Monday, September 1, 2008

Farm Fresh Honey

Making connections that extend the path of fermentation exploration are always welcome. Recently, I made such a connection with a fellow co-worker. We were talking about an alcoholic beverage I've only dabbled in a few times. Mead.

Mead is a wonderful thing. Sweet, delicate, alcoholic, and easy to make. Sometimes it can get quite expensive depending on the quality of honey used. I think I've shied away from making it because of the expense, and because I only really like 1 out of 3. But, I was telling Nora, that I really want to get better at it, and was looking forward to making more soon.

After we talked for only a short while, she mentioned that her brother is currently working at a honey farm in Michigan. Its called Windmill Hill Farm. She was heading out there to visit him in the following week, and offered to bring some honey back.

After she called with all the details on quality, quantity and pricing, I couldn't refuse. I went ahead and bought 3 gallons/36 pounds of raw & unfiltered wildflower honey. At the wholesale price, it only cost about 60 bucks. It's enough to make around 15 gallons of mead at various levels of strength and flavorings.

My experience brewing mead is limited, but I feel like I'm ready to ferment some with better quality. I know I'd like to brew a lighter braggot, and a very strong sack style, with perhaps a sweet melomel in between. There are a lot of winning recipes published in Zymurgy, so I may use that as a main resource.

All-in-all, I'm excited to have a great product in which to start brewing some good mead. Not sure when I'll get around to it, but it's definitely on the radar.

If anyone has special recommendations (especially with water treatment, acidity, nutrients, tannins and wine yeast strain...I guess everything but the honey!) I'd be grateful for your comments.

5 comments:

Warren Pattison said...

My homebrew club here in Houston (the Bay Area Mashtronauts) turned me onto Orange Blossom Honey for use in meads. I've ordered it by the 5 gallon pail. It's unbelievably fragrant and tasty. I especially like to add it to the Belgians I brew, as well as Honey-Wheat beers.

As for yeast, we have stuck with the standard mead yeasts from White Labs/Wyeast.

Boiling the must is a no-no for us, it'll drive off the delicate flavors/scents. If you feel you have to use heat for peace of mind, take it up to 168* and hold it for 15-30 mins.

I've heard that honey classified as wildflower comes from a hodge-podge of sources. That can be good or bad. Here in Houston, it's not so good - the main source is Chinese Tallow. Tasted next to other honeys, it's a dud. I hope your source is better.

I have made an Apple-Butter Cyser, the gravity was off the chart - it made the hydrometer float sideways. But it's delicious. We grew a 2 liter starter of champagne yeast, and it came out to be around 19% ABV WITH residual sweetness. Those bottles are going to stay around for years.

Lastly, supposedly the creme de la cream of honey is Tupelo honey. Good luck finding that!

Kyle said...

I've made about a dozen meads, and I've won a number of ribbons from them as well. The first bit of advice I'd give is to buy Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker. It's very helpful on all of these questions.

I've never even bothered heating up my meads; you might want to heat your water to ~170 and then cool to room temp to add to the honey, but I don't heat the honey at all (honey is quite aseptic, after all).

The honey you mentioned sounds great. You will need yeast nutrient for proper fermentation (barley malt has these nutrients already, which is why this step isn't needed for beer).

As for yeast, I've had good mead from high attenuating beer yeasts like Nottingham. I don't think I've had a mead made from yeast specifically geared for mead. I prefer to use wine yeasts. Red Star's Premiere Cuvee is great (but avoid their Pasteur Champagne). The mead comes out a dry (just how I like it) unless you start with a gravity above 1.095 or so. You should also think about using sorbate and metabisulfite to kill off the yeast before bottling if you want a still mead.

I've never bothered worrying about acidity, and most of my meads have turned out well. I'll probably look into this aspect in the future, but I wouldn't bother with it at first for most meads.

Finally, possibly the best homebrewed mead style I've had is a cyser. If you have access to fresh (i.e., non-sorbated) cider, it creates a wonderful combination with the honey.

Ted Danyluk said...

Thank you both for sharing your insights. I will keep it all in mind.

Warren, out of 4 different honeys in our house (2 clover & 2 wildflower), this one from Windmill Hill Farm tastes best. That makes me feel good right from the start.

I definitely wont heat up the honey, and I'm not at all worried about that. However, I do want to use yeasts other than mead yeast. That's all I've used before, and I wasn't thoroughly impressed.

Kyle, I think The Complete Meadmaker is probably what I'll need. Thanks for the tip.

Nottingham or Cuvee yeasts sound pretty good to me. I have a friend who only ferments them naturally/wildly with airborne yeast, and it takes a full year for her's to ferment. I'll have to try some of hers to see if that is a good way to go.

I'm looking for the greatest level of delicacy and balance between sweetness and dryness, with the most amount of flavor and aroma.

I've had a Raisin Mead by a club in WI, and it rocked. When would you usually add dried fruits/purees, in the primary fermenter, or secondary? I imagine either way, the fruit will ferment.

Bunz said...

Ted,

Check out some of the meadmaking sites on the Web. I just made a big mead (24# of honey) and utilized the staggered nutrient addition specified on the sites. The mead went from 1.142 to 1.014 in a month! Nothing slow at all with the fermentation. Right now I've got it sitting in the secondary clearing. Just remember YMMV.

Bill

Warren Pattison said...
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