Preparing Cherries

This past weekend it was time to take the chocolate covered cherry beer to secondary. It was also time to add some cherries and coco nibs.

To flavor this beer I’m starting with nearly 10 pounds of dark sweet and Rainier cherries. They were frozen in the fall to preserve them and also to help prepare them because freezing fruits breaks down cell walls and helps release more flavor into the beer.

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As you might guess dropping 10 pounds of frozen cherries into a  fermenting beer probably wouldn’t be a good plan. They needed to be thawed. In the past I have just thawed out things like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, but this time I wanted to do something a little different. My plan was to cook them down a bit. Doing so should release more of the juice and flavor along with helping sanitize the fruit to kill off any wild yeasts that may be present.

Luckily I had kept around the little 5 gallon kettle that my first brew kit came with. The largest pot we had in the kitchen wasn’t even close to having enough room for all the cherries.

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It didn’t take long, on a low heat, to get them all thawed out and cooked down a bit. The goal is to get them to a point where they simmer, but not boil.

After an hour or so I turned off the heat and went about my day while they cooled. Adding near boiling cherries also wouldn’t be good for my beer.

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At this point I also mixed in 4 ounces of coco nibs that had been marinating in vodka since brew day. The vodka helps pull out flavors as well as sanitizing the nibs.

As I have discussed before with the conical there is really no transferring to a secondary fermenter. Blowing the trub off was a simple task. There were no clogs and I drained off a quart of trub and beer. I noticed though that I was going to have an issue with head space as I had roughly 6 gallons of beer in my 7 gallon vessel. Adding a gallon of  cherries wouldn’t give me any room if fermentation took back off again. That could potentially clog my blow off tube which could result in a huge mess.

I had to drain off some of the beer. Luckily I had some empty one gallon wine bottles in the basement and after sanitizing one I began to drain some of the beer into it. After I had gotten down to 5 gallons in the conical I capped off the wine jug and put an air lock in it. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet with this extra bit of beer, but I think it might be good to see what kind of flavor the base beer has. I will probably just put it into a couple 2 liter bottles and force carbonate it just like I would a keg.

After the trub was gone and the extra beer was in a different jug I pulled a sample from the conical for tasting and gravity tests. The gravity going into the secondary was 1.022, down from an original of 1.064. Based on my recipe this is right about where we should finish. I suspect it to drop a bit though as the cherries will kick off fermentation again. That however will also make the final reading a bit unreliable. As it sat the beer had a great flavor. It still had a lot of malty sweetness that should go very well with the cherries and coco nibs.

I slowly added the cherries to the conical and capped it back up to finish out its fermentation. Somewhere around March 22nd it should be ready to keg.

Last night I pulled a little sample off and I’m really looking forward to this beer. The cherry flavor is beginning to develop and there are hints of chocolate. The malty sweetness has not faded much either. Along with kegging this beer I think I might bottle a little bit to cellar for awhile and see how it ages.


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