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Allen Brown
03-16-2011, 12:04 PM
I am fermenting a straight mead, from local clover honey, 6 gallons with D-47. It has been in primary for 7 days, and is at SG 1.000.

I am going to tranfer into 1 gallon carboys, and want to oak some of it. I have 1# of ID Carlson French Oak Chips (Med Toast). I plan on boiling the oak chips and letting them soak for a couple of hours before adding.

Three questions;
1. How much oak should I add to a gallon?

2. Would you add oak to a sweet mead as well as a dry mead?

3. If I add oak, is it still considered a "Traditional" mead, as far as competitions go?

Thanks!

Allen

wayneb
03-16-2011, 12:47 PM
The amount of oak to add (and I recommend cubes rather than chips, since the oak profile from chips tends to be more one-dimensional, where the profile from cubes more resembles that of actual barrel aging), is a matter of personal taste. If you've never used oak before, I'd recommend starting on the light side - on the order of around 1/4 ounce per gallon, and letting that infuse for a week or so, tasting, then adding more or leaving it in there longer if you think it is necessary.

Sweet meads can benefit from oak as well as dry meads; again, you'll need to experiment a bit to figure out what amount of oak, and what exposure time, is right for you.

If the oak adds enough detectable character to be obviously "oaked" when you are done, then the mead has to be entered in competition as an open category mead rather than a traditional. If the oak influence is subtle enough that a judge cannot tell that you used oak, the mead can still be entered as a traditional. This is a subjective call, and many judges will ding a mead for being "wrong category" if they sense even a hint of oak in your traditionals, so to be safe, if you can tell something other than the honey is in there, then entering it as an "open" is your best bet.

AToE
03-16-2011, 01:01 PM
Wait! Couple weird things here.

First off - don't boil and/or soak your chips or cubes. Rinse them in water, then dip them in whatever you use to sanitize things and either rinse again or don't (depending on whether it's a no-rinse sanitize).

Second off - Wayne's recommendation of 1/4 oz per gallon is probably supposed to be for cubes, not chips. Chips have a lot more surface area per weight and will extract very fast - I'd recommend no more than 0.10 oz per gallon with cubes (you can always add more after weeks/months, you can't take it out though! It will mellow a bit with age, but it won't mellow enough to fix something severely over-oaked).

Third off - Even with cubes, 1/4oz per gallon is a good starting amount only if you're going to keep on top of taste testing. Taste after 2 weeks, then once every week. I have over-oaked meads with 1/4oz in 1 gallon many times. I would recommend going with less if you want to leave it in longer than 3-5 weeks.

Fourth off - Wayne, farbeit for me to argue with someone who's actually a judge, but I've never heard of oaking disqualifying something from being a "traditional", "show mead" obviously shouldn't be oaked, but unless we're talking about absolutely HUGE oak presence shouldn't it still be totally fine to be entered as a traditional? - If I'm wrong about that I definitely want to know, because I have oaked traditionals I plan on entering in 2012 and later!!!

wayneb
03-16-2011, 01:20 PM
Yup - my recommendations are for cubes. Good catch!

Regarding competition judging of meads that have been oaked, here's a quote from the BJCP Guidelines for Mead Category 26C (Open Category Mead): "Any specialty or experimental mead using additional sources of fermentables (e.g., maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar, or agave nectar), additional ingredients (e.g., vegetables, liquors, smoke, etc.), alternative processes (e.g., icing, oak-aging) or other unusual ingredient, process, or technique would also be appropriate in this category."

...and from the Guidelines' introductory description of meads: "Ingredients: Mead is made primarily from honey, water and yeast. Some minor adjustments in acidity and tannin can be made with citrus fruits, tea, chemicals, or the use of oak aging; however, these additives should not be readily discernable in flavor or aroma. Yeast nutrients may be used but should not be detected. If citrus, tea, or oak additives result in flavor components above a low, background, balance-adjusting level, the resulting mead should be entered appropriately (e.g., as a metheglin or open category mead, not a traditional)."

I added the italics for emphasis.

Like I said, it is a judgement call as to whether the oak influence is more than just "low, background...," but if a judge believes it to be so, and you entered it as a traditional, you'll likely get dinged.

BTW - Do I necessarily agree with this standard? No. But it is what it is, and even though I tend to make traditional meads that are oaked and I think they are well-balanced and should properly be regarded as traditionals, the BJCP standard is what is used for most home competitions in North America, and since I can taste the oak in my meads, if I entered one, it would be in the Open category.

AToE
03-16-2011, 01:25 PM
Wow, good to know! I've read that before but had obviously forgotten. I'll have to bring down some oaked traditional to the Mazer Cup and have more experienced people tell me what the level of oaking is. The one I'm thinking of I personally consider a little over-oaked for a light coloured traditional (but am hoping it will mellow) but for all I know it could be barely oaked or super over-oaked by normal standards. I have very few benchmarks to measure against.

Allen Brown
03-16-2011, 01:55 PM
I'll have to go with the chips this time, since that's what's available locally.

From Ken Schramm's book "The Compleat Meadmaker" page 73: "(oak) Chips should be treated by bringing to a boil and soaking for a few hours-some producers recommend an eight- to twelve- hour soaking."
Which is why I was going to boil. Does anyone do this? Are there reasons pro & con? I can see this boil & soak taking out some of the oakiness in the chips.

AToE
03-16-2011, 02:05 PM
That's interesting, I've never worked with chips so nothing like that ever came up for me. I guess maybe it would do just that, mellow them out a bit so they aren't so dangerous!

Medsen Fey
03-16-2011, 05:13 PM
:confused1:
From Ken Schramm's book "The Compleat Meadmaker" page 73: "(oak) Chips should be treated by bringing to a boil and soaking for a few hours-some producers recommend an eight- to twelve- hour soaking."
Which is why I was going to boil. Does anyone do this? Are there reasons pro & con? I can see this boil & soak taking out some of the oakiness in the chips.

I don't do this, but it might make some sense by getting rid of some of the harsher woody elements as long as you pour off the soaking water and don't add it to the batch. That would be worth testing.


but if a judge believes it to be so, and you entered it as a traditional, you'll likely get dinged.

... and since I can taste the oak in my meads, if I entered one, it would be in the Open category.

Oopsie.
I'll remember that next year.

AToE
03-16-2011, 06:04 PM
I'm going to start trying a few things to get mellow oak in batches (sorry for derailing this, but I figure it's info you'll like anyways). I often find I get too much of the "toasted" and "smoke" flavours and aromas (especially aromas) from my oaking, so I've been using less oak and leaving it in longer to allow more extraction from the inner less-toasted layers (this is part of why cubes are better, you get the effect of multiple toast levels because only the outside is toasted, chips are too thin, get toasted all the way through). Even with this technique though I find I get more smokiness than I'd like.

I'm going to start putting all my oak in primary, so that most of what it contributes for the first week or two gets muted/blown off by the fermentation, then I'll rinse the cubes and put them back in when it gets into secondary. I hope to mellow out the outside layers a bit this way.

Another thing I've considered is tossing the cubes into vodka for a week before adding them to the mead in secondary. That should remove more of the toasted-ness.

I know I could just use less, but I want more tannin and low-toast influence, not less oak overall. Also, I could just use lower and lower toast, but the lowest toast I've been able to find is medium.

The quest continues!

wayneb
03-17-2011, 12:07 AM
Oopsie.
I'll remember that next year.

I think you're OK, Medsen. You are so sensitive to oak, that what may seem like sucking on a toothpick to you might simply be perceived as a slight hint of vanillin by many judges! ;D

Allen Brown
03-18-2011, 07:03 PM
So I was reading my latest copy of "Vineyard & Winery Management", and there is an article called "Step away from the barrel", Which talks about how in the last 10 years, there has been a consumer trend to move away from "toasty, spicy, creamy wines that spend time in new oak, and back to wines with subtle oak charachter and more varietal expression". Of course one way they are doing this, is to either put only part of the wine in new oak, and part in old oak, or to use stainless steel only, for a 'naked' wine.

Another method that is gaining popularity, is to use barrels made with water-bent inetead of fire-bent staves. "Water bending tends to leach out all the harsher, more aggressive, resiny character that can sometime be present in American oak, and rounds out the sweeter components of the wood. This proccess is also handy on French oak".

So maybe that is what Ken Scrhramm is referring to when he talks about soaking the chips? Sounds like some pretty sound advice to me.

K5MOW
03-19-2011, 07:28 AM
I am fermenting a straight mead, from local clover honey, 6 gallons with D-47. It has been in primary for 7 days, and is at SG 1.000.

I am going to tranfer into 1 gallon carboys, and want to oak some of it. I have 1# of ID Carlson French Oak Chips (Med Toast). I plan on boiling the oak chips and letting them soak for a couple of hours before adding.

Three questions;
1. How much oak should I add to a gallon?

2. Would you add oak to a sweet mead as well as a dry mead?

3. If I add oak, is it still considered a "Traditional" mead, as far as competitions go?

Thanks!

Allen

I am looking forward to the info on this also.

Roger

Allen Brown
03-19-2011, 10:24 AM
I have decided to do a straight on oaking experiment. I split my mead into 5 carboys;
1. no oak
2. 1/8 oz unsoaked oak chips.
3. 1/8 oz brought to boil then soaked for 12 hours.
4 & 5. 1/4 oz boiled & soaked.

Bieng my first time oaking mead, what do you think? Leave for 2 weeks, taste, then taste weekly? I'm kinda shooting blind here, because I have never tasted a mead that was 'over-oaked', so I'm not sure if I will recognize it if I reach it, or am at least 'just under the threshold'.

wayneb
03-21-2011, 03:10 PM
I think that this would be a very worthwhile experiment, and I hope that you post your results and conclusions here. It would also be worthwhile (someday - not necessarily with this first round of testing) to try the same things with oak cubes.

AToE
03-21-2011, 04:00 PM
If I have anything I need to oak in 2 one gallon jugs I'd be up for trying this on the cubes going into one of them. Anything I can try to take the edge off those higher-toast outer layers is worth trying in my books.

TheAlchemist
03-21-2011, 10:49 PM
Ha! Love the photo. Looks like you've got your ducks in a row, Allen.