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The progression of an idea

June 23, 2012

With my last batch of mead I added peppercorns to the bottles.  The logic behind this was simple:  Aroma’s are volatile, therefore adding flavoring ingredients during the fermentation will result in the loss of aromatics.  So, add flavors during the closed phase of brewing, and aromatics will be retained.

The results were eye opening.  The mead tasted very very much like black pepper.  In fact, so much so that it is a love or it or hate it kind of mead.

Regardless of the mead’s reception, the technique was a massive success.  In all of my wanderings through the interweb I have not seen people adding ingredients to the bottles.  Perhaps it is done, perhaps its even common – but it certainly isn’t widely published.  As there is a dearth of published material on the matter I don’t know what ingredients are appropriate, sane or desirable.  Given my absence of knowledge I have turned to a time tested method: trial and error.

Now one problem I have had with trial and error in mead production is the time and expense related to mead production.  The honey alone in a batch can easily cost more than $30, and the bottles although freely available, have to be cleaned (to meet my standards at least, many home brewers retain old labels but I steadfastly refuse to do so).  All in all a batch of mead represents a significant investment of time and money.  This encourages evolutionary changes rather than revolutionary changes, building upon successes without radically altering the fundamentals.

But no such limitation exists with this method of flavoring.  I can flavor a single bottle, or 10 bottles or no bottles.  When I bottled mead XIII today, (the stirred variant of the mead XIII/XIV twins) I took this idea and ran with it.

What follows is the list of ingredients I bottled with:

  1. Plain: Not strictly speaking a flavor, nor something I bottled with.  But none the less, most of the bottles I left as a plain mead because the primary goal of this batch was to make something tasty, and I know this’ll be good.
  2. Lemon rind:  I suspect dried lemon rind would have been ideal, but that isn’t what I had available.  As such I made lemon twists, sans the twist (as I wanted to preserve the essential oils).
  3. Juniper Berries:  These are the primary flavoring in gin, although by no means the only flavor.  I suspect that rather than having gin-mead I’ll have a piney mead.
  4. Cardamom: I used green Cardamom (Elettaria) – which has seen use in ancient beer recipes (before the use of hops was discovered) and currently finds use flavoring coffee and tea in regions of the Middle East as well as dishes in India and other parts of Asia.  I have no earthly idea what to expect from this.
  5. Pequin Pepper:  Very small, very hot peppers.  They are considerably hotter than jalapenos.  Capsicumel’s (chile-meads) are actually fairly common in the mead world – but all of the recipes call for adding chiles to the fermenting wort, straining and then bottling.  I have a suspicion this will be very interesting (read: hot) to drink.  The ones I used were dried.
  6. Chile de Arbol:  Another pepper, considerably less hot than a pequin pepper.  Interestingly, I have read that it is fine to substitute one for the other in recipes.  You can do this because of the size difference, a chile de arbol is considerably larger than a pequin pepper.
  7. Coffee!!!:  I am very excited to try these.  I used very few coffee beans, because I wasn’t going for espresso – but I expect the flavors will mingle well.  I used varying amounts of beans to help ascertain what amount is best. (Even though biggest coffee is best coffee, I approached this slightly more sensibly)
  8. Cloves:  Another flavor I am happy to have made.  Although cloves are only one of the mulling spices, I hope that the mead will have something of a ‘mulled’ taste.  Like the coffee I made varying strengths of this one.
  9. Cinnamon:  I’m fairly sure I used wayyyy too much.  But the cinnamon I had available wasn’t the freshest and frankly cinnamon (Casia if you’re curious) is quite difficult to break into small pieces.  This should be interesting.  Perhaps if cloves and cinnamon are good independently I’ll try a full out mulling spices version.
  10. Vanilla:  This is the ingredient that is the slipperiest slope.  Adding flavors to the bottle in the form of an entire dried chile is ‘good’, while adding magical liquid that was carefully crafted by teams of scientists to taste almost just quite like strawberries is ‘bad.’  Or at least that is how I see the world.  Rather than add a vanilla bean (or even a small portion of one), I added vanilla extract.  The good stuff mind you, real vanilla in bourbon.  But a small part of me can’t help but wonder where the line should be drawn.  A larger part of me was screaming that vanilla is really tasty and vanilla beans are really expensive.

The mead itself is a very dry, 8.4% ABV mead.  I primed it with some additional sugars so the end product should be very lightly carbonated.

My goal for this mead is to prove that mead does not have to be aged for a long time to be good.  I took pains to make sure the yeast were not stressed and managed as many variables as I am aware and capable of.  That said, I’m going to wait at least 4 weeks, probably more like 8 before trying the mead to allow the carbonation to develop fully.

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