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.......


No comments: