As you can see in the photo above, I racked my cherry mead into two 1-gallon jugs, a magnum (1.5 liter) bottle, and an ordinary wine bottle. The 1-gallon jug on the left, that isn’t full and has a lighter more opaque color to it, is filled with slurry from the fermenter. I’ll let it settle so that I can recover some clear mead later. I talked about the acidity of the cherry mead last week, and I planned to add 1 tsp/Gallon (1.3 g/L) of tartaric acid. I did that, and I’ll taste it in a few months to see how it’s coming along.
I pressed my cherry mead back in July, and looked in on it Saturday (8/25/07). I wanted to see if it had fermented out and if it was in danger of spoiling. To do that, I measured the specific gravity and the pH. An SG of 0.995 indicated that, yes, it was done fermenting. The pH was 3.56 which, along with sulfite additions, will protect it from spoilage organisms.
Tasting is important too (hey, somebody’s gotta do it!). It was clear with a light red color, had a subdued aroma, and a mild pleasant taste with a hint of cherries. This was different, and much better, than last year’s cherry mead. That one had a medicinal taste to it. I used the pomace from cherry wine to make the cherry mead both times, but this year I made sure to get the cherry wine off the skins after three days. Last year I left the cherry wine on the skins for over two weeks, so there were fewer “goodies” left in the cherries for the mead. I also made this year’s cherry mead to a lower alcohol level. I haven’t added any acid to this year’s mead, but tasting it makes me think it could use some.
I wrote about acidity in mead a little while ago, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since. I’m starting to think that an acid titration might be useful in mead making after all. Such a test overstates the acidity because it includes the amount of gluconolactone along with the amount of acid in it’s result. But putting an upper limit on the acidity is better than nothing, so in the interest of gathering as much information as possible, I titrated the cherry mead. I got a value of 6 g/L.
What can I do with that number? One idea is to try and make it in the style of a dry white wine, which would mean a titratable acidity (TA) of 5 – 7.5 g/L, and aim for the high end of the range. I think that’s what I’ll do, knowing that it won’t be too much, and tasting it in six months or so to see if it needs more. Since I measured the TA as 6 g/L and I’m aiming for 7.5 g/L, I need to add about 5.7 grams of acid (I’ll use tartaric) to each gallon. That’s about a teaspoon, and I’ve sort of trial and erred my way to adding 1 teaspoon/gallon to flabby tasting meads anyway. Maybe “adjusting the acid to taste” is working better than I thought.
Prices up 10%
Last month, and since the beginning of May, my local Costco sold 6 lb (about 2.7 kg) jugs of honey for $7.99. Those 6 lb jugs are now fetching $8.79, a 10% increase. I think Costco’s price for clover honey is a good indicator of honey prices in the US for three reasons: clover is the largest selling variety, Costco turns its inventory rapidly, and their margins are consistent. So changes in the wholesale market show up right away in Costco’s retail price. Here are other prices I keep an eye on:
Costco: $1.47/lb – $8.79 for a 6 lb jug
Sam’s Club: $1.53/lb – $7.64 for a 5 lb jug
Miller’s Honey (clover): $1.45/lb – $87 for a 60 lb pail – unchanged from May
Miller’s Honey (wildflower): $1.08/lb – $65 for a 60 lb pail – unchanged from May
To soon to say if it’s related to Colony Collapse Disorder
I’ve been keeping a close tab on prices ever since I heard about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the mysterious problem that has destroyed whole colonies of honey bees. I wrote here that I didn’t expect a supply squeeze from CCD, and I don’t have any new information about US honey production now. So I can’t say if we’re starting to see CCD affect honey prices or not. That 60 lb pail of wildflower form Miller’s looks tempting though.
Update 3/9/2009: Honeybees hang in there
The 2008 Honey Report indicates that managed colonies in the US fell by only 6%. Honey production and per colony yield rose. It’s looking more and more like Colony Collapse Disorder is not a catastrophe.
I didn’t intend to leave the cherry mead on the skins for three weeks, but there are other wines to fuss over, meadmaking questions to ponder, and even unfermentable things that a winemaker must attend to. Yesterday I poured the mead, skins, pits, pulp and all, into my homemade 3-bucket press. A bucket drilled with holes, making it look like an oversized colander, holds the fruit. It fits inside another bucket which catches the wine and drains it through a spigot and tubing into a 5-gallon carboy. A third bucket, filled with water, fits into the one holding the fruit and squeezes out the wine. Not the most efficient press, but you can’t beat the price!
Adjusting acidity is critical
Acidity can make or break a mead. Too much and you will have a harsh undrinkable mead, but too little will leave your mead flabby and unpleasant. Winemakers deal with this by measuring the acidity of there wine or must and adjusting it according to the type of wine they are making. These two steps, measurement and adjustment, are fairly straightforward in making wine, but can be problematic when making mead.
But you can’t adjust what you can’t measure
A winemaker measures the acidity of his wine (or must) by titration. That is, neutralizing a wine’s acid with a strong base. By carefully measuring the amount of wine and the amount of base needed to neutralize the acid, he can determine how much acid there was to start with. Inexpensive kits are widely available just for this purpose. The peculiar chemistry of honey (and therefore mead) skews the results of such testing. The dominant acid in mead, gluconic acid, can be titrated just like any other acid. The problem comes from a substance that is related to gluconic acid called gluconolactone. As the pH rises, the gluconolactone actually changes into gluconic acid, so when you titrate a sample of mead, you will be adding base until all the gluconic acid and gluconolactone is neutralized. Since you had to use “too much” base to titrate the sample, your calculations will overstate the amount of acid. So meadmakers aren’t able to make this simple measurement that winemakers take for granted.
And you can’t adjust if you don’t know the right end point
Even if it were possible to accurately measure, there’s no clear cut specification for the right amount of acid in mead. Here again, winemakers have it easy. They can consult well established guidelines for the amount of acid in different styles of wine. The long history of winemaking and extensive research have produced a consensus that just doesn’t exist for mead. Some meadmakers insist that mead is better au naturale, with no additional acid. Others try to imitate the acid profile of (usually white) wine. I’ve made mead without adding acid, and I don’t care for it. I’ve enjoyed meads made like a white wine, and I think that makes them a good starting point. I’m not convinced that the different chemistries of wine and mead would lead to exactly the same acid requirements though.
Ok, now what?
This uncertainty about the right amount of acid and the difficulty in measuring it represents a unique problem for meadmakers. One way to deal with it is to pass the buck and use an established recipe. Popular recipes that have stood the test of time, and are well liked by a lot of people, must have dealt with acidity, even if only by accident. Rules of thumb are another solution. I have found that 1 tsp of acid blend, or tartaric acid, per gallon of mead (about 1.3 g/L) often gives good results. You may have heard that you should “adjust to taste,” and I have given this advice myself. It doesn’t really tell you very much, though, does it? Should you keep adding until a mead stops tasting flabby? That would certainly improve it. Should you add acid until it’s profile reminds you of a white wine? You can get good results that way.
None of these approaches are very satisfying to me. I’ve been puzzling over this problem for a while, trying to come up with a more precise method. Well, at least a less imprecise one. I’ll have more to say about this when I’ve organized my thoughts a little better.
Country wine, second wine, and melomel
Cherry mead, often called “cherry melomel”, is usually made like a country wine. You make a country wine with small amount of fruit, 2-6 lb, per gallon of water (250-750 g/L) with enough sugar to bring the alcohol up to 12% and acid to balance. You would do something similar to make a conventional cherry mead, but use honey instead of sugar. Also fruit would be at the low end of the range. I’m not going to do that.
After pressing a conventional wine, the pressed fruit (called “pomace”) often has some color, flavor, and other “goodies” left in it. By adding water, sugar, and acid, you can make a light bodied enjoyable wine. That’s the way I’m going to make cherry mead.
How much honey? How much water?
The more water you use, the less impact the fruit will have. In deciding exactly how much, consider the amount of wine. You shouldn’t make more second wine than original wine, and maybe only half as much. Since I estimate three gallons of finished cherry wine, that leaves a 1.5-3 gallon range for my cherry mead. I decided on the high end of that range because fruit meads are often made with less fruit than comparable wines. The amount of honey depends on your alcohol target.
I’m aiming for a low alcohol (8-9% ABV) fruit mead, because I think this would suit a second wine better. If you prefer a higher alcohol content, then you could use more honey or less water. Using 2.5 gallons (9.5 liters) of water, for example, would raise the potential alcohol to 11% or so. In these calculations, I’m assuming no contribution from the pomace. There will probably be some sugar, though, so the actual amount of alcohol will be a little higher. To get more precise control over the alcohol, you could place the pomace in a clean bucket, mix up the other ingredients, then take a gravity reading. You could then nudge it up or down, to your target gravity, by adding honey or water. Such precise control wasn’t important to me, so I skipped that step.
Pomace from cherry wine
3 gallons (11 liters) water
6 lb (2.7 kg) honey
1 tsp tannin
1) Place the pomace in a clean fermenter.
2) Heat one gallon of water to a boil, take off heat, and dissolve honey. Cool in a water bath.
3) Measure out another gallon of water. Use a little bit to dissolve the tannin and add it to the fermenter. Use some more to rinse out the honey container, to get the honey that didn’t pour out, and add it to the fermenter.
4) Add one gallon of water, plus any unused water from step 3, to the fermenter. At this point, you should have used three gallons of water including one gallon to dissolve the honey in step 2. The point here is to use three gallons (11 liters), so the exact amount in each step isn’t important. Just keep track.
4) Add the honey-water mixture to the fermenter when cooled (less than 100 Fahrenheit or 40 Celsius).
There’s plenty of yeast in the pomace, so no need to pitch any more. I noticed signs of fermentation the same day. The CO2 from fermentation will push the fruit to the top. This is called a cap, and you need to stir it in every day. If you’ve every heard a winemaker talk about “punching down the cap,” this is what he was talking about.
The cherry wine is still going, the cherry mead just got started, now it’s time to think about raspberries!
My cherry wine is fermenting nicely. I plan to press it soon, and use the pomace to make a cherry mead. The good price on the cherries worked out really well, but it did leave me with a dilemma about the honey. Use the wildflower that I have? It would be much better in the beer-like mead that I’m planning. Order more wildflower, so I can use it anyway? That would mean I couldn’t try something new. My brilliant plan was to pop over to Costco. They’re selling clover honey in 6 lb cartons for $7.99. That’s a little higher than I remember it from last year, but at $1.33/lb it’s still a good price. As an aside, it means that there’s no sign of a spike in honey prices as a result of Colony Collapse Disorder. The season isn’t over yet, of course, and we don’t really know how CCD will play out, but I wrote back in May that I didn’t expect a honey supply squeeze. With no new information out since then, I’m still an optimist.
An opportunity needs to be siezed
Safeway is having a sale, cherries for $1.49/lb, and that got me thinking about honey varietals. Let me back up a little. About this time last year, I bought 40 lb of cherries, some from Safeway, and made cherry wine. After I pressed the wine, I made cherry mead in the same way you might make a “second wine.” You make a second wine by adding water, sugar, and acid to the pomace of a wine (so far as I know, nobody calls it the “first wine”). I liked the idea of getting as much use as possible out of the cherries, and decided to use honey instead of sugar. I planned to do the same thing this year, so I’ve been watching for sales on cherries. Now that the sale is on, I realized I was down to my last gallon, give or take, of wildflower honey.
A dilemma needs to be resolved
I didn’t want to use the last of it for the cherry mead (often called “cherry melomel”). Oh, it would make a fine cherry mead, but I thought it would be better for my beer-like mead. Why? It’s dark and even seems a little malty to me, so I think it would be a really good match. The problem is that I’ve got to move fast on the cherries; I’ll probably only get such a good price this week, and a quick check of my schedule says that this Friday would be the best day to buy the cherries and make the wine. Because I’m making a cherry mead from the pomace, I want to press the cherry wine early – three days into fermentation. After all, there’s got to be something left in them for the mead. That means I need another gallon or so of honey on Monday. If I use the wildflower honey that I’ve got, then I’ll either need to use a different honey for the beer-like mead or order another five gallons of the wildflower. There’s nothing wrong with that – I like the honey, but I was hoping to try a different kind. Orange Blossom maybe.
I bottled four 1-gallon batches, three meads and an apple wine, yesterday.
2005 Apple Wine
I harvested 13 lb of Liberty apples from my backyard, in 2005, and turned them, along with a gallon of Trader Joe’s Gravestein apple juice, into a batch of apple wine. It’s got a rich golden color, a wonderful aroma, and it’s very smooth with just a hint of apple.
My first mead – with genuine Costco honey!
The meads were each a little different. One of them was part of the first batch of mead I ever made. The fermentation stuck at SG = 1.030, and it was three years old in February 2006. I decided to split the batch, stabilizing and bottling half as a sweet mead, and oaking the other half. It began to ferment again after I racked it onto the oak chips, and by the time I bottled yesterday it was a dry oaked mead that’ll be five years old in February. Even though it was dry (SG = 1.000), it had a lively sweet taste to it, possibly because of the high alcohol content (about 14%, by volume). The aroma was wonderful and powerful.
A mead like Brother Adam used to make
I made the next mead the way Brother Adam made his. He was a monk at Buckfast Abbey, famous for keeping (and breeding) honeybees and making mead. His method was to make it in large batches and age in oak casks for 7 years. He used soft (distilled or rain) water and a mild honey, like clover. He aimed for a lower alcohol content than most â€“ about 8 or 9% ABV â€“ and shunned most additives, though he often used cream of tartar and, for dry meads, “a little” citric acid. He boiled the honey-water mixture for 1-2 minutes and fermented cool (65F â€“ 70F) with a pure yeast culture like Madeira or Malaga.
I didn’t have an oak cask handy (or the honey to fill it, or the space to store it, or …), and I have seen the inside of a rain barrel. So I used tap water and fermented in a plastic pail. I decided that 0.5 tsp = “a little” citric acid for a 1-gallon batch, and I added 1 tsp of cream of tartar. 2 lb of clover honey brought the SG to 1.074, which at about 10% potential alcohol, was slightly higher than the 8-9% I was aiming for. I boiled the honey-water mixture for about a minute and fermented cool with CÃ´te des Blances yeast (I had never heard of Madeira or Malaga). So far, it has aged for a little over 3 years, including 9 months on oak chips. I don’t think I’ll be able to wait seven years!
I thought I could smell, not taste, the oak in this one. It was smooth and I enjoyed it.
A wine-like mead
The last batch of mead was the most wine-like of the lot, and the only one I didn’t oak. I started this one in March 2004 with clover honey from The Honey Store. I added tannin and tartaric acid to make a dry mead with 12% alcohol. The aroma was distinct from the other two; I would say “fresher” and I thought there was a hint of sweetness in the taste.
So now I’ve got twenty bottles of four different wines and meads to enjoy. Time to stop writing and start sipping!
I’ve done some thinking and some research on my beer-like mead recipe. I decided to use just one specialty grain, crystal malt. Since I’m counting on it to do a lot of heavy lifting, I wanted to use a high concentration – still within the range that you’d see in a beer, but at the high end of that range.
No bittering hops probably means I’ll need to add acid, and that bugs me a little. I’m afraid it might add some noticeable wine character.
I’m still thinking about sweetening too. I’d really like to carbonate, and that means fermenting to dryness, adding a little more sugar to get the yeast fermenting again, and capping the bottles to trap the resulting CO2. This process doesn’t allow for sweetening. If you tried, by adding more sugar than necessary to carbonate, then the yeast would ferment it all. This would put so much pressure on the bottles that they might fail. So it looks like I’ll have to choose between sweetening and carbonating.
As far as hops go, 0.25 oz for flavor and/or aroma is probably about right, but I haven’t decided whether or not use them.
Translating all of that into a recipe would result in something like this:
For six US gallons (23 L) of must …
11.5 lb (5.2 kg) honey
5 gallons (19 L) of water
1 lb (450 g) crystal malt
6 tsp (28 g) DAP
0.25 oz (7 g) flavoring hops (optional)
0.25 oz (7 g) aroma hops (optional)
Ale yeast – Nottingham?
I’m expecting an OG of 1.070 or so.