Saturday, February 06, 2010

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.

1 comment:

katphish said...

Cudos to you John, another meadmeister is born. Try some other concentrates, California Sun Concentrates offer a complete product line in 96 oz tins.