Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Fruit Meads" - confusion!

Well OK, I'm no rocket scientist, but as I've never found any commercially made metheglin, melomel, cyser, etc etc (all alternative "proper" names for fruit/spice flavoured meads), I've got not benchmark to work from.

I've tried a number of different recipes and so far haven't been impressed with any of them. Yes there's usually a fruit/spice like taste in the background and a honey like taste, but which is supposed to be the predominant flavour ?

For example, just how "strawberry" is a strawberry melomel supposed to be ? But then again, even with normal "country" (fruit etc) wines, just how strawberry is a normal strawberry wine supposed to taste ?

Yes I have tasted a few commercial country/fruit wines - Gales seem to still make them, though I haven't tried any of theirs for a number of years (maybe worth a trip to the Portsmouth area to visit the shop), but so far, I haven't been satisfied with the flavours of the ones I've attempted.

So I suppose it's down to how I make them i.e. the actual recipe. I'm not a fan of these recipes that have a very vague taste of the original main flavouring ingredient, I like my country wines like alcoholic versions of an original cordial.

Is it a case of increasing the amount base fruit ? or upping the sugar level of the recipe ? or maybe both ? or even upping the amount of fruit and then when it's finished fermenting increasing the sweetness with sugar, honey or some other sweetening agent ?

Hell I just don't know !

For a hobby that's supposed to be easy, it's easy to be as confused as hell about how to achieve a specific result ! All the relevant information is just so fragmented. What's right, what's believable,
and what's relevant to creating a specific taste. Or how to modify a wine that tastes all right but has an incorrect "mouth feel" i.e. it's lacking in body/viscosity or the like.

There must be a way of doing this, but right now, I'm buggered if I can work out what it is!

Pip pip!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oh oh! I've just noticed, I've got a "comment"

My post of the 14th October last year has attracted a comment. I only just found it.

In response to "Kim", thankyou very much for your kind and understanding comment. It explained a fair few things that I just didn't know.

I don't know whether I'll actually be able to locate any of the honeys you've mentioned or not, I suspect that they'd be reasonably priced but the shipping would be prohibitive - that won't stop me looking to see though.

I'd forgotten about Tupelo and the like, but I was looking around the net the other day to see if I could find a reasonably priced source for Buckwheat honey. The net seems to be full of additional info, as there have been some recent reviews in the UK press, who seem to think it's a cure all panacea for childrens coughing problems. The few prices I did find seemed rather high so I'll have to keep looking.

Again, thanks for the comment. It's very much appreciated.



Mini "mead" update

The mead batch I made as a trial for "Wyeast Liquid yeast", to try both the sweet and dry mead yeasts is going well i.e. both are bubbling away nicely.

Today I added a small amount of additional yeast nutrient for the yeast cultures to "get their teeth into". I suspect that the sweet mead will be just that, well actually, very sweet. Because the starting gravity of the must was enough to make a mead of 18% abv, whereas the yeast will only go to about 11% abv, maybe a little more - so it might have as much as 7% residual sugar/sweetness.

The dry mead should be fine, because the dry mead culture should go to about the 18% abv suggested by the yeast profile. I'll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

Oh and I also found a local honey supplier that will give me enough variations of honey to try for the foreseeable future - I'm gonna link their site.

I was also given a link to a US site that had some rather magically named honeys, like "Killer Bee Honey" (apparently a wild flower honey from Brazil, produced by "Africanised" bees). I doubt whether I'll get any of their products as the shipping costs are likely to be prohibitive. I'll have to wait and see (and yes I'll link their site as well).

Pip pip!

Stresses, strains and other disappointments!

Ok, I've just racked the Barshack Ginger Mead, that I made on the 25th November 07. That is, it was racked off the pulp on the 1st Dec 07, and this is the first racking since it actually finished fermenting.

I should have racked it according to the original recipe on the 28th Jan this year, but I had a few other things to do, so it had to wait until today.

Despite the enthusiasm that the original author of the book/recipe has for this brew, I'm sorry to say that I can't (now, at any rate) agree with him.

Why? well I followed the recipe as closely as I could, except I used some fruit I had, which shouldn't, as far as I understand, have made much of a difference. I had a little taste and even now it still tastes like an alcoholic version of one of those "fruit tea's"/infusions. Except it's cold.

Pissy weak, lacking in any real flavour, with little, if any, "body" to it.

So, to try and make up for it's short comings, I've racked it off the sediment, into a jar of the same size. Then I've used a mix of 1 honey, to 2 water, to top it up and get rid of nearly all the air space. I've also added "wine smoother" - which is a product that I bought on the off chance I might have to opportunity to try. It's actually a small sachet of glycerine and a small sachet of "Oak Extract" (Sinatin 17 or something like that). It's supposed to add body and reduce ageing of young wines and smooth out the roughness that some young wines have.

I haven't got a clue as to whether it'll work or not.

I've dated the jar, and in a month or so, when the brew has had a chance to restart any fermentation activity that might be caused by the honey water I topped it up with, I'll rack it into glass, stopper the jars (1 gallon demijohn's - the current 5 us gallon container is sealed with a bubbler valve) and sling it under the stairs and forget about it for a year or two to see if it improves any.

So far, I've been suitably unimpressed with the fruit/spiced recipes I've tried. They're either too heavily flavoured or to bland. Maybe it's just that my expectations are too high. I don't know.

I just find that at the moment I'm not fussed about them at all, as I've yet to taste something that I actually like the flavour of. Though that also applies to my efforts to make a decent mead.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong, I don't know. I think I've worked out which yeasts I like to use, but that in itself creates a quandary. Do I follow a recipe blindly, or work out what the approximate theoretical level of % alcohol by volume the yeast will produce and then allow for a bit more honey to make it a sweet mead? I don't know.

I've put a fair amount of thought to this, and I can't believe that historically speaking, old mead recipes would have been used to make anything other than sweet mead. Dry meads are a product of those who think that they're fucking experts, and that they should be making meads that are just honey flavoured versions of popular grape wines.

These types strike me as if they are just fucking train spotters with hydrometers, instead of railway reference books! Fuck off you anally retentive twats!

Why am I being so harsh ?

Well I don't make grape wines, because there's a whole industry that's grown up around those products. Home brews and country wines are a little different. Not really commercial, but made by enthusiastic amateurs that just try to apply similar production principles.

Sure, I guess that some methods go out of fashion etc, but with a bit of reading and a sprinkle of imagination, it's not too difficult to work out what some of these historical recipes might have tasted like, and I doubt whether they were particularly dry. They were popular for a good few centuries. Then industrialisation came about, and it wasn't quite so easy to reproduce these country wine and mead type drinks on a commercial scale, so they made what they could produce on an industrial scale. At about the same time, various marketing opportunities came about, so they just made sure that you could only really get what they wanted to advertise at you. Hence part of the reason for the "rise of the popular brand".

It's one of the reasons that if I actually drink some beer, I tend to drink "real ales". They taste more "original" and not like some marketing nazi thinks I want to drink! (are you listening "Mr Magners", your cider is fucking horrible - I don't care how much you spend on adverts, as far as I'm concerned, your fucking cider is only fit for putting out small fires).

Ok I'll get of my soap box! I've got to rack the mead I made for the winesathome tutorial again, as well as the canned strawberry. I think that I might just bin the "turbo cider" as it's not very nice. Yes that is my fault, as I should have read the packets before I paid for them i.e. made sure I was getting apple and pear juice and not apple/peach! I'll have to wait and see.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Latest Batch (Mead)

So I seem to recall mentioning "Brouwland", the home brew shop/supplier in Belgium.

One (well 2 really) of the bits I got was some "Wyeast" Liquid mead yeast - well, a packet of their "Sweet Mead" liquid yeast and one of the "Dry Mead" yeast.

I've finally got my finger out of my arse and made a batch to use them.

The recipe I used is the one I got from my mother - she hand wrote it from "The Gales Book of Honey", called Modern Mead.

Now whether you're aware of it or not, you can make wine, mead or whatever by either following a recipe directly or using it as a guide. By that, I mean just follow the recipe and see how it turns out, or by having more control over it and working to a particular specific gravity level.

I haven't been ready to work to specific gravities yet, but I do try to remember to monitor them so I can work out roughly how much percentage alcohol by volume I'd expect to get.

So, the recipe itself actually suggests using 3 lb of honey for a dry mead and 4 lb for a sweet one. Now as it's the yeast I'm trying to compare, I've used 4 lb per gallon, which has given me a specific gravity of 1.134 which is quite high. Lots of home wine makers like to go for about 1.090 - and yes I can hear you say "so what the fucks the difference"?

Well, depending on the yeast, 1.134 can metabolise out to about 18.21 % ABV, whereas 1.090 should give you about 14.81 % ABV.

Now as my aim is to compare yeasts but using the same recipe, I've checked a table that I have access to and know that the batch that has been made with the "Sweet Mead" yeast, should finish at about 11 % ABV, because that's what the yeast is capable of (according to the chart), whereas the one made with the "Dry Mead" yeast, should go to about 18 % ABV for the same reason.

Apart from the difference in strength (alcohol wise) it's possible that the dry mead will have the "medicinal/mouthwash" type taste when it's finished fermenting, that seems to be a characteristic of higher levels of alcohol. So usually needs ageing for longer.

I'll have to wait and see.

Another factor, is that wines seem to like quite acid conditions during fermentation. That, as you may know, is measured in pH (the pH scale is from 0 to 14, 7 is neutral, the lower numbers down to 0 measure the acid, while the higher ones to 14 measure alkali). Some digging around suggests a good set of numbers for fermentation of wine are between 3.0 and 3.5.

I measured the pH of just the recipe, and it was 3.88 despite having citric acid (or lemon juice) as one of the ingredients. So as I was making 2 gallons, so that I could split it down into 1 gallon fermenters I had to add 2 teaspoons of tartaric acid (tartaric being the suggested one for reducing the pH down). I've ended up with 2 x 1 gallon jars that measured 3.22.

The liquid yeast packets are known as "smack packs". Because before use, you need to "smack" them. This bursts an inner bag of nutrient, which is then shaken into the yeast culture. The pack is then left for about 3 hours between 21 and 24 degrees centigrade. The yeast starts to increase/brew swelling the pack. That's when it's ready to be pitched into the must/brew. I'd also cooled the must to 24.6 degrees C when the yeast was pitched.

Now I'd normally just have used the cheap honey from the local supermarket (Tesco), but I'd been into the local branch of Lidl, and they had 500gramme jars of Greek Honey for £1.50 and as I'd already tasted it, now that it's a nicer tasting honey than the cheap one from Tesco. So I used the Greek one from Lidl.

Right now, I waiting for the jars to start bubbling/fermenting, so they look the same. Fortunately, as well as trying to remember to take notes on my brews, I also remembered to get some tie on lables so I know which one has which yeast in it - it'd be obvious enough when it's finished fermenting, but I suspect it might be handy to know just in case anything goes wrong during the ferment.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Feb 5th update

Well, as the winter mead didn't want to restart, I let it settle, mixed in a bit of spirits to prevent restart of fermentation during ageing and the racked it off.

It's powerful stuff. Of the 4 gallons I had that I tried to restart etc, after settling I had 3 full jars, with a bit left over. I managed to get about a pint out of it before the sludge started to pass up the syphon.

It took me 4 or 5 hours to drink the pint. Nice and slowly.

The next morning I had a rageing hangover. Something I don't normally suffer from.

Apart from that, I've racked off the mead I made for the "Winesathome" tutorial. It'd thrown a nice sediment and is starting to clear - I topped it up with "honey water" (50/50 honey and water) to exclude as much air as possible.

I also racked the "canned strawberry" that I had to restart. It's now tasting "wine like" rather than like slightly alcoholic strawberry syrup. I've racked the turbo cider I had going. That tastes a little weird, because I screwed up by using apple juice and peach juice. It should have been apple and pear. Ah well, I'll sort that next time. It is drinkable though.

I've also bought a cheap cider kit to see what that tastes/comes out like. It's only been going 3 days, but should only take between 7 and 10 days to brew. It's a bit "watch this space" so I'll have to wait and see.