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View Full Version : Maybe a different approach could yield better results.



Squatchy
01-22-2017, 08:13 PM
So after chatting with one of my friends here I thought I would bring something up for discussion.

We both are of the same mind, that too often, standard practices of back sweetening cheats people out of learning opportunities.
Let me explain.

If we ferment to dry, and then let it age at least until it has become mostly clear. Or better yet, if you can afford the patience to allow it to become completely clear. Or even better, longer. We can learn many things we would have glazed right over had we back sweetened within a few weeks like so many here do.

Why is this. If we backsweeten so soon in the process. Just by the nature of adding more honey. We completely cover over flaws and never even know they exist. Now had we waited for several months, or usually much, much sooner. The flaws and faults become obvious. The best thing you can do if you want to know how well your mead taste is to get the yeast out. Ale yeast flocculate quickly, as does cold crashing/fineing help to cause the yeast to drop out. This alone has been the saving grace for the BOMM, and if you fine a clean ferment with wine yeast, they both become much closer to drinkable as soon as they have the yeast in suspension removed.

It's really only now at this point to we get the first glimpse of what we have created. Does it still taste young? Of course it does. Once this takes place polymerization begins to take place. Each mead is different, but none the less over time our finished product starts to come around and many changes take place. Even the very best mead as a youngster will improve vastly between 3-6 months. ANd most will be quite nice in a year. Only on occasion does a really clean fermentation require more time to make things really shine. Even with this said. A two year old mead is much better than a one year old.

Now lets go back to the subject of this conversation. The only way you can be absolute in knowing how your process is working for you is to be patient and wait for a while while, you mead is bone dry. Even very slight flaws can be covered up when adding honey. It was during prohibition that the idea of cocktails came into fruition. The rot gut of most distillers tasted hot or worse until they added fruit juices and sugars to mask the fussels and faults that would have made the shine alone undrinkable. Even the very best of the best ferments till have fussels. In fact, some of the pleasant things we enjoy in alcohol are fussels. They are a byproduct of respiration. This si the process that creates ethanol during the metabolization of sugar by the yeast.

So two thing here. If you really want to truly want to know what you are making. Run your must dry and wait until it has cleared. Either by time or manipulation. ANd then, the longer you wait the clearer the glass becomes to see inside. Lastly. Not a single one of us can really be absolutely unbiased towards our creations. So find some family or friends that will be honest and ask them what they think.

Or even better yet. Submit them to competitions to get certified judges to give you opinions along with suggestions to avoid the things that show up that reduces your scores. These are done totally blind so no one has any idea of who's mead they are critiquing. Over time you will find yourself winning places in these competitions. Especially if you are open minded enough to listen to what the judges have to say and act accordingly to.

Hopefully some of you have examples of stuff you may have already learned while doing this to share with the other readers.

zpeckler
01-22-2017, 08:59 PM
I'll 100% with you, man. 3/4 of the meads I submitted to The Cup were bone dry, and two of them were traditionals. The first the meads I ever made were bone dry traditionals, and they remain my flagship meads to this day.

In order for a mazer to truly evaluate his or her skills they need to make dry meads. There's nowhere to hide any flaws or off-flavors from sub-par fermentation management.

...And they need to submit those meads to competitions.

...And own a hydrometer. ;)

Squatchy
01-22-2017, 09:47 PM
I'll 100% with you, man. 3/4 of the meads I submitted to The Cup were bone dry, and two of them were traditionals. The first the meads I ever made were bone dry traditionals, and they remain my flagship meads to this day.

In order for a mazer to truly evaluate his or her skills they need to make dry meads. There's nowhere to hide any flaws or off-flavors from sub-par fermentation management.

...And they need to submit those meads to competitions.

...And own a hydrometer. ;)

Good for you !!!! Let me know when you want to trade the pomegranate. :P

pdh
01-22-2017, 09:50 PM
I agree. I mostly make cysers, and I think I'm finding that backsweetening can actually be counter-productive. I bottled a batch of cyser last September and it tasted kind of thin -- I thought it needed more acid and maybe more tannin, so I backsweetened my next batch (bottled in October) with apple juice. The October batch definitely tasted better at bottling time than the September batch did, but today the October batch tastes almost too apple-y -- I now prefer the taste of the September batch, thin though it may be.

I have another batch in secondary right now, and when it's time to bottle I'm going to adjust it by adding acid blend and grape tannin powder, rather than using apple juice. I plan to be conservative -- do some taste-testing and add a bit less acid and tannin than I think I need -- and see how that turns out a few months from now.

I'm thinking now that backsweetening might be OK if you really want to drink it *now*, but if you can age it for even a few months, maybe backsweetening isn't such a great idea.

James T
01-22-2017, 10:18 PM
The first meads we made were influenced by the first mead we ever drank, which was sweet and strong. After a slew of crappy dry meads one turned out pretty damn good, and with that we realized it was way better than the back-sweetened meads anyway. So since then I've been trying to make consistently good dry meads (traditional, cyser and melomel).

As far as patience is concerned, that is still the hardest part for me. I haven't quite built up a stock of older meads, so everything is young and I have to force myself to leave it alone. We have a few year+ old bottles, but just a few. Fortunately we keep fermenting, so hopefully in 6 months we'll be in proper tasting / aging / fermenting limbo.

Squatchy
01-22-2017, 10:35 PM
I agree. I mostly make cysers, and I think I'm finding that backsweetening can actually be counter-productive. I bottled a batch of cyser last September and it tasted kind of thin -- I thought it needed more acid and maybe more tannin, so I backsweetened my next batch (bottled in October) with apple juice. The October batch definitely tasted better at bottling time than the September batch did, but today the October batch tastes almost too apple-y -- I now prefer the taste of the September batch, thin though it may be.

I have another batch in secondary right now, and when it's time to bottle I'm going to adjust it by adding acid blend and grape tannin powder, rather than using apple juice. I plan to be conservative -- do some taste-testing and add a bit less acid and tannin than I think I need -- and see how that turns out a few months from now.

I'm thinking now that backsweetening might be OK if you really want to drink it *now*, but if you can age it for even a few months, maybe backsweetening isn't such a great idea.

It might also greatly improve the finished product if it gets back sweetened. The point is you rob yourself of any leget feedback if you don't wait for a while to let your mead show itself before you paint over everything.

The reason I say some meads might be much beter if sweetened is this. Regardless of what type of a mead a person is making. Different categories, sweetness/dryness levels on and on. It will only taste good if the different fractions are all in balance with each other. If they are then it should taste great. You can even find different fractions way out of common and it can still taste great if the opposing spokes are correct in the balance equation. Example you can have meads that are super sweet and still not taste cloyingly sweet. You can have a really high ABV still drink as smooth as silk (in time). You can have a pH that on paper could sound just out of this world and still taste perfect.

If we looked at the most basic concept we could look at a bicycle wheel. As you know, each spoke needs to have an opposing spoke to counter balance the other one Mead is much the same way. There are several parts to any mead that need ot have an opposing spoke for it to taste correct. Each of the opposing spokes need to come to a balance with each other and play well with the rest of the spokes in the wheel. It's either by dumb luck, or by design, that we come to the table with all of the pieces complementing the opposition. It's when we fail to accomplish this that we find things offensive, or in the very least lacking.

The more advanced mazer will also come to realize that many times a single spoke will have a pair of things that need balance on just the single spoke.

I will list these things here but feel like I should write a piece for a whole new thread to explain things as it isn't just a ten minute affair.

So here is a list of things we need to understand and be able to adjust all these pieces to make the best meads we can.

These are not listed in any order per se. Sweetness, alcohol strength, carbonation, acidity, tannin/tannic structure, honey flavor/sweetness perception and body.

Sweetness-acidity-tannin-alcohol heat are the primaries. Although many things work in unison for each of the main ones alone.

Watch for a new thread in the next few days on this once I can spend some time to gather my thoughts and put things in sequence.

Stasis
01-23-2017, 12:08 PM
Story time. I might have posted parts of this in other threads.
So 1.5 years ago I made a prickly pear melomel with k1v during late September. I aged it and found that the fruity taste was overwhelming and the over-ripe fruit became more pronounced once sweetness was removed. As this batch continued to age I adjusted oak ever so slightly. I added oak to one carboy then blended this with an identical carboy until I had the exact right amount of oak. Then I intended to remove some of the fruityness. I grabbed a couple of bottles from 2.5 years ago which were somewhat bland tasting and I hadn't yet drank because of fusels. The fusels from the couple of bottles dissipated in the larger 54 liter carboy and perhaps by time these fusels interacted with the acidity in the large batch to become esters. Meanwhile, the 54 liter carboy became noticeably less fruity and more crisp and I noticed that the wine-like flavor (think chardonnay) from the previous batch complemented the fruityness well. I realized that I wanted something in between these batches, something that balanced wine-y and fruity. The batch was still not quite drinkable though so I gave a try at filtering the melomel. After filtering I learnt exactly what filtering has to offer prickly pear batches. It still wasn't much drinkable though.
Last September's new batch finally became drinkable after just 4 months. As it turns out, picking fruit at latest during mid September lends a much fresher taste than late September. Next year I will also try picking fruit earlier to compare to this batch. This batch was also a success because I learnt that I needed to change my yeast. After much research I decided upon Rc212 because it seemed less fruity than k1v but still fruity, while it is recommended for colour retention (my new batch is rose, not white) in red wines. I also did another batch using Ec-1118 just in case I wanted to blend if Rc212 was still too fruity. Blending I learnt about through my previous batch. As it turns out opinions are currently split between a blend, Rc212 only and Ec1118 only. Perhaps by time I might decide which yeast is ultimately best. I also knew that I should oak minimally and this I learnt through experience in my previous batch.
I finally tried tasting the batch with rc212 vs the batch from the year before with k1v. Rc212 is younger yet still superior and so I realized my last resort might be back-sweetening. I only sweetened the batch from 0.998 up to 1.007 and as I tasted the melomel it was already almost too sweet for me. Sharing this sweetened version with family revealed that, on average, people preferred it at this sweetness rather than drier, although there were some who thought it could lose some sweetness. I therefore learnt exactly what level of sweetness I should be aiming for in such a case. The flaws totally disappeared with the added sweetness and I almost feel bad to mask something which over the months I have learnt to be a characteristic of this pita batch. The batch was smooth though. Smooth as silk.
I also feel like I somehow cheated. If this were a younger mead, I feel like I would have been doing it a disservice by masking potential characteristics so early on. It was mind blowing that mazers were back-sweetening batches so very early on. Sweetening is not simply a matter of taste because at such a young age you don't really know what the taste of your mead is.

My point / TLDR
By not back-sweetening at a young age I have learnt: the effect of my yeast on the batch, the effect of fruit ripeness on the batch, the effect of oak, the effect of blending, the effect of aging and finally the effect of sweetness. Looking back, perhaps I could have dabbled a bit with acidity or fining and learnt even more. In the future I intend to also compare prickly pear wine vs prickly pear melomel i.e. adding sugar vs adding honey
Could you imagine the great ignorance I'd still be in if I simply back-sweetened until it tasted good, thought to myself that it was 'amazing' and called it a day?