A quick list
Writing about the “beer mead” vs “wine mead” divide made me reconsider how I make my own mead. All my meads have been squarely in the wine-mead category, and it got me thinking about making my first beer-like mead. What would such a mead be like? How would I make it? To answer that, I made a list of all the things that came to mind when I thought about homebrewed beer:
low alcohol (compared to wine)
A little more detail
Malt has got to be the number one defining ingredient for beer, but I’m not going to use it. There are fermented beverages made from malt and honey, called braggots, but that’s not really what I’m setting out to do. I want the approach to be reminiscent of beer, and the result to be “beer-esque.” Still, I’m making a 100% honey mead, so no malt.
Hops have become ubiquitous in beer, but this was not always so. A host of other herbs provided bitterness (heather, nettle, sage to name a few), flavoring (juniper, oregano, and more), and aroma (rosemary, lavender, …). I’m not sure I want a bitter mead, but I may use hops, sparingly, for flavor and aroma. I haven’t decided yet, and since hop flavor is usually extracted by boiling, it probably depends on my decision to boil.
I like the idea of using specialty grains like crystal malt, which is said to add sweetness, body, and aid in head retention. I want to avoid having to mash any grain, which is a seperate step that converts starches to sugars, so that limits my choices to: black patent malt, chocolate malt, crystal malt, and roasted barley.
A specific gravity of 1.075, 10% potential alcohol, would be low for wine and high for beer. I haven’t decided on a final target yet, but it’ll be around 1.075.
Maybe the crystal malt will add enough sweetness for my beer-like mead, or maybe I’ll have to stabilize and sweeten. I’ll probably wait until I know the final SG before I decide to sweeten the mead.
Boiling is necessary in homebrewing to extract bitterness and, to a lesser extent, flavor from hops. Since I don’t plan on making a bitter mead, the only reason I might need to boil is flavor extraction from hops. If I do boil, it’ll be for about ten minutes, not the hour or so that’s common in homebrewing. I’ve already made the case that such a short boil will not harm the mead, and it might lend a homebrewing feel to the process.
If I do boil, I’ll throw in some irish moss. It’s a clarifying agent, common in homebrewing, that’s added to the boil in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
I really don’t know what gypsum is supposed to do. It’s on the list because it’s in so many beer (and some mead) recipes. I’ll try to find out more about it before I finalize the recipe.
A recipe begins to take shape
So that narrows things down a little. I’ll be making a 100% honey mead with a starting SG around 1.075. I’ll use crystal malt, and maybe other specialty grains. I might boil, and I might use hops for flavor and/or aroma. If I do use hops, it’ll be at lower concentrations than with typical beers. If I boil, I’ll use irish moss. I haven’t decided on sweetening, and I’ll try to learn more about gypsum.
Update 6/15/2007 I’ve filled in this outline to make a beer-like mead recipe.
Update 10/28/2008 Some time after I made the case that a short boil does no harm, I concluded an experiment to test the effects of boiling on mead. After a carefully arranged double blind tasting, the results are in! Boiling does indeed weaken the aroma of mead, but may improve the body and smooth out the flavor.
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