About a year ago I bought a second hand commercial TIG welder in an attempt to learn how to weld. Starting at the bottom of the learning curve with welding means joining comparatively thicker steel. Happily, I’ve also been thinking about rejoining the ranks of homebrewers. This threw me the opportunity for a few steel fabrication jobs
I wanted to start my brewing adventures with cider because dealing with apples seems to involve me more with lovely local produce. Cider can also be brewed with wild yeasts and produce some amazing funky fruity complex flavours that get lost in the chemistry like process of beer brewing. I was also inspired by a French work mate who, for his farewell party, produced a bottle of his uncle’s secret-recipe brew to accompany the crepes and home-made raspberry jam. The cider was like nothing I’d ever had; cloudy and fruity, it tasted like sunlight on apple trees, it tasted like verdant countryside.
The first thing was to find cider apples. Clearly, Petty’s Orchard in Templestowe was the best option close to Northcote. Situated on the banks of the Yarra and covering 44 hectares, they grow many varieties of heritage apple and quite a few cider varieties too. There is also a Heritage Apple Society that collect and preserve hundreds of varieties of apple in a 2 acre plot on site. I spent an afternoon chatting to a friendly guy there about apples. In the end I ordered 40 kg of Stewart Seedling apples from the guys at Petty’s.
The next step is to extract the juice from the apples. Having bought a few books about the process, I discovered that the best way to do this is chop them up to a pulp and then press the pulp to extract juice. I needed a pulper. There are many ways to do this of course, but I wanted a cheap, easy device that doesn’t take too much space. I saw a version online that is basically a giant food processor, or if you want, a razor sharp helicopter blade inside a food-grade bucket. A few websites in the UK sold them, but didn’t seem to ship to Australia, so I thought I’d weld one up myself! It’s essentially a steel tube with supports to hold it vertical and it is held in the middle of the bucket by a hole in the lid. The blade and shaft are stainless steel.
Chopping and pressing is a pretty big undertaking… Luckily I have an amazing landlord who makes his own wine and an eager helper with a bit of wine making experience himself, Mr Jack Dunstan. It turns out that a wine press is not very good for pressing apple purée (the purée squeezes out the gaps and you only extract about half of the juice), but it’s all a learning process.
After fermenting for a few weeks, Jack came and helped me bottle the lot too, champion.
In the mean time, my friend Cristal wanted to upgrade the 3-tiered all-grain brew rig she got from a guy in South Australia. I helped her to weld in a drain port, an outlet, a sight gauge and thermo well into an old keg. Then a few weeks ago I went and brewed a batch with her.
I also found a cheap way to control the temperature of the brew as it ferments with a fantastic little temperature controller I got on eBay. Automated control systems get me a little bit excited. Must be the engineer in me coming out.
In the end I’ve learnt a lot about brewing and my welding’s getting a lot better too. I even felt confident enough to weld a disc tab onto Jol’s polo bike and did a really neat job. (Jol is the graphic designer who created my new logo.)