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View Full Version : Curious about Mead, from a brewer's perspective.



Sully
12-03-2014, 04:23 PM
Hello Everyone!

Apologies in advance for my long post. Apparently my internet searching skills are not up to the task of finding information I seek. I might just be technologically inept! My interest is a bit of "harvest" fermentation. Be it meads, "country wine", cider, perry, etc. My background is significant experience in the world of beer. I have been brewing beer both at home and commercially for sometime. I am confident in my ability to brew excellent beer. I enjoy wine and ciders of the dryer varietals, and I am looking to branch out for the sake of my own curiosity.

I am interested in drawing some parallels between what I know about beer, hopefully into some delightful beverages of a different sort. So here goes:

Beer is over 90% water. It is common in beer to "build" water profiles that favor certain flavors in a final product, and to introduce certain components that may be lacking in common city or well sources. Some components are considered undesirable in large quantities. Bicarbonate and sodium, for example. Others, such as Calcium are great for yeast health. The other thing, which I particularly love to toy with is chloride to sulfate ratios. In general, sulfates tend favor and accentuate hops, while chloride tends to accentuate "maltiness". Given that mead is essentially a dilution of honey, and water is the impact of said water composition something to take into consideration for the final product? I haven't done any hard calculations for what percentage of water mead represents, but is anyone familiar with how much of an impact a water profile would make?

Beer can be brewed to a variety of strengths, from sessionable small beers to double digit alcohol by volume. I realize much of the preservative abilities of mead are it's higher presence of alcohol. What are the primary inhibitors for making small meads? Is it a bacterial or other infection risk? For beer the hops are obviously used for it's anti-microbial properties, but why is mead more at risk than say a 6.5% cider? I was thinking to experiment with abv ranges so that I could keep different sorts in rotation. Perhaps playing small meads and melomels.

Choosing yeast - I realize that wine yeast is generally chosen for the home production of mead. I am assuming that has to do with their higher tolerance for the presence of alcohol. Do wine yeasts produce interesting ester and phenolic compounds that are considered desirable for added complexity? Can this also be applied to ale yeasts? Many Belgian and English yeasts introduce all kinds of interesting flavors, do they "show" in meads?

Chemical additions to mead... Fermaid K, DAP, acids, tannins, etc. Are there additions that can be added from natural sources to make up for that? Raisins, currants, cider apples, etc. Mostly just curious about this for future play with maybe some spontaneous fermentation fun, I actually rather dig funky, sour, farmhouse style beers. Rather curious if those principles can be applied to honey fermentation as well. And actually produce something drinkable.

Lastly flavor expectations. I know rough expectations from the wine and beer world. When one speaks of different styles. Mead I've had limited exposure to. A few commercial varieties. All of which were "still", what outcomes can one expect on the pallet, potentially that are different (or even the same) as wine or beer?

Sorry for all the crazy questions, had I thought about this more, I'm sure there's something I am forgetting. I imagine the rabbit hole goes deep with mead, and I am looking forward to tooling around with it!

Cheers,
Sully

TimT
12-03-2014, 06:56 PM
I've only ever had one mead go off and catch a bacterial infection - and that's because I had just thrown in some slices of fruit and was waiting for a wild yeast to catch. Could always happen, of course (touch wood). But I think generally honey itself is a wonderful preservative ingredient. This is owing partly to the enzymes that exist in the honey, and - strangely enough - partially due to the bacteria that live naturally on the honey, presumably coming in the first place from somewhere in the bees' stomachs or digestive organs. (And that - enzymes and natural protection from bacteria - are two excellent reasons why you should *never* boil honey. Why do it? It probably makes it more susceptible to infection!)

Personally the reason I'm starting to steer clear of low-alcohol meads is they just wouldn't taste as good. Honey is around 95 per cent fermentable sugar - ie, very little will be left over in the end to flavour your meads. Flavour and smell will develop over time, but IMO you just can't beat the richness and spiciness and strangeness of a good high alcohol mead.

I'm quite interested in the preservative qualities of honey too as, like you, I come at mead not only from a mead-making perspective but a brewing perspective. I have a honey porter fermenting at the moment that I'd like to age for some time. I actually haven't used hops (I'm using dandelion root, which probably has a few preservative qualities of its own though maybe not as much as hops). Anyway, I'm hoping the honey will act as a preservative and keep it of consistent (or improving) quality over a few months or a year.

kudapucat
12-04-2014, 03:57 AM
Water profile will have a large effect when making a hydromel or a braggot, but higher alcohol levels render it less important in your 'wine style' beverages.

kudapucat
12-04-2014, 04:01 AM
Hydromels (low alcohol) tend to taste watery. Perhaps water profiles or hopping could help this.
As mead ferments dry, unlike beer, it's really IMHO unpleasant as a hydromel unless you add in some sweetness. YMMV.
There's not really any more risk than to beer or cidre.

With regards to the paragraph about yeast: YES.

Regarding yeast fodder (DAP vs. Raisins): yes.

kudapucat
12-04-2014, 04:04 AM
Commercial meads are generally average. I've had some very poor, and some with basic wine faults.

Carbonating mead can really fix a high alcohol or high sugar Melomel that's just too powerful.

As to what to expect, that's half a book you're asking us to write.

(Sorry about the multiple replies, but using my phone makes it hard to read it all, and have room to type too)

kudapucat
12-04-2014, 04:09 AM
@TimT
Also, never boil because it blows off the delicate aromas that an experienced beer brewer would look for, eg. from a late addition of hops.

Re dandelion root.
I cannot recommend enough a book called "Sacred healing and herbal beers" even for somebody who hates beer (me) it's a valuable resource.

loveofrose
12-04-2014, 10:01 AM
I have an article coming out in the next few weeks. I'll post a link here when it's up. Kuda is right. It will be a long explanation.


Better brewing through science!

loveofrose
12-04-2014, 10:29 AM
I have an article coming out in the next few weeks. I'll post a link here when it's up. Kuda is right. It will be a long explanation.


Better brewing through science!

TimT
12-04-2014, 04:15 PM
@TimT
Also, never boil because it blows off the delicate aromas that an experienced beer brewer would look for, eg. from a late addition of hops.

Re dandelion root.
I cannot recommend enough a book called "Sacred healing and herbal beers" even for somebody who hates beer (me) it's a valuable resource.

Kudapucat, yep. I have the Buhner book, full of good ideas and (mostly) good advice about herbal flavourings for beers. I very rarely use hops now.

BTW careful about the references to the hops because they can actually be added at start of boil, mid boil, towards end of boil, after the end of the boil, or after the primary fermentation. You'll get a different flavour each time - but it doesn't preclude boiling in the making of beer.

Best to just say, never boil honey as you'll lose all the floral aromas which add subtlety to the final mead.

kudapucat
12-04-2014, 04:46 PM
Hmm. I understood that the later additions were for subtle aromatics, the earlier for bitterness.
Oh well. I guess not liking the stuff precludes a decent knowledge of the process.

TimT
12-04-2014, 07:48 PM
That's about right. Brewing with hops is a good training for brewing with herbs and spices more generally - because it puts you in the frame of mind to think about how best to get certain flavours and aromas out of different herbs and spices. The same principle applies - the fragrances and aromas tend to be lost in a boil, whereas the flavours may be strong enough to withstand a boil - though they too may change depending on how long the boil is.

kudapucat
12-04-2014, 08:19 PM
Yeah. That's what I was trying to say.

Here are some excerpts from that book I mentioned.

Sacred and herbal healing beers. http://tapatalk.imageshack.com/v2/14/12/04/738e3b7d7ae24d788d8cffb42b3cb477.jpghttp://tapatalk.imageshack.com/v2/14/12/04/722085b905cca7872fe5939ae1b673c0.jpg

The leaf and the root have differing properties.
The leaf being basically a diuretic, but also high in potassium to negate the negative effects of a diuretic. - not sure I'd want this in mead - I pee enough already when on the turps.
The root helps the liver function - now that's a grand idea in alcohol.
;-)
I've only posted quotes, as that can't infringe copyright.

bernardsmith
12-04-2014, 08:39 PM
Hi Sully, I am no expert so treat what I am about to say with as large a pinch of salt as you think appropriate. You ask about why mead makers avoid low alcohol meads. The reason IMO has nothing to do with spoilage and everything to do with flavor. If all the flavor is going to come from the honey in a drink made with only honey and if the flavor is a function of the quantity of honey in the must and if the quantity of honey in the must is a function of the ABV then creating a low ABV mead by definition will mean creating a thinly flavored mead. You increase the amount of honey and you increase the ABV. You reduce the ABV you have reduced the flavor...
As to sources of "natural" additives to replace processed tannins and acids and nutrients, if you look at older recipes you can see that folk added black tea to provide tannins , lemons and oranges to provide (citric) acid, raisins to provide nutrients (sometimes boiled bread yeast after proofing).

Last point, since the flavor and aroma of mead comes from the honey (and certainly your choice of yeast will enhance or hide or provide additional flavors) and since the flavors of the honey come from the varieties of flowers available to the bees then I am not sure that the various mineral characteristics of the water will be very discernible in the way that brewers try to replicate the water available to this or that brewery. Never heard anyone say that a Tupelo honey mead made in one part of the country tastes significantly different from Tupelo mead made in another part of the country because of the water. Never heard anyone say that t'ej can only be made in Ethiopia and not upstate NY. What mead makers tend to focus on is the variety of the honey, the floral characteristics of the aroma... But that is not to say that different water does not make for different flavored meads. I am sure it has some impact but there is enough complex flavor and aroma in the honey that tweaking the water seems unnecessary. But that said, the only water I use for my mead, cider, fruit wines and mead is water from a local spring in a state park with a state seal.

TimT
12-04-2014, 10:24 PM
Kudapucat - Buhner's book is good in several respects. One, of course, is that he has an extensive chapter about mead that's quite informative - coupled with an appendix listing many of the traditional mead flavourings. Another are his suggestions for herbs to use in ales - my big discoveries this year have included Dandelion root, pine and fir needles, and yarrow. I find the quantities he uses in his recipes are fairly spot on (maybe to the conservative side - though most modern brewers tend to err on the side of extravagance, overloading their beers with hops anyway, creating the illusion that all the flavour comes from the hops).

He does miss out some obvious herbs (for instance, fennel; I've just used it in an ale and it creates a lingering flavour, quite delicious - and most Australian plants). But on the plus side, you get to find out about many traditional brewing herbs you wouldn't have considered otherwise (the wonders of bog myrtle and wild rosemary! Wild lettuce sap, anyone? etc). So it's generally quite wonderful.

Dandelion Root is a great herb to brew with, I'd recommend it for anyone. It's easy to come by - you can get Dandelion root teabags now at many organic stores. But of course they'll grow for free in your own front yard :)

mannye
12-05-2014, 12:21 AM
Tim! First, welcome! Hope you get as addicted to mead as the rest of us!

I know what you mean about the overuse of hops. As in the 90's when all the cool kids were experimenting with hot sauce and hot peppers, so they seem to have moved on to hops and it seems to be "hip" to choke down IPA (or whatever) with so many bittering hops that it should be an ingredient in a Bloody Mary rather than a beverage. But I guess that's a matter of opinion. Beer is about the malted grain IMHO.

I've always been curious about those ancient recipes that used things like dandelion and the others you mention. Dandelion wine is in so many songs there must be something about it right?

TimT
12-05-2014, 01:12 AM
Yep I agree with you about beer being about malted grain. And the analogy about hops/hot peppers is a good one IMO. My theory is that hops became popular in brewing for pretty much the same reason strong spices became popular in other foods - they were a spicy, strong, hot flavour that masked other, potentially offputting flavours. Think of when the Dutch brought hops to the UK - what else do we know of their food? Spicy Dutch biscuits, for instance. Not to say that spices are bad though. They have some beautiful flavours.

I've used Got Mead before (look see, I'm a wiggly little larvae now!) though I hadn't visited for a while now.

Dandelion wine is something I'd like to try. Different idea though - you make a tea from the flowers, then add sugar and yeast.

Chevette Girl
12-05-2014, 02:02 AM
I came to meadmaking from a winemaking background and have only recently started making beers, but so far I have yet to boil hops. Ever. I do not like the bitterness. However I do miss something about it when it's not there in a beer, it needs something to make it other than fermented malt water, so I only ever use it after the boil.

If you go looking, I think there are at least one or two logs where folks have used spruce tips instead of hops.

Dandelion sounds interesting too, yet another thing for the to-brew list...

I sort of fell into winemaking so I could make use of local harvests (I used to work on a farm where there were many feral apple trees, lots of wild grapes, raspberries, black raspberries, wild raisins, red currants, and a pear tree and my mom had highbush cranberries, black currants and more wild grapes). I can see apples making it into a beer, and I tried something with the red currants, but I'm not sure how much of that kind of thing may end up in futute beers.

I've made my own apple cider and then fermented it, I had a minor issue with some funkiness growing on it but I added some honey to get it to ferment a little more then I sulphited it, it just meant I had to add more yeast when I primed and bottled it. Most of the batches I've had go bad (due to negligence on my part) have been more beer-strength than wine-strength, but then again I've got an 8% wine I bottled probably 8 years ago that's still fine in the bottle... I got this lovely estery nose from the yeast I used.

Regarding expectations? Try stuff. Figure out what you like. Try to make what you like. A lot of the commercial meads are sweet, but if you like dry wines, you'll probably want a drier mead. Or maybe not. What you're generally looking for is a pleasant balance - it can be way sweeter if it's a bit bitter or acidic, it can be pretty bitter or acidic if it's also sweet... sweetness can hide a lot of things, and a dry mead will make a lot of things quite plainly obvious, and whether it's a good thing or a bad thing will completely depend on your particular tastes. Heck, even the difference between a still mead and a carb'd one is pretty startling (I brought one to a wine tasting and so it got tasted twice - once sparkling and once flat).

TimT
12-05-2014, 02:24 AM
Chevette, try adding hops right at the end of the boil or during secondary fermentation. This brings out much more of the aroma. The majority of the bitterness only really comes out after a good half hour boil anyway.

I think partly the secret to a good hopless beer is the yeast: yeast flavours are much gentler than hop flavours so hops tend to completely overwhelm and obliterate these flavours. Yeast flavours also go well with other, gentler spices - mugwort, rosemary, sage, etc. A lot of brewers don't like esters in their beers, but I like my yeasts to throw up esters - it's partly a sign of good yeast health - so I do what I can to encourage that: give it a warmer fermentation. Try a few saison yeasts for full yeasty weirdness.

Also, beers with more malt and body work better without hops: there'll be more malt sweetness, and room for roasty bitter and biscuit flavours in the beer. Try caramelising some of the wort (like you do with bochet) to add to the flavours in the brew.

kudapucat
12-05-2014, 03:51 AM
I know somebody who made dandelion flower wine once.
Their verdict: nice, but you want to have a large extended family over for a BBQ, so you can com all the kids into picking the flowers, because it's a LOT of flowers.

I love a 'good' IPA. it's got so much hops I can't taste the malt.
It's the only beer I can stomach. ;-)

WVMJack
12-05-2014, 07:05 AM
The Complete Guide to Making Mead by Steve Piatz is a good mead making book from a beer brewers perspective, you already have all the skills listed in it but this book gives a good why are you doing this step this way kind of thing. You already have all the skills and obviously the imagination to make some good meads. The focus on Modern meadmakers is on the varietal characteristics of the honey and make the mead to highlight those differences in varietal honeys. Boiling the honey is believed to blow off the aromatics of the honey vs when you boil hops which brings out the oils of the hops. If you want to hop a mead just boil the hops by themselves and add them back to the unboiled honey. The main humps beer brewers struggle with then is that most modern meadmakers dont boil their must to sanitize it like beer brewers (or to get the goodies out of the grain and hops) or even heat it up to pasteurize it like some beer brewers do when making cider. A little potassium metabisulfite knocks down the microbes to favor the yeast. Mead like cider can be made with any yeast, some are better for one form vs the other, alcohol levels can be from beer range thru wine ranges all the way to fortified ports. On the other hand, there are people that insist on boiling their honey to make mead, there are those that dont add any chems, some try for only wild ferments with honey, some of us have burnt their honey to caremalize it for another kind of mead, so if you are looking for any "rules" it depends on which faction of meadmakers you are talking to :) As to the water influence that is interesting, I think most of use try to make sure our water doesnt add anything bad to the mead vs looking to see what flavors it can add, maybe you can educate some of us on that view. My well water is hard, full of calcium, when I read about people having struggles with ferments and pH that I dont have I think its possible that my water being hard might help with the ferment? WVMJ

WVMJack
12-05-2014, 07:08 AM
LOR, looking forward to reading it, as I have said before I wish though it was a standard technique for many yeasts vs the technique for one yeast. WVMJ

loveofrose
12-05-2014, 12:55 PM
It is my standard technique for ALL the yeasts I use. It has not failed to give fast ferments for 1388, Wyeast Dry Mead, 71B, EC1118, KIV, D21, D80, and countless other yeasts. If you are referring to time to drinkable, that's a yeast genetics kind of thing. You get what you get on that.


Better brewing through science!

WVMJack
12-05-2014, 12:58 PM
Have you tried RBS133 yet? Fast to compact and clear, might be a good candidate for the fast tasting also? WVMJ

loveofrose
12-05-2014, 01:33 PM
I haven't tried it, but I'll give that one a go. What has been your time to drinkability on that one? I've been building a wish list of yeasts to try for a side by side test so thanks for that one.

Better brewing through science!

bernardsmith
12-05-2014, 02:53 PM
I know somebody who made dandelion flower wine once.
Their verdict: nice, but you want to have a large extended family over for a BBQ, so you can com all the kids into picking the flowers, because it's a LOT of flowers.

I love a 'good' IPA. it's got so much hops I can't taste the malt.
It's the only beer I can stomach. ;-)

I dunno. To make a good dandelion wine I think you need to pick the flowers early in the morning. Waiting for the BBQ,I suspect the flowers picked may be second tier... and that will result in a second tier wine... and dandelions - I think - are a powerful diuretic... In other words, dandelion wine is a lot like beer. You don't buy beer in a pub or bar . You rent it.

mannye
12-05-2014, 03:57 PM
I haven't tried it, but I'll give that one a go. What has been your time to drinkability on that one? I've been building a wish list of yeasts to try for a side by side test so thanks for that one.

Better brewing through science!

From looking at a few recipes online time is two years give or take a few months. Dandelion winos can teach us a thing or two about patience.

I found a great website with 30 different recipes which I will post as soon as I get home.


Sent from my galafreyan transdimensional communicator 100 years from now.
U g

kudapucat
12-05-2014, 04:32 PM
Bernard, as I mentioned a few posts ago, the leaves are a powerful diuretic, but have lots of potassium to keep you healthy.
The roots are liver-aid. A good thing to have in a session brew.
I'm not sure without consulting the book again just how much diuretic is in the flowers

TimT
12-05-2014, 05:11 PM
Dandelion a diuretic? Is it ever! Its old English names included 'Pissalin' and 'Pissabed' and 'Peeabed'. There's a common theme there....

Makes sense that the best time of day to pick dandelion is morning (possibly evening, too) - when the sap's most active. You pick elderflower in the early morning and evening on a warm, sunny day for that reason.

Shelley
12-13-2014, 07:37 AM
I recommend steeping your flowers on a very nice day when you can open up the house. Simmering dandelion flowers have a nasty smell. Simply nasty. Almost impossible to think you can get a drinkable beverage out of it.

I have one batch that a year later was still pretty unpalatable, but it's still in the cellar awaiting another taste test. It's three or four years old now; I might be sampling another bottle this winter if I get daring enough. I've been told that it needs at least that much time before it becomes the thing that everyone fawns over.