Sunday, April 27, 2008

Heather Honey Mead latest!

Damn I must try and not let my impatience get the better of me!

So, what's happened?

Well, having read about the relative importance of getting a finished ferment off the lees, I decided to rack it, but rack it through a straining bag i.e. because the strange, granular sediment that you nearly can't see because of my crap photography in yesterdays post.

Anyway I just figured that if I can remove the granular sediment it would be easier to judge the clearing process (the granular sediment looked like it was about 1 inch deep).

I racked it through a syphon tube into the straining bag to try and catch any of this, that went up the tube. It seems that I've been reasonably successful. I didn't squeeze the bag, just pulled it out of the "new" demi-john jar gently.

On inspecting the "granular" sediment, it looked very much like dark honey coloured cheese curds, with a strong honey aroma. So I'm suspecting that it's either fine wax type debris or possibly pollen.

Either way, it should now allow the mead to settle properly and clear. At the same time, I've added 4 oz of the heather honey as the gravity reading was still at 1003 and I want some residual sweetness - putting that in now might have not been the best idea, but I figured that it would allow any other debris in the honey to settle with the yeast as it drops out of solution (and no I haven't re-checked the gravity, I'll do that after the next racking).

I also added a dissolved campden tablet - I had to top it up with about 200ml's of water to allow for the racking loss.

As far as I can see, it's still looking good !


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Update 26/4/08

Weird Granular AppearanceThe two basic/traditional mead batches seem to be going OK i.e. the restart/blend/mix batch (12 litres) has got to 0998 gravity and pH of 3.90 whereas the heather honey 1 gallon batch has got to 1003 gravity and a pH of 4.11

The only odd thing is that the heather honey batch has dropped such a weird looking sediment. Very granular in appearance. Almost as it there was wax or something mixed in with the honey (there wasn't as far as I could see). I doubt whether this is a problem, so I'm thinking that I'll strain it out somehow, which should allow the mead to drop a sediment normally.

There's only a small amount of sediment showing at the bottom of the mixed/test batch, so I'll just rack that off it and chuck a campden tablet or two in it and allow it to clear naturally.

Apart from that, these two seem to be going fine.

The 3 batches of the "Joe Mattioli Spiced Orange" mead (whether I used orange or a different citrus fruit) seem to have slowed down. As they've only been going for a month or less, I'll just leave them to settle/clear etc. I did have a small victory today though, I went round to the local "scummerfield" branch for a few bits and noticed that they were doing the "cheap honey" deal again i.e. 2 X 1lb jars for £2.50 so I got 4, with a view to knocking up a batch of the Spiced Orange recipe, but with lemon and lime, though stupidly I went a bought a lime and an orange. I'll get another lemon tomorrow I suspect and make it up then - it only takes about 45 minutes or so to do.

The picture of the granular sediment in the heather honey isn't a very good one, but it does give you an idea how much as settled out of it - it doesn't look like flocculated yeast sediment though - and some of it seems to have attached itself to the side of the demi-john. As I say, weird.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Updates and confusion W/E 19/4/08

Well I've just tested gravity and pH of the two mead batches I have on the go.

The "Heather Honey" batch is giving me a gravity of 1008 and pH of 4.04, while the "mixed/test/whatever" batch (named as such as it was originally an experiment to see how I got on with Wyeast Liquid yeasts - both sweet and dry mead yeast - but as they stuck and I couldn't work out why, I mixed them and re-started with EC-1118) is now at a gravity of 1000 and a pH of 3.88

So what's the confusion?

Well, the only thing I've done with the heather honey batch is to top it up to the bottom of the neck of the DJ to exclude as much air space as possible. So by current gravity readings it's dropped about 132 points and off the top of my head I can't remember the calculation for working the % ABV, but with it's original starting gravity of 1140 it should be (once it get's to 1000) about 19 + % ABV, which is a little weird because K1V yeast is supposed to "poop out" at about 16 % (according to the yeast data I can find). Though I'm wondering if the reasonably high amount of nutrient that the instructions/box suggested, might be the reason why it's gone on fermenting. My usual tasting of the little bit I used to check the pH is predictably "not very nice" i.e. it still has a good honey taste/aroma, but it's also now got a "alcohol hot" taste, but that should normally age out of it.

I'm also guessing that the small amount of increase in pH levels might be to do with the topping up and the addition of the bubble scum/debris that had formed on the top of the inside of the glass, that's now mixed it.

Appearance-wise, it's a nice colour, but there is currently a layer of granular looking sludge (about 3/4 of an inch deep) on the bottom - that should settle/filter out so I'm not overly worried by that.

Otherwise it's looking good.

As for the mixed batch, well that's also slowed down. The Greek honey I used hasn't retained so much honey taste, but is equally dry and "alcohol hot" tasting. There isn't any noticeable lees settled out yet.

I'm guessing that I'll have to back sweeten both of these meads - I've got some heather honey for that batch but I'll have to go to Lidl's to get a jar of the greek for that batch.

Despite the hassles I've had with both of these batches, they are turning out to be good - well I can't say for certain, but they should both, at least, turn out to be "Ok".

Hum? I wonder if it's a good idea to rack and sulphite them? Then sorbate and add some honey and then leave to clear/bulk age ? Probably better to wait until they've started to clear before I sorbate and back sweeten - but I'm thinking I'll rack them next weekend - plus the campden tablet should stun the last of any activity out of them.

I'll have to think on it some more and wait and see


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Commercially made Meads "review"

Some "half bottle" Samples of Commercially made Meads
During some recent difficulties in my mead making (stuff like not enough nutrient/too higher starting gravity/not enough "pre-pitching" oxidation of must), someone at one of the forums I post at, suggested that I try to obtain some commercially made meads to taste and measure. "A damn good idea" I thought.

Previously, when I'd visited Middle Farm, for some cider, I'd noticed that they did have some commercially made mead, but only 1 or 2 different types. When I visited yesterday, I found that they keep considerably more than that, so I got myself the 4 half bottles pictured.

They are Lindisfarne mead, Lyme Bay winery Mead, Lurgashall winery Mead and Witham Friary Mead.

Today, I proceeded to open each bottle, take a gravity reading, tranfer most of the sample back into the bottle, retaining a small amount to take a pH measurement from and then drank the small amount to see what it tasted like (I had previously tasted commercially produced mead, but that was some years ago).

So, the readings were as follows - Oh and I'm not an experienced wine taster so I'll just put a basic description according to what I found.

The Lindisfarne Mead. This is the lightest in colour. It gave a gravity reading of1042 and a pH reading of 3.01 - the taste was sweet, with a very light, barely obvious honey flavour. Palatable and pleasant.

The Lyme Bay Mead. This was the second darkest of the samples, being a "whiskey" colour. It gave a gravity reading of 1040 and a pH reading of 2.90 - it was equally sweet, but with a much stronger honey flavour. Very nice.

The Lurgashall Winery Mead. This was between the Lindisfarne and Lyme Bay for colour, similar in tone to a white wine. It gave a gravity reading of a massive 1065 and a pH of 3.50. It had a similar honey flavour to the Lyme Bay Mead. Again, very nice.

Finally, the Witham Friary Mead. This gave a gravity reading of 1038 and a pH reading of 3.20, it was by far the darkest in colour, similar to a dark/black rum. With a strong, slightly floral/citrus type hint to the flavour. Sweet. Again, very nice, but not as "good" (sorry I can't really define why I felt this) as the Lyme Bay.

So of the 4, my favourite is the Lyme Bay, followed by both the Lurgashall Winery and the Witham Friary ones equally (though again, I can't really explain why I thought they were so different, yet equally as good), followed up in the rear by the Lindisfarne Mead.

Now this is, but isn't surprising. It is, because Lindisfarne mead is one of the better known ones in the UK, but it isn't. Just because you have a "known" brand, it doesn't mean that yours is the best product.

I'll finish by saying that if I can manage to make anywhere near as good a mead as these, then I'll be very happy. At the end of the day, none of them are rubbish, but I did expect the darker ones to be the stronger tasting and possibly the better, but the Lurgashall one disproves the darker is stronger/better idea.

Oh and they are all about 14.5% ABV

The other thing that was confirmed by this test (and one that I was beginning to wonder about) is that I do, very much, like mead.


The "Heather Honey" batch!

The heather honey batch as it looks today!
Well, I don't remember whether I mentioned how I got round the problem of the surprisingly high pH reading I was getting from the batch so I tell it (again?) here.

I'd got it mixed up with all the ingredients, including the 1 teaspoon of citric acid, but the pH was still high, so out of confusion/desperation/lack of knowledge etc, I just put a further 2 teaspoons of tartaric acid in it and then matched it with a further 1 teaspoon of citric - totalling 4 teaspoons of acid.

Now I thought that was way too much, but after getting some advice, it still seemed like a lot, but probably not excessively so.

The following day the pH was down to 4.3, which I was much happier with (and it was inside my "comfort zone").

So I pitched the yeast (Lalvin K1V-1116) during the mid morning and I'll be damned if it was happily bubbling away by the evening.

Yesterday afternoon I was doing some checks on my current ferments, and the heather honey was giving me a gravity reading of 1045 (down from 1140 the previous week) and a pH reading of 3.95 (down from the 4.30 of the previous week).

As for the taste ? Wow!, if I could have, I'd have drunk the lot there and then. Apart from the obviously present "yeastiness", it had a nice, strong honey flavour - though I suppose that's to be expected with heather honey, with a good sweetness - again, not surprising given that it was at a S.G. of 1045

The honey is a little curious, because I couldn't find out whether the heather base for the bee's, was bell or ling heather. Also, it was very, very viscous - I'm guessing somewhere in the region of twice as "thick" as normal processed wild flower honey. It also looked a little granular, though why that might be, I don't know.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

So much for "my latest brew"!

The other week, I got my hands on some of this excellent sounding honey. I haven't got a clue what it really tastes like, but today I got round to making a brew of it - well sort of!

Sort of ? I hear you say. Yes, sort of.

What I mean by that, is that I started making it - as per usual. I'd got the honey in the demi-john jar (4 lb of it). It was partially dissolved i.e. I'd used warm water to rinse out the jars. I'd then added a pint of tea and a campden tablet, followed by the yeast nutrient (Gervins "Minavit" - the amount suggested is a bit weird - it (the instructions) say 1 to 2 grammes per gallon or 6g/litre for sugar solutions fermenting for high alcohol. As I say, weird). I'd then topped it up to about three quarters/four fifths full, but before I added the citric acid and then the yeast, I thought it sensible to check both the gravity of the "must" and the pH.

I was expecting quite a high gravity - my expectation was bourne out. It was 1140 - high enough to produce an alcohol content of 20 to 21%. Fine thinks me, just check the pH and I'll be ready to pitch the yeast.

This is where it went to a complete sack of shit ! It's my understanding that honey is acid, so I don't know what kind of pH reading I should get, but I certainly didn't expect 6.36 - 6.36 ? what's the relevance of that?

Well, you may or may not know, the pH scale is from 0 to 14, 0 being acid as fuck and 14 being alkali as fuck (both extremes are very corrosive). Neutral is 7. Most water sits either one side or the other of 7 i.e. water is pretty neutral.

As I said, I didn't know what to expect, maybe 4 or 5 ??

The idea being, that the brew is acid enough to start at a theoretical ideal of 3.3 - some people will add some acid to a brew to bring the numbers down, others not. Either way, the recipe suggested a teaspoon of citric acid anyway.

The stress kicks in, with the sensation/feeling of "WTF" (WTF=What the fuck?). So initially, I get the pH meters' buffer solution to make sure the meter is working properly. The solution should read a pH of 7.0 at 25 degrees C, when I checked the temperature of the solution, it was 20 degrees - which according to the solution label, meant that the meter should be reading 7.01, so I set it to that with the calibration control.

Then I took another reading - still far, far too high. So I just "knee jerked" and stuck the teaspoon of citric acid into the brew. A lot of good it did, about fuck all. OK it did do something, it reduced the pH from 6.36 to 6.29, still a fucking mile away from the 3.3 area I was aiming at.

All I could do was to hit the net for answers! After all, fucking honey isn't supposed to be damn near neutral is it!

I haven't found much out that really answers my questions. So I still don't know what has actually gone wrong. I did try to see if it might be related to the relatively high nutrient level, but I got a pH reading of 7.17 from tap water, and after adding a teaspoon of the nutrient mix, I got a reading of 7.11 and apart from that, I'm no further on in getting an answer.

So what to do ? Well I did find a link (well it was posted at WAH), that explained about using "acidulated water" to reduce a pH reading. I don't think that will work - not that I've got anything that will help me work out what I'd need to add with any accuracy any way!

What I'm intending to do, is to add a couple of teaspoons of acid, give it a good shake and then just add the yeast.

What harm can that do ? Well, I'm guessing it will either start the ferment or it won't. I'm not that patient when it comes to things going wrong. So the brew might still end up down the sink, I'll have to wait and see.

I'll post again, once I've "done what needs doing". Whether it starts to ferment or not.

Pip pip!