Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thinking about "stir plates".....

I've been thinking about a stir plate for making a batch too see how I get on. A laboratory stir plate is a device use to rotate a small plastic "stir bar" (a plastic coated magnetic bar). The idea being that a liquid substance can be stirred, without actually having something that needs to be placed in the liquid, but the liquid is rotated.

As you may know, with meads, it's currently recommended that once a batch is mixed up, it's then stirred at least once a day from the initial yeast pitch, until the 1/3rd sugar break (that's when, say, the starting gravity is 1.100 and when the yeast has burned it's way through the sugars 1/3 of the way, that is to say it's gravity is 1.066 a.k.a. the 1/3rd sugar break). The recommendation is a gotmead thing, yet it's not set in concrete, as there are some members there, who will apply aeration to a batch further, some to the 1/2 point and others until completion.

Anyway, by stirring the batch continuously, it's about getting a continuous amount of air/oxygen to the yeast, and that'd normally be associated with making starters etc.

There's also a limited amount of info about making entire batches while they're in a container that contains a stirring bar and that in turn, is placed on a magnetic stir plate.

I've had a look at places like ebay, but more often than not, the stir plate devices are too expensive, but a little hunting finds sites like this one with the instructions on how to build a home made one, using a computer fan. The only thing that needs thinking about, is whether it needs a speed controller or not. Because when a stirring arrangement like this could easily cause a vortex in the liquid, yet whether it would need to run that fast, would need a bit of experimentation, because whether it needs continuous extra air/oxygen is one question, but at the same time, it's likely to help with removing the CO2 that's produced by the yeast, and consequently, help reduce the swings in pH which can be a problem if the pH dips too low - the CO2, with a still batch, is in solution as carbonic acid (apparently), so continuous movement would help remove it by shifting it to a gaseous state.

I've also found a place that sells laboratory glassware and they have 5 litre Erlenmeyer (flat based conical) flasks, which would be big enough to make a whole 1 gallon batch (they've also got other stuff like glass beakers etc). I suspect that with a bit of effort and expense, it will be a worthwhile experiment....

Either way, I'm still thinking about it.

All in the water ?

As I make mainly meads, and as anyone with any sense, or at least the ability to use google would know, to get honey to ferment, you need to water it down - usually to a gravity level that is manageable to wine yeast (what with honey being natures most anti-bacterial, anti-fungal substance etc etc).

Now it also happens that one of the forums that I post at (which, for manners sake, shall remain nameless), there are a majority of American members, a lot of whom, start off making beers.

One of the questions I see frequently, is about water quality i.e. can I use this kind of water, or should I use ........ whatever.

Now it's fair to point out, that pretty much most domestic, piped, utility supplied water, will contain chlorine/chloramine, but depending on where you are, there will also be some trace elements. Great.

Some mead/wine/beer makers then ask about de-ionised or reverse osmosis or distilled water useage. At which point, a lot of people then pop up and go on about yeasts needing nutrients etc and the water being a valuable source of them.

Fair point, except that water, particularly water designated as drinking water, will not have enough trace elements to suppliment yeast. Hell, to have enough nutrient so the yeast is happy, you'd have to use raw fucking sewage!

There's a number of papers that have been written in connection to various brewing type matters, particularly about water quality for different uses. About the only thing that the research seems to come up with, is that for making fermented products, its best if the water is soft water i.e. water that is either neutral or very slightly acidic, and not hard, calcium or magnesium laden water that's found in my area. As that has been found to produce harsher flavours in among the many so called "off flavours" (sorry for the poor choice of words in that).

Well, ok, not so much off flavours, as minor flavouring issues, but it often depends on what's being made. For example, with distilled beverages, hard water has been found to produce a harshness, sometimes described as almost a bitterness undertone to the taste of vodkas and other "clear" spirits.

Lets face it, this would be mainly a problem with the spirits and beer industries, not "proper" wine (wines made from grapes), because they use 100% grape juice for their product. Whereas the others, including meads and country wines, water is used to reduce concentration of either sugars or colours/flavours.

Oh, and before I finish, so called "spring" water, may actually come from a spring, or it might, depending on where you are, just be a marketing thing. EU regulations state that to be called/labelled as "spring" water, the water must be bottled at the source i.e. the actual spring.

So, the result is like this. If you like the taste of the water you regularly drink, whether it comes from a tap/fawcet/spiggot, or a well, or a spring, then it's probably fine to use. If, like me, you know that your local supply might have brewing/mead making/wine making issues, then it's also fine to use DI/RO/distilled water. Just that those types will have been processed and probably have little dissolved oxygen left in them, so it may be prudent to aerate the hell out of them to get some dissolved oxygen into them (and in any case, if you're like me and making mead, then you should have read the Gotmead NewBee guide, and should be aware about the recommended aeration methods/techniques, along with the usual SNA/staggered nutrient addition as recommended for meads).

It doesn't really matter whether you shake the hell out of it, use a whisk/immersion blender (I tend to mix my honey in a sanitised liquidiser, as that mixes it up well, and also aerates it nicely), airstone for a fish tank, or as you may see some people doing around the bazaars/forums/websites etc, bubbling pure compressed O2 through a stainless steel airstone (but I think that's just a little bit too anal - and the gas isn't easy to get here either)..

As for the nutrients, well those (irrespective of whether you use a branded, combined nutrient like Tronozymol, FermaidK, Fermax or whatever - seemingly known to the US side of mead making as "energiser", or whether you use that and augment it with di-ammonium phosphate/DAP - again, usually referred to as "Nutrient" to the US side) should be added by yourself, to ensure that when making a mead, or whatever else it is that you're doing, that the yeast have enough food from sugars, and nutrients/nutrients and energiser (whatever you call them) to be able to do their thing.....

Saturday, March 03, 2012

JAO/Joe's Ancient Orange recipe (before I forget)...

So, I'm posting a copy of the well known JAO recipe. Not because I need too, but because whenever I need to find a copy of it, I have to dig around for it, so now I'll know where to get a copy from.

Oh and I copied this from the "Gotmead NewBee guide".

Joe’s Ancient Orange and Spice Mead
A little caveat before we continue.  This recipe flies in the face of just about all standard brewing methods used to make consistent and good Meads.  It was created by Joe Mattioli to make a fast and tasty drink out of ingredients found in most kitchens.  It is therefore perfect for the beginner, which has resulted in it being perhaps the most popular Mead recipe available on the internet.  As Joe himself says “It is so simple to make and you can make it without much equipment and with a multitude of variations. This could be a first Mead for the novice as it is almost foolproof. It is a bit unorthodox but it has never failed me or the friends I have shared it with. (snip) will be sweet, complex and tasty.”  Follow the instructions exactly as provided and you cannot go wrong.  If you want to make larger batches, just scale up the recipe keeping all ingredients in the same proportion.

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 days 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 yeasties ! 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.
And there you have it.  You have made your first Mead.  Now come the steps that must be followed to make a good, and eventually a great Mead.

I should point out, that it's a recipe normally done in US gallons, but I'm not American, so I stick to the numbers but I make it to 1 imperial gallon (4.55 litres instead of 3.78 litres) and it still seems to come out fine.

The thread about it over at gotmead (be warned, it's probably the longest single thread at gotmead, so it's a lot of reading), suggests that any change, however small, "voids the warranty". Which is fair enough, but I can't get the same brand of bread yeast here, so I just use a locally available one, something like Allinsons, or Hovis. It still seems to work out fine.

What I would say, is that some people insist on focusing on the presence of the pith of the orange and the fact that this is quite bitter. What they seem to miss, is that by using bread yeast, it will finish sweet, but it's the bitterness of the pith that balances the residual sugars.

Also, I've made other batches of this and tried various experiments, changing the fruit, using wine yeast etc. Well wine yeast usually ferments it dry, but that also highlights the bitter taste of the pith from the orange and hence it doesn't make for a good dry recipe. Changing the fruit, well the only one that came out even close, was the one where I used lemons instead. Limes where too strong and the mix of lemon and lime just didn't taste good.

So just use the recipe as written and it comes out quite good - not drinkable straight away IMO, I reckon it still needs to be aged, but it works well and seems good after 6 or 12 months. Either way, the choice is yours.