- Make it sweeter
- Make it more acidic
- Make it more tannic
- Modify the flavor with additional ingredients
- Clarify the mead
Unlike beer wort, honey is pretty much completely fermentable and your mead may end up a bit dry. Unless you arrest fermentation before it finishes by racking off the yeast and adding stabilizers (an approach I don't trust at all), you'll probably want to add back a little honey to bring out some of the original honey character as well as increase the mouthfeel. If you add more honey to your brand new mead, the yeast are just going to consume it. So, you need to add stabilizers before doing anything else.
Adding campden tablets (potassium metabisulfite.. yeah, yeah, sulfites, blah blah) will hinder any wild yeast in your new mead, as well as help prevent oxidation during transfer. At the same time, adding potassium sorbate will prevent further fermentation by hindering yeast reproduction. I recommend transferring to a new container in this step, so that you get your mead off the sediment to aid clarity. For each gallon of mead you're about to transfer, add 1 crushed campden tablet and 1/2 tsp of potassium sorbate per gallon to your new container. Then, transfer the mead, give it 1-2 days to stabilize, then add any sugary additions without concern of triggering further fermentation.
Adding 1/2 - 1 cup of honey (half a cup at a time) to a 5-gallon batch will usually give you the sweetness you're looking for and will greatly enhance the natural honey aroma that's highly desirable in a mead. If you added fruit in primary, you could choose to add juice at this point as well. More than a cup of honey for a 5gal batch is often quite cloying, but really it's up to you. You're best off boiling 1-2 cups of water, pouring it into a sanitized bowl or pitcher, and adding the honey to the hot water. This will make the honey pourable, thin, and easily mixable.
Once transfer is complete, top off with a blanket of CO2 if possible to prevent further oxidation. If that's not possible, you can sanitize a bunch of marbles and put them into the fermenter to decrease headspace. Or, add water. Or, transfer to a smaller container.
|BJCP Banquet at Summit Brewing Co|
Last year at the National Homebrewers Conference, we attended the pre-conference BJCP banquet where there were tables set up with tinctures & mixtures of various mead additions. These included extracts of mint, juniper, ginger, cinnamon, rose petals, and other flavoring additions. There was also a table set up with tannin in liquid and a variety of acids (including an acid blend). We were given cups, mead on tap, and free reign to blend at will. This was one of the many eye-opening experiences I had at NHC last year. It's quite an experience to taste a good mead, add a touch of acid and tannin, and realize how much the already-good mead can improve with a bit of blending. The flavor "pops", the finish becomes cleaner, and it becomes dangerously more drinkable.
Creating Multiple Meads from One
This practice of using extracts convinced me that making metheglin (herbed mead) does not involve adding herbs or spices to the fermenter, but is better off done by creating extracts of ingredients that are then added in small amounts to the base mead. Doing this is simple - soak the desired ingredient in cheap neutral alcohol to create an extract. Then, after a couple of weeks, pour a small amount of traditional mead (2oz or so) into several containers and add varying amounts of the extract to each container with an eyedropper. Figure out which one is most appealing, scale up, and voila - you now have a different mead. Try it with clove, orange peel, chili peppers, cinnamon, vanilla, or anything else you can think of. Another idea? Make a hop tea and add that to your mead.
Better yet, dry-hop! If you dry-hop in a keg, pick up a Sure Screen. It goes right onto the end of the dip tube and makes racking off the hops so much simpler (unless you get hop cones somehow wedged under the tube, causing the beer not to siphon through the transfer tubing, requiring you to have to scoop out and stir a bunch of hops to try to dislodge the cones and generating a huge mess and a lot of swearing - and potential oxidation - in the process. Good times.).
There are two main processes for clarifying mead: wait several months or use a clarifying agent. We're impatient, so we clarify. Alberta from Bacchus & Barleycorn recommended Super Kleer KC one day, so I gave it a shot - and I haven't turned back since. The packet is composed of two pouches; after pouring the contents of the first pouch into your mead, you wait an hour and pour the contents of the second pouch. Give the mead a gentle swirl and wait a few days. After a week or so, your mead will be very clear. After three weeks, it'll be brilliant. I can't recommend this stuff enough and consider it a standard part of every mead batch we do.
After clarifying, package. We keg all our meads, but a lot of people will bottle them & age for as long as it lasts. Mead, like wine, will change as it ages, and almost always for the better. If you take care of fermentation and practice good sanitation, you should be able to enjoy your mead when it's less than 6 months old. The old philosophy of having to age meads for at least 2 years can get tossed out the window.
In my next (and last) post on meads, I'll list out some of the best resources I've found for meadmaking (ingredients, tools, and information) as well as some of the better meads I've discovered - and where to find them. Unfortunately, our selection of commercial mead is relatively poor here in KC, but we're lucky to have a meadery in Weston as well as the option to have mead mail-ordered (in Missouri).