A Simple Mead Recipe: Acid and oak

How much acid?

I looked in on my mead the other day. It was clearing and had thrown some sediment. It was dry, with a specific gravity of 0.996. The pH, at 3.39, was low enough to protect the mead, but the titratable acidity was only 3.5 g/L. Titration will overstate the amount of acid in mead, so that 3.5 g/L figure is really an upper limit. Still, it’s better to have incomplete data than no data. If I were aiming for 7 g/L, that would mean adding 3.5 g/L. I don’t think I want to (more than) double the acid all at once, so I decided to at about 1.3 g/L, which should raise the TA to 4.8 g/L. How did I come up with 1.3 g/L? It just so happens to be 1 tsp/Gallon, which I have found, by tasting, to improve lifeless meads. I’ll test, and taste, again later to see if it needs more.

How much oak?

I decided to oak this batch of mead, and for me that means adding oak chips. I’ve been curious about barrels, but I don’t think they’re worth the trouble and expense. I’ve found that 1 g/L of oak chips adds enough character to white wines without overpowering them. For this batch of mead, I’ll actually use about 1.3 g/L. There’s that magic number again.

Oak on the scale

It turns out that the smallest increment that my kitchen scale will measure is 25 grams, and 25 grams in 5 gallons (19 liters) is about 1.3 g/L.

Toasting the oak

Whether it’s in the form of barrels or chips, oak is usually toasted before it’s used in winemaking. Barrels may be toasted by an open flame, but I’ll put my oak chips in the oven and broil at 400F (204C) for 45 minutes.

Toasted oak chips

Here’s how they look when they’re done. The oak chips in the casserole, on the right, were toasted. The ones on the left were not.

Now we wait some more

I added the 25g of toasted oak chips to a new sanitized carboy. Then I dissolved 25g of tartaric acid, and added that to the carboy. After I siphoned the mead off it’s sediment and into the new carboy, it looked like this.

Oak in the mead

You can see the oak chips floating on top in the neck of the carboy. In time, they’ll sink to the bottom. Oak chips are normally left in wine or mead for a few weeks, but I prefer to use a smaller amount and leave them in for a long time – six months to a year. This way, I’m more fully extracting the flavor and tannin from the oak. After that, I’ll test and taste to see if it needs more acid, then rack off the oak.

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