don't ever leave my collection or are reserved for "special gifts". Some of my favorites are Anchor Steam's 12oz (pre-twist cap) and 22oz bottles, Sam Smith 20.4 bottles (I excuse the branding in this case) and I really dig the shape and heavy dark glass of the Orval Belgian Trappist beer bottles. So cool.

Domestic Sparkling Wine (Champagne) Bottles.
What is a domestic champagne bottle and what is the difference? Well European are often the standard and their larger bottle opening does not accept the standard beer style bottle caps. For reason I don't know or question there are cap-able wine bottles that now accept standard bottle caps. My favorite Washington cider Wescott Bay Orchards recenlty converted from 22's to a cap-able flat bottom, green glass wine bottle now and I bought a ton of their cider this year when I was trying to stock up on larger cap-able wine style bottles.

Production Bottling Mistakes 101 for Craft Brewers.
For the craft brewer that is interested in the little details and is interested in going the extra mile to please their customers there are a few rules you should consider when designing your bottle packaging.

#1) Twist Tops and Caps are the Number 1 No-No.
So what is the deal? The bottles can't be any more or less than standard cap-able bottles. Is the bottling equipment cheaper? Think about this they saving you any money if they are costing you sales? A little detail like a twist cap could be a deal breaker when it comes time to buy. So often I've passed a great tasting beer with a twist for another choice because I had a bottling coming up. Remember this brewers, there are plenty of awesome beers/ciders that use cap-able bottles.

#2) Heavy Duty Industrial Label Adhesives & Painted Bottles.
Few things are worse than a stubborn label with heavy duty glues that won't come off a bottle easily. I understand the need for labels that don't fall off the bottles happen to get wet or "break a sweat". However adhesives of that caliber can't be cheap to buy nor can they be good for the environment I imagine. I only need try to dislodge a stubborn label once or twice before pass that brand up. A quick session in the dishwasher should be more than adequate for label removal.

Painted bottle are impossible and a huge no-no. I don't buy them normally, or if I do they get kicked to the curb and recycled. There are a few exceptions to this rule too. The aforementioned Rogue Stoneware and occasionally the larger 22oz or whatever Red Stripe bottles. The exception to the exception... I don't give them away.

Damn guys! Use some common sense when choosing your bottles and labeling supplies. You were home brewers once yourselves and maybe not so long ago. Did you forget what it was like trying to obtain usable bottles? You must remember spending endless hours scrubbing labels off bottles? Do you care? Show us. Use "home brewer friendly" bottles and labels.

Now playing: Stringbean - Threre'll Be Moonshining in Them Old Kentucky Hills
via FoxyTunes

Dry Creek Hard Cider ~ Blue Mountain Cider Company from the Walla Walla Valley, Oregon

Blue Mountain Cider Company - Oregon CiderIn a way I feel the Blue Mountain Cider Company from Eastern Oregon is a cider maker cut from a similar clothe as myself. They aren't afraid to experi-ferment with additional adjuncts such as complimentary fruits and such. I've had Blue Mountain's refreshingly tart Cherry Cider and I loved every last drop of it. I am also looking forward to drinking some of their Cranberry Apple Cider which as their website states is just around the bend. In fact I'm a little jealous as I had also conceived the idea for fermenting this classic Cran-Apple combo. Oh well I'm sure its been done before anyway.

On the other hand the makers at Blue Mountain seems to favor a sweeter cider than I have become accustomed to and now prefer. I think most folks that occasionally have a "hard" cider start drinking sweet ciders because that is what is produced in the US and it unfortunately is what America has come to expect out of ciders. Real traditional dry ciders made with vintage cider apples can be a shock to the palate to a newcomer. Throughout my years of cider consumption not only have I come to enjoy a very dry cider, I've come to crave a very dry cider. I readily admit that is difficult for me to step back.

That being said Blue Mountain's Dry Creek was a very enjoyable cider but a tad too sweet for my taste. From the information provided on their website Dry Creek in the dryest cider in Blue Mountain's product line and it is made from a "5 Apple Blend" that they seem to use on all their varieties. Flashing back on the cherry cider I drank last year it too was pretty sweet I suppose, but the cherries contributed a certain complexity, tartness and acidity that I have come to associate and experience only with the dry ciders. When I say that this cider was "too sweet" it may not have been the residual sugars that I didn't care for it may have just been the lack of acidity and tartness to help balance the flavors.

Being a home brewer I'm always disappointed to see a twist top cap which Blue Mountain uses. I know it is acceptable these days for quality products to use them but I always feel better getting a bottle with a cap or cork. Besides having more value for personal bottling I believe it has a higher "perceived" value as well. As a graphic designer by day I can't help but pay attention to perceived value and package design .

Overall I really did enjoy this cider, it was refreshing and very natural tasting. I'd buy it again given the chance however it might just stay in the wine rack until the mood struck me for a sweeter cider. I would encourage anyone to give any of Blue Mountain's cider creations a try. If nothing else they make a great "gateway" drink to help lead cider converts down the path towards the more traditional styles North America has to offer.

Cider Apple & Cider Blog Pickin Season.

As someone who was once desperately trying to find good cider information the internet seems awash with blogs and content this year.

Just got dropped this pretty cool blog link about easy cider making from my girlfriend Heather... Thanks babe!

She also sent this link yesterday about the country's first all cider pub. Cider Pub, America's first and maybe only

It is called Ace-in-the-Hole Pub from Ace Cider in California. Now I've had Ace Cider before a few times and while it is not my favorite, it is not last on the list by any means. The Cider Pub on the other hand is a very bold and interesting concept. I don't hate the concept and I most definitely in to the whole spotlight on Cider thing, on the other hand I would hate to alienate my beer drinkin' brethren by making them go elsewhere. I'll be interested to see how it all works out for Ace.

I'm headed to Portland today for work. We (Espresso Parts) are headed down this afternoon to do 5 espresso machine PID installs in three places. Two Fresh Pots, and possibly a stop at Stumptown for the last three. Portland is my favorite place town to get coffee in but you can bet I won't be missing my chance to pick up some of my favorite Oregon Ciders from Ford Farms Cyderworks and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks.

I suspect a review of my Oregon cider acquisitions will be in order.

Apple Crazy in Olympia.

1884 Apple Orchard, Washington

Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. The temperature, the weather, the colors, the sounds, the smells. It all works for me.

The past two years have left me Apple crazy during Autumn. This condition is exacerbated now that I own an apple press. I've been out hustling them apples and harassing my friends or anyone else I can think of for my share of the apples and/or pears that lay waste in backyards all across the Olympia/Tumwater/Lacey area. Lots of looking and lots of asking (well 1 note and 2 classifieds) but no finding... Until just this last week, it was all beginning to feel a little bleak.

Until I received an email last week from a guy Steve I met at the Darrington Bluegrass Festival in 2006 . Steve lives on Whidbey Island in or near a town named Coupeville. As we got to talking last year it was revealed to me that Steve has 2 or 3 Vintage Cider Apple varieties growing on his property. I don't recall them all by name but I do remember he's got a Kingston Black however. Well anyway Steve emailed to offer me 40-50 lbs of his cider apples. Although not enough press and ferment an entire batch, that amount of apples is more than adequate to supplement a good solid base of local Olympia neighborhood apple blend.

Besides all of that I got a phone call last night about some apples I was inquiring about on the Eastside of Olympia. My buddy Kaplan had lived in this house last year and Michael Elvin (of Batdorf & Bronson) and myself were able to take as many as we needed. We took more than we could press as it turned out but the cider that resulted from our pressings was really pretty good. Very tart but very nice. Tart and nice being WAY better than sweet and syrupy any day.

I've also had my eyes on a couple trees that are in a yard adjacent to my buddy Chris' backyard which may work out too.

If you live anywhere near the Olympia and know folks with apples or pears drop me a line. I'm not against rewarding donors or finders with some finished product... Sweet or fermented.

P.S. I promise part one of my Hard Cider Tutorials are coming. I've been too busy visiting great places and scamming apples to be inspired by the computer.

Now playing:
Reeltime Travelers - Paddy Won't You Drink Some Cider
via FoxyTunes

Lake Chelan & Wenatchee the Apple Capital of the World

Lake Chelan

As a born and raised Washingtonian I have to say I like the Wenatchee Valley. Half of my family is from Wenatchee, I grew up going there, my birthday usually falls on Apple Blossom weekend (for those in the know), and over the years Wenatchee has been one of my favorite places in Washington.

I'm excited headed out to Chelan for an extra long Labor Day weekend. Lake Chelan is a close neighbor to Wenatchee with an equal share in apple history. Chelan really great if you live in or around  Washington and you've never been, you gotta check it out. The one downside for me is that over the past handful of years many of the orchards have been removed to plant vineyards. The people must have wine I guess.

I am really hoping to get out and visit the Chelan Cider Company, I hear good thing about their cider and I have a list of places in town that sell it. I hear there is some pretty good coffee and espresso at a place in Wenatchee these days, however I will also be armed with my espresso machine and grinder this trip.

I also noticed this documentary "Broken Limbs - Apples, Agriculture and the New American Farmer" will be screening at Sunshine Farms in Chelan. It will be hard to pass this up. Not only does Sunshine Farm Market look cool but I am a sucker for a great documentary, my family has been directly involved in the apple trade in the past, and I'm interested in the current state of apples, Wenatchee and apple business. Listen up Washington apple farmers... I say specialize your stock and plant Vintage Cider Apples! When you do don't forget to drop me a line. , you have a customer waiting. ;)


Now playing: Kenny Baker - Brown County Breakdown
via FoxyTunes