View Full Version : Complexity vs. KISS re: ingredients

Chevette Girl
05-26-2011, 10:25 PM
I will be the first to admit that I don't have a particularly refined palate. This is why I often stick to one or two ingredients, I don't like to add too many different flavours because I generally figure it will be wasted on me. I'll occasionally go with groups of spices (like one might put in apple or pumpkin pie, for example) with a fruit, or sometimes two fruits... the only thing I've ever made with lots of different flavours has been my multi-fruit port (http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16157)with 16 lbs of 13 different fruits and at one point I could taste a little of everything in it, but I haven't tasted it recently so I don't know if they've melded together into something good or what... and the second- and third-runs I did get a little experimental with the spices and added different things like anise and cardamon and things, and with a pumpkin second run hydromel I added lots of different spices and some hops... but again, haven't tasted any of it yet and I don't know if I'll be able to identify any of what went into any of them... There are sometimes cases where I don't even use honey because I don't want it to take away from the fruit's flavour in a wine...

For those of you who brew with strong single flavours (traditionals and unspiced single-fruit mels), is it because you think you'll miss something if you go for complex ingredients?

For those of you who brew with lots of different flavours in the same mead/wine, are you trying to be able to identify all the different ingredients, or are you going for an end flavour as a whole?

And to anyone who's done some of each, how do they compare to each other?

05-26-2011, 10:54 PM
Last year (my first year making mead) I made only single fruit mels, but it was only to get a baseline for what each fruit tastes like after fermentation and not out of fear of missing flavors. This next year I will be making single fruit mels with the addition of a single spice or herb, depending. I plan on stepping up my ingredient list over the course of a few years until I hit the point where I stop gaining anything flavor-wise. For all I know, that might be 3 ingredients in some cases.

Other things I want to try are oaking, different yeasts, different SG's, different temps, different honeys, different fruit amounts, etc. And all that has to be done more than once because a single batch does not an experiment make. Ideally Id like to be able to duplicate results over 2 or 3 batches. Sometimes it seems like I dont have enough time to get a handle on this :eek:

05-27-2011, 12:08 AM
Hmmm... this is a very tough question to answer simply. First of all, I do both, and it really depends on how the spirit moves me when I'm formulating any given recipe. But I do admit that many of my early "everything including the kitchen sink" meads were less than stellar - often the flavors and aromas of the different ingredients clashed rather than complemented. I think that the ability to blend lots of disparate ingredients into a complex, but still pleasing, mixture is a skill that is best learned through practice... and more than a few mead marinades result from the process! ;)

05-27-2011, 12:15 AM
I don't have enough spice or fruit meads under my belt to answer your question fully, but when I cook I tend to add a little bit of lots of different spices, often ones you don't think go together. Tonight I made salad dressing with carmelized onion, cumin, thyme, sauvignon blanc, rice vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper. You could really taste the cumin and onion, the thyme and wine were just barely there (taste-able if you concentrate), and the rice vinegar and garlic weren't a specific flavor at all. I like the flavors that are barely there so you have to either think really hard about them, or better yet, can't call them out specifically. I add basil to a lot of spicy food to give it a little earthy flavor. You can't taste the basil as basil, but it definitely changes the flavor of the dish in a subtle way.

So obviously I'm in the "lots of small amounts of ingredients" camp, at least in theory. However, cooking is a few-hour turnaround kind of thing whereas mead is a few years. I think playing with alcohol extractions is a good shortcut, and you can make them in really small volumes without much work. They usually are ready to go within a month, and you can blend them with each other and with meads to figure out what a tiny bit of basil and chipotle does to your raspberry mead. Best of all, they keep forever (just about) if you don't dilute them with water and keep them sealed up reasonably well.

05-27-2011, 12:52 AM
one thing i don't like with strong single flavour meads is that they can end up tasting like honey (or fruit) in vodka. its kinda boring.
its a lot nicer drink to have a taste up front, some thing in the middle and something that stays behind ;)

but if it gets to complex (like some wines), it just ends up as a single taste.

05-27-2011, 12:01 PM
I like to strive for complexity through less ingredients rather than more. Some wines are enormously complex, and have just 2 ingredients, grapes and yeast (3 if they're oaked). :)

I don't have a particularily refined palate either, but I'm learning and definitely am shooting for a balance of interesting things happening at the beginning middle and end of the taste, as well as aroma that mirrors the taste rather than seems like it's off in it's own world.

My blueberry mels are aproaching what I want, working on some better ideas for my recipes and processes with Oskaar right now actually (hint: I'll tell you all that "premium" patron fee paid for itself 10 times over already with private consultation on a recipe, and he's only responded once so far!).

My traditionals are also improving a lot. Personally I do find that the sweet traditionals can be difficult to find anything interesting happening, the sweetness just swamps so much of what's going on (had lots like this at the Mazer Cup, also had some truely complex sweet traditionals too though). I think a dry (or drier at least) traditional lets a lot more of the subtleties through resulting in something that's hardly anything like honey and vodka! But, they ain't easy to make without any glaring faults.

05-27-2011, 12:12 PM
I'm not sure I'm a good person to answer, but I worry about my "Loaded Morning Brew" a lot. It's still -S-T-R-O-N-G- I might have been too ambitious with the "Everything and the sink" mentality (and mixing some very strange fermentables). It could just be I added too much Coffee into secondary too (probably shouldn't have added any or it might be drinkable by now) The good news is that a very strong buckwheat honey nose is coming through now instead of just coffee and alcohol. If the Buckwheat taste begins to come through more it could become something rather drinkable (I think)

My "Mallow Out Mead" worries me too but in a different way, it's just so plain right now and has nothing of the tastes that I had hoped/expected. There's nothing there that wows me. It's just... alcohol. Once again aging will show different flavors.

I guess I can sum this up as, "I'm too new wait till my meads age a bit"

05-27-2011, 12:36 PM
Ha, that's pretty much all of us when we start! Many traditional, or close to traditional meads, are very bland for the first 3-6 months, patience will come, do not worry!

Medsen Fey
05-27-2011, 12:38 PM
Sometimes it seems like I dont have enough time to get a handle on this :eek:

I know that feeling.
Quite well in fact.

Chevette Girl, I think you are sort of asking, "how do you put the magic in mead?"
Sometimes it just happens.

I tend to keep my recipes with fewer ingredients. My palate isn't all that sophisticated, so I figure that too much will just fly right by me. However, I've come to the conclusion that complexity doesn't have to come from a lot of different ingredients; a very few can give enormously complex character. The truest proof of this is a traditional mead. If you pick a good honey (or blend of honeys) and manage a good fermentation (preferably with an ABV that doesn't drown everything), and LET IT AGE, with or without a little oak, you can find a very complex aroma and flavor with all sort of floral and fruity character with a great body and finish. The more traditionals I make, the greater appreciation I have for the complexities contained in honey.

Chevette Girl
05-27-2011, 06:07 PM
Thanks for all the replies, folks!

Actually I'm not sure my own self what I'm trying to ask, Medsen :) I think I was mostly just curious on how people approach flavours and combinations.

I've managed the odd magical thing in coming up on seven years of brewing, but I only have at the moment two traditionals under my belt (all gone now but both finished a bit sweet ~1.010 and both were good) and a few decently balanced mels or cysers where both the fruit and the honey are noted, along with a lot of dry mels and second-run mels that haven't really impressed me because I can't even taste the honey... (to be fair I need to go back and taste some of them now to see if anything's come back with age) ... I don't really even know what I like, just how my preferences have seemed to go so far.

Thanks for the cooking analogy and the suggestion with extracts, Akueck (I've already started doing teas when doing research for a metheglyn I want to make), I have cooking days where everything but the kitchen sink goes into the soup or spaghetti sauce, and some days where I just chuck the whole jar of oregano in... (quote from my husband, "Oregano's a vegetable, right?" after an incident with soup that turned out surprisingly good). But you're right, several hours versus several years makes it difficult to judge.

AToE, I think my biggest problem is not knowing what I want, so I don't even know what questions to ask about what I'm trying to do. "Make it taste good to me" is pretty broad :) Plus there's a lot of things I seem to have to prove to myself and I'm not done with that yet... (and I suffer from lack of paypal or I'd already be a patron, just to support this awesome site, I'm leery about an annual charge on an account that will never carry a balance).

Wayneb, I'm just not confident in my own taste to make combinations a) I'll want to drink later and b) I'll want to share with others later...

Triarchy, you're definitely more organized and focused than I am but that seems to be the sort of plan I'm following... but I'm additionally comparing fruit wines with mels, another step altogether...

Mostly I've experimented all over the place with any fruit (and some vegetables) I could get my hands on, I'm admittedly bad at repeating recipes, I always want to try new things and get bored settling into repeating the same thing if I could try something new with it...

Thinking back to Medsens' suggestion on another thread to learn how to do one thing really well, so far the only thing I am sure I can do without much variation in the results is JAO and some of the variants I've come up with (lemon, ornamental crabapple and blackberry being the consistent, good variants) but a lot of the variation in other recipes has to do with the fruits I'm using, I don't always get consistent yields and quality every year so it's hard to plan a batch of wild grape wine properly when you go out to pick and get half a pound one year but it was ten pounds the year before. The other problem is that I like making wine more than I drink it. Sure, I enjoy a good glass now and then but I hate wasting wine and I'm the only drinker in the house, so many of my activities end up happening in the evenings when I'd want to sit back with a glass that I don't get much chance... and even when I bring a bunch of stuff I want to try to gatherings so that the rest of the bottle can be enjoyed too, half the time it never even gets opened because we've all gotta drive home or someone prefers beer or whatever.

I was talking to a friend on the weekend who's done sommelier classes and her advice to me to figure out what I like is to try a lot of different wines, but short of holding a tasting party (when most of my friends can't drink!), it leaves me with a lot of leftover wine.

Ugh. So is this a newbie phenomenon I've fallen into because I'm still all over the damn place, something more "matured" wine/meadmakers fall into after trying a lot of different things and still not knowing what they like best, or just a Chevette Girl thing?

And Loadnabox? If you like sweet stuff, make JAO to keep yourself away from the "good stuff" for a little while!

05-27-2011, 07:13 PM
To me the most complex meads I've made and tasted are lightly oaked traditionals. I've had everything from spiced, oaked, multi-fruit melomels to oxymels, bochets, braggots and whatever else you can think of (including my own Beef Jerky Mead that ended up as a marinade).

People tend to think that the more stuff they huck into the fermenter the better and more complex it will be. My experience has been exactly opposite. Most of the "Oh My God this is the best mead I've ever tasted" reactions I've seen have been for well crafted, lightly oaked, well aged traditional mead. There is a depth and complexity that honey takes on with aging that is obscured by other flavors (fruit, spice, etc.) as the mead ages. While the other additives all have their own charm and complexity, I don't feel that they match up (there are certain exceptions) to a nicely aged traditional that has been oaked.



05-27-2011, 07:14 PM
And Loadnabox? If you like sweet stuff, make JAO to keep yourself away from the "good stuff" for a little while!

Heh, I had provided a few samples of the 1 gallon JAO to my wife, my first batch. Despite not all the fruit having fallen yet she begged me enough that I racked it off today, I'm already a bit tipsy from it :drunken_smilie:

I can't say that I would drink it all -that fast, maybe a gallon a month, but I'm... blessed???... with friends willing to take care of any surpluses :D

05-28-2011, 08:39 AM
Many thanks to GotMead and to all of ya'll
Long time brewer, extreme newbie mazer (a whopping three, 5 gal batches aging)
Been wondering what to mix up next and read this thread (timing is everything!) and now I know what I'll be working on my first year, I have a kit traditional ( 3 mo. not quite clear) a blueberry mel (almost 3 mo. Burgundy clear) and a JOA inspired "quick" batch (crystal clear in less than a month)
I want to do a meadowfoam / chocolate nibs batch next but after that I'll be working on my first recipes with the goal of getting a feel for the organism, process and repeatability since I'm confident I'll like the outcomes of one and two (we'll have to see about three and four).
I have a bucket each of meadowfoam and orange blossom so my variables will mostly be yeast and oak, now that it's warm I'll work with yeast that will be happy in my 55 degree cooler, this winter I'll work with those happy around 65.
I suppose I'll have to do a gal of JOA "by the book" I don't see me caring much for sweet, but I may be surprised.
I'll have to second AToE's comment about the patron upgrade being a great investment, still so much to pick up on but have soaked up a lot going through the info here.
Is this a great site or what?!

Chevette Girl
05-28-2011, 01:18 PM
Is this a great site or what?!

Totally. I've only been on one other (non-wine related) forum where people were this helpful and courteous...