Strawberry, plus experiments

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So, a couple of thoughts on the strawberry mead for this season. It’s a late night of tasting mead and an early flight tomorrow so I’m not going to try to put together a complete post with stats and all that, but I do want to log some stuff before I forget.

  • Racked the two boiled honey batches onto 1.5 gallons of strawberries (took 3 gallons of strawberries, chopped, frozen, boiled, cooled, split in half, racked the two separate batches onto them)
  • EC-1118 tastes better than D47 and is still fermenting (1 bubble every 10 seconds or so). I conclude EC-1118 > D47.
  • Both batches are much lighter–I like the taste of the boiled honey mead, but there is less honey in each batch than usual. I account this change to the fact that I didn’t really measure the honey in the first place and there’s probably less than I usually add.
  • I kinda like the lighter flavor. I might have to be more careful in the future about how much honey I add. The lighter mead should work better with the strawberries too.

Simple Strawberry Recipes

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So those two simple meads I just posted about are going to eventually turn into strawberry meads using strawberries freshly plucked from Beechwood Farms in Traveler’s Rest SC. Read that other post about some complications during the startup, but I don’t think there will be any terrible consequences in the long run. It all goes to alcohol eventually, right?!

Sweet Strawberry recipe:

  • 1 gallon+1 qt+1/2 qt wildflower honey (from Bee Well), approx. 15 lbs
  • water up to 4.5 gallons (to leave space for the strawberries in secondary
  • 1 packet Wyeast Sweet Mead yeast (4184), second packet added 5 days later

And stats:

  • Started: 15 May 2011
  • More yeast: 20 May 2011

Dry Strawberry recipe:

  • 1 gallon+1 qt+1/2 qt wildflower honey (from Bee Well), approx. 15 lbs
  • water up to 4.5 gallons (to leave space for the strawberries in secondary
  • 1 packet Wyeast Dry Mead yeast (4632), second packet added 5 days later, EC-1118 added one week later

And stats:

  • Started: 15 May 2011
  • More yeast: 20 May 2011 (another packet 4632)
  • More yeast: 22 May 2011 (EC-1118)

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.

Two oranges

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So I’m currently racking the two orange batches, first the Just Orange batch (made with EC-1118 yeast), which is still more dry than I want. I’ve been playing around with different meads, but sampling this one it still has the slightly-too-dry overly-alcoholy aftertaste of the Blueberry Mead. So I don’t think it is precisely the yeast (although that still plays a part, I’m sure). I’m thinking it might be the amount of honey (I’m consistently starting with 1gal=12lbs of honey) since I could certainly be adding more. The only strict guidance I’ve gotten about how much honey was way back in my first batches when I read that 10lbs yields a “drier” mead and 15lbs yields a “sweeter” mead. Not precise enough I don’t think. So I added 1qt of honey before I racked it and we’ll see how it goes. Stats:

  • Started: 29 March 2011
  • 1st Rack: 3 May 2011

The 3rd gen mead is not as dark or meaty as the first generation, nor as dry as the 2nd, but is still dry (equally as Just Orange). So I added another quart of honey before racking it, stirring profusely. I’m pretty sure the fermentation is still active by the number of excited bubbles that came up and foamed at the surface–just a curiosity of the second yeast (D-47) generating more bubbles, and possibly the raisins providing a better fermenting environment for the yeast. Definitely a bigger fan of D47 than E1118. Stats:

  • Started: 29 March 2011
  • 1st Rack: 3 May 2011

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.

Yeast notes

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Just wanted to post about some yeast websites that I’ve been looking at for future reference. I’ve read some mead recipes using “Montrachet” yeast and I hadn’t heard of it before, so I searched for it using Google.

First useful site is at Grape Stomper.  I use Lalvin yeasts frequently, so its breakdown (a list of recommended strains and characteristics of each) for some of the different varieties is helpful. It also gives a short description of each strain which is helpful. Not for mead specifically, but you know…in general.

Second is the discussion in this HomeBrew Talk thread about the right yeast for a cider. If you remember my cyser, I used a Wyeast Sweet Mead yeast (that has worked out very tastily!), but their comments on the Montrachet yeast leads me to respect it perhaps over a champagne yeast. But maybe something else entirely? I think I’m reading too much about non-mead yeasts. Just some thoughts.

Some notes on yeast

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I’ve become much more interested in yeast varieties recently, prompted by my desire to become better at the finer points of wine/beer brewing.  I’ve found this site has a pretty good explanation of Lalvin-brand yeasts, one of which I’ve gotten from Thomas Creek recently (K1-V1116):

http://www.lallemandwine.us/products/yeast_strains.php

Another good site with some general explanations of a variety of wine yeasts is here:

http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/strains.asp

Lastly, in my research I found that the name given to the primary genus of most yeast strains is “saccharomyces”, which comes from the Greek words for sugar (sacchar) and fungus (myces).  I may begin calling yeast “sugar fungus” from now on.