Many of the techniques described and used in this blog are not considered safe or best-practice for making mead.

Longoria Cyser 171014: Racking to Secondary

I racked these 2 gallons off of the primary lees today. One of the carboys had a bit of a white mold in it, so it looks like it got infected with something. It didn’t have any off flavor though, so I went ahead with it. I marked that one with an ‘X’ so I can tell which is which later.

Longoria Cyser 171014: Kicking It Off

This is a Saturday the 14th mead.  I kicked off this Cyser with the deep, dark, caramelly honey from the Longoria estate. I may have also scooped whole spoonfuls of the honey into my mouth.

I dropped the peppercorns from the recipe; while I like the slight bite those give, I think they need to be tempered by something smooth and creamy. Otherwise it’s a little too close to the estherish bite yeasts give off when they’re not happy. So perhaps this is not the right recipe for that ingredient.

I did 2 gallons, and got an initial gravity of 1.12 when I pitched the Workhorse yeast.

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Bochet 170422: Bottling

Last weekend I racked and bottled this guy up. It’s been clarifying for four months, but it’s still not very clear. It’s a wonderful deep color though.

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I racked it to a secondary carboy before bottling it. Both were 5 gallon carboys, but I almost overflowed the 2nd carboy. I already had the spring-loaded bottling valve on the racking hose, so I was able to stop it quickly enough that it didn’t.  That was interesting to me though: both are 5 gallons, but one clearly holds more than the other. Not all 5 gallon carboys are created equal.

I measured a final gravity of 1.03 for this guy. So it qualifies as a Sweet. That’s unfortunate; I prefer Dry or even Semi-sweet.  But it started at 1.15, so the final ABV comes out at 16.3%.  Yo!  That’s SIXTEEN percent! This is a full percent higher than anything I’ve brewed yet. And it’s drinkable now with some nice complexities hiding under the sweetness.

Xocolatl 170902: Kicking It Off

As I was writing up my notes for last week’s Xocolatl, I decided I needed to do a simple chocolate instead of all this fancy-footing around. So I did. Same recipe, no extras. Chocolate, raisins, ginger and honey. Oh, and maltodextrin. I keep forgetting the maltodextrin.

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I’m using the same yeast and I got the same original gravity of 1.10 for this one.

Xocolatl 170827: Kicking It Off

I have embarked on yet another experiment making a chocolate wine which is both pleasing and robust. Last time (Xololatl 160703) I tried burning the chocolate to get deeper flavors out of it. That didn’t work out so well. The final wine ended up tasting more like a charcoal wine than a chocolate wine.  So I’m not doing that this time.  I’ll leave the burning for the Bochets.

This time I decided to try for a slightly herbal kick underlying the chocolate. As I write up these notes I’m not sure why I couldn’t seem to just do simple chocolate. I mean, that just seems obvious, no? Anyhow, I decided to go herbal and added a very small amount of wormwood into the mix without any heat. That “very small amount” is about 1/32 of an ounce. My measure can’t do that little, so I measured 1/8, then split it in half twice.

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So the Recipe (for 1 gallon):

3.5 cups wildflower honey
6 ounces 69% chocolate bar
1/4 cup ginger juice
1/32 ounce wormwood
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 ounce maltodextrin

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I used a double boiler to melt the chocolate bar, then added in the ginger juice and stirred it until it was all mixed in, then added in the honey and waited for it to warm a bit. While it was warming, I plunked the raisins and wormwood into the carboy.  After the honey and chocolate were mixed well, I poured the mixture into the carboy and added 2 quarts of water to the boiler pan to warm. I poured that into the carboy warm and shook it up well. Then I topped up the last quart or so with cold water and shook it up again.  It was still a little on the warm side, so I let it sit for about an hour before pitching the yeast.

I used an old packet of Mangrove Jacks Workhorse yeast, and got an originating gravity of 1.10 on it.

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Melarancio 170326: Summary

Id 170326
Type Still Melarancio Melomel
Start Date 26 Mar 2017
Original Gravity 1.11
Yeast Mangrove Jack’s Belgian Ale M27
Ingredients yaupon honey, orange blossom honey, orange juice & peel, lemon peel, raisins, amarillo hops, cascade hops
Rack Date 09 Apr 2017
Rack Date 30 Apr 2017
Addition Date 03 Jun 2017
Addition gelatin
Bottle Date 17 Jun 2017
Final Gravity 1.00
Alcohol by Volume 14.95%
Full Log Melarancio 170326

Melarancio 170326: Bottling

Bottling of my 5 gallon batch of Melarancio went smoothly. I bought 2 cases of fresh new punted antique green wine bottles for this mead. And I used my new solid corks with my new floor corker. All in all a lot of exciting new here.

The carboy had a bit of sediment that had settled out, so I racked it out into a clean carboy then bottled from there. I got 21 bottles, plus about half a beer glass which I drank.

My final gravity on this one was exactly 1.0, giving me an ABV of 14.95%. This is now a tie with the screwed up Cyser I bottled last week for the highest alcohol level I’ve ever brewed (so far).

Oh, the floor corker worked great with the new corks, by the way. (While bottling my Mountain Cedar Mead, I had had a problem with the tops of the new solid corks breaking using the wing corker.)

 

Cyser 161210: Summary

Id 161210
Type Cyser
Start Date 10 Dec 2016
Ingredients honey, apples, apricot, lemon, peppercorn, raisins
Yeast Mangrove Jack’s Mead M05
Original Gravity 1.105
Fermentation Temperature 74-76° F
Rack Date 01 Jan 2017
Additions honey-water mix
Bottle Date 11 Jun 2017
Final Gravity 0.995
Alcohol by Volume 14.95%
Full Log Cyser 161210

Cyser 161210: Bottling

Of course, right after I post my big ugly rant about all the lousy commercial mead out there I have to post an update about my own screwed up lousy mead. I’m not sure if it’s a bit of karma in my face or if I was projecting my own frustrations onto the samples I was tasting. Either way, it’s definitely poetic.

So, yeah, this Cyser that I was pretty sure I screwed up back in January when I did the first racking, I can now confirm that I definitely did screw up. It’s sharp and acetonic, with a hint of caramel sours mixed in. It’s also very dry, which would exacerbate the acetone notes. And it has a buckwheat honey base, which would exacerbate the off-caramel parts.

Still, I bottled up 14 bottles of it. It’s not bad enough to throw away, but it’s not good enough to share with anybody else either. I put a skull and crossbones symbol on the label so I wouldn’t accidentally share it with somebody.

I got a final gravity of 0.995 on it, which puts the ABV at… whoa… 14.95%.  I think that might be the highest ABV I’ve brewed yet.

My Rant About Mead

I am frustrated and amazed at how lousy most of the modern commercial meads are. In most cases their primary offense is that they have very little flavor, with their secondary offense being that they are too stinking sweet. But a surprising number of samples even have obvious off flavors or floaties.

That last offense is inexcusable. If you’re selling mead you should make sure it is free of floaties and doesn’t have any flavors that are not supposed to be there. This is true of beer and wine too; really any fermented drink. Don’t sell a drink that tastes like cleaning fluid, or that has chunks of stuff floating around in it. That should be obvious. Don’t sell me your screwed up trash brew.

For the first two offenses, I think there’s a severe mismatch between my expectations and the actual mead industry. I expected deep, full bodied, robust explorations into the intricacies of honey-based fermenting. Instead I got slightly alcoholic, slightly flavored spritzer. I expected an explosive experience starting from the scent in the glass, spreading through my mouth and lingering on my tongue for long moments after. Instead I got a lightly scented tingle of flavor, like an unkept promise, gone almost as soon as it touches my tongue.

Oh, maybe I’m too harsh. Most of the meads have some very pleasant and subtle flavors, but they’re so subtle and subdued, they’re like trying to caress a lover through a wool-lined snow suit. And none of the commercial meads I’ve tasted have any balance whatsoever. There was nothing in the experience to balance the inherent floral sweetness of the honey. That’s fine if you’re twelve[1] or if you like to have a Coke with your breakfast. But can we have some adult mead, please?

There is an amazing amount of flavorful potential in using honey as a fermentable sugar. And instead, it is being squandered and mitigated down to nothingness by these horrible tasteless offerings.

I know somebody is going to come along and say something like, “Did you try any hopped mead? That stuff is legit!” I have not tried every type of mead ever, or by every brewer ever. But yes, I’ve tried hopped mead; there was no hoppiness to it, and no bitter undertones to balance the sweetness. I think they must have only placed the hops near the mead rather than actually using it while making the mead. And yes, I’ve tried bochet; it was slightly caramelish, but the caramel notes were very light and it had none of the deep burnt flavors it should have had. I’ve tried braggot, show mead, T’ej, spiced mead (metheglin), fruit mead (melomel), even that horrible “traditional viking mead” which was one of the worst specimens of mead I’ve ever encountered.

Mead should be bursting with flavor. Mead should be full-bodied and dripping with lustiness, if not actual lust. Mead should fill your entire mouth and leave you short of breath and a bit flustered. Mead should be good.

So what’s the problem? Why, oh why, is every meadery out there turning out lightly flavored soda mead? What is wrong with the entire mead-making world?

When I started brewing mead, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even tasted mead before. I had been making this honey-based probiotic drink that I picked up from my friends and family on the other side of the planet. Extending that to a full fermentation was just like water flowing downhill.

My first mead recipe was a JAOM. That’s Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead, or something along those lines, and it’s rather infamous in the mead homebrewing community. It’s easy to put together and hard to screw up. It’s also spiced out the wazoo. My first attempts were not bad, but not good either. My poor friends and family suffered through it mostly gracefully.

I experimented for 2 years, brewing somewhere around 30 small batches, to find good full flavor profiles. I was looking for an end result that smelled good, tasted good and left an aftertaste that begged for more. I am proud of what I brew now; I’m still an amatuer, making mistakes and messing things up, but I’m constantly improving and my meads now are deep and complex.

I finally decided I should really taste commercial mead to find out what mead is supposed to taste like. I was curious and excited to see how other brewmasters had developed the flavors. There are so many possibilities with mead. What I found was terribly disappointing.

Footnotes

1. I’m not suggesting or condoning serving alcohol to minors. You sweet-tooth monkeys know who you are, addicted to your sweet-tea and your Pineapple Austin Eastcider.