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The delayed nature of progress

June 16, 2011
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In many skills progress is a relatively straightforward thing.  Make an effort, observe results; if the results are good keep doing that.  If the results aren’t good change something.  In some cases you can even change on the fly to ensure positive results.  Cooking is a great example of this: is the dish too bland/watery/undercooked/spicy [the dish is never too spicy.  Never]?  Then make a small tweak or two and the dish turns out great.

Brewing however is a bit different because the stages are spaced out over long time periods and its difficult to tell from the starting product how the brew will taste.  As a general rule mead tastes brutally massively sweet prior to fermentation.  This is unsurprising…add a bunch of sugar to water and yes – it will be sweet.  But because it is so sweet flavors are completely drowned out – how much of a flavor will stand out when the sweetness subsides is hard to tell.

Another difficulty is the time sensitivity of flavors.  Some flavors simply don’t last through fermentation – they’re too volatile and will drift away.  Other flavors don’t always ‘mature’ well and can end up tasting kind of funky.

Further compounding this sort of difficulty is the fact that mead needs to age once in the bottle.  How the mead tastes prior to bottling (but after primary fermentation) is completely different from how it will taste in a couple of weeks.  And the flavor after a couple of weeks is different from the flavor after a couple of months.  And the flavor after a couple of months is different from the flavor after a year.  I’ve nearly completely exhausted my supplies of various batches of mead that haven’t even had 6 months to age.  Would they have been better later?  Probably – but I’m thirsty now.

Only now am I really beginning to apply lessons learned from meads I made months ago, and many of the changes I’m making are whims, and hopefully in a few months I’ll see that I have chosen good whims to follow.  The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of aging mead.  My first mead was delightful the day it was bottled.  High alcohol, a bit coarse, but oddly satisfying.  Today its mellower and has more nuance.  Hopefully, like a bottle of mead, my skill will improve with time.  But for now – its time to follow my whims.

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