Two “Simple” meads

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Okay, so I bought 5 gallons of honey for summer projects. I’m working on doing two batches at a time and also upping the sugar content to make the meads sweeter, so the investment in about $200 of honey is worth it. Plus, I have at least one lead on a couple getting wedded to whom I might be able to sell my mead, so there’s potential for profit here. I also bought something like 3 gallons worth of strawberries to make two batches of strawberry mead. They are now sliced and frozen, waiting for secondary.

Now! As an effort to streamline my process I had this brilliant idea to make a very simple mead. The operative word there is “simple”; however, it is rarely that way. I wanted to put in 15 lbs of honey, water up to 4.5 gallons (leaving space for the strawberries in the secondary), one packet of wyeast sweet mead (4184) yeast, stir it all up and let it go. Pretty simple recipe for new brewers. However, I didn’t get fermentation. So I stirred it up on the 3rd day. Nothing. 5th day, added another packet of yeast, and now we’re cooking! I think my first batch of yeast was dead..it’s been getting warmer and sometimes the trip from Thomas Creek back home involves a stop at the grocery store or elsewhere and the yeast may get too warm in those packets.

The twin batch, using the same amount of honey and water but instead wyeast dry mead yeast (4632), wasn’t bubbling. Then I stirred it, still no bubbling. Added another packet of dry mead yeast (as with the other), still no bubbling. Don’t know what’s up, maybe it’s a stuck fermentation. Sweet mead is going fine, so I add a packet of EC-1118, a champagne yeast good for re-starting stuck fermentations. Any guesses at the result? Still no bubbles. Curious! At this point, I start to fault equipment, which I should have done earlier. I’m working on switching from 3-piece airlocks:

To s-shaped airlocks:

And I think one of the s airlocks I got was faulty. The 3-piecer I put on it last night is bubbling once every 15 seconds or so, which is not as fast as I’d like, but it’s definitely fermenting. Stats and recipes in the next post.

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Photos of the new meadery

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So here’s some pictures of the new setup for brewing in my basement. More organized, less stuff sitting around taking up space, and more room to brew!

shelves

 

 

 

Here’s the new shelving, so I’ve moved all the brewing much closer to the sink. Still not sure about that fridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

horde

 

 

 

And here’s the whole horde of mead that I have stored for posterity and possible nuclear attack. Note the 55-gallon drum, currently empty (hopefully not for long!)

 

 

 

 

 

blueberry label

 

 

 

And last here are the labels designed by my younger sister who is pretty awesome. Going on the blueberry mead, which is soon to be bottled!

Updates: Bulk Batch, New Tools

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Just some thoughts I’ve had recently:

I think I’m going to attempt my bulk batch very soon. But first I have to consider a few things:

  1. Yeast: The first thing I’m going to do is look categorically at the different kinds of yeast I’ve used (or could use) and determine which one I like the most for a (generally) fruity flavored batch of mead. The Pasteur Champagne yeast is good, but a little too dry for me. Turns out Wyeast 4184 (Sweet Mead) only has an alcohol tolerance of 11%, which explains why the meads I’ve made with that yeast (first orange-cinnamon, cyser, chai#2) are tending to be much sweeter and not quite as alcoholic. Wyeast 4632 (Dry Mead), which I’ve only used so far on the purple starthistle (“spoon”) mead seems to be a good candidate based on its 18% tolerance and how tasty the purple starthistle mead is.
  2. Honey: I have to man up and buy 5 gallons of honey from Bee Well. That’s a lot of honey, honey. Gonna run about $130, I think, which is the cost of my failure.
  3. Primary Fermenter: I’ve got a 55 gallon steel drum. I need a food-safe plastic liner which I’m requiring for my own peace of mind–I don’t trust even the re-finished interior of the drum. Also need a bung for the top which I think I can get from Thomas Creek.
  4. Secondary Fermeter(s): I bought from Thomas Creek two Better Bottle carboys. They are plastic and have a slightly larger opening in the top (standard bung won’t do here), but otherwise they are identical to the glass ones that I have. Online forum posts will indicate die-hard fans one way or the other (glass v. plastic) but I think that the cost (35), the safety (no broken glass if they drop) and the weight difference (why make 5 gallons of water heavier?) are going to help me out. That means I have 5 6-gallon carboys ready to accept whatever comes out of the primary.
  5. Recipe(s): I want to use a variety of fruits so I can theme this batch a “berry bonanza” or something, but harvest times aren’t going to help. I can hit strawberry, blueberry, and peach all at the same time (late June I think) if I’m lucky, but I might need some other ideas. Couldn’t hurt to do a plain mead plus a couple strawberry and blueberry if necessary. Should be delicious.

Laura’s come up with some awesome labels and I’ve started to purchase clear bottles for packaging my mead more awesomely, potentially for sale. Which is illegal, but whatever. The bottles were less expensive than I thought–$14 for 12 bottles (which is just about one batch with a few left over for my quality assurance department) so I think I might make the transition over to official bottles for most of my batches from here out.

I need to upgrade my work space. I’ve got some ideas for buying a utility shelf and putting it right next to the deep sink in my basement with enough shelves for two rows of carboys and a row of equipment on top. Means I gotta do some work to clean up the basement, but it’s for the better. Clear out the old makeshift shelves/desks/work surfaces and make room for stuff that actually works. Could be very advantageous in the long run.

Gonna try using peat moss as a clarifier for one of these batches here soon but I’m a little nervous about it. Never used it before so I don’t know exactly how it works or how to work with it, so I might just avoid it and stick with what I’ve been using so far (gelatin-based clarifier). Dunno.

Strawberry Mead: bottled and waiting

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I got some new equipment for bottling (long time coming, really): a bottle filler, which is really a tiny spring-loaded spigot at the bottom of a tube, a clamp for the tube to stop the flow if necessary, and a clip that holds the racking cane to the side of the bucket/carboy.  It really helps out a lot to have these things–I tried to cheap out earlier on and not buy them, but the whole kit was maybe 10 bucks, so I was just trying to cut corners and it didn’t work out.  Anyway, all said bottling the strawberry mead was very easy.

The strawberry mead is a bit drier than I wanted, but I didn’t back-sweeten with any more honey, so I suppose that’s my own fault.  I kind of like them a bit dryer anyway, and the taste is delicious.  I am okay with leaving it for longer, though, and let it really ripen.  It has a beautiful golden-pink color.  Final stats:

  • Started: 6 January 2010
  • First rack: 25 January 2010 (onto strawberries, in carboy)
  • Second rack: 14 February 2010 (off of strawberries, in carboy)
  • Third rack: 5 April 2010 (starting to clarify, in fresh carboy)
  • Bottled: 8 May 2010 (after potassium sorbate to impede any living yeast and a clarifier)

Upping the game in a few ways

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I went back to Thomas Creek (see new link on the sidebar) for some supplies that I thought I would mention:

1) I plan to use a clarifying agent to make the chai mead clear…it’s been sitting in the carboy for a while and hasn’t gotten clear enough for my tastes, so I’m going to make it clear.  I may post about what kind of agent I’m using later, but for now I’ll clarify only that I know it’s a gelatin-based clarifier, not a clay-based clarifier (correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe those are the two main kinds)

2) I’m changing my sanitizer as well, away from the iodine-based sanitizer.  I think the iodine may be leaving some residue that is throwing off the flavor of the mead, especially with my plastic tools.

3) I bought a bottle brush!  Finally, the most annoying step of the whole process will hopefully be made a lot easier.  Cleaning and sanitizing the bottles is the most annoying but at the same time most necessary step…the brush will help that, hopefully.