Saturday, March 29, 2008

Latest brews (more mead)

So, last weekend was Easter. 2 public holidays so apart from cleaning up the plastic demi-john caps, I was at a bit of a loose end.

I did some digging and found a few recipes at Gotmead. As it happened, I went round to the local supermarket for some milk and noticed that they had their own brand honey on offer - 2 jars for £2.50 - which was too hard to resist. I got as many jars as they had (about 12 I think it was), and as most honey of this nature is a bit mediocre for "proper" mead i.e. it tends to make quite unremarkable meads, I figured I could make a fruit mead (a.k.a. melomel) or a spiced one (a.k.a. metheglin).

Anyway, I decided an "easy" recipe would be best so I decided to make some "Joe Mattioli's Ancient Orange Spiced Mead" (yes I know, strictly speaking it's both melomel and metheglin).

Here's the recipe

1 gallon batch

3 1/2 lbs Clover or your choice honey or blend (will finish sweet)
1 Large orange (later cut in eights or smaller rind and all)
1 small handful of raisins (25 if you count but more or less ok)
1 stick of cinnamon
1 whole clove ( or 2 if you like - these are potent critters)
optional (a pinch of nutmeg and allspice )( very small )
1 teaspoon of Fleishmann’s bread yeast ( now don't get holy on me--- after all this is an ancient mead and that's all we had back then)
Balance water to one gallon


Use a clean 1 gallon carboy

Dissolve honey in some warm water and put in carboy

Wash orange well to remove any pesticides and slice in eights --add orange (you can push em through opening big boy -- rinds included -- its ok for this mead -- take my word for it -- ignore the experts)

Put in raisins, clove, cinnamon stick, any optional ingredients and fill to 3 inches from the top with cold water. ( need room for some foam -- you can top off with more water after the first few day frenzy)

Shake the heck out of the jug with top on, of course. This is your sophisticated aeration process.

When at room temperature in your kitchen, put in 1 teaspoon of bread yeast. ( No you don't have to rehydrate it first-- the ancients didn't even have that word in their vocabulary-- just put it in and give it a gentle swirl or not)(The yeast can fight for their own territory)

Install water airlock. Put in dark place. It will start working immediately or in an hour. (Don't use grandma's bread yeast she bought years before she passed away in the 90's)( Wait 3 hours before you panic or call me) After major foaming stops in a few days add some water and then keep your hands off of it. (Don't shake it! Don't mess with them yeastees! Let them alone except its okay to open your cabinet to smell every once in a while.

Racking --- Don't you dare
additional feeding --- NO NO
More stirring or shaking -- Your not listening, don't touch

After 2 months and maybe a few days it will slow down to a stop and clear all by itself. (How about that) (You are not so important after all) Then you can put a hose in with a small cloth filter on the end into the clear part and siphon off the golden nectar. If you wait long enough even the oranges will sink to the bottom but I never waited that long. If it is clear it is ready. You don't need a cold basement. It does better in a kitchen in the dark. (Like in a cabinet) likes a little heat (70-80). If it didn't work out... you screwed up and didn't read my instructions (or used grandma's bread yeast she bought years before she passed away) . If it didn't work out then take up another hobby. Mead is not for you. It is too complicated.
If you were successful, which I am 99% certain you will be, then enjoy your mead. When you get ready to make different mead you will probably have to unlearn some of these practices I have taught you, but hey--- This recipe and procedure works with these ingredients so don't knock it. It was your first mead. It was my tenth. Sometimes, even the experts can forget all they know and make good ancient mead.

The only differences I made was that of the 3 batches I've made, 1 used the Orange suggested in the original recipe, whereas the second has lemon and the third has lime.

All three batches are now bubbling away, under the side table in the dining room. I can't wait to see how they turn out.

Just for info, I have made this recipe before, but I used wine yeast. When it had finished (I actually let it go until the fruit had dropped on that occasion), it tasted strongly of cloves. I thought I'd screwed it up. I hadn't really because I just racked it over into 1 gallon jars and chucked it under the stairs to bulk age.

That worked very well, because the strong clove taste faded into the background and it was a pleasant, rich tasting drink. I'm guessing that the strong flavour of cloves originally experienced was caused by both the cloves and by the use of wine yeast which must have fermented it to dry and leaving a bit of a "hot" alcohol taste.

Anyone thinking of having a go at making mead should try this - follow the recipe and apart from the sanitising/sterilizing of the jars etc, it actually takes about 20 minutes to make the must, then it's just a case of waiting it to cool enough to pitch the yeast - then just swirling it around and stoppering the container with a bubbler valve.

All three of these batches were bubbling/fermenting within the hour - in any case, it shouldn't take more than about a day for it to start bubbling/fermenting.

So now I just have to leave it alone and wait.

Oh and I just wrapped the jars with newspaper so to exclude light.

Pip pip!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The "object" of the excercise i.e. the "Treasure"

This picture shows one of the 400 odd half gallon demi-johns in action. Actually it's being used to facilitate the "restarting" of the fermentation, of the batch of mead (a "double" batch) where I was testing the Wyeast liquid mead yeasts. For reasons I don't under stand, both of the brews seem to have "stuck". The only cause I can think of, is because I started the ferments using 4lb of honey in the gallon. Which would have meant that the starting gravity (a.k.a. SG) would have been about 1134. That's quite high.

I've had some advice that suggests I shouldn't start a ferment much above 1090. Otherwise the yeast can be "shocked" by the high sugar levels.

Now I can't say for certain if that was why they both "stuck", but I'm now using Lalvin EC-1118 yeast to restart the ferment - both the current brews will be mixed eventually in the 12 litre "water bottle" you can see to the left of the glass container to finish fermenting.

Ah well! as "they" say, "shit happens".

More about my "treasure"!

Ok so along with the mountain of demi-john brewing jars I got from ebay, the bloke also threw in an old tyle adhesive bucket full of lids. Some had been used some not. They were really skanky. Covered in years of dirt, mould, etc. So I've spent the afternoon picking the old "seals" out of the caps. I had hoped that they'd just be pushed in, but they weren't, they'd been glued in. The actual seals were made up of a couple of layers of paper, that sandwiched a layer of cork, and the layer that came in contact with the original contents of the demi-johns was plastic coated.

The gluing in bit, could have made it a real pain in the arse to sort. Luckily, and partly due to the age of the lids (at least 20 years old), they where glued in with some sort of natural glue (animal based ???).

The picture shows the state of them after I'd picked the seals off (sorry about the shit focussing of the picture, but it's just so you can see what I'm dealing with).

This picture shows the progress. I soaked the lids in warm water with "washing up liquid", a small amount of effort (with a small vegetable paring knife) to remove the glue, followed by soaking them in more warm water, but this time with a little bleach.

As you can see, they're returning to their original white (actually some of the lids are black, but I just decided to clean up a batch, as there was exactly 200 lids in total).

I'm very pleased with my efforts, because it means that I should, theoretically, just be able to find a small amount of expanded polyethylene sheeting to cut out small discs to make new seals for them, and consequently use them to seal some of the demi-johns so that I can make some "sparkling" mead.

If course, I should point out that that will be a bit experimental because these demi-johns originally contained cider, so should be able to take the pressure produced from natural carbonation i.e. a little sugar/dextrose in the bottle before filling. That is then converted into alcohol and CO2 - the CO2 being the bubbles. I doubt that they'd have taken the pressure if I had the facilities to just pump the mead with compressed CO2.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Time for a quick rant!

Ok, so I keep getting told that I shouldn't (ideally) be starting a ferment if I get a gravity reading of above 1090/1.090 (which theoretically, equates to 12% ABV).

It's got something to do with the yeast getting "shocked" and either not starting to ferment or weakening it so that it causes a "stuck" ferment.

The process suggested, seems to be one called "Chaptalization". This involves letting the ferment get down to a certain gravity reading (for example, 1020/1.020) and then adding more sugar/honey to push it back up to, (again for example) 1040/1.040

I mean, I understand the principal of doing that, it means (to me) that I'd be adding more sugar/honey for the yeast to "get it's teeth into".

The practicality of doing this is confusing as hell. Sure, I can work out that for the ferment to have dropped from 1090/1.090 to 1020/1.020 is a drop of 70, and then when the ferment has had more honey/sugar added for it to go back up to say 1040/1.040 I could then just let it finish, at say (for easy numbers) 1000/1.000. That would be a drop of another 40, and totalling 110 points of gravity.

So, how much % ABV would that equate to ? Or more importantly, how would it convert into a total amount of honey, so I know how much to buy.

Some of the excellent websites, such as Wines at home, or Gotmead, have calculators for such issues. But it does seem that both locations have forgotten to give instruction on how these facilities are fucking well used. Come on both, I'm still saving the money for a fucking crystal ball!

This is really pissing me off. I'm sure I've received good advice, but I'm fucked if I know how to interpret it!

OK, I'm off to do my fucking head in again, trying to understand how I'd be doing this in practice, because right now, I haven't got a fucking clue!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

There's treasure in them thar auctions

During a bit of hunting round ebay, I found a rather enticing auction. It was for 24 x 1 gallon brewing jars a.k.a. demi-johns. Plus, 409, yes 409 half gallon demi-johns.

In my local "home brew shop" 1 gallon "DJ's" retail for about £4.50 a go so I figured that 24 for the starting bid of £29.99 made them a bargain. They don't sell half gallon ones - historically they've been used for retailing cider in "pretty" jars - that's exactly where the half gallon ones have come from.

I was initially a bit reluctant to bid as I didn't really have a clue what I might do with 409 half gallon DJ's, but I just figured "what the fuck", even if I put them into recycling it was worth the price for the 1 gallon jars.

Well as you can see from the picture, I "won" the auction (no one else bid - not surprising really). The result being the picture I took in the back of the works van that I borrowed to pick them up this afternoon.

It took me a couple of days to scrounge the pallets, boards and pallet wrap, but yesterday I knew I had all the kit necessary to collect them.

As you can see, they're completely "stinking". Not surprising as they'd been kept in a barn for about 20 years. Not that that really matters, as they'd have to be washed/sterilised anyway.

I'm intending to use them for "bulk storage" i.e. I can free up some 1 gallon DJ's for brewing and once the brew is ready, transfer it into a couple of these to age the wine (or mead in my case - mead being notorious for needing to age).

You can probably guess, I'm feeling quite pleased with myself.

Pip pip!

p.s. Oh and the bloke who was selling them, was very helpful. He makes cider commercially and kindly gave me a litre bottle of his product - He doesn't appear to have a website but sells some though Middle Farm. I'm sipping a pint as I type this, it's a medium sweet, a bit "woodpecker" tasting, but it's 8.4% ABV, and a damned nice drop :D

Sunday, March 09, 2008

update - 9/3/08

Just checked on what was done yesterday. The canned strawberry is clearing nicely, while the mead made for the tutorial has thrown a sediment, but is still quite hazy. Not to worry, it'll clear in time - I'm guessing.

I can't access the WAH site at the moment because I wanted to check what yeast I'd used to make the mead for the tutorial - why ? because my regular mead recipe uses either 3 or 4 lb's of honey to the gallon, so with 4 lb, that gives a gravity reading of about the 1135 mark before the yeast is pitched. So it's actually quite suitable for one of the higher alcohol yeasts like lalvins EC-1118 or K1V-1116, which should, theoretically (and from the info on the yeast data sheet at Gotmead, suggest a balanced mead from the EC-1118, a sweet(ish) mead with K1V-1116 and very sweet/"sack" mead with either 71B-1122 or D47, but I can't remember which one I used for the "tutorial mead". It's occurred to me that I might have to put it in the fridge to cool down some, as this can, apparently, help with clearing.

Of course, if I wasn't so "hap-hazard" in my approach to winemaking, then I'd have kept nice accurate records. Ha! I don't (at the moment), I try to use this blog, because then if there's anyone who wants to make some mead then at least they've got info about my mistakes to learn from. It does really annoy me that mead making info is so fragmented (well not just mead making info, most home brewing info).

I should really check to see whether I remembered to add it here shouldn't I!


Saturday, March 08, 2008

update - 8/3/08

I've just been checking/meddling with things i.e. I've added finings to the batch of mead I made for a "winesathome" tutorial, and the batch of "canned strawberry". Both of these had been sitting for a while, but as there'd been no noticeable activity I decided "fuck it" I'll bang some finings in to clear them a bit quicker. Then once they've cleared I'll just sorbate them to prevent any further possible fermentation and then just chuck them under the stairs to bulk age.

The batch (well double batch) I made to compare the Wyeast mead yeasts (ones "sweet" and the other, believe it or not, is "dry") haven't shown any activity in a week or two so I decided to rack them. Actually I racked, sulphited and check the OG readings at the same time.

The "dry" one, seems to be at about 1025 and the "sweet" one at 1030. I'll be looking around to see if I can find out what that converts too in % ABV terms to try and judge whether they might be still fermenting or not. I need to work that out, because the data I can find on the yeasts suggests I should get about 11% ABV from the sweet yeast and 18% from the dry yeast.

I'm not sure whether it's just a case of taking the OG from the SG or what. I'll have to see.

My problem is more that I know that I should take gravity readings on about 3 consecutive days to work out whether it's stopped fermenting or now, but I'm paranoid as fuck about continually meddling with ferments, because I could just as easily introduce bacteria or other contaminants and fuck it up.

I mean, how do the so called "experts" do that? Is it just a case of using a sulphite solution to spray the testing gear or do they piss about being anal and do full sterilisation of all that kind of kit ?? I just don't know!

Fuck it, I'll go and ask some more idiot level questions