Monday, April 25, 2011

Making Mead - Part Two

In my prior post, I talked about the two primary facets of meadmaking that I think contribute the most to making a good-tasting mead: yeast health and suitable honey. Of course, sanitation and proper care go without saying. This post gets into the pre-fermentation details. Most of this information is a result of attending NHC sessions last year, reading Ken Schramm's book, and going through Kris England & Curt Stock's presentation from the 2008 NHC.

A couple of weekends ago, John and I threw together three batches of mead in one afternoon – two fruit meads (melomels) and one traditional. It's so easy to put together, it's almost silly to do just one batch at a time. The most frustrating and time-consuming part of that day’s session was that our honey was fully crystalized and it took about 2 hours – and a lot of boiling-hot water – to get it to a pourable consistency (and even then, “pourable” is an overstatement; it was more like “soft enough to squeeze through the narrow neck of a gallon jug”). It’s worth noting that Tupelo & White Sage won’t likely crystalize at room temperature; in my experience (and I’m not alone), tupelo makes better-tasting mead than white sage, but sage can be a great base for fruit & spice meads as it’s quite neutral.

Weighing the honey on a postal scale
I had added a gallon of water to the carboy prior to adding honey
(the rest of the water got added once I finished with all the honey)

First, Devise a Recipe
I like using the mead calculator on You can determine how much honey, juice, fruit, water, and other ingredients you need to achieve your desired mead. By playing around with quantity of honey & other fermentables while keeping the target volume the same, I can come up with amounts of ingredients to achieve my desired starting gravity. 

To know where your starting gravities should land, you can look at the BJCP’s guidelines for hydromel (light), standard, and sack (strong) meads. For instance, for the pyment I knew I wanted a mead that would be at the upper end of the standard-strength range (around 14% ABV). To know how much honey to use with 4 pounds of grape concentrate (which I know is 68 Brix), I added this in the calculator as a 2nd ingredient with 68% sugar content. With 12 pounds of honey, this brought me to just under the top of the standard category. Perfect! 

I'll pick two of the three recipes we did - one melomel (the pyment) and one traditional. Both are 5-gallon batches.

Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
For the Traditional Mead (OG 1.115):
16 pounds of Orange Blossom honey
4 gallons of drinking water from Hy-Vee
1 tsp of Calcium Chloride to provide calcium to the must & aid fermentation
4.5g of Fermaid-K for yeast nutrition
2g of DAP as a source of nitrogen

For the pyment (melomel made with grapes) (OG 1.111):
12 pounds of Orange Blossom honey
4 pounds of Beaujolais grape concentrate (Alexander's brand, 68 Brix)
4 gallons of drinking water from Hy-Vee
1 tsp of Calcium Chloride to provide calcium to the must & aid fermentation
4.5g of Fermaid-K for yeast nutrition
2g of DAP as a source of nitrogen

Step 2:  Assemble the must
Put the water and any juices & herbs into the fermenter, then add your honey. The easiest way to measure your honey is by weight – we put our carboy on a postal scale then pour the honey into the carboy until the desired weight is achieved. Once all ingredients are in there (except for maybe a gallon or two of water), you get to the fun part:  mixing.
Before mixing

I don’t recommend doing this without a lees stirrer. I’ve done it a few times without one, and can’t believe it took me 3 batches to finally pick one up. Stirring honey into water by hand is not fun. So, do yourself a favor and get one (and a drill if you don’t have one already).
The business end of a lees stirrer
The little "wings" fan out when the stirrer is in rotation.
The wand end of the lees stirrer just goes right into your drill – sanitize it, hook it up to your drill, put it into your fermenter, and whirr away. Be careful not to scratch the bottom or sides of your plastic container. In a few minutes, your honey should be completely blended into the honey. Add the Calcium Chloride, DAP, and Fermaid-K, mix lightly, then cover your fermenter (with foil, a cap, or a lid) and go prepare your yeast.
After mixing

Step 3:  Prepare your yeast
If you’re using dry yeast, you need to rehydrate it. Sprinkling it directly onto the must can cause slow fermentation because you can end up with clumped-up yeast cells, preventing all of the cells from rehydrating and contributing to fermentation. Rehydrating with Go-Ferm will kick-start your fermentation by providing your yeasties with nutrients while they go back to their full & proper shape. Obviously, if you’re using liquid yeast, skip this step.

Fermaid-K, DAP, and Go-Ferm for happy yeast
You'll need a lot of this.

Boil some water and pour it into small containers (we use small coffee mugs, but any small container will do). You don’t need a lot of water – maybe 2/3 of a cup at most. Cover the small containers with foil and let them cool to 115 degrees (be sure to sanitize your thermometer every time you check the water temp). Once you get to 115F, add the Go-Ferm. Cover your containers again and let the Go-Ferm sit in the water while it continutes to cool to about 105F. Once you hit 105, add the yeast and let it rehydrate for about 15-30 minutes. After that time has passed (or if you’re using liquid yeast), pitch your yeast, hook up a sanitized blow-off assembly, place your fermenter in a dark place that’s about 68-72F, and you’re done!

Until tomorrow

reference - Part One

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