3 April 2010

Here we go with my first batch of Mead.  I'm using the "Wildflower Express Mead" kit from Brew Your Own Brew home brewing supply store right here in Tucson.  Wildflower refers to where the bees get their pollen to make honey.  Other flavors Brew Your Own Brew sell are Mesquite, Orange Blossom and High Desert Dry Mead.

Label

The kit includes:
15 lbs wildflower honey (in 2 large plastic bags)
2.5 tsp. acid blend (to impart body)
2.5 tsp. pectic enzyme (to help clerify)
2 tsp tannin (help aging and flavor)
2 tsp yeast nutrient (yeast food)
2 yeast packets (Lalvin EC-1118)
3 campden tablets (to condition honey and water. Not used)

Contents of box

I started around 6:00 p.m. with washing all the equipment I was going to use.  Even though everything was new I wanted to make sure nothing was lingering from the manufacturing process.  I then sterilized everything with a one-step no rinse cleaner - which I rinsed.  About 7:00 p.m. I started putting everything together.

I began by putting the bags of honey in the sink and running hot water.  The hope was to make the honey easier to work with and flow better.

Honey in sink

I then poured 3 gallons of spring water in my 6.5 gallon pail, keeping one gallon in reserve for yeast mixing and topping off pail before sealing.

4 Gallons of spring water

Next it was time to mix in the honey.  The first bag of honey I thought I would be smart and clip a corner and let the honey flow out the bottom of the bag.  It worked pretty well except it left a lot of honey in the bag. After squeezing and milking the bag I ended up getting as much of what was left on me as in the pail.  The second bag I tried to open from the top in hope that when I was done pouring the honey in the pail I could rinse it out with some spring water to get every last drop.  Being 7.5 lbs of honey it is double bagged and heat sealed above the ziplock.  Long story short, I was able to open both bags and pour out the honey.  I was even able to get some water in the bag, slosh it around and get most of the honey out.  In the end I would much rather have had bottles.  They are easier to pour, easier to get all the honey out of (by mixing a little water in the bottle and shaking), and less messy.  I'm sure the price of the kit would have went up accordingly, though.  (sorry no pictures of the bag fiasco, I was busy)

After wrestling with the bags I stirred the mixture for a few minutes to dissolve the honey completely.  When I say a few minutes I mean a full 2 or 3 minutes.  I then added the acid, pectic, and yeast nutrient as per directions in the kit and stirred some more.

Pail of must

At this point the directions say to add the campden tablets and wait 24 hours before proceeding.  The tablets are used to release the chlorine in the water and kill wild yeast in the honey.  I used spring water (not tap water) so no chlorine, and I'm hoping the wild yeast will impart a distinct flavor.  It was a decision I made because I didn't want to wait.  Time will tell if I screwed up.

Next I prepared the yeast by putting it in a small bowl of lukewarm water for 15 minutes. While the yeast was starting to come alive (bubble) I added the tannin to the honey water and stirred some more. 

After waiting the 15 minutes for the yeast to activate I pitched it into the pail, added spring water to bring it up to an even 5 gallons, and stirred vigorously for 5 minutes.  The stirring ensures the batch is well aerated which helps the yeast turn the sugars into alcohol.  With all the stirring I did, I can see why some people opt for the mixing attachment that fits a home drill.

I then snapped the lid on the pail, inserted the airlock and filled the airlock with water.

Pail with air lock

Finished right at 8:00 p.m.  Not bad, two hours from start to finish, and that includes cleaning.

After about 30 minutes I remembered I bought a hydrometer and read the instructions that came with it.  Here are the readings I came up with;

Estimated original specific gravity (OSG) per instructions kit should = 1.100+

Actual readings I took: 1.116    
Reading on hydrometer 0.0032   
Correction @ 78* (air temp, but should be close) = 1.1192   
OSG, corrected.

I'm going to call it 1.119.

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4 April 2010

7:00 a.m.; After 11 hours of fermenting it's bubbling once every 3-4 seconds, steady.  Guess I haven't killed it yet.

_

The next step will be racking it to the secondary fermenter in about a week or so.

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13 April 2010

Well, I did the first racking today.  What a pain in the ass that turned out to be.  I couldn't keep the siphon going because gas would build up in the hose and break the suction.  I definitely need to get a couple of racking valves, one for the pail and one for the carboy.  I can see when it's time to rack from the carboy I'm going to have the same problem, again.

So, first thing I did was wash everything I was going to use, then sanitize it.  I then moved everything out into the kitchen.  I figured if I made a mess it would be easier to clean the floor than the rug.  Here we see the Ale Pail on the counter and the carboy below it ready to accept the mead.

Ready to rack

Next was to open the pail and check inside.  It looks pretty much like it did when I sealed it up a week and a half ago.  There's a ring around the pail but the most striking thing was the aroma.  It reminded me of when I was a kid in my grandfathers basement when he was making wine.  It actually smelt good.  My hopes are high I'll get a good batch.

Loking in the pail

I then put the racking cane in the mead, making sure the end of the cane didn't touch the bottom of the pail where it might suck up the lees.  The clip came in handy for this, since I was by myself.

Racking cane

Well, like I said the siphon was pretty tough to keep going.  Usually the best I could accomplish was a mild trickle.  After a minute or so it would get a gas pocket in the hose and the siphon action would stop.  I would then have to start it again.  I'm not quite sure where the gas bubbles were coming from; maybe it was a poor seal between the hose and racking cane, or probably it was just bad technique. The one good thing to come of it was I got to sample the contents quite a few times.  It does have an alcohol content, and I took a reading, which I'll get to later.  The taste while not refined wasn't all that bad.  I've paid to drink worse.

Racking

After quite a few attempts at keeping the siphon going I called it quits.  I broke out the funnel and slowly poured the contents of the pail into the carboy, being as careful as I could to keep as much of the lees out as possible.   This is about as far as I got before breaking out the funnel.

Racking 2

And here it is in a clear carboy for all to see.  There is still an airlock on it because it will continue to ferment for the next few months.  It's still very cloudy but as it sits it should start to clear up.  I'm then going to rack it back to the pail - which I will have a valve on, by then - let it settle, then rack it back to the carboy.  I'm going to do this extra racking step because I did such a crappy job this first time I want to get more of the lees out.  Plus I want to get a valve on the carboy before I start bottling and I need it empty to do that.

Racked

From what little was left in the bottom of the pail I did another hydrometer test.  This was a little cloudy so it's probably not very accurate, but at this point I'm not too concerned since I still have months to go before it's done.

Specific gravity = 1.080.

@ 78*  Correction = .0034

OSG 1.119 - SG 1.083 = .036

.036 x 125 = 4.5% ABV   Not too impressive, unless you consider it's only been 10 days and there's probably 4 months to go.

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15 April 2010

Ok, after doing some reading I’ve found a new way to figure ABV.  The Standard Gravity way I have been doing is fine, but there is a simpler way to go about it using a triple scale hydrometer.  Instead of using the SG scale I’ll be using the Potential Alcohol % by Volume (PAbV) scale.  I’ve set up a new page here which explains everything I’ve learned about  hydrometers, if you want to read more.  In this article, though, I’m just going to show my recalculated figures that I’ve already taken.

OSG

1.119 on SG scale = ~16.000 on the PAbV scale.

After first racking

1.083 on SG scale = ~11.5 on the PAbV scale.

 16.000

-11.500

  4.500% ABV

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4 June 2010

Wow, it's been a long time since I've updated this project page.  Probably because nothing much has been happening with this Mead - it's just been doing it's thing.

Back on 2 May I added water to the airlock but other than that it has just sat.  It quit fermenting (no more bubbles in airlock) about a week ago, and I was going to move it to my Ale Pail and let it sit for another week before I started bottling.  On 25 May I racked the whole carboy to my Ale Pail with that in mind.  Unfortunately the spigot on the Ale Pail leaks so my plan to let it sit for a week backfired and I had to rack it back to the carboy.  During the racking I took a sample to check the specific gravity - and give it a taste.  Here are the results:

Hydrometer reading = 1.011 @ 77 degrees.  The correction for 77 degrees is +.0025 which equals a final gravity of 1.0135.  So, comparing the original gravity we get:

1.1192 OSG               Initial Pot AbV  16.7

1.0135 FSG                 Final Pot AbV    0.8

0.1057                                    AbV   15.9

About 16% alcohol by volume - not to shabby.  Also, an SG drop of at least 0.09 means it is done fermenting and ready to bottle.

Before I put it in bottles I wanted to clear it up a bit since it seemed to be a little cloudy.  To help clarify it I bought some bentonite.  Bentonite is a type of clay that has a slight negative charge and when mixed with wine, beer, mead, or any other liquid, will attract the suspended minute particulates.  The bentonite, being relatively heavy, settles to the bottom taking the particles with it.  What you have left is a clear liquid.  Here are some before and after pics to show the difference:

Before Bentonite

Before bentonite

After Bentonite

After bentonite

In another couple days I will bottle this batch and be done with it.

Oh, and how did it taste?  Not to shabby.  I still need to let it age which will bring out more of the flavor, but so far I'm happy with it.

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12 June 2010

Yay, I bottled my first batch of honey wine!  Out of the starting 5 gallons I was able to bottle just a little under 4.5 gallons.  The other half gallon was lost to lees left in the bottom of the pail or carboy after each racking and samples taken for hydrometer readings.

The bottling process wasn't too bad.  I did buy a bottle filling wand which made the process very easy.  A bottle filling wand is a tube with a spring loaded valve on the end.  When you press the wand on the bottom of the bottle the valve opens letting liquid flow.  When you lift the wand the valve closes and you can transfer the wand to the next bottle without spraying liquid everywhere.  Once the bottles were full I used a manual corking machine to cork the bottles.  Sorry I didn't get any pictures of the bottling process but it takes two hands and diligence to get the job done and the kids were out of the house so I couldn't commandeer one to take photos.  I did get some pictures of the finished product, though, and here they are;

From the original Wildflower Mead batch I bottled the 3 one gallon jugs and 5 750 ml bottles to the left.  There was also one 750 ml bottle that was not quite full which I corked and put in the fridge.  On the right are 3 750 ml bottles bottled from the first Orange Easy Mead gallon.  Again, there was a partial bottle that I corked and put in the fridge.

Bottled mead

You can see the Wildflower Mead is just a touch darker than the Orange Easy Mead.

A closer look shows the Easy Mead on the left and very slightly darker Wildflower Mead on the right.  Remember, I didn't use any clarifying agent on the Easy Mead but I did use Bentonite on the Wildflower Mead.  Both bottles are crystal clear.

Bottles up close

Another couple shots.  No lees present in either bottle.  I should have wiped the water spots off before taking the picture, though. 

Top of bottles

Bottom of bottles

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13 July 2010

Well it's been aobut 4 weeks since I've bottled the mead.  In that time I've knocked back two bottles of the Wildflower mead and two bottles of the Orange Easy Mead.  The Wildflower mead has a bit of a tang to it that I hope will mellow out as it ages.  I believe it is caused by the tannin that was added at the beginning.  It's not bad (and after drinking 2+ bottles I should know), but I'm hoping when it's mature it will smooth out a bit.  We'll see.

The Orange Easy Mead, on the other hand, is great right now.  It's sweet, smooth and leaves no tang after taste.  I think it may have to do with the extra half pound of honey I used at the beginning.  My only regret is I only have one bottle left so I'm going to try and save it to see how it ages.  I have since started two more gallons of the Orange Easy Mead.  Like they say; go with what you like.

Bottom line, I'm very happy with the results and glad I did it.  Some things I learned:

- If I had it to do over I wouldn't have bothered with the 5 gallon batch and would have just started with making one gallon jugs.

- The right siphoning and bottling equipment makes life sooo much easier.

- And, a little more starting honey is better

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