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Why Hi-Grav? The glory of high alcohol creations

June 27, 2011

Although I’ve only been making mead for a short time now, already I’ve made mead ranging from just over 5% ABV to greater than 20% ABV.  The middle of the road is probably what suits most people best, as the lower end of the spectrum is a little less interesting, and the higher end of the spectrum is a little too potent.  And yes, I am able to appreciate the sane rationality behind this.

But it is a flawed rationality.  Mead can be a lot of things.  It can be delicately aged and refined, as sweet as nectar or dry as sun-bleached bone.  But I think that what I enjoy most from mead is the burn.  Drinking a non-distilled beverage that sits north of 15% alcohol is a wonderful experience; the flavor is completely different from the ‘eau de ethanol’ of distillation.  Sure, if it’s not old, it’s not smooth.  Life is short though – and sometimes smooth is little more than an euphemism for easy.  Not that there is anything wrong with easy mind you, just sometimes a bit of fire reminds you that you’re alive.

With that in mind I set out to create a big mead, and although I fell short of my 20% goal I think that if fermentation goes as planned (and this is no guarantee) this should be very potent brew.  This brew is X, an appropriate name for a high alcohol creation, and should sit just shy of 18% ABV.  Excluding water the mead is 99.48% Sweetwater Creek Honey Farm’s wildflower honey.  The rest includes a water softener, an acid buffer*, some yeast food and the yeast itself (a type called Premium Cuvée, which is notable for its high alcohol tolerance and neutral taste).  This batch should be aromatic and rich as I employed the no-boil method that I had tried out (and had quite good results with) on batch IX.

Also – speaking of IX, bottling day for it has come and gone, yielding a light floral smelling batch that should be quite tasty.  And even though I spoke for the high alcohol yields, this batch at a meager 7.5% ABV still promises to be good.

*Whats an acid buffer?

Fermentation causes yeast to release two things.  The first, and most desirable is alcohol.  The second, and sometimes desirable is carbon dioxide.  CO2 production is great at the end of the process when the brew has been bottled and the CO2 concentration rises, lending an effervescence to the finished product.  While primary fermentation is occurring however it is vented away and is simply a waste product.  But the CO2 doesn’t immediately bubble away, first it exists in the fermenting must as carbonic acid.  Since honey doesn’t contain very much except for sugar it doesn’t have the ability to buffer itself from pH changes.  The first few days of fermentation are so intense that the pH can drop to 2.5 (lemon juice ranges from 2 to 3 pH).  Yeast prefer acidic environments, but below 3.5 they don’t do so hot… in fact it can be lethal to them.  So, by adding an acid buffer (which is itself an alkaline) the must doesn’t fall below the healthy range for the yeast.

As an added bonus piece of trivia:
Honey has a pH between 3.2 and 4.5, the high acidity inhibits bacteria growth, and is one of the reasons for honey’s extremely long shelf life.

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