Sunday, February 28, 2010

Todays "report" (28/2/10)

So, today's efforts have been as follows........

1 x 1 gallon of the unknown "Polish" honey/Chenin Blanc pyment has had it's yeast (Lalvin D21) pitched. It's also had 1/2 tsp of tannin added (would have been a whole tsp, but I forgot that I didn't have enough until I opened the pot......) it showed a starting gravity of 1098, so not too strong/sugary.....

1 x 1 gallon of Oklahoma Wild Flower honey/Chenin Blanc pyment has had the same as the above i.e. D21 and 1/2 tsp of tannin. That showed a starting gravity of 1110.

1 x 1 gallon of Oklahoma Wild Flower traditional mead, same treatment as above, but showed a starting gravity of 1112 - and that's allowing for 3 and 1/2 lb of honey to the gallon.

Actually, all 3 of the above batches are just under the gallon as at the moment, I've left some air space, because the D21 yeast was rehydrated with about 100mls of must, 100mls of warm water (checked temp and it was about 30 or so degree's C) and 1/2 a teaspoon of GoFerm rehydration nutrient. Hence the air space is left in the DJ so when they've started to show proper indication of fermentation, I can mix 1 tsp of Fermaid-K nutrient with a little warm water and when it gets added to the batches, hopefully they won't foam all over the place - as can happen.

I've also racked 1 gallon of Apple and Raspberry "08", it's had a campden tablet and 1/2 tsp of wine stabiliser - as I topped it up with mixed fruit juice (mixed fruit juice was the left over from my purge of freezer a couple of weeks ago). Plus I also racked off 2 x 1/2 gallon of Mixed fruit melomel which was made with the rest of the juice mentioned above - that's also had a campden tablet and 1/2 tsp of stabiliser, as it was topped up with the last little bit of the mixed fruit juice and with the left over little bit of chenin blanc juice.

So now it's just a case of keeping an eye on the 3 gallons of mead/pyment to see when they've finished the "lag phase" and started to ferment properly so I can add the Fermaid-K and top them up with about a half to three quarters of a pint of spring water.

Obviously, the gravity numbers will drop a little when they're topped up, but that's a snag of making the batches directly into demi-john jars and not starting them in buckets first. The air space will allow a little more room for stirring/aeration, which will have to be done for at least the first couple of days. I'll have to wait and see how they progress.

I still haven't decided, but there's enough of the Oklahoma Wild Flower honey left to make another batch that will basically be made the same but using K1V-1116 yeast.

Oh and no, I haven't added any acid to them at this point, as there's probably enough already in the honey, and especially in the 2 gallons with the chenin blanc concentrate in them. Hence just the tannin and rehydration nutrient at this point......


p.s. Oh and no, I didn't check the "mystery" wine that I mentioned on the 14th. It seems to have stopped fermenting but I'm gonna leave it a bit longer before I sample and check it's "numbers"....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Todays mad panic!

I was planning to get my finger out a bit today, but as I started getting myself sorted, something occurred that sent me into a bit of a panic.

The 6 jars of honey from Poland that a colleague brought back for me, well one of them was intended to become a sort of pyment (a mead made with grape juice) i.e. to use a jar of the honey (1.3kg or about 3lb in weight) and then measure a jar full of the chenin blanc grape concentrate.

I knew something was amiss, as when I poured the grape concentrate into the jar, there seemed to be a ribbon of paper (well that's what it looked like) in it. How wrong I was.

It was mould. Fucking mould that'd started growing on the top surface of the grape concentrate. Well the mad panic was mainly because I didn't want to lose the best part of £70 worth of grape concentrate (that's about how much the Kendridge Chenin Blanc wine kit was - where the concentrate came from in the first place).

So initally, I ran the honey jar full of concentrate through a strainer, then through a muslin straining cloth (into my version of Luc Volders "straining bucket" - paints a nice picture eh!). Anyway, I figured that it was paramount to get the concentrate strained and then sulphited in the hope that it (the sulphite) will kill off any remaining wild yeast spores.

Since then, I've mixed up (and sulphited - extra.....) 2 batches of "pyment". In the picture, you'll see the 2 DJ's. On the right, is the one made with the Polish honey (sorry, don't have any info on it's origins) and chenin blanc grape concentrate. You can probably make out some of the sugar that had crystalised out of it in the bottom of the DJ. That's not a problem. The yeast should take care of that.

The DJ on the left, is the same quantity of the chenin blanc grape concentrate, but it's then been made up with a jar full (1.3kg or about 3lb in weight) of Oklahoma Wild Flower honey. Which is part of the gallon that my friend Keith was kind enough to send me. You'll probably notice that it's darker in colour, as well as the layer that should really be mixed in better at the bottom of the DJ.

The intention is, that as they're both mixed up with spring water, but not all the way up, and both have had a crushed campden tablet added, that I'll let them sit till tomorrow so that the sulphite can do it's thing and then a fair amount of it will come out in gas form. Then I'll pitch the yeast after I've hydrated it with some GoFerm. Once the lag phase is over, then I'll add some Fermaid-K for yeast nutrient. I'm in a bit of a quandary, because the ??? about whether I should be adding some acid and some tannin. I probably will, though I think I'll check the pH tomorrow before I actually add any acid. The tannin will just go in as a teaspoon full per gallon. Once they've settled down to the ferment, only then will I top them up, with spring water. The gap is to prevent too much of a problem with foaming in the early stages and when the nutrient gets added (oh and I'm planning on pitching D21 yeast - again, something else that Keith kindly sent me. It's normally only available in the 500 gramme commercial packs, but he bought one of those and split me off about 25 or so grammes - enough to repackage into 5 portions....)

As for the rest of the chenin blanc concentrate, well that's made up nicely to a 2 gallon batch of the wine, and there's also 4 litres that have been placed in 2 x 2 litre spring water bottles and refrigerated. If I have to freeze them I can, the bottles are made of PET. Then whatever batches that are made and finished fermenting, I can always back sweeten with some after it's defrosted.

I'm hoping that I'll be able to arrange with Keith that I can get some smaller tins of the grape concentrate sent over, as a 16 litre wine kit was a bugger to handle. I'd need to have everything ready to go and use up pretty much a whole kit if it's going to be like this. I don't care if it costs me more, the convenience of being able to use smaller amounts of it is too much of a dream. It really does taste like watery honey. It's very, very palatable. I'm wonder what the wine might turn out like, though I expect it to be dry as the yeast they supplied with the kit was Lalvins EC-1118 which is a strong fermenting champagne yeast. We'll have to wait and see.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Making Meads.......

As you've probably noticed (well if you've bothered to read any of this), I like making meads.

I don't really know why, but I suspect because it's just a little bit different. Lets face it, there's not a lot of meads, irrespective of type, available.

Most of them are just produced at existing vineyards as an additional type (the only "meadery" I can think of, which is just a meadery is Lindisfarne - I don't know if they make anything else). There's no real expertise this side of the Atlantic. What expertise there is in the US, isn't really out of any kind of tradition, it's more of a case that the knowledge that's been built up has been experimental.

For instance, there are some writings about making mead in a historical sense, but it does seem that the brewing, wine and spirits industry has crushed most, if not all of the tradition out of it. I'm guessing that this is more to do with it taking a long time to make, well in relative terms, compared to beer and wines etc.

Honey is strange stuff. It's all sugar and taste but had little in the way of other materials in it's natural make up i.e. just pure honey and water is very slow to ferment as yeasts stuff other than just sugar to work. They need some nitrogen and other nutrient elements which naturally honey doesn't have.

There's also the problem of actually sourcing good honey. Most of the types available from supermarket outlets has been processed to hell and back. Pasturised, blended etc to make it conform to a "corporate taste".

Or there's the other factor, that another industry absorbs just about all of a certain type so there's little to none available to other possible users (it seems that a good example here in the UK would be buckwheat honey - I understand that it's used in some kinds of sweet manufacturing and it's quite hard to locate enough, especially if you don't want to pay "over the top" prices for it - plus it didn't help that a couple of years ago, some journalist type wrote an article about buckwheat honey being an ideal panacea for childrens winter coughs and other chest/throat ailments - you'd have thought it would make it easier to source - well that's not the case......)

I mean, it can sometimes be incredibly hard to locate a specific type of honey. Hell, there's types of honey that I've seen advertised as available in the US that have never been heard of here. I don't know why that might be, but even if it's a "market thing", well surely the importers would keep a list of possible sources of the rarer types of honey. I mean, are they trying to make money or what.  ?

Of course, then if I have to use an outside supplier i.e. outside the UK (and yes that does include Mainland Europe), then there's the other "killer", shipping costs. My friend in the US, not so long ago, was kind enough to arrange to send me a gallon (approximately 12lb in weight) of local (to him) wild flower honey. When we were looking for the cheapest way of shipping it, all the "big boys" (DHL, UPS, etc etc) were quoting stupid amounts and in the end, my friend sent it via the USPS - yes, that's right the United States Postal Service - their equivalent to our Royal Mail.

Plus the more I look into it, the more the processes of making mead become complicated - though complicated is a relative term.

Because just about all the historical methods and techniques have been lost, the only methods really available are those that have been derived from wine making techniques.

If you looked at Gotmead you'd see that the basic methods currently used are wine making ones, but they've been modified to take into account the lack of nutrients (for yeast) in honey. Plus some of the techniques used would be considered really over the top to wine makers. Things like bubbling pure oxygen through the must to help the yeast in the early stages of the fermenting, staged addition of nutrients and/or extra honey to help the ferment to finish at a higher alcohol level.

A problem in adopting these methods can often be the other materials needed, and their lack of availability here. For instance, it does seem that one of the best yeast nutrients available is called Fermaid-K. Whether it's the best or one of the best would be debatable, but it's the one that has the most information about it - as in technical data, so you can work out how much nitrogen and trace elements is available to the yeast. Whereas the nutrients available here don't really give much info at all. Plus there's some that are very handy, like Di-ammonium Phosphate a.k.a. DAP, that is in the combined nutrients like Tronozymol, but trying to source it seperately is quite hard....

I've been wondering if it's worth while setting up a mead makers website that talks about different methods and techniques, but also lists suppliers etc so people who are interested as it would be a handy resource. I'm certainly not thinking of making it a money spinner, as there's not a big enough market here in the UK. Just that there'd be less of a brick wall for those who're interested in making a bit of mead and understanding that on the most basic level it's quite straight forward - and still possible to improve the making techniques to have something that is enjoyable to drink but not be cloyingly sweet, like most of the meads that seem to be available on the UK market.

Well I can feel a coffee coming on so I'm off to make that and put some more thought into how to spread the word........ and I've got a few bits that need doing with some wines anyway.......


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Forgot to mention yesterday (WTF)......

So there I was, ploughing through my stocks, back sweetening, racking, sulphiting, etc etc,

and I came across a 1 gallon DJ (capped with one of the few screw caps I've got for those type) that contained, what looked like a dark elderberry wine.

I though I'd open it and have a smell to see if I could work out what it was (not to hot on taking notes - but I'm normally conscientious at labelling my fermenters). Turned the cap and "aaaarrrrggggghhhhhh @##~[)8&6%£******" and managed to get the cap back on.

The fucker had started to foam, not quite a wine/mead fountain, but enough to potentially make a mess.

So, back into the sink and I uncapped it again, it did foam up but only for 20 seconds or so, leaving about a 1 inch air gap below the neck of the DJ.

I got the turkey baster sanitised and took a sample to taste. Wow! it was like blackberry and apple or something like that when it's been mixed up as a must. Yum yum!

Anyway, I took a gravity measurement and it showed it was at about 1030 (and no, there's no reason why I would have capped an active ferment).

So at a loss as to what this was and what to do, I just sulphited it, then topped it up with vodka and put it under airlock - because it was still releasing a hell of a lot of gas (not enough to foam obviously).

Once it's stopped bubbling I'll take a measurement to see if I can work out what the hells going on.......

Hey ho!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I couldn't organise a...........

piss up in a brewery........

Been doing some other stuff today, but while that's getting on with itself, I decided to start racking off anything that's being kept.

Why ? well it's because I've still got about 14 litres of Chenin blanc grape concentrate and I don't want it to go to waste - oxidisation and all that.

So the master plan (yes, another one), is to use it (the Chenin Blanc) to top up the Lavender honey and the Orange Blossom honey meads made last year (april 2009) after I've racked them off the sediment (damn, I'm sure I wrote about the makings somewhere but I'm buggered if I can find it - so I don't know what yeast I used to make them with).

Then I'm also gonna try and freeze 2 x 2 litre bottles of the Chenin Blanc concentrate.

I'm also planning on making a pyment, Chenin Blanc concentrate and a jar of the Polish honey. Not decided what yeast to use yet......

Then just see how much of the concentrate is left and take it from there........

What else have I done recently ? Oh yes, did I mention that I dug out all my current stocks, had a little taste of each and any that weren't showing any signs of promise have all been put through a friends still.

I'm not gonna waste them and just put them down the sink am I! I'll use the alcohol to fortify anything that's getting kept, but has gone below the predicted strength when it's been racked and then topped up with water, grape juice or concentrate.

Then they'll probably just go straight back under the stairs to bulk age (for bulk age, read that as leave them until I can make my mind up to bottle them or at least have another look at them to decide what's gonna happen next.....)

pip pip!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

More "Rubbish" wine......

So, despite my relative pleasure at learning that the Chenin Blanc concentrate is good for back sweetening, I'm absolutely fucking stumped as to what else I might be doing wrong.........

On top of the 8 gallons I checked last week, to find that about half of it is worth keeping, this weekend, I've just worked my way through 17 gallons of different fruit wines only to find that 6.5 gallons of it are worth keeping for either bottling, or further modification (back sweetening etc). The other 10.5 gallons will go the way of the rest of it.....

I don't know what it is that I'm doing wrong... I don't seem to ever using sub-standard ingredients. I haven't had a stuck fermentation for a long time i.e. it all seems to "finish" as expected.

It's just that it tastes, for the main part, bloody horrible.

I can't fathom out, whether it's to do with unrealistic expectations, or whether it's false memories of how the "country wines" of yester-year tasted ???

Gales, the brewery in Horndean (north of Portsmouth), used to make a range of country wines and my memories of those were basically fruit flavoured cordials but with an alcohol content.

My fruit/country wines taste fuck all like that....

I think my hygiene processes are ok. I think my technique is Ok (all the wines are basically made in the same way - just the variation of ingredients). I'm no expert, but I don't think that any of the ingredients I've tried are bad, they might not be "top quality" (a few of the flavours/recipes have been "opportunistic"....), but they certainly aren't rubbish......

Fuck, fuck, fuck! What is it that I'm doing wrong..........

Back Sweetening......

I nearly forgot, I must make a comment about back sweetening.

First off, what is back sweetening (presuming that you don't know of course....)

Well, when you've made some wine, or mead, or even cider or something like that. You taste it and it's too dry or bland or "something" tasting i.e. you might not follow what the issue is but you think that you might like "it" if it's sweeter.

So yes, it's about sweetening after the ferment is complete. Now, there's a number of things that can be used, and the technique can also vary, as it's not totally straight forward.

You can use, sugar, honey, artificial sweetener, or even grape juice/grape juice concentrate, etc etc.

If you're just gonna want whatever "it" is sweeter, then if the sweetening agent is fermentable, you have to make sure that you "stabilise" the wine/mead/cider/etc first. That's normally done when you rack a ferment off the yeast sediment/lees i.e. you syphon it off, and then add a campden tablet (usually 1 per gallon - but you can make up a sulphite solution to about 5% if you have the sulphiting agent in powdered form), plus you also add "sorbate"...... which is, from memory, usually Potassium Sorbate, the amount will vary, so it's usually a case of following the instructions on the pack.

The idea being that the sulphite will stun any remaining yeast cells in the brew and also help with preservation, the sorbate is there to prevent any breeding/multiplication of any remaining yeast cells, because you certainly don't want to add a fermentable sweetener like sugar or honey to have the wine/mead/cider/etc start to re-ferment, as it can produce a "bottle bomb"...... nasty.... unless that's what you're intending as you want to carbonate the product - and that'd only normally be done if you're using champagne type bottles for wines/meads or beer bottles for ciders etc. Not only does the glass have to be strong enough to retain the pressure but the stopper has to also hold pressure as well.

Anyway, enough of that.....

The whole reason for this post, is because through the comments of my friend Keith (all round good bloke and resident of Oklahoma), I've found an excellent sweetening agent for meads. That "sweetening agent", being Chenin Blanc grape concentrate.

Now I speak with Keith regularly, but as with any of those kind of "online friendships" we haven't met in person. He does know a lot of stuff (apparently) about making meads and is a wealth of knowledge and is more than happy to pass it on. Now I'm just a cynical Brit who often "takes things with a pince of salt".

Keith had been expounding the use of Chenin Blanc concentrate for some time. I'd actually found that I'd have to buy it as a wine making kit. So I did.

It sat in our dining room for some months. My level of experience with wine kits is virtually nil, I prefer to make meads and country (other, non-grape fruit) wines. So I'd expect grape juice/concentrate for wine making to be a bit sharp/sour.

Last weekend, I'd got my stocks out from under the stairs to see how they were getting on (the 8 gallons of wines/meads had all been there for at least a year). After tasting them, I decided that 4 were "keepers" and the other 4 would go through a friends still, not with the aim of making spirits but just to recover the alcohol, so I can use it to fortify other home brews...... either way, the keepers would need to be racked as they'd dropped some sediment. Only one of them had I actually put any thought into for back sweetening, that was a gallon of "heather honey" mead I made. I wanted to use half a pound of heather honey for that.

I'd started sorting this out, when I realised that I'd picked up a gallon of mead that I'd made with very cheap, "Greek" honey that I'd bought in the local branch of Lidl (German based discount food chain, not famed for "quality" products/foods, but certainly not to be dismissed as some of their "lines" have proved to be very cheap but very good as well).

So yes, I was in the process of making a fuck up. I was syphoning the mead to leave most of the sediment in the bottom of the demi-john but also running it through a muslin cloth to catch any larger particles.

I found myself with a DJ with about 7 pints or so of mead and about an inch or so of airspace between the top of the liquid and the bottom of the neck of the DJ. Panicking a bit, "oh fuck, what the hell am I going to top up with" ??? When I remembered the 16 litres of Chenin Blanc concentrate in the kit.

I just dug it out and poured it in. On a whim, I put a small amount in a glass as well.

Now I mentioned Keith being in the US earlier, because lets face it, he speaks "American" (or American English) to my "english English" and there's likely to be a little bit of a discrepancy in the way we speak about or describe things, but......

When I took a sip of the Chenin Blanc concentrate, I was absolutely stunned. Keith had enthused about it as he'd described it as like "drinking honey". I just wasn't ready for the accuracy of his description of it.

That's exactly what it was like, drinking a diluted, or just less viscous honey, with a light but full, honey flavour and just the faintest hint of apple in the back ground.

Incredible, absolutely fucking incredible. I'm sorry I ever might have been a disbeliever Keith. I mean, you know how I've described it here, there's just a shit load of stuff you can get in the US that is either unavailable or really hard to get - chenin blanc being one of them (except as finished wine). So well done matey, gold star to you. It was very much worth the effort of locating some. I'm intending it to be my standard back sweetening agent.