April 29, 2013

Saturday, I began the day sanitizing jugs so that I could rack and apply potassium metabisulfite and sorbate to the “finished” strawberry melomel. But it was not to be. Moving the carboy to the counter-top, I found it bubbling little tiny bubbles once again. So I’m slightly bummed that I didn’t get to start the bottling process (it is still actively bubbling), but happy that the reason is it’s not yet done turning sugar into alcohol!

As for the sweet mead, it bubbled quite aggressively before settling down a bit. Now it is still bubbling quite actively, but the large bubbles from the airlock are separated by a couple of seconds, with the smell changing from the obvious sweetness of honey to a little more of the sulfur/egg smell. Probably will be looking at the pH this weekend to make sure it is in a good range (>3.7) to keep the yeast happy in their sugary-sweet environment. I picked up test strips at the wine supply shop on Saturday afternoon. I have not used them in wine/mead-making before, so it should be interesting. Also picked up a wine-thief. Hopefully it will make gravity testing a little easier.

Sunday afternoon, I began what is not, strictly speaking, fermentation, but is nevertheless a wonderful use of a fig tree (and vodka or gin, and sugar). I made Fig Leaf liquor. For three bottles (750ml), I collected just over 20 fig leaves from branches that I didn’t want fruit from in the first place. Taking a mixture half water, half sugar by volume (for three bottles it was 4.5 cups each), I brought it to a rolling boil and added the rinsed fig leaves. I stirred occasionally, keeping it at the boil for 20 minutes. I then allowed the sugar-fig-leaf-tea to cool. Once sufficiently cooled, I discarded the fig leaves and added the remaining liquid to wine bottles (sticking to the kind that needed no cork; no need to waste a cork when there is no chance of re-fermentation). To each of the three bottles I added 1.5 cups of vodka/gin, then I sealed with screw tops and stored away in a dark place in the basement. A month from now they will be done, and I will take them out of hiding.

The original inspiration for the drink called for gin, and I used vodka instead last fall. Still was wonderful. The three bottles I made this weekend are each unique, to test the difference the alcohol makes to the flavor. To one I added gin, another vodka, and the last received half and half (3/4 cup each of gin and vodka). Not as high quality vodka as what I used last year, nor a high quality gin. But hopefully good enough for this application. Last year’s batch was made with the last leaves on the tree as cold descended, but this batch will have been made with newly green leaves. So I hope to see if there is any difference in the end result based on the timing of leaf “harvest”.

And I still have to get my next braggot under-way. All the ingredients sit on my supply shelf just waiting to be put into action. Things have simply been too busy to perform the initial steps.

April 24, 2013: Relieved, and Cheese

My sweet mead was cranking bubbles through the airlock when I checked it this morning. It was very heartbeat-like. A pause, then  double bubble. Pause, double bubble. Rinse and repeat. And it has kept at it all day. Quite a relief after the shenanigans it pulled yesterday.

Other than that nothing really new to report, except for the amazing cheese that went so well with my braggot as an evening snack. It was a Sage Derby, and I’ve never had it before, but it is quite good. And the braggot is, as well. Together it was somehow even better.

That is all. You may go about your business.

April 23, 2013: Ugh

I got up this morning to find no activity in the airlock of my newly pitched sweet mead. And nothing visible on the surface once the fermenter was opened. I didn’t expect raging bubbles, but I expected something.

We had turned off the thermostat yesterday as my wife went in and out of the house doing yard work – planting trees, shrubs, etc. The doors had been kept wide open, and it had been such a nice day. But the evening did have quite a chill, and the thermostat read near 62°F this morning. I flipped the switch back to heat, and adjusted to a reasonable level for the mead and our budget. I stirred to force more oxygen into the must, to support yeast reproduction.

I didn’t want to obsess over the mead, and I do have to work. So I didn’t check again until a late lunch. And I saw a little bit of activity, but not much. I did consider putting together a starter at a lower sugar level, to see if getting a good yeast colony in working order prior to adding to the high-sugar must might be worthwhile. But I didn’t have time to get that under way over lunch.

I did, however, have time to look at the other batches in secondary ferment. The still-somewhat-cloudy traditional mead had been on my mind, as ever since racking there has been no activity. No bubbling, certainly no movement in the airlock. So I took off a sample and checked the SG, finding it at 1.004. And the taste matches, fairly dry (with a slight, short-lived, bitter aftertaste). That is a bit of a sigh of relief. It’s hard to be concerned about a stopped ferment with an SG that low.

But, it still isn’t cleared. Being rather new to this, I have assumed clearing is completely part of “fermentation” itself. I’m not so certain of that, upon further reflection. Maybe someone with more experience would care to chime in. It may just be that fermentation “proper” is complete, but now I need to wait for the clearing to finish out. I’ll have to do a little bit more research. In any case, no hurry. I’ll leave it be in the carboy a while longer.

As for the strawberry melomel, it is quite clear. There has been little to no activity in days. Checking its SG I found a simple 1.000, dead on. Tasting, it is definitely quite dry. I’m imagining it will need to be sweetened for bottling. Well, most of it anyway. This time I think I’ll sweeten after using both potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate, not just the sorbate. Similar to the mead, it has a slight bitter aftertaste. Other than that it is quite noticeably strawberry. And while the melomel in the carboy is a striking reddish-yellow, in bottle-size quantities it takes on a rather stunning light-orange shade, quite fitting for its Clemson environs!

I think I’ll give it a little bit longer in the carboy, as there is no rush to bottle. Then I’ll check the SG again before bottling.

Then it was back to work.

Coming back to the sweet mead in the evening, I found no greater activity in the air-lock. With a shrug of bewilderment I went to get my large spoon to stir, maybe incorporate some more oxygen. Stirring, I was overjoyed to watch as copious amounts of bubbly foam surfaced. The yeast are alive! Took them a while to get going, it seems. And apparently they aren’t active enough to force a stream of bubbles through the air lock. But they’re not dead! I was beginning to think that some of my honey had been sorbated or something. Guess between the poor seal on the primary fermenter lid and the chill of the night before, the yeast just weren’t feeling extrovert-y.

So, “ugh.” But I have hopes that things will get better from here.

April 22, 2013

I just finished pitching the yeast for my sweet Orange Blossom mead. Since that is so much sugar, and I want to make sure the yeast get a good hold, I doubled the normal yeast dosing. Instead of one packet of Lalvin D-47, I used 2. And doubled the water for reconstituting. After waiting the 15 minutes while the yeast warm up, yawn and pull themselves out of bed, I added the yeast to the fermenter and stirred vigorously.

Waiting about another 15 minutes, I could already see gas slowly pushing its way through the attached airlock. Another batch started. Be good, my yeasty friends!

Oh…and I almost forgot. Re-checking the SG before adding the yeast, just to be sure, I found it at 1.134, instead of the 1.120 from last night. That’s not so surprising, I guess, which is why I checked it again in the first place. After 24 hours, all the sugar from the honey is in solution, rather than some still remaining solid. The recipe did indicate that 18 pounds of sugar would mean closer to an SG of 1.135, so that is also right in line.

Well, no reason to “watch the pot”. Time to let the yeast get to business, while I sleep.


April 21, 2013: Tasting Complete, Now For A Sweet Mead

Oh? Well, thanks for asking. Yes the tasting did go well. Not all of our guests were able to come to dinner, what with illness and all. We’ll have to re-invite them later, and soon. But we still had a great time.

The Apple wine went over especially-well with my wife, who loved the “unplanned” carbonation much more than I. It was quite sweet, and even I can say the flavor was good. The other guests were split over which they thought was better – the Mar grape or the braggot. Though the Mar grape we opened was even better than the bottle my wife and I originally tasted when it first matured, I still find the braggot positively alluring.

I think the Pomegranate and Dried Cranberry Liquor was possibly an even greater hit though, as was the Muscadine Liquor. Both were made by mixing fruit, sugar and Stolichnaya in proper quantities. A little pricey, so this year I plan to try with a vodka that is a little cheaper…

Well, that out of the way, I decided it was high time to start the sweet show mead I had prepared for, before the work week gets off to its usual busy pace. I still have the ingredients to start another batch of braggot, as well (as mentioned before, this time without hops, just to see). Hopefully I’ll have some time Tuesday as some activities grind to a halt during the summer. Maybe.

So I got right to it. 18 lbs of honey (15.5 of Orange Blossom honey, 2.5 of an unmarked honey). Somewhere between 3.5 and 4G of water to make up 5G of must. I used some of that water (heated in the microwave) to clean out the honey jars fully. That seemed to work fairly well. I only heated the water a little – nowhere near boiling. After stirring to mix thoroughly, I checked the SG. The recipe I am using suggests an SG of between 1.120 and 1.135 based on the amount of honey. Mine settled at 1.130, so I am right in the ballpark.

To the must I added 2 tsp each of yeast energizer and yeast nutrient. I then added 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite to sanitize the must. And now we wait the 24 hours suggested before adding the yeast (I will be using Lalvin D-47).

So what am I expecting at the end? Here is the description preceding the recipe in The Compleat Meadmaker:

Sweet meads are generally still, as the yeast will knock itself out trying to deal with all that sugar. Bottle carbonation is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. This recipe will yield a very sweet dessert mead, with distinct honey character and profound legs. Its color will be a pretty reflection on the original honey, and the aroma will cling to the glass even after it is empty. Excellent served with a fruit and cheese platter.

Sounds good to me!

It seemed reasonable to drink something as I researched, heated water, etc. so I pulled out the remainder of the bottle of braggot from the other night. A good choice.

Here are some pictures of the process:

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April 20, 2013

Yesterday over lunch I took some time to rack the traditional mead as I suggested I might do. Out of 5 gallons, two went into single gallon jugs good for experimenting. The remaining three filled a 3G carboy. Looking today, I’m just a little concerned, as the slight activity (bubbling) that was noticed before racking is now completely absent in all three mead vessels. None are cleared, and a sample made me think that there is quite a bit of sweetness left. Might be the that the potassium metabisulfite used to sanitize equipment and vessels was too much for the yeast at this point? I don’t know. I’ll keep an eye on that a little longer.

Mead With Lavender Soaking

Mead With Lavender Soaking

In any case, the two individual gallons received two very different treatments. To the first I added 0.25 ounces of lavender. This is about half as much as necessary for a good dosing, back-calculating from the amount recommended (suggested?) for 5G by Schramm in The Compleat Meadmaker. I think a couple weeks ought to give a fair feel for what lavender can add to mead. I’ll probably test it out before then, even. I placed the lavender in a mesh bag, so hopefully removing will be simplified. I did not taste, but am hoping for the best.

Mead With Vanilla Bean Pod and Nutmeg

Mead With Vanilla Bean Pod and Nutmeg

To the second I added same vanilla bean pods – forgot to read how much from the package. I’m guessing no more than half an ounce. I also fresh ground about 0.2 ounces of freshly ground nutmeg (2 whole nutmeg seeds). I felt the vanilla would sink to the bottom, and not create a bunch of debris, so I added it directly to the mead. The nutmeg, on the other hand, I added to a mesh bag. That said, much of it was too fine to be held by the bag. I did sample ever-so-small-a-sip of it, and it is quite sweet (which all the more bothers me about the end of bubbling after racking), and the nutmeg seems like it will make quite a good addition.

An immediate thing I notice is the rapid change in color of the mead with lavender. It has taken on a very pretty reddish-brown shade, as compared to the vanilla and nutmeg mead, which remains very close to the color of the original mead, an earthy and inviting yellow. I’m interested to see if the vanilla bean pod darkens the gallon further.

So begins my foray into metheglin.

As for my other batch in secondary ferment, it appears to have slowed down considerably. The strawberry melomel is quite clear and a beautiful shade of red. I imagine a week, maybe two, and fermentation will be complete. Then it will be time for bottling!

Now it is time to get off of here and begin to look at dinner. We are having guests over for Penne alla Vodka (yum) and then to sample some wine that has finally matured. I have the braggot which is quite ready for drinking, a couple bottles of Mar grape, and some Apple wine, which though not technically aged fully, is not likely going to get any better while it sits in the refrigerator after blowing its cork. I also have a liquor made with fresh pomegranate and dried cranberry, which is thick, sweet and dare I say “awesome”, for anyone who finds the wine less than to their liking.

April 14, 2013

I went to a local supermarket today and picked up the honey for another 5G braggot batch, as well as enough honey for a sweet show mead. Well, a little less than I wanted, but still within the constraints of the recipe. Also, it called for a varietal honey, and the store didn’t have as much as I needed of any one varietal. So I’m only going to have enough so that a little more than a third is varietal – in this case, orange blossom. Hopefully that is enough to push the distinctive flavor through.

Or maybe tomorrow I will check again and see if more has been stocked.

But at present I have  about 25.5 lbs of honey (12.7 kg) from 448 oz. That’s 10 pounds for the braggot, which gets extra sugars from the mash, and a little over 15 for the sweet mead, whose recipe called for 15-18 lbs of varietal honey. Interestingly, the orange blossom honey is slightly heavier than the “standard” honey, by 0.025 grams per oz.

I’m going to have to start working either with local beekeepers to get my honey, or buy from somewhere that sells in larger quantities, and with more selection of large quantities. The supermarket has worked so far, but there’s got to be a better way. I know my wife gets a 15 or 20 lb jug for bread-making from time to time. Not sure if the co-op she goes through has a very wide selection of varietals, though. Specifically I’d like to experiment more with orange blossom and Tupelo (and have heard wonderful things about raspberry blossom, though I’ve never seen it except in my mead book).

I did see honey sold in larger jar sizes when I was in Lisbon. But I thought getting it back to the states was questionable from a number of angles, so did not purchase any…