Archive for the 'Mead' Category

MEAD#4 – The Maharajah Spiced Mead


Despite never having drank a mead before, I find myself making a third batch of the stuff. Sounds a bit odd, I know, but mead is known for taking a long time to condition into a drinkable beverage. I suppose I should have put more effort in trying to source a decent commercial or home brewed example before I embarked on my mead making journey. But the honey was on special offer, and I thought “why not..?”..

My first two batches were a simple mead (made with wildflower honey) and a cyser made with freshly pressed apple juice from the NHC group buy. So for my third batch, I’m doing something different again by making a metheglin, a name used to describe a spiced mead. I’d like to get some Indian/middle-eastern flavours into it, so I’m going to use fresh root ginger, cardamom. I considered including some saffron in the spice mix both for colour and flavour, but I know from using saffron in Indian cookery that saffron can be a bit of an acquired taste and can also become overwhelming even for those people that like the flavour. I think these ginger and cardamom flavours will work very well with the honey.

One problem with meads is that they can take a long time to clear properly. Even when they look like they’re sparkling, some further aging or racking will encourage more yeast to drop out. This is one of the reasons why meads are not often bottled-conditioned, as they create so much trub following fermentation in the bottle. But this is often dependent on the yeast strain used. The Lalvin 71B that I used for my first two meads is not a strain that is supposed to be well-suited to bottle conditioning as it’s supposed to get a bit funky with extended ageing. I like the idea of a sparkling spiced mead so I’m going with a champagne yeast strain this time, the Red Star Montrachet.

06/06/2015 – I used 5 x 340g jar of Holland & Barrett’s Organic Wildflower honey in this match, total 1.7kg honey. Heated about 750ml of water in my small stockpot and added two jars of honey which had partially crystallised. I weighed out 113g of root ginger, peeled it and attempted to grate it into the warm honey mixture. I gave up on the last third of it and just sliced it thinly into the must. Left to steep for about 10 minutes. At this point, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to whizz the other three jars of honey into the must using the stick blender or risk whizzing up the ginger further and end up with a stringy mess in the fermener. Strained the must into the 5 litre bucket fermenter using a sanitised sieve. Added 4.5 litres of bottled water in total and aerated using the blender. Used 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient, 1 tsp acid blend. Rehydrated Champagne yeast in a little water and pitched. Smells great though I’m worried there won’t be enough ginger flavour as I didn’t steep the ginger for a long time or add it to the fermenter. But I suppose I can always adjust this in secondary when I’m adding the cardamom.

07/06/2015 – Added another 1/2 tsp of yeast nutrient.

10/06/2015 – There doesn’t appear to be much going on in the fermenter but when I shine a light through the plastic I can see fizzing going on. Added another 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient.

24/06/2015 – The yeast completely dropped in this last week so I racked to the demi-john and added the seeds from 4 cardamom pods which had been lightly crushed. The high alcohol in the mead will help extract the flavour from the seeds. I don’t know how much ginger flavour is in it, but I’ll do a taste test in a couple of weeks and might adjust with more root ginger.

25/07/2015 – Racked to tertiary. Plenty of acid in there, bit of ginger, but the cardamom is the dominant flavour. Fantastic honey and spice aroma. I’m looking forward to tasting this in a years time, as it’s already quite drinkable.

07/02/2016 – First taste, took a sample from the demi-john in the shed. Very medicinal, though not helped by the fact that the acidity is overdone. I think the overwhelming cardamom flavour would be much improved if there was more sweetness there. Not much ginger showing.

29/07/2016 – Got a gravity reading of 7 Brix. Can’t be accurate! The alcohol must be skewing the reading.

26/08/2016 – Bottled this with carbonation drops. I got 5 x 500ml and 5 x 330ml bottles. 2 carb drops in the 500s and 1 drop in the 330s. Smells great. I have half a bottle left over so I’ll do a gravity reading on that and a taste test.

27/08/2016 – Got a reading of 0.098-1.000.

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!

MEAD#1 – Wildflower Mead

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I’ve been meaning to do a mead for a long time now. I finally got around to ordering a sachet of Lalvin 71B, which is a popular choice for mead makers. I also got some yeast nutrient, which I’ve never used before, but is crucial when fermenting honey. Honey, unlike malt, has no nutrients which allows the yeast to ferment fully and cleanly.

It took even longer to get around to sourcing some honey. I eventually sourced some inĀ Holland & Barrett health food shop. Not exactly artisan product I know – “wildflower” is not a varietal honey, rather a catch-all term for honey made from unknown or mixed flower sources. I’m hoping that I’ve preserved whatever aromatics are in the honey by not heating the must at all.

Recipe

700g organic wildflower honey
900g blended honey
2tsp nutrient
1/2 tsp tannin
1 tsp citric acid
Lalvin 71B

04/10/2014 – I just blended the honey into the bottled water using a sanitised stick blender, along with the nutrient, tannin and citric acid. Worked a treat. Have some honey left, so might do a melomel or a metheglin. Will leave this on the yeast for a month before racking to secondary.

09/10/2014 – Walked into the room where this is fermenting and got a big bang of licorice. Not unpleasant at all, but unexpected.

06/11/2014 – Just had my first taste of mead! Not just my first taste of my own mead, but any mead! I tasted the mead that was sitting on top of the 71B yeast slurry that I’m fermenting my cyser with. Tastes pretty nice. The alcohol is still a little overwhelming, but this shows great promise. Lovely honey flavour and aroma. Would like to taste it with a little carbonation in though, so I’ll be looking into bottle-conditioning it.

30/11/2014 – Bottled my first mead into some 330ml and 500ml bottles. There was a bit of trub at the bottom of the demi-john after the secondary aging, but it looked weird. It was a black colour, not something I’m used to seeing at the bottom of a fermenter. It’s already very clear, but should clear more. Weird to be bottling a beverage without adding priming sugar of some description. It’s got a great aroma and flavour of honey, as you’d expect, but it’s surprisingly sweet. Will try to stay away from this one for a year.

27/09/2015 – I opened a bottle of this at a home brewing meet a few weeks ago and it went down pretty well. Today was the second bottle I opened, and I enjoyed it even more. It’s still got the big honey nose and some lovely melon fruit flavours. It looks like I went a little bit heavy on the acid addition, so I’ll dial back on this next time. The 330ml bottle is a good size to package meads as it allows you to have 2 small wine glasses, perfect for sharing but not too much if you open one on your own.

22/11/2015 – Side by side tasting of the wildflower mead with the cyser. Wildflower has a massive, almost overwhelming floral honey aroma. It’s also got some melon fruit aroma. Flavour is moderate honey, some fruity esters, alcohol prominent but not hot. Finish is acidic and slightly mouth watering, making it very drinkable. The cyser aroma is predominantly apple, not too much honey, some alcohol. Colour is a shade or two darker than the wildflower mead, as you’d expect. The cyser is not as sweet up front, mouth watering, nice meld of apple and honey flavours.

20/12/2015 – This is almost gone! It’s extremely good, but not perfect. First thing that stikes me about it is the amazing and almost overwhelming honey aroma. It’s almost perfume-like. From the aroma alone, I can see why people fall in love with this stuff. The flavour also has the prominent honey character you’d expect in a show mead, but thereis a serious flaw in that I seem to have overshot on the acid addition. It’s a little out of balance. It is quite literally mouth watering, in that a taste will get the salivary glands going. It’s not unpleasant though, and certainly invites another sip and keeps the mead drinkable. Though I just don’t have enough experience with mead to know quite how serious this flaw is. It’s certainly better than having something that is sweet and insipid. On the whole, I feel this is an amazing score for my first attempt at a mead, and I’ll certainly be doing lots of these in the future.


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