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.

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