Sunday, October 21, 2012

Grapefest 2012 (real grape pyments) Part 3

Ok, so as you can see from picture, I got round to pressing the grapes. Which was a little more than I'd planned for. I suppose I had some false mental image of it being "straight forward" and easy.

It wasn't. It took me longer than I thought it would, it was certainly a messier process than I thought it would be, and while I found it quite an onerous task, once I'd got it done, I was reasonably pleased with the results.

Air lock action, despite it being a poor indicator of where the ferment has got to, had stopped and the last lot of gravities from the buckets suggested that the fermentation had slowed/stopped. Shows how much I know doesn't it! Ok well I know the theory etc but didn't carry it out, as I was probably a bit over excited to be doing this, with "real" grape.

Before pressing, the 4 gravities in the buckets ranged from 1.002 for the single box bucket (10 litre), too the pure Merlot batch which gave me 1.012 - and as I'd stupidly forgotten to take a gravity reading before pitching the yeast, I don't really know what the alcohol content is, but it will be somewhere in the 17 to 18% area.

I've complicated things a bit as well, because I PM'd Brian on the forums as he's selling frozen grapes, de-stemmed, crushed and sulphited. He sent me his last drum of Shiraz grapes (which is what I'd originally asked for, for Grapefest, but when he went to collect them, all the shiraz had gone - he'd obviously got his grapes for freezing before getting the Grapefest ones). It arrived on the Wednesday, it took till the Friday to defrost, then I mixed in more sulphite and Rohapect enzyme and left it until after I'd pressed the other grapes.

Now this time, I did manage to take a gravity reading after I'd added the honey, but before I pitched the yeast. The 25 litres of pulp and 2kg of honey (working on how much pulp, may have come from boxes, and too keep the ratio's of honey to grape, I guesstimated that 25 litres of pulp had come from 4 boxes of grape, hence using 2 kg of honey, or 500g per box estimate) gave me a gravity of 1.122, which is high for a grape wine, but only moderately high for the mead world. I didn't bother rehydrating the yeast, just sprinkled it on top and gave it a stir.

It lagged for about 2 days, but that didn't surprise me. What did, was that once the ferment was on it's way by Tuesday evening, when I tested it yesterday afternoon, it was down to about 1.040 i.e. an 80 point drop in just over 4 days, so I added a further 1 kg of honey (250g per box). The gravity then measured at 1.055 - so with this batch, if it goes to 1.000, it will be just over 18% ABV

Now this is a bit weird, because if I guessed correctly, then it will have had 750 grammes of honey per box, whereas the actual grapefest ones will have had 1kg per box, and when I checked the grapefest ones yesterday, I was getting about 1.000 from them, which would be over 18% - which I know is feasible with meads, but not normal with grapes - well not normal as far as I'm aware.

It's just hard to work out, because I'm comparing batches when only 1 of them actually had a starting gravity to work with.

Ah well, never mind, I'll just continue to monitor the shiraz batch and maybe add a further half to 1 kg of honey. Worst case scenario will be that I just blend the lot for this year.

After all, I forgot to label the grapefest batches in their fermenters, so I don't remember which is which. Bloody helpful if I wanted to compare the differences in Grapes etc. Yet because this is my first go with real grapes, I'm not overly concerned.

The pressed batches currently taste like a nice, slightly off-sweet, fruity and well rounded red wine. Once I decide what I'm gonna do next, I'll rack them off the sediment and probably add some Oak, but I haven't worked out how much to use yet, as it'd probably mean that if I need a lot, I'll have to find a half barrel and after cleaning up the wood, toast it myself and take it from there.......

Off to think about toasting and home made oak chips.......

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Mead Making Books ? Not really........

So, the other day, I was digging around at Amazon to see if anyone had produced any up to date books about making meads. Only to discover that the excellent, if a little dated, "Making Mead" by Brian Acton and Peter Duncan, had been recently republished.

I also found a listing for what seemed an excellent title, called "Mead. Making, Exhibiting & Judging" by Harry Riches.

While the cost wasn't an issue, as both were reasonably cheap, I was hoping for more. Something like a UK version of Ken Schramm's "The Compleat Meadmaker". This wasn't to be.

It seems that the Ashton & Duncan book is just a reprint of the original that dates back to 1968 and the earliest date I can find in the Riches book is 2009, yet it's written in a style that seems much older (unsure why that might be).

They both seem like the text books I recall from my 1970's school days.

Now that's not to be critical, both books are very helpful resources, yet the nomenclature used does need a little "deciphering". As do references to some of the suggested materials.

Of course, I could be missing the point. Because it may be that I would have benefited more from them, had I been a complete novice to making meads i.e. maybe it's because I've actually learned more about this than I realise, I don't know.....

Some of the guidance is still valid, but some things don't reflect an angliscised version of current techniques that are found at places like the excellent Gotmead website, particularly the forums.

Ok, with that in mind then, I'll mention a few of the points that come to mind. To start with, the yeast types suggested. They use wine terms to describe the yeasts, like "Chablis" or "Sauternes". They allude to "Tokay". Now I don't know about you, but it's fair to point out, that most of the current yeast producers/packagers don't describe their products like that. They use a slightly more technical method, so you would have to research which types of yeast are what......

Also, whether they are suitable or not from a point of view, as to the type of mead the maker might be thinking about making.

To be honest, I don't feel that I can work like that. Because I've never managed to produce or taste a mead that even suggests a similarity to the type of wine that might be alluded to in the books.

Mead, to my way of thinking, is completely different to wine. Yes, there are wine yeast types that do make excellent meads, but for rather different reasons to why they make good wines, or wines from a specific area/region.

As I say, I'm not being critical, but it would have been nice to have some of the gaps in the information/guidance to explain a few points.

I won't need to re-read the Ashton & Duncan book again, now I know that it's just a reprint, I'll just use it as a resource. Harry Riches book, I've managed to skim read it to chapter 10 (Exhibiting), which I'm looking forward to reading, as well as the later part about Judging, because I hope it will help me understand why I might like one batch, yet dislike another.

Now in the Riches book, he says about using "normal" tap water. Yet both my personal experience and from the guidance of some of the late Brother Adams guidance on mead making, I've found that "soft" water is preferable to "hard" water. Now while there does seem to be some difference of opinion as to what the actual difference is, I understand it to be that locally to me, the water is considered "hard" because of the natural presence of calcium and magnesium salts, though in the fish keeping/aquarium world, they'd term that as "calcium hardness", as different from "general" hardness.

Some info I found from the world of distilling, explained that spirits made from mash/wash made with water that has these elements, can lead to a harshness in the finished product. I can't say for certain whether that's entirely correct, what I can say, is that the difference in my brews, when I've used "reverse osmosis" water (I haven't tried distilled water or harvested rain water), even I notice the difference in taste. The RO water is better IMO. I think I'm correct in saying that soft waters are often found to be very slightly on the acid side of neutral (taking neutral to be 7.0 pH) and hard water to be slightly on the alkaline side of neutral.

I'm no chemist, so I can only explain what I've found.

Now I'm thinking about whether the info in the books is dated, purely because it's from "books" and whether it would be better to actually produce a website that explains stuff in greater detail, where necessary. Given the fast changing pace of internet changes i.e. it would be easier to update the information etc, from a website, especially the images, so that they weren't showing products that show just how old the info is i.e. products from the "Boots home brew section". Boots haven't sold much, if anything, for home brewing in a number of years now. I suspect it would be decades........

Oh well, I suppose I could carry on moaning and being disappointed "ad infinitum", but I won't. If you are new to the world of mead making, then they'd be good to get you started, if you've already had a go and produced some half decent  batches, then I'd say either Ken Schramms book (working out equivalents where necessary) or the internet. I'm not the only one who feels that this kind of "craft", needs to be kept/retained/preserved, but it doesn't have to be only bee keepers who make meads.