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The oddities of life revealed through brewing

July 25, 2011

Its been a long time since I’ve made a post here – simultaneously a dearth of new brewing news, and regrettably, laziness on my part.  However today that’s changed (at least briefly) because today was a bottling day!

Before I get to the details of the new batch, I’m going to extremely briefly digress.

While filling the bottles I thought to myself “I wish this process could go more quickly so I can get more stuff done today,” and then it dawned on me that I was running the dishwasher and the laundry machine.  So although I was internally wishing to be more productive I was achieving a level of productivity that up until the early 1900’s wasn’t even possible.  Kind of an odd thing to think about – we’re capable of doing more with our time, but it is still in remarkably short supply.

Ok! Back to mead!

This is a back to the basics (sort of) high gravity mead, but it isn’t actually the high gravity mead I referred to in my prior post.  Its a mead I made after that and instead of using water I made and used ginger tea.  Basically by adding a tea to the honey I’m capable of infusing strong flavors into the mead without needing to boil the honey.  This like several of my prior batches is a no-boil recipe.  I’ve found that by eliminating the boil, the mead has a stronger honey aroma, which is a good thing.

I’m still working with Sweetwater Creek Honey Farm’s wildflower honey, and this batch I used quite a bit.  All said and done the mead is ~16% ABV with a small, yet discernible amount of residual sugars left over.  The ginger taste isn’t overwhelming but has great presence.

Back to my lamenting over the long bottling process – it really was considerably quicker than it prior batches.  I used nearly a dozen larger bottles, several swing-top caps bottles, and for the very first time: wine bottles.

For those of you unfamiliar with the hows and whys of bottling let me tell you why this was faster:

Fewer bottles to cap.  Basically that is the easiest explanation.  Likewise fewer bottles to fill albeit longer fill times for the larger bottles; but the transition period between bottles can rapidly add up to a fair chunk of time.

Now why wine bottles?  Another easy explanation: a whim.  I didn’t see why I couldn’t use wine bottles for non-carbonated meads, and corks and corkers are cheap.  I actually so thoroughly enjoyed the wine bottles that I sincerely hope that they work out.  It is quite a pleasure to seal a bottle with a hammer (not explicitly how I did it, but close enough to give you the mental image that I had in my own head).

Wine bottles aren’t just big beer bottles with caps that seek to frustrate and enrage you when you can’t find a corkscrew (and continue to defy some of those with corkscrews!).  The cork is a fundamentally different type of seal than beer caps.  Beer caps are for all intents and purposes air tight.  Some beer caps actually absorb oxygen, reducing whatever residual amounts are left in the head space down even further.  Corks on the other hand allow for a limited air exchange, which at least for wines, results in maturation.  How will it turn out for mead?  I’m not completely certain, but I don’t imagine it will hurt as mead is about as durable as fermented liquids get.

And now you know all about mead XI.

But you don’t yet know about the fate of mead X.

Historically my batches of mead have taken from 10 to 20 days to ferment to completion.  A few batches I’ve allowed a fair bit of residual sugars and bottled them sweet.

But mead X was supposed to be different.  Mead X was supposed to be bone dry and super strong.  And something went wrong.  I blame myself, as I used an unproven yeast species.  The yeast I used is known to be a strong fermenter, easily tolerating alcohol content above where I was aiming (~17%).  But that is with wine…mead is notoriously nutrient poor, and certain yeasts simply can’t tolerate that; perhaps that is what happened here.  But its more complicated than that – yeast are finicky beasts that like certain conditions.  Perhaps the conditions I have simply weren’t conducive for this yeast.  In any case efforts are being made as I type to restart fermentation and continue on to strong and dry, and if it takes extreme measures so be it – I wanted an extreme mead.

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