MEAD#3 – Olly’s Blackcurrant Melomel

This was a spur of the moment “brew” because the freezer door was left open and the huge bag of blackcurrants had just started to thaw. In preparation for a blackberry melomel I’d planned on doing towards the end of the summer, I’d procured a couple of big jars of honey, the correct yeast and I thought “why, not?”. I’d hoped to have 1.8kg of fruit for the melomel (to match the 1.8kg of honey that I planned on using), but the bag was short at only 1.34kg. But as blackcurrants are more acidic than blackberries, it might be just as well.

17/05/2015 Brew Day – “Brew Day” is a rather grandiose term for whizzing a couple of jars of honey into a pot of water and sprinkling on some yeast.. I did my usual “no heat” method. I poured most of a 5 litre container of spring water into my small stockpot. The stockpot had been sanitised by boiling water in it for a few minutes. I used 2 x 900g of Holland & Barrett’s Blended honey. Whizzed the honey in using the stick blender along with 1/2 tsp of yeast nutrient (Young’s, containing diammonium phosphate) and 1/2 tsp pectolase. The fruit is going to contribute pectic haze to the mead and I want to remove it. Put 1.34kg frozen blackcurrants into the sanitised muslin bag and secured it with a clip. Poured the honey mixture on top of the berries before rinsing the post out with the rest of the bottled water. Great colour almost straight away. Sprinkled a full sachet of Lalvin 71B on the must and set the lid on. The berries are still frozen so it should take a few hours for the must to get up to temperature and start fermenting. I’m not using any acid blend in this recipe as the fruit should contribute more than enough balancing acidity. The must aroma was lingering in my nostrils all evening, amazing!

18/05/2015 – No action from the fermenter, nearly 14 hours later! I hope this is not going to be the second bevvie in a row which fails to ferment. The fruit aroma is even more apparent today, and the colour is getting darker. [Update: Got home from work and this thing hadn’t started. A couple of tiny clumps of yeast. Added another 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient and roused with a sanitised paddle.]

19/05/2015 – Seems to be more action going on now. Not much foam to speak of, but a bit of fizzing and CO2 being released. Though it’s hard to see exactly what’s going on in there with the huge muslin bag.

29/05/2015 – Bit worried about the lack of activity from this, so I took a gravity reading. I expected a high SG, but it’s already down to 1.008! Had a taste too – blackcurrant flavour is not bad, but it’s pretty acidic. Hopefully this will age out. I’m a bit worried that a lot of the blackcurrants are still intact. I expected them to have broken up by now.

25/07/2015 – Racked to tertiary. Plenty of sediment in the demi-john. Huge blackcurrant aroma, plenty in the flavour too, but it’s a little too acidic. Still might be quite drinkable though. I think I’ve realised that the trick to successful meads might be stopping the fermentation at some point to balance it. Some further reading required.

07/02/2016 – First proper taste, took a sample from the demi-john in the shed. Huge blackcurrant flavour and high acidity, no honey in evidence expcept in the aroma. Even as a fruit wine, I think this is still too acidic, it’s just out of balance. However, I finished the sample, and I’ll definitely bottle the batch.

27/06/2016 – I decided some time ago that since this mead is practically undrinkable because of the high dryness and high acidity, it would be a good opportunity to experiment with back-sweetening. So I added sulphite in the form of 1/4 crushed campden tablet, which is potassium metabisulphite. This kills the residual yeast that is in the mead. I added crushed powder directly, but I’ve since learned that it is better to dissolve the campden in some warm water before adding to the mead. The airlock is going again. Will leave two days before adding sorbate.

29/06/2016 – Dissolved 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate in a splash of cold water and added to the mead.

02/07/2016 – I made a sweetening solution with 100ml of water and 200g of organic honey. It turns out that I don’t need this much water to dissolve the honey well. After chilling the pot of honey in ice bath, I added it to the demi-john and mixed well. I had a taste and it was still very acidic so I made another solution with 50ml water and the remainder of the honey in the container (140g). This was chilled and added to the demi-john. Taste was much better, prominent honey, sweet but with balancing acidity. Unfortunately, as soon as I had put the airlock back on, it started bubbling. I hope that the mead is just off-gassing. The yeast surely wouldn’t be viable enough to start fermenting an addition of honey that quickly. Will be watching this nervously for the next couple of weeks. I’m very excited about the potential of this now, as the flavour has improved so much. [Update: an hour after back sweetening, the airlock was still bubbling, so I added more sulphite using 1/2 campden tablet.]

10/07/2016 – It was very warm this weekend and this mead started taking off again. The airlock was going like the clappers. Seems that something went wrong with my stabilisation regime. I took a gravity reading on 02/07 but I didn’t note the reading. I know that it was either 1.020 or 1.030 after back sweetening. I’ll take another gravity reading in a few days.

14/07/2016 – Took a gravity reading of 1.020! It’s possible that the gravity hasn’t dropped and the mead was just off gassing after adding the campden. Even though I have bottles ready with which to bottle this, I’m going to leave it sit for another 2 weeks and then take another reading. I’m enjoying the samples from the trial jar, I have to say. Nice and sweet up front, but then the tart blackcurrants kick in. It’s such a big investment for 5 litres of a beverage, but I hope all this effort will be worth it.

15/07/2015 – Very hot and humid day so the airlock started flying again. This is very frustrating! If it is refermenting then surely there would be more signs like fizzing from the mead itself and even some kreusen sitting on top?

29/07/2016 – Using my new refractometer, I took a reading of 11.5 Brix, which converts to 1.046. Surely this can’t be correct?

27/08/2016 – I took another gravity reading and it doesn’t seem to have changed, just under the 1.020 mark. So given that there’s no obvious signs of fermentation happening amd the mead tastes just as sweet (following back-sweetening) as it did 6 weeks ago, I decider to bottle. I bottled into 11 x 330ml bottles along with a single 500ml bottle in case I subsequently want to enter this in a competition. As a precaution, I have placed most of the bottles in the beer fridge, to retard fermentation, if it does decide to start working again. I’ve left 3 bottles in the shed, so I’m going to just cross my fingers with those. I’ll open those regularly, maybe one per month. If I do notice any sparkle developing, I’ll have to be very careful with the remaining bottles, keeping them in the fridge and drinking them sooner rather than later. But I’d be very disappointed to learn that my attempt at stabilisation has failed. It’s been a bit of a saga, this brew. But a huge learning experience. Among the things I’ve learned are the effects of fruit acidity on theflavour of a mead, and all of the stages involved when stabilising and back-sweetening mead.

06/09/2016 – This was the real test of my stabilisation regime. Tonight I opened a bottle that has just been sitting in the shed for the last couple of weeks. Disappointed to report that there was a barely perceptible hiss when I opened the bottle. There was also a very faint sparke on the first sip. So it seems that I undershot the campden and sorbate. Such a pity, but I really love this mead, so I’m determined to do better on the stabilisation next time I make a melomel. Such an amazing flavour though. This is not going to last long, and given that there’s still some active yeasties in there, maybe that’s just as well!

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