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Tea and Peppercorns (XII)

October 23, 2011

Yesterday I bottled the 13th batch of mead (technically 12th…since one batch was not in fact mead, but close enough), and this one ought to be quite good in 6 to 12 months.  The batch is slightly different than many of my previous batches – instead of water I’ve used black tea.  Also – the alcohol content is lower at 9.5% rather than the 12-15 that I have been aiming for.

So why black tea and lower alcohol content?

The black tea is being added for a little more complexity of flavor – but also for mouth-feel.

Mead made without tannins is sometimes described as ‘tepid’, it just feels watery.  One rough way to understand what tannins do is to consider red wine versus white wine.  The red contains higher levels of tannins, from the grape skins, and that is a contributing factor to red wines heavier “body.”

In a peculiar fashion I’m correcting for a problem that I don’t know that I have – so I don’t really regard it is as problem solving so much as searching for different styles.

The lower alcohol content is a solution to 2 problems I’ve encountered.

The first problem was I had just enough honey left in my 5 gallon honey container to make the batch just under 10% ABV.  I have another 50lbs of honey sitting in a different style of container that I cannot for the life of me think of how to pour effectively.  So I solved this problem by putting it off until another day.

The second problem is that the higher alcohol batches have been struggling to run to completion.  This leaves a lot of residual sugars in the mead and I prefer dry, high alcohol meads to sweet, low alcohol meads.  The fermentation process is reliable up until 12%, and then things start to get a little strange.  Two batches with the same yeast and largely the same ingredients will respond differently, with one stalling out and the other fermenting straight through.

Ultimately – since I’m doing this for fun I have decided that unless I’m willing to commit to more time consuming methods that enable higher alcohol fermentation (including simply waiting longer to step feeding) I’ll simply make batches that are as strong as I can reasonably expect to work.

And now this brings me to the peppercorns…

Peppercorns are fascinating little fruits, they are found in some form in nearly every restaurant in the US.  Even the lowly black flavorless dust that comes in grimy screw-top containers is made from peppercorns (or so they tell me…but my tongue has yet to be able to verify this).  But cracked fresh they are fantastic, releasing their own variety of spicy that is so radically different from the capsicum of hot peppers.

I’ve incorporated peppercorns into the mix by adding them to the individual bottles.  Peppers are aromatic and so I decided that putting them in before bottling would likely not result in a significant change of flavor, as the flavor would simply evaporate out.  Putting the peppers in the bottles themselves has an advantage – I don’t have to be consistent with peppercorn counts.  So, I’ve got bottles with 5, 10, and 20 peppercorns, as well as some that are bereft of peppercorns.

Ultimately I have but one concern with the peppercorns – since I did not crack them, perhaps they’ll not be able to release their flavors.  I made the choice to not crack them since cracked pepper floating in ones drink may be disconcerting or unappealing – while whole intact peppercorns may even be kind of neat.  Since alcohol and water are both fantastic solvents, I figured that given enough time (6 to 12 months sounds like enough) the flavor would be extracted anyway.

Time will tell!

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