Tag Archives: Equipment

141 Years of a Quick-Closing Bottle

You may have noticed I prefer to use one kind of bottle.



They’re known by several names – swing-top, flip-top, bail, and brace. The company that makes them calls them E-Z Cap. They’re popularly known as Grolsch bottles because the Grolsch brewery (located in Holland) continued to use them long after most everyone else started using crown caps.

Despite the association, Grolsch did not invent these bottles. American Charles De Quillfeldt did. He patented them in 1875.

Originally he called it simply an “improved bottle-stopper.” Not long after the patent was granted this stopper-type gained the fantastic name “lightning stopper” because it could be quickly sealed. It’s unclear if he invented that term. Quillfeldt doesn’t include this name in his 1875 application, but he does in his 1898 patent application (for improvements to his original design).

The earliest use of “lightning stopper” found so far is this advert in The Medical Register for New England from 1876.

Lightning Stopper

From a simpler time, when medical journals advertised beer as a healthful drink.


Almost 150 years later lightning-stoppered bottles remain as they were in 1875, “very convenient, quick, and secure.” Provided you have the thumb strength to close them.

PW Thumbing It

You can always tell the lightning-stopper user.


For more on bottle closure types check out the Soda and Beer Bottles of North American page and the Society for Historical Archaeology’s page.

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Nineteenth Century Grafting Recreated

As it’s spring, the season of grafting, here’s a little living history from the folks up at Genesee Country Village & Museum.

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Cyder Season 2015: 21.5 Gallons Going and New Tools For Old Cydermaking

Welcome to Pommel’s fourth cyder season! Last week I started several cyders, some old favorites and some new experiments. They are, from left to right:

2015 Class Picture

  • 6.5 gallons of the 1723 honey wheat cyser (so far this one remains a fan favorite) – Potential ABV 11.5%
  • 1 gallon unchaptalized raw juice (cause I hate to waste fermentable juice) – Potential ABV 7%
  • 6 gallons of the 1674 Penn spiced cyder – Potential ABV 8%
  • 5 gallons for experimenting with fortifying and royaling – Potential ABV 7%
  • 3 gallons raw Golden Russet (another house favorite) – Potential ABV 8.5%

All of them are fermenting with natural yeast only.

This season I’ve started using brew buckets. They’re certainly not historical, but they are more cost-effective than oak barrels. They allowed me to double production without doubling the expense. The juice will stay in the buckets for a few weeks before being transferred to glass carboys to condition for a few months.

Useful as the buckets are, I wish they

  • Had a clear side or top to show fermentation
  • Had their upper gallons marked (these are all 6.5 gallon buckets, but the printed markings only go to 5)
  • Were wooden barrels
Brewbucket Gallons

At least one of those wishes I could immediately grant myself. Seems a 6.5-gallon bucket will hold 7, so long as I don’t need too much head space.


I also purchased a digital scale which should cut down on the various mathematical conversions I’ve been doing. Though a stillard and scale would be more accurate (historically speaking).


The stillard (aka stilliard or steelyard) is the long object on the upper left and the scale is on the right.



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Bottling Cyser When There Are Not Enough Bottles

As we’ve said before, one of the Cydery’s goals is to do things as inexpensively as possible. Which is why this spring’s bottling presented a bit of a challenge.

The six gallons of honey wheat cyser started in December was finally ready to bottle. Last year’s big batch required 43 bottles. This year’s cyser was fuller than that, so I’d probably need more.

A very full six-gallon carboy.

Between last year’s and this year’s cyders, there weren’t enough empty bottles in the house to hold it all. I use pint-sized bottles. They come in cases of 12. I have six cases of blue (72) and two of clear (24), for a total of 96.

Like monsters and crazy aunts, they live in the attic waiting…

My first thought was I needed to buy another case or two. But then I realized I had 16 one-gallons jugs laying about, most of them empty. So instead of spending money and space on new bottles, I decided to transfer three gallons into the jugs and put the rest in the flip-tops.

This cyser will keep here until they’re bottled or there’s one helluva party.

This batch is the third honey wheat cyser I’ve made so far. Unlike the previous batches, I was heavy-handed with the honey this time around. It fermented out to 11.5% ABV. Which is fantastic, but I really shouldn’t keep drinking it by the pint.

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Without a Drop or a Dollar Lost

One of the Cydery’s goals is to do as much as possible as inexpensively as possible. That means not buying things that aren’t going to either help make the cider better or the cidering process more efficient.

For example, a few months back I bought a bottling wand. It made bottling easier, faster, and cleaner. It also only fit my small siphon. Like so many things in brewing, when you increase the size of your brewing vessels, you need to increase the size of your brewing tools. Luckily, long before I needed to use it, I realized that the wand wasn’t going to fit my larger carboy-sized siphon .

Since I really didn’t want to buy another bottling wand to fit my siphon or another siphon to fit my bottling wand, I decided to try an experiment with what I already had. I cut a short length of 3/8″ tubing, which fit the bottling wand, with a pair of scissors.

Or you could use this to nip a little off.

I put the wand into the 3/8″ tubing and then pushed them into the siphon’s 7/16″ tubing as far as they would go, like this:

It worked perfectly. We bottled with it last week without a  loss of any kind. Just the way we like it.

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I’m Out Of Patience and Space

If you’ve been reading along, you know that last month I started a test batch of perry. For reasons I still don’t understand, while it was in primary fermentation it separated into a hazy upper layer and a cloudy bottom layer. To avoid transferring the cloudy layer, I only racked the upper two-thirds into secondary fermentation. Now I’m watching it closely because it has a lot of head space, making it vulnerable to oxygen exposure which could turn it to vinegar.

Rather than sit and wait to see what happens (will the perry come out? will I like it?), I jumped right into experimenting with new pear juices and yeasts, because why not?

Besides, they looked so lonely on the shelf.

I put together four test batches, using two kinds of pure pear juice and two kinds of yeast.

They are, l-r:
Knudsen juice & WL cider yeast
Gerber juice & WL cider yeast
Knudsen juice & Nottingham ale yeast
Gerber juice & Nottingham ale yeast

The few true perries I’ve had (that is fermented pear juice, not fermented apple juice with pear flavoring) were made from nothing more than juice and yeast. Pear juice has more sugars, including more unfermentable sugars, than apple juice. When fermented, perry finishes a bit sweeter than cider. Which is why I didn’t feel the need to add sugar to these.

I also didn’t take any hydrometer readings. I planned to. I bought this combination wine thief/tester:

It’s supposed to make taking hydrometer readings less wasteful by allowing you to take a quick sample, measure the juice, and put it back into the jug. Since I’m making small test batches I don’t always take readings because I don’t want to sacrifice any juice. Unfortunately, the juice levels in the gallon jug weren’t high enough to get any hydrometer readings. I’d guess, however, it works great with three gallon carboys or larger.

The cydery is now at capacity, or so J. has told me. Nothing else can be started until all of this is bottled.

“This,” by the way, amounts to about 14 gallons of cider and perry.


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Failure To Launch or Trader Joe’s Trial & a New Toy, er, Tool

It’s not a little disappointing to begin this blog with my first true failure, but I am because that’s where I’m at for the moment.

Last Tuesday, August 27th, I started a new galllon of cyser (cider made using honey) consisting of Trader Joe’s Organic cider and their clover honey.

Based on what I’d found on the cider forums it sounded like the TJ juice would be good. And based on past batches, I decided to see where nature would take this one and not add yeast. I warmed a small amount of juice, stirred in the honey, let it cool, filled the carboy, put on an air lock (filled with cheap vodka), and waited.

I was excited to work on this batch for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which was to try using a hydrometer for the first time. I didn’t measure the alcohol of my previous ciders, but they felt pretty strong (strong being more than the typical 5% found in most mass-produced ciders).

Hydrometers are an easy way to measure the alcohol content of your cider (or any other alcoholic beverage). Float the hydrometer in a tube of unfermented juice and take the potential alcohol reading. Then, once it’s fermented out, take another reading. Subtract the second reading from the first, and that is your alcohol by volume (ABV).

My reading came out to a potential alcohol of 10.5%. All I needed to do was wait and see what this wound up being.

Unfortunately, I’ll never know. After almost a week of waiting nothing has happened. There’s been no fermentation. However, there is mold.

You can see the mold floating on top of the must, inside the carboy.

You can see the kidney-shaped mold floating on top of the must inside the carboy.

All I can guess is that it’s the juice. The previous batch of cyser used raw juice, right from the press which had enough natural yeast present to get everything going. The TJ juice said it didn’t have any preservatives, which would inhibit fermentation, but I wonder if they heated pasteurized it and killed any yeast present. Next time I’ll include a yeast when using Trader Joe’s juice. It seems odd since I successfully fermented a pasteurized Whole Foods juice without yeast. I’m missing something here, but I haven’t been able to find anything on the forums.

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