I’m back, and the mead is jammin’

I’m back and recharged.  Been quite a couple of weeks.  There was a surprise birthday party we were invited to, part of the surprise was us flying to San Jose on one day’s notice.  Followed the next day with 350 miles of driving, out to the Grand Canyon to see the annular solar eclipse.  Got some good pictures through the 12″ Dobsonian telescope.  Just didn’t seem to be able to find the time to sleep.

On a positive note, I did make a new batch of melomel, honey wine with fruit, in this case one pound of cherries with three pounds of honey and about 2/3 gallon of water.  I don’t have any wine yeast unopened at the moment so I thought I would throw in a tsp of standard Red Star bread yeast.  Let me tell you, the fermentation is sure more aggressive then I expected.  This fermentation has a larger krausen then any other that I have observed.  It is possible that the large krausen is a result of the larger amount of yeast I pitched.  I also started the fermentation at a lower temperature then I normally start mead.  I started at 65 degrees, instead of 72 or 74.  Not knowing what characteristics the bread yeast will impart on the wine, I wanted to give them every chance to be mellow and produce fewer phenols and fusels.  I imagine I will rack into secondary after 8 weeks and then age there for 3 or 4 months.  I may make another batch with 1/3 pound of kumquats I harvested from my tree this afternoon.  I think I will make this a combo mead, with some fresh thyme and mint leaves from the garden.

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Why I brew beer and make wine

The big push to get me started on making wine and eventually beer was listening to Jack Spirko on The Survival Podcast.  Jack covered in a couple of separate episodes the basics on brewing beer, and some of his personal recipes.  He had also talking about making honey wine or mead.  My good friend’s father had some old beer making equipment he had not used in years, and said that I could have it as long as I used it… and boy have I put it to good use.

I started off making mead.  Dissolve some honey in water, add some yeast, and let it go until it stops bubbling.  Piece of cake… really… that’s all there is to it.  I thought it turned out pretty good… it was a bit rough on the flavors, but I was so excited about the drink I had just created, it didn’t last but a month.  As it turns out, like red wine, mead doesn’t really come into it’s own until about two years, upwards of 5-10 years.  I now plan to make some about every 6 months, so that I have enough in rotation to be at it’s drinking best.  This is now made possible by the fact that I brew beer too.

I started brewing the beer (which was really my intention from the start) just under a year ago.  I bought an ingredient kit from a local shop and followed the instructions on the half page of paper that came with the kit.  I had already purchased a book about brewing over a year prior, How to Brew by John Palmer.  I hadn’t scanned the book much before I had started, so as I cleaned up from making the first batch, I grabbed the book and started reading.  The first thing Palmer suggests you do when you buy a kit is to throw away the instructions… DOH!  Artists don’t just start with all of the techniques required to do their best work, they work at their trade and hone their skills.  Making beer is the same way, you can’t just learn everything you need to now from half a page of paper.

Like many hobbies I have picked up over the past couple of years; gardening, cycling, the shooting sports, I tend to get pretty heavy into the extensive knowledge of others who know the subject.  With brewing, I have now ready several books.  I listen to several podcasts that special in brewing.  I have started growing my own hops.  So, not only do I get the satisfaction of enjoying something that was created from my brain and by the labor of my hands, I also get to enjoy many of the “micro-brew” styles of beer that would cost you $5.00-$10.00 each at a bar… for a little more then a quarter apiece.

As I had mentioned yesterday, part of the whole process is a bit of a mediation for me.  I work on and envision what will be created in my mind before I create it.  I focus myself.  I try to envision the tastes.  I clear my mind and stop worrying about things I don’t have any control over.  And then… I get to drink the product of my labor… how cool is that?

If you have never made something and shared it with someone, I would recommend it.  The look on someone’s face when you hand them a beer and tell them that it is homebrew… priceless.  That is a bit of happiness.

So, why do I brew?  Hmmm… ahhhh…. that taste right there.

Making mead

I thought today I would shift gears a little and write about making mead.

Some of you may know that I have been making mead for over two years now.  I started off with a one gallon batch; used three pounds of honey, 12 cups of water and a packet of yeast.  After about two months, I used one campden tablet (releases sulfur into solution, which killers bacteria… and not yeast)… I had to drink most of it quickly, as I stated above, campden tablets do not kill yeast, and the fermentation continued once the bottles were corked, and the CO2 build up popped all of the corks out of the bottles.  The mead wasn’t bad, but I really didn’t know much of anything about what yeast like to eat (other then sugar) and what all was involved.

The next batch was a full 5.5 gallons.  I had read up more on what I was supposed to be doing and figured I would up my game.  4 gallons of water and 15 pounds of honey.  One large orange and four oz of dried elderberries.  I let this one ferment for about two months before I racked (the term rack, racked or to rack, is a brewing/winemaking term that means to transfer) it into secondary fermentation, where it stayed for another two months, I was going to make damn sure that the fermentation was complete.  This “melomel” or honey wine with fruit has been the best thus far.

Since I had gotten into making beer, I have not made any wine in the past 9 months.  I figured it was a good time to start something that would eventually be able to start filling the 60+ wine bottles I have saved and are taking up space.  So two weeks ago, I started a new batch of mead (this one will be a cross between a methaglin, spiced honey wine and a melomel)

I started with a little more then 4 gallons of water, 12.5 pounds of honey and an orange from the tree in the back yard.  I heated the water, to help the honey dissolve into solution, to 170 degrees for about 20 minutes.  I then took the pot out to my porch (it was raining outside) to help the must cool.  Once the must was cooled to about 68 degrees (yeast’s happy place) I tossed in my yeast.  I had two half used packets of yeast, so I tossed them both in.  One was Pasteur Champagne yeast, the other was Lavlin D47.  All of this is in a 6.5 gallon glass carboy.  The OG (original gravity or the measure of amount of sugar in solution) was 1.097, with this yeast, I imagine the final gravity will be in the 1.007 range, which should give me a beverage that is approximately 12.5% ABV.

Once the primary fermentation is complete, I am guessing it will take about six to eight weeks, I will rack into a secondary fermenter, in this case a 5 gallon carboy.  I have a couple vanilla beans that I will split and drop in, to extract the essence in the vanilla beans, a higher level of alcohol is helpful.  I will also add two or three cinnamon sticks.  I will let the metha-mel mead do it’s thing in secondary for about three months and then I will bottle.  I should get approximately 24 750 ml bottles from this batch.  I plan to age these for at least another 6 months, if not a year before I start drinking or giving away as gifts.

So that is just about it.  That is my most recent recipe for mead.  Eventually I will share with you some of my other recipes as well as some of my beer recipes.

Have a wonderful weekend!