View Full Version : chocolate/cherry: recipe/method + questions (novel)

07-25-2014, 04:41 PM
Hello, everyone
I've recently started a chocolate mead with sweet cherries, inspired by the group brew here a few yeas ago. What ever happened to those threads, anyway? I've been having major trouble finding them.

I'd been meaning to keep up with the brewlogs and try one myself, but time just got away from me and here we are, years later.

Anyhow, my initial recipe was as follows:

~10lbs fresh cherries, frozen, pitted, pulped
4oz Raisins, chopped finely
1gal wildflower honey (a large portion of the honey had begun to granulate, so I put it in the blender with some water to liquefy it again)
16oz Hersheys special dark cocoa powder
Water to 4.5 gal
Nutrient/energizer (as directed on container)
Lalvin EC-1118 (rehydrated as recommended by Lalvin)

From my brewlog:
Keep in mind that I use a refractometer to determine brix %, and then plug that into the GotMead calculator to get SG readings. This is also my first attempt at step feeding, and it was a decision made at the last minute when I realized the alcohol tolerance of EC-1118. The must was stirred vigorously at each log entry.

7/13 - must prepared, campden tablets added as directed on container
7/14 - yeast pitched (I, being a complete imbecile, neglected to take an initial Brix/SG reading.)
7/15 - 26% brix (SG=1.11)- I thought that the fermentation was completely stalled, until I opened it to aerate/stir. As I remember reading in some older posts, the chocolate powder had created a foam which was slowing the airlock bubbling. There was definitely action, and a lot of it, judging from the smell and foam.
7/16 - 19% brix (SG=1.079)
7/17 - 14.5% brix (SG=1.059)- Decided to attempt to push ABV higher. Added 2 33oz bottles of Tart Cherry Juice (best I could find, unfortunately very acidic) in attempt to raise SG without opening my last gallon of honey. Added them one at a time, no change observable on refractometer. Added honey anyway (exact amount unknown), raising Brix/SG back up to 19%/1.079. We are now at nearly 5 gallons volume.
7/18 - 17% brix (SG=1.07)- aerated/stirred. Fermentation has slowed a lot. Added an additional 2oz raisins (chopped), 1tsp boiled bread yeast hulls, 3tsp fermax
7/21 - 14% brix (SG=1.057)- added 1 tsp boiled bread yeast hulls
7/23 - 13%brix (SG=1.053)

I will take another reading this evening when I get home and update this post with the results. Thus far, there have been no off smells at all; the yeast SEEM to be nourished well enough, aside from the slowing fermentation.

Now, for my questions:

From what I understand, with the step feeding that I've done so far, I would calculate my ABV by adding the increase in SG on 7/17 (1.079-1.059=.02) to my "initial" SG of 1.11, which would give me 1.13. Now, when I plug that into the calculator, even with it being fermented down to SG=1, I end up with 16.71% abv. Will this ever happen? If I'm trying to push the ABV in this mead as far as I can, should I still be keeping it in primary until I'm done step feeding?
The fermentation is slowing down significantly, and I've been adding yeast hulls in hopes to energize it a bit. Should I just accept the slowed fermentation as normal, even though there are a lot of sugars left in the solution, or should I be looking to fix something in hopes to get it chugging along a bit more before racking into secondary? I know that chocolate mead takes a very long time to mature, should I just rack it over to secondary and hope that the yeast finishes the job by the time it's ready to be bottled?
I've noticed a thin, light-colored film across the top of my mead, thick enough to capture relatively small bubbles of what I assume is CO2, but not appearing to be fuzzy at all. It's not a new development, I seem to remember it being there from early on (or at least I can't pinpoint the day that it appeared), but I've never seen it in a mead before so it's got me sort of worried. Did anyone else see anything like this when you used chocolate powder? I can take a photo or two when I get home tonight, if it would help. It's a thick enough film to leave a layer on my spoon when I stir it. Early on, I tasted some of the stuff on the spoon, and it just tasted like chocolate. More recently, I tasted a bit of the must and I'm just not sure what to think, it tastes sort of sour. Not entirely unpleasant, just sort of tangy with a very chocolatey finish. I've never fermented cherries (or cocoa powder) before, and that juice that I added was definitely acidic, so I just don't know what to think at this moment. I'm hoping that the residual sugars and heavy chocolate aren't covering something most foul.

Chevette Girl
07-25-2014, 05:39 PM
1) It doesn't quite work like that, as easy as it would be if it did... you have to account for the volume as well since what you added also has water in it which dilutes it at the same time as you're boosting the sugar. I gave up on trying to do it by math the first time I tried to figure it out since I don't have an accurate way to determine the volumes I'm working with anyway, I just do a spirit indication test at the end... And yes, when I've done step-feeding it's way easier to keep it in primary until it stalls out (presuming you're using a bucket), because if you fill your carboy, then you have to remove liquid every time you want to step-feed. It's relatively safe from oxidation in the bucket as long as it's active.

2) I'd keep stirring it daily to keep the yeast in suspension and the cocoa powder from getting in the way, but I'm not sure how much good more yeast hulls will do. I'd be suspecting the pH of slowing things down because 1.110 isn't THAT high a start... Do you have any pH strips? Usually when I do a step-feeding, I wait until the fermentation's close to done before I add more, saves you from the hassle of trying to restart if it doesn't go as far as you'd hoped. The first time I oopsed and had a low OG and then added a bunch of sugar in the middle like you did, the batch chugged along for MONTHS. Eventually finished, but wow it bubbled for frigging ever.

3) It may well be a layer of oil or something from the chocolate, I used chocolate powder too and it did some weird things. Turned out great at the end though. I found that the cocoa had a bitterness to it that needed backsweetening and if you've got tart cherry juice driving the pH down, that could combine to make it pretty pucker-worthy. Take a photo anyways though, in case it's a Brett pellicle, that could cause sourness.

07-26-2014, 12:14 AM
Thanks for the response, Chevette!

Tonight's refractometer reading was somewhere around 12.5% brix (SG~1.051). The fermentation is continuing to slow, but I can still see bubbles forming on the surface, so something is definitely still happening.
I took some photos of the film tonight also (Link (https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_foAz9I_SZ0dVQzNEZPOFFTUWs&usp=sharing)). It's on my google drive, it should be set to public.

Taking the photos allowed me to get a better look at the stuff, too. I'm definitely glad I did it. In some of the photos, you can see areas of the film that are lighter than the rest. The surface of the mead is in no way fuzzy or 'dry' looking. The areas that are a little lighter are actually clusters of little bubbles that are lifting the film off of the surface of the liquid.

#1-3 were taken immediately after removing the lid, before stirring. #4 is the initial stir (looks like tomato soup, couldnt tell how red it actually was until the flash hit it), #5 & #6 are me deliberately skimming the top to collect the film.

Also, regarding measuring ABV when step feeding:
How do you plan your additions, if you can't calculate your SG along the way? What I mean is, how do I know when I've added enough sugars to get near 18% abv without over sweetening at any point?

As for the pH, all I've got are these testing strips for a swimming pool (don't ask, i don't even have a swimming pool), and the lowest they go is 6.2. It looks like the color about matches 6.2, maybe even a little lighter in color, so i would assume that it's probably a little lower than 6.2.

Chevette Girl
07-26-2014, 01:01 AM
How to know how much is enough honey? Simple, I let the yeast tell me. Generally I like my meads between 1.010 and 1.020 so I'll start it around 1.110 with rehydrated yeast and plenty of nutrients and energizer added to the must with my usual lazy staggered nutrient addition (I mix together what I plan to add to the batch in total and then every time I aerate I feed it some nutrient/energizer mixture and try to time it so that the container's empty when the SG hits around the 1/3 sugar break when I stop aerating anyway), then I let the fermentation proceed as it will, checking it every day, then when it gets down to 1.010 I boost it back up to 1.020 with honey, keep checking it every day and every time it drops below 1.010, I boost it back up to 1.020, repeat until the SG stops dropping, then you know you've maxxed out your yeast without leaving too much residual sugar.

And your photos look to me like the cocoa's changed the surface tension so that the bubbles cluster instead of bursting, I wouldn't worry about it at this point, it might go away when you're done fermentation... I think I made my pear mel and then racked it onto the cocoa powder so I haven't really seen how it looks while it's fermenting with cocoa powder in it, but I did add cocoa powder to a mead that wasn't degassed and it did look something like that once it quit making a column of brown sludge... I'd be tempted to just keep stirring it down until fermentation's done and then seeing what it does. It may go away once things calm down or you may want to skim it.

07-26-2014, 01:29 PM
See, I'd thought the same thing after looking at the photos. It doesn't look like mold at all to me. I'm going to just go ahead and leave it for a while, I guess.

As far as the pH, I'm going to go and get some proper testing equipment today, but I can't find any info on how one would actually raise the pH levels. Could I just dilute it some with honey and water?

I think I've got that right...raise the pH to lower the acidity...

Chevette Girl
07-26-2014, 02:37 PM
Yes on raise the pH to lower the acidity :)

Not so much to diluting with honey and water since honey's acidic.

If you've got a local brew store, look into potassium carbonate, all I could find at mine was precipitated chalk (calcium carbonate), which mostly does the same thing but slower. Once you get a pH meter or strips, you can first determine if that's the problem, and second, go about correcting it. I usually find my brews start to stall out or make stink at anything below 3.2... You'll want it around 3.6-4.0, I usually start with 1 tsp calcium carbonate in a 5 gal batch, stir it in and wait a day for things to dissolve and react before checking the pH again and adding more.

Oh, and a word to the wise, degas it thoroughly before dropping any powder into it, not only will it actually foam (think baking soda in vinegar) but it can also make a sudden large bunch of nucleation sites for CO2 release (think dropping Mentos into diet Coke), combine the two by not degassing first, and you're in for a mess.

07-29-2014, 12:21 AM
Okay, so I finally had a minute to fool with it. I went down to the brew store this weekend, where i was smugly told that they don't sell strips, they sell a testing kit, like this (http://www.amazon.com/BSG-WINE-ACID-TEST-WINEMAKING/dp/B00K90ISFA).

I bought the kit and got home, and even with the instructions had no idea how to use it to determine the pH of the must, only the % tartaric or ppt sulfuric.

So I just went blindly at it, and decided to go ahead and replace 1/2gal of must with 3/4 gal of honey/water mixed to match the current SG (still around 1.05) of the acidic must.
I know that honey is acidic, but my thought process here is that I don't want to dilute the fermentable sugars if i can help it, and the acidity of the honey/water is far less than that of the cherry must, so adding that in should raise the pH a little, at least.

I put that 1/2 gal into a 1gal carboy with about 1/4gal of honey/water, leaving a little headspace in case it wants to surprise me and kick off again.

The volume in the 5gallon fermentation bucket is a little high for my likings, though, so I'm putting my house on meadsplosion watch for the next 24 hours.

I'm prepared to repeat this process tomorrow night if I've still got no action, perhaps I'll go ahead and dilute it with plain water at that point.