Saturday, August 22, 2009

10 Gallons of Mead, Oh My!

This is a continuation of the Applenoon Delight Saga.

So it has been some time since I have paid attention to this site. It is not for a lack of thinking about it, but life sometimes has a way of stealing time. If I see a little person, I oft look weary in their direction feeling that their thievery is why I do not complete as much as I do, bloody Time Bandits.

Anyway, enough of that completely unnecessary diatribe. The second batch of Applenoon Delight has been transferred to a secondary fermenter. Due to the fact that I have been out of town, the mead sat in the primary fermenter for a month. There was little to no activity from the bubble lock, letting me know that the yeast had converted all to most of the sugar into alcohol. Remember, the conversion process produces 2 chemicals, ethanol and carbon dioxide, and the airlock releases the carbon dioxide without letting any outside containment in the fermenter. Without opening the lid, and taking a reading with a hydrometer, the airlock is a good indicator when the fermentation process starts and stops.

I normally allow the mead to ferment initially for a month. The first Applenoon Delight only sat in the primary fermenter for 2 weeks. However, I believe letting it sit for about a month ensures that the sugars are all converted.

The terminal gravity for this batch was 1.000. A little math for you. The hydrometer measures the specific gravity at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.56 degrees Celsius). To calibrate your reading for the correct calculation, you add 1.001 for 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and from there add 1.002 to every ten degrees afterward, so at 80 degrees Fahrenheit you add 1.002 to your reading. My reading was taken at 73 degrees Fahrenheit; however, I am rounding my correct reading to 1.001 for easy of calculation of percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The formula for ABV is OG-TG X .1275. When calculating you use everything behind the decimal. So, my terminal gravity for the calculation is 1 and my original gravity is 128 (from 1.128). My calculation is (128-1)X.1275= 16.2 % ABV. That is a nice amount of alcohol.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


This is a continuation of the Applenoon Delight journey.

You can see that I have two batches of Applenoon Delight. I have transferred the first Applenoon Delight (as seen in my last post) from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter, and not I have a large yeast culture that is ready to be used. To be honest, this is my first time reusing yeast, and am excited about the prospects. I have a new bucket, and have taken full advantage of it.

The recipe is slightly different this time around. Instead of 9 pounds of honey, I used 12 pounds of honey, and only used 4 gallons of store bought apple juice. The apple juice is "fresh" pressed, not made from concentrate. This is, once again, only a personal preference of mine. I used my sanitized spoon to ensure that the must was mixed well.

I did take an OG reading before I added the yeast, which was 1.128. Before adding the yeast, I used 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 1 teaspoon of yeast energizer. A little more than a teaspoon of the yeast nutrient accidently fell into the must, but I do not believe it will cause a problem. Ok, so it was closer to a tablespoon of yeast nutrient, my hand slipped. With the yeast culture size, the fermentation started within 5 hours. This is the fastest I have ever seen a fermentation begin.

The Transfer

This post is an update to the Applenoon Delight journey.

I have been away for awhile, although many things have been happening. There is another post that I am working on that was suppose to be finished prior to this post, but life happens. It will be forthcoming in the very near future. For now, Applenoon Delight has completed the hard part- it is a mead! It finished fermenting after 2 weeks. Sometimes I allow for the fermentation to occur a little longer, but I felt with the minimal "bubbles" from the airlock, and my busy schedule the time was right to allow the mead to age.

So the Applenoon Delight has been moved to the secondary fermenter. First, you can see that the honey at the bottom of the carboy has been "eaten" by the yeast. I was unsure of what would occur since I did not mix the apple juice and honey together well.

I first cleaned out the carboy that is the secondary fermenter very well. I also cleaned the racking cane, tubing, funnel, spoon, rubber stopper, honey jug. You may be thinking, "Rob, why are you cleaning some much stuff to move the mead from one container to another." Glad you asked, I am making another 6 gallons of Applenoon Delight with the same yeast. Reusing yeast is a way to save on cost, and since you are sanitizing might as well sanitize enough equipment to make more mead. The important pieces of equipment here are the racking cane and tubing.

The racking cane is a hard piece of plastic that you attach tubing to for easy transferring of mead from one place to another. In the past I have used an auto-siphoning starter, but over the years it was lost, stolen, destroyed, pooped on (one of these is true), so I have reverted back to using a regular racking cane. Some people just use tubing and curl it slightly to minimize transferring of sediment. I prefer the control of the racking cane. I slightly tilt the primary fermenter to have all the mead on one side was I siphon it out towards the end of the process.

You can see in this picture that I have placed the primary fermenter higher than the secondary. Gravity is your friend in this endeavor. Once the flow is started, gravity does the rest with ease. You do not want the flow to stop and start, creating air pockets and bubbles. Depending on the length of tubing you need to have it full stretched out, no "u" shapes in the tubing from primary to secondary. The tubing in the secondary fermenter needs to be placed at the very bottom or along the side of the carboy because you do not want to aerate the mead. It has finished fermenting, and some yeast will travel with it; remember yeast needs oxygen to help with the conversion process, so minimal aerating is a must. To start the siphoning I use the "sucking" process (I have no idea if they refer to this process as such, but overtly homosexual writing makes me giggle like a 10 year old boy). I suck on the end of the tubing to start the siphoning process. Here you can see me cleaning my mouth of bacterial, so as not to contaminate the mead.

In this picture I have taken a little and poured it into a glass. It had a very warm, alcoholic taste to it, but underneath I could taste the beginning of a very tasty Cyser. Part 2 will follow with the reuse of the yeast.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From Must to Mead: Dual of the Fates

This article is a continuation of my journey in creating my cyser- Applenoon Delight. This is part 2; you can read part 1 here. This article touches on yeast, contamination, and the start of fermentation. You can see my recipe for this mead at the bottom.

The title of the article has several implications. The first is to ensure that everyone knows I'm a huge geek, although I was a big Star Wars nerd growing up, I am not as much of a fanboy as I use to be, but I really enjoy that composition. Also, come on, that lightsaber fight was (insert high pitch nerd voice) epic. The other implication is the somewhat frailty of must before it becomes mead. So really just two The yeast has not created ethanol, which kills most harmful bacteria and fungi. I will try to cover this a bit more later. Brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is part of the Fungi kingdom, but it is "good" fungi because it converts sugars into ethanol (alcohol). Fungi and bacteria that are outside the normal use in fermenting sugars to alcohol are considered harmful because they will ruin a batch of mead. They can create off flavors and odors. I have had this happen to me before, when I became a bit lackadaisical about my sanitation methods. It is one of the most depressing moments to taste all of your hard work and spit it out, thus throwing away 5 gallons of homebrew. However, there are preparations and precautions that can occur to prevent any type of contamination. Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment is imperative, but having your cleaning solution linger in your homebrew will contaminate it. There is a boundary between sanitation and sanitation-contamination. However, sanitation is key if you do a no heat must. The other way of creating must is through a boil. I use a no heat method for personal beliefs, but there is nothing wrong with the boil method. I will cover no heat versus heating methods later (I'm building up a lot of topics for "later").

So, I have created the must with 9 pounds of honey and 5 1/2 gallons of apple juice. My yeast culture had a day to grow in size and become active, they are warmed up for the big time. This is where I forgot to take my original gravity reading with the hydrometer. Remember the hydrometer lets you know the dissolved sugars in a solution, in our case must. I'm still kicking myself for this misstep. The original gravity and the terminal gravity (using the hydrometer) with a little formula can give you the mead's alcohol by volume (ABV) percent. Also, the original gravity tells you if yeast will be able to handle the level of alcohol. I am rarely concerned about this as I generally use yeast with a high alcohol tolerance. Plus, I used a relatively low amount of honey. Overall, it is good record keeping, and if there is a problem with the mead it can provide some useful diagnostic clues.

Some quick information about the yeast I use. I have been using White Labs since I first started brewing. I have used Wyeast brand yeast once will good results and a dry yeast once with poor results. This is not to say that these other brand/types are poor, I just do not use them. As my lunchlady in high school would say after asking what I wanted to eat, "Go with what you know, baby. Go with what you know." I still live by these words. The yeast for this batch is WLP775 English Cider Yeast, which has medium to high alcohol tolerance, and optimal fermentation temperatures is between 68-75 degrees F. This is really good in a hot state like Louisiana. I do not have a refrigerator anymore to control the temperature, and keep the must cool.

Before I put my yeast in the must, I added 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 2 teaspoons of yeast energizer. I poured out some of the solution of the yeast starter, ensuring that yeast does not accidentally fall out into the sink. Then I poured the yeast into the must. Oxidation is critical for the yeast. Some people purchase oxygen injection kits, but I use the tried and true method of shaking the bucket or carboy around with the top open to get as much oxygen going through the must as possible- plus it is fun as long as none of it spills out. I capped the carboy and stored it in my room. The temperature gauge on the carboy is broken; therefore, I have no idea the temperature, but my apartment has been between 7o-75 degrees F. I do not like it getting close to the high end of the optimal temperatures, but I do not want my electric bill to be astronomical.

The cap on the carboy has a hole for the an airlock. The airlock allows for the release of carbon dioxide, and protecting the mead from containment agents. The airlock is filled with water or vodka. I usually use vodka, but I didn't have any lying around. The second or tertiary fermentation periods I use water for two reasons. The second and tertiary periods are aging periods, thus longer time between periods when I need to do anything. Vodka evaporates at a higher rate than water, and after primary fermentation the must is a mead with a high amount of alcohol. It can take care of itself.

The airlock (which indicates that the process has started) started bubbling within 12 hours. I believe this to be good signs. It is still going strong.

Quick review of mistakes/things I normally do but didn't:
1. Did not mix must well, and majority of honey is sitting at the bottom.
2. Forgot to take OG reading.
3. Didn't use vodka in the airlock.
4. A trick to keeping the homebrew cooled, is to place bucket/carboy in a pan, filled it with cool water, and drape a towel over the container, while touching the water. This allows for the cooled towel to draw out some of the heat off the fermenter. You don't want cold/icy water, as it may freeze the yeast and becoming dormant. Also, change towels because you don't want mold to start growing on them.

Recipe for Applenoon Delight:
9 lbs of Orange Blossom Honey
5 gallons of apple juice
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
2 teaspoons yeast energizer
White Labs English Cider yeast

Next post: Don't Concentrate Too Much

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Applenoon Delight: The Journey Begins

In my previous post, I have mentioned that I have not brewed anything in about 3 years. However, of everything that I have brewed, I am the most proud of this mead, which I named Applenoon Delight. It is a Cyser mead. By the way, I was watching Arrested Development, where a particular episode inspired the name of this mead. Anyway, let's start off with the ingredients, and my beginning processes.

Red Delicious Apples
Golden Apples
Fuji Apples
I only had enough apples to make 1 1/2 gallons of juice.
4 gallons of fresh pressed apple juice (store bought, but not made from concentrate)
9 pounds of Orange Blossom Honey
WLP 775 English Cider Yeast
Yeast Nutrients
Yeast Energizer
Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)

About 2 days before the main event, I create a starter yeast. I follow Ken Schramm's directions on this. Boil 6 cups of water with 1/4 teaspoon yeast energizer and yeast nutrient, and 1 tablespoon of DME for 5 minutes. Afterward, I add about 1/2 cup of honey. I always use the same style of honey so the yeast can acclimate better to the process. Quick chemistry lesson: yeast converts glucose (a sugar) into carbon dixoide and ethanol (alcohol). Honey, unlike beer does not have enough nutrients for yeast to florish as well, so nutrients are a big part of meadcrafting.

The yeast nutrient that I use contains food grade urea and ammonium phosphate. The yeast energizer contains diammonium phosphate (DAP), yeast hulls (Biotin), magnesium sulphate, and vitamin B comlex. I will discuss a little more on the nutrients later when I talk about the fermentation.

Before I began my process, everything is cleaned and sanitized. My girlfriend told me that she wished I cleaned everything as well as I do my brewing equipment. I responded that if everything provided such a delectable drink I would clean better. I think she won that argument. I clean with 5 Star PBW powder, and finish with iodine to sanitize. I'm pretty anal about this because I create a no heat must. A new word, cheers. Must is the concoction of honey and water before pitching the yeast and fermentation starts. In beer brewing this is referred to as the wort (pronounced wert).The yeast essentially eats the must to create mead. Who knew you would learn so much in one sitting? I'm sure you are retaining every piece of morsel-knowledge that I am providing.

I did not weigh the amount of apples I picked up. I knew I would not have enough to create the whole batch, but wanted some fresh pressed apples. You can see the number of apples I cut up at the top because I do not have an apple presser; rather, I used a juicer, which failed in the ability to "juice" a large number of apples. I tend to stay away from concentrate juice not because you can't use them, but it is a preference on my part. The fresher the better. One day, I hope to have an apple presser and create 5 gallons of all fresh apple juice.

I did create 5 1/2 gallons of juice before I added the honey. I have 60 lbs of Orange Blossom Honey, which you can see next to the carboy. I went all glass when I was a strictly brewing beer.

The main reason is that my buckets were ruined during one of the hurricanes of 2005. However, I wish that I had a bucket on this day because I made a "whoops." First, I used 9 lbs of honey, and poured it in through a cleaned/sanitized funnel. I do not create a hot must, which is where you heat water and add the honey to ensure to mix it together because I believe you cook away some of the honey flavor and aroma. Others believe that helping to rid of foreign or bad bacteria supersedes full integrity of the honey. I have never had a contaminated mead, so I'm sticking with anal retentive cleaning and no-heat must. Also, you have to cool down the mead, which has the possibility of becoming contaminated. Did I mention that the creation of the must and the first few days of fermentation are the most vulnerable? Well, now you know. Why is it the most vulnerable? The yeast has not created the alcohol yet to fight off bad bacteria.

Anyway, the reason that I wish I had a bucket is because of the picture below.
I forgot that the reason buckets are good for no-heat must is because I can use a cleaned/sanitized spoon to stir the water (or in this case apple juice) together with the honey. I tried as best I could to mix it but found it too difficult. You can clearly see the majority of the honey sitting at the bottom. Another mistake was that I forgot to take a reading on the OG before adding the yeast with my hydrometer. OG stands for original gravity before yeast is added to the must. The hydrometer tells me how much sugar is dissolved in the solution. Needless to say, but I have a need to say it, my reading wouldn't have been as accurate because of that bottom feeding of honey. This seems like a good place to stop for now. So we have our must ready for the roaring colony of yeast ready to take that sugar and make alcohol out of it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What is Mead? Part 2

As I have stated before, if you are interested in brewing your own mead, Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker is your Bible. The styles of Melomel, Pyment, Metheglin, and Braggot are thoroughly discussed in his book, but I want to give a quick run down of some different styles, including the ones previously mentioned. This list is not entirely inclusive of all mead styles, but enough to give you an idea of the myriad of ways people create variations of mead.

Melomel is honey and fruit. There are a wide variety of fruits that people use together or separate. Some people will use concentrate juices, fresh fruit juices, or allow the fruit to ferment, sliced up, in a sack that sits in the mead. This can happen at any stage of the process, and will produce different results.

Cyser is apples and honey. This is probably one of my favorite styles of mead, and I'll be discussing this more in the coming post.

Morat is honey and mulberries.

Pyment is grapes and honey. This style is where the honey is the flavor that shines the most, although, I have never heard of a wine that used honey in the process.

Hippocras is honey, grapes, and spices.

Metheglin is honey and spices. This style can become very interesting at times with the various combination of herbs people put together.

Rhodomel is made with honey and Attar. Attar is just rose oil made from the petals. I have always been intrigued by this style. I have never had a glass of it, but maybe one year a great valentines gift it will make. Sorry, Yoda sometimes, unwittingly, slips in my writing, which does not provide a more sage prose; rather, makes me look like a kindergarten writer.

Braggot, sometimes called bracket, is barley and honey. Hops can be introduced. This is more about the honey, than the barley. This style demands for serious honey flavor and smell. I am currently working on a mead based on this style.

The last two are show and sack mead. Show refers to a traditional mead of water and honey. Sack is a stronger traditional mead. Sack mead is often achieved through the addition of extra honey during the fermentation process.

Within traditional mead, there are dry, semi-sweet, and sweet styles. In a latter post, I'll discuss more about the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), whose guidelines are used for competition.

There are more styles, but without overloading this post with each one, I have selected some of the more widely created styles. A style that I really want to travel just to experience is Tej.Tej is an Ethiopian mead, fermented with wild yeasts with the addition of gesho. Recipes vary from family to family, with some recipes leaning towards braggot with the inclusion of grains. Gesho is a type of plant that is indigenous to Ethiopia.

I hope these past two post have given you some insight into the exciting world of mead. Next post will begin the log of my Applenoon Delight. If you haven't guessed, it is my Cyser.

What is Mead? Part 1

There is a simple answer to this questions. Mead is mead, as in beer is beer or wine is wine. Although some refer to mead as "honey wine," this would be inaccurate. The definition of wine is fermented grape juices. Mead is fermented honey. Tah dah, distinction. Most times when I mention mead people give me a quizzical look and ask, "Mead?" I interpret this as, "Please tell me of this 'mead' that you speak off, and please inform me in great detail, so as I can learn from you, oh Great Orator of Mead." However, since I am not a linguist/translator/interpreter, my discernment are somewhat inaccurate. The best answer is the simple one that I have provided- mead is fermented honey. If the person asks for more information, this is when the mead soliloquy occurs. And now you, the invigorated reader can read excerpts from my one-man show called "MEAD: A Choosers Choice Drink".

A Quasi Origin of Alcohol

Mead is one of the oldest forms of alcohol. Some say that it is in fact the oldest alocholic beverage. However, these people have less money, than corporations that brew beer and wine, which pay for confirmation that their beverage (i.e. beer, wine) is the oldest. I personally (poor man here) subscribe to the notion that mead is the oldest. I first read this theory in Ken Schramm's "The Compleat Meadmaker," which if you want are interested in Meadcrafting, buy and keep it next to you while you sleep in case osmosis is possible. This theory, for me, has gained more revelance as I read more about honey and beekeeping in Africa. I also refer to this theory as A Quasi Origin of Alcohol.

Imagine a primative, ancient Africa. Tribes are hunter-gatherers. Honey, and there is precendence in this theory, was looked on favorably as a source of food. They did not know at the time, but honey has minerals, like phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, and enzymes. What was probably noticed is that honey gave them energy, quenched thirst, and soothed upset stomachs. Something to note is that honey needs water, yeast, and an airtight container to ferment. Some people are thinking, "Aha, jars, they would have stored honey in jars. There are artifacts from Africa that have pictures of bees on them. You are a genius, Rob." Ok this is not my theory, but thanks for the kudos. Clay jars would not have been ideal for this process. There is a storage device that predates clay jars that would have been ideal for fermenting honey- animal skin water pouches. This next part is pure speculation, and some may be a bit reaching.

A group of hunter in ancient Africa go on a hunt for game. They come across a beehive in the middle of their hunt. Having a affinity for honey, the leader decides to empty some of his water out and fill the rest of it with honey for the men and the rest of the tribe. Yeast, bacteria, or both can ferment alcohol, but do not dispair once converted it isn't harmful (I will have a future post on how this creates alcohol). If it was, I would not be sitting here typing all of this out for you to read. Anyway, the leader does not drink out of his pouch, saving the honey for the other tribe members. He might not notice that his pouch is expanding, but every so often takes a quick sip of his honey (this lets out the carbon dixiode being built up in the pouch by the fermentation). At some point he realizes that after drinking his pouch after a couple of months, he feels warm and powerful. Maybe, even back home he provides some to his wife or wives and notices thatshe/they become uninhibited. The pouch is revered as a gift from a god, and they feed it honey (which is contiously fermented because of the yeast strain already developed from the first batch)to keep the god happy, and he/she rewards them with a elated feeling from the sacred pouch. There you go a brief history of the origins of alcohol. There are some stretches and many variables to this theory, but I think it is somewhat plausible. There is an Ethiopian style of mead called tej.
This concludes What is Mead Part 1. Stay tuned for What is Mead Part 2, where I'll be talking about some of the different styles of mead. Please feel free to comment.