Tag Archives: DIY

Brewing Mead in Quantity: My New 6-gallon Fermenter

I shared the last of my vanilla mead last month with friends who have educated palates, and they were all favorably impressed. Even though it was young, it wasn’t immature: tangible notes of caramel, light floral and a taste of apricot.

Meads are notoriously slow to ferment, which is why I get the ball rolling by adding extra sugar. The last time I used this method, I ended up with a very drinkable beverage that was 12.3% ABV. Since I got universally positive feedback, I decided to super-size this next batch and experiment with some new flavors.

Honey from Rose Garden Apiaries.

Research indicates that I’ve been using the wrong words this whole time. Vanilla mead isn’t technically mead, it’s methergin (mead, plus spices and flavorings). Also, adding sugar makes this “short mead,” or I suppose, “short methergrin.” Now that I understand that mead is a global beverage, the potential flavor combinations are firing up my imagination.

The liquid now burbling in my kitchen will make another batch of vanilla methergin, a ginger batch and a few bottles of melomel — mead made with fruit. My friend Peter Christy owns Far Leaves Tea, so I plan to infuse the melomel with his Blood Orange Tea to give a few bottles a very distinctive ruby color and flavor. I also have some champagne bottles I can use to make sparking mead!

Obviously, it all starts with the mead:

  • 4 liters water
  • 5.5 kg honey
  • 25 g Premier Premier Cuvée wine yeast
  • 1.6 g Fermaid K yeast nutrient
  • 400 g granulated sugar
  • a few gallons of room-temperature filtered water
  • an airlock

For me, it’s easier to calculate Metric than Imperial; trying to remember the exact number of ounces in 3/4 of a gallon is a PITA.

Twelve pounds of wild honey atop a 6.5 gallon fermenter.

Twelve pounds of Texas honey atop a 6.5 gallon fermenter.

I obtained 12 pounds of honey via a friend who knows an apiarist outside Dallas. The beekeeper has no idea what we’re doing, so she should be surprised when she receives her bottles. Whatever you use, make sure it’s real raw honey that’s minimally processed. Expect to pay at least $10/pound for quality bee secretions. My last batch used honey from Mendocino, so we’ll see if I can discern a difference.

The fermenter above is my primary; when the time comes to rack this batch, I’ll probably transfer it to individual bottles so I can start infusing with herbs and fruit.

Let’s get started:

First, add about 10 liters of filtered water to a very well-cleaned fermenter.

stirring honey into hot water for mead

Next, add about 4 liters of filtered water to each stock pot, bring the water to to a boil, then turn off the heat and divide the honey equally between both pots.

water and honey after boiling

After boiling the honey-water mixture for 5 minutes, turn off the heat, then skim and discard the foam. You don’t have to boil your honey, but the wild yeast will compete with the fancy French yeast you just paid for. Natural yeast can also leave a skunky note, so boiling is recommended.

Put your pot in an ice bath to bring the temp down into the 80 – 90F range. Then, pour the concentrated wort into the fermenter with the filtered water and mix. Keep stirring and add all of the sugar to the fermenter.

When the sugar is dissolved, add six grams of Premier Cuvée and stir with a large slotted spoon to break up any clumps. Cover the container for 30 minutes and take a break. When you return, it should look something like this:

adding yeast to the mead wort in a fermenter

It should start foaming within several minutes.

Don’t freak out if it’s not a little frothy; it’ll get there. Add more filtered water, then add the rest of your honey wort to the container and stir some more. I like to add citric acid during this phase, so I added the juice of three limes.

Since I’m making short methergrin, I added 450g of sugar. This jump-starts fermentation, but invest in a hydrometer before you start this project. Before this goes into your wine cellar (or in a corner of the kitchen), you’ll need a hydrometer to tell you how much sugar is in solution; it tells you how potent the end result should be. Add filtered water until the surface is an inch below the rim, then seal it up and put in your airlock.

This batch has a specific gravity of 1.084 and a Brix of 19.8, so the end result will be around 11.3% ABV. I may boost it to 12% by adding more sugar at the end.

Day one of the largest batch of mead I've taken on so far. Within hours, the yeast got to work, and the airlock started burbling.

I have high confidence that this batch will turn out favorably. My only concern is the noise; the airlock is bubbling loud enough for me to hear it in my bedroom at night. (It sounds like someone’s crouched in my hall closet, maniacally popping bubble wrap.)

I’ll keep testing hydrometer samples over the next several weeks. When the airlock gets quiet, that’s when I’ll add fruits, herbs and other seasonings. Watch this space for updates.

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PANIC IS A LUXURY

When I returned to my desk with coffee a few minutes ago, my trackpad refused every attempt to make a two-finger swipe. A few weeks ago, my “J” key become sticky; now this.

First, I washed my hands to see if I was the cause of capacitance or conduction issues. Then, I carefully swabbed the area with a Q-Tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol before using a thin straw to puff air into the crevices… no joy.

Within moments, I was practically convinced that the trackpad on my 2008 MacBookPro was shot. I’d either have to get used to life navigating with my arrow keys or take the old thing in for a repair that was sure to cost more the value of the computer.

I sat back, sipped coffee and Googled “2008 MacBook Pro trackpad won’t scroll,” which returned several links to Apple discussion boards. I poked around for a few minutes and found a page where one sage shared a Terminal command that resets trackpads to their factory settings:

defaults write -g com.apple.trackpad.scrollBehavior 2

I put down my coffee, copied the line, opened Terminal, pasted the command line and quit. I clicked Log Out and logged back in a moment later. The trackpad worked perfectly.

I’ve always been challenged when it comes to embracing someone else’s motivational phrases. Even when they sounded reasonable and resonated, I could never hear it in my own voice.

But as unique a snowflake as I am, I know I also need some backup from time to time. So, when I’m have trouble focusing on a solution or concentrating on a task, I break out a homemade mental flashcard that reads:

PANIC IS A LUXURY

For me, panic isn’t just an emotional state; it manifests itself in ways that consume energy and attention. If you have time to panic, it means you have time to take a break from worrying about the issue at hand. Panic is a form of procrastination.

Yes, I still dawdle, but much less than I used to. My father’s death in 2013 clarified a lot for me; there are a lot of things I’d like to do, and none of us knows how much time is left on the clock. As a result, I have less and less interest in being waylaid by distractions; particularly those of my own making. I’m learning.

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The latest batch.

100g raw honey
750ml water
2g Côte des Blancs dry wine yeast
Juice of 1 lime

It’ll be ready by Thanksgiving, hopefully.

20130908-183814.jpg

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