Lemonale: Brewing


I also considered the name Summer Jam.

13/10/2015

Background

My friend Dylan handed me 7.5kg of lemons wanting me to brew them somehow. I cannot fault him for this.

The challenge for me with this is that my homebrewing experience isn't great. Previously I've only made cider from putting yeast in apple juice bottles and brewing beer from DIY brewing kits.

Within the realm of baby-mode brewing I did experiment by adding various ingredients to beers and ciders as they brewed (ginger, coffee, honey, chocolate, caramel, chilli & lemongrass). This however was within the bounds of an ancient tried and tested framework. I'm planning on doing more than adding some lemon juice to a pre-made mash. I need to go deeper. This won't be a beer. This won't be a cider. This will be Lemonale and it will not fail.

Not the final label.

Not the final label.

Considerations

I began researching ways to make Lemonale without using a beer mash or apple concentrate as a crutch. My brief investigation was fruitless and apparently no such thing has been created before. I'm not making Limoncelo and 'Hard Lemonade' isn't made the way I'd assumed it is.

The closest I'd found was someone a goddamn hero on a homebrewing forum describe something along the lines of what I wanted to attempt only to meet ridicule. They posted no results to indicate they had gone through with it either due to the severity of ridicule by internet-stranger-bully-boys or because it had been a failure and... well... again the severity of ridicule by internet-stranger-bully-boys.

The main issue with brewing with lemon arises from yeast requiring a pH between 4.0 and 4.5 for optimal fermentation. The pH of lemon juice falls around 2.0. This presents an issue. I considered topping up the water from the mash to 23L in the keg to hopefully account for this. My housemate Sasha helped me by revisiting bygone chemistry knowledge to calculate: "Nope. The pH will be way too low."

Actual science.

Actual science.

So then I start grasping at straws to think how to raise the pH:

What could go wrong?

Brewing Day

Today I've purchased a 19L stainless steel pot to cook my mash in, a lemon juicer to help coax the juice out, some additional malt to make sure it's extra malty (I assume this is a good thing) and to bring the carbohydrate and sugar content to a equivalent content to that of the beer kit mashes I've used in the past. This gives the yeast the same amount of food to turn into yummy alcohol. I also purchased some pH strips to help me quantify just how deeply in denial right I was about my guesses into pH chemistry.

Time to brew!

Process

I began by removing the pulp from each lemon. The lemon juice was burning the mystery cut on my thumb and had also wrinkled my fingers making me unable to fingerprint unlock my phone. :(

The bit that burns.

The bit that burns.

I kept the skin and pith to one side to use in cased I needed to add flavour and increase the pH level later.

At this point I had said the word "pith" far too frequently and my housemate was getting a little pithed off with me. This excellent joke did not improve the situation.

Pulp from pith and peel.

Pulp from pith and peel.

Next I added some boiling water and 1kg of malt powder to the pot and brought it to the boil.

It was still a bit sour so to make it sweeter I added another 1.25kg of malt powder I had lying around.

You may observe a dent in the tip where I pinched some off to taste.

You may observe a dent in the tip where I pinched some off to taste.

I used a combination of a whisk and potato masher to try smash all the pulp down as much as I could.

BEAT THE LUMPS. BEAT THE LUMPS.

BEAT THE LUMPS. BEAT THE LUMPS.

Eventually I left it to bubble away on its own to dissolve down as much as it could.

In the meantime I scrubbed and sterilized my brewing keg like crazy. I'd left so much to chance with my pseudo-scientific approach thusfar; I wasn't going to risk any contamination.

Syrupy reduction.

Syrupy reduction.

I dipped in the pH strips and - AWESOME! - the colour scale ranges from what my colourblind eyes can see as red to brown-red? I was told it was actually a rainbow from red to violet. Eugh. So I referred it to someone less chromatically deficient and with some degree of uncertainty we were somewhere around a pH of 3.0.

Cider yeast is optimal between a pH of 3.2 and 3.8. So with a top up of water I may well be in business. Naturally I ran with this.

Feeling like a prospector of yore I panned for whatever pulpy pithy bits remained and set them aside. As it happens a by-product of Lemonale production is a quite delicious marmalade marmalale. Yum!

Not as cool as finding gold.

Not as cool as finding gold.

With the most of the pulpy pithy bits out of the lemon reduction I began filling the brewing keg.

I would have liked to have kept the marmalale in for flavour but didn't want it clogging the spout when I bottled. Plus now I can have it on toast.

Filling this fermenter with boiling water takes an annoyingly long time.

Filling this fermenter with boiling water takes an annoyingly long time.

I threw some salt in too. Just for luck.

I might start marketing 'What Could Go Wrong?' merchandise.

I might start marketing 'What Could Go Wrong?' merchandise.

After topping the keg up with boiling water I added some of the lemon peels in an attempt to lemonify the flavour a bit more. I squirted some amount of molasses in which I didn't measure just because I had it lying around from making pumpkin pie a year ago.

It looks like the lemon water you get at them-what upmarket pubs.

It looks like the lemon water you get at them-what upmarket pubs.

The process took about two and a half hours. I left the keg to cool overnight to get down to a temperature that won't kill the yeast. Once it's down below 30°C I'll put the yeast in and leave it for about a week in my cupboard under the stairs.


-Bob Hayden

Warning: This blog should demonstrate that I am by no means an expert. I can't guarantee all information here is scientifically accurate. I learn at my own slow pace as I discover and try new things and recall things from school & university.