Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Brewing a Second Batch of Mead

We brewed our first batch of mead back around Fall 2009, we were motivated to give it as a wedding present to my sister-in-law who we knew was getting married in 2010 - that gave us a year to let it age.  It turned out pretty well, but it was much sweeter than we would have liked it.  Over the next few years, we noticed as time went on the sweetness diminished and the mead got better and better.  We're down to our last bottle, which is living in my mother-in-law's fridge, so I decided to brew another batch and try to make it less sweet at the outset.

As before I followed the recipe from The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, Antipodal Mead (traditional), appendix 5, pp. 344-345.

This time however I used 10% less honey, keeping everything else the same.  The normal recipe calls for 15 lbs. honey, I used 13.5 instead.  The honey I used:

  • 2 x 5 lb. Dutch Gold pure honey from clover blossoms
  • 1 x 3 lb. Wellsley Farms all natural pure honey USDA grade a pure honey
  • 0.5 x 1 lb. trader joe's pure US grade A clover honey

I added the above to a 2-gallon pot, and it took up over half the pot:
It's kind of crazy to see this much honey poured into a pot
It wasn't going to be possible to and enough water, so I put a gallon of water in a 4 gallon pot and then poured the honey in the 2-gallon pot into the 4-gallon pot..  After scraping the honey on the sides as best I could with a spatula to transfer more honey, I heated ~3 cups of water in the original 2-gallon pot to dissolve the remaining honey, and then poured the mixture into the 4 gallon pot.  I used hot water from a kettle to get the remaining honey out of the plastic bottles that the honey came in.  I added

  • 1 tbsp gypsum
  • 4 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp irish moss
to the pot and put it on high heat on the biggest burner on the stove:

I put the lid on and then checked it about every minute or two because it could easily boil over.  It took about 30 minutes to come to a boil.  Once it was boiling I took the lid off, and as started skimming off the meringue-like foam that was forming (as indicated in the recipe).  After ~5 minutes there was relatively little foam forming, so I placed the lid mostly on, so there was < 1 inch gap on the right side between the lid and the side of the pot.  Placing the lid on induced the mixture to foam up again, and when the foam would get high enough to almost tough the lid, I would remove the lid and skim off the foam.  I did this for about another 5 minutes, at which point very little of the meringue-like foam was forming.  I then continued to boil with the lid off for another 5 minutes.  Total boil time was 15 minutes, at which point I turned off the heat and put the lid on the pot.

Side note:  the foam that I skimmed off is supposedly protein, so I ate it.  It was slightly sweet - but not overpoweringly so - and moderately tangy.

While the mixture was cooling I sterilized my equipment.  I then put about ~1 gallon of cold water in the carboy, and then used an auto-siphon to transfer the mixture into the carboy.  I held the tube against the side of the carboy to try to aerate the mixture as much as possible.  After it finished transferring, I topped up the carboy to the ~5 gallon mark with cold water, and placed it in the garage to cool off (it was probably about ~40 F in the garage):

About 4 hours later (we went and watched Star Wars:  The Force Awakens) I checked the temperature (by touching the outside of the carboy) and it was ready for the yeast.  I brought the carboy inside, pitched the yeast, and attached the airlock.  NB:  The airlock I used was a rubber cork with a hard plastic tube though the hole, and then a soft Tygon tube attached the hard tube running into a pitcher of water.  The advantage of this over the smaller, simpler airlock is that if the fermentation produces a lot of material in the head space of the carboy, the CO2 produced will push that material out in to the pitcher, instead of running out the airlock down the sides of the carboy, or worse, jamming the airlock causing pressure to build up until the cork is forced out (along with lots of mixture...)

There wasn't any bubbling the next day - in fact the opposite, water had been pulled a few inches up the tube of the airlock.  That is not unexpected, since as the the contents of the carboy cooled the pressure of the air in the head space dropped, causing the outside air pressure to push water part way up the tube.  I mention this because it caused me to realize I had forgotten to add the yeast nutrient.  I took the airlock cork out and added half the recommended yeast nutrient (3 tsp), but then I couldn't get the airlock cork to stay in the carboy.  I sterilized a regular airlock (1.5 min. in iodine-water solution) and then used that.  This airlock has a cork that is not solid, but hollowed out, perhaps allowing it to deform and stay in the neck of the carboy:

5 hours later it appears there has been a small amount of CO2 production as the airlock as risen slightly.  Checking again just now, I did observe a bubble move through the airlock - hopefully the beginning of many more!

Edit:  I forgot to add yeast nutrient, so added that in 2 parts - 3 tsp. the next day, another 3 tsp. the day after that.  When I added the last and put the airlock back in place there was significant bubbling - I suspect the agitation of the physical nutrient pieces caused CO2 in solution to be released.

Edit update:  It's bubbling!  It's slow but steady:

Edit update:  While we were away for ~11 days, the temperature dropped to ~40 F.  When we returned, we remotely turned the heat up to 68 F, and after a bit I noticed the mead was bubbling again.  It continued to bubble steadily.  Since it is still bubbling I decided not to rack it into a secondary, and if we go away again I'll keep it near the boiler which should keep it warmer.

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