Mead – tasting it

August 1, 2010

Though the plan was to end the fermentation quite early and try to achieve a nice sweet and somewhat alcoholic drink it proved more difficult than I first thought.

The mead that I had started brewing in two separate jars was only protected by a linen cloth, which I thought would be enough to keep most of the particles and dust away. After about a week and a half I decided to take care of both the mead jars, and proceeded to pour them into two different plastic bottles in order to keep the spicing apart. Before pouring the mead into a bottle I sieved it and tried to scope out most of the yeast that was floating. At this point the yeast seemed to be active in both jars. The two different batches had distinctly different smells, and also tastes. While the first bottle was still quite sweet one could notice an alcoholic undertone to it, the other however did not seem to be developing as quickly.

When I sieved the second batch of the mead, I received a small surprise as I found an unusually fat fly floating in the jar. After the first surprise and chock I decided to still keep this mead -minus the fly- to see how it develops. In a few early beer recipes it is describes how a crushed fresh rooster should be added to the batch. Are those just myths or would the proteins provide something?

As I finished the transfer to plastic bottles I brought them home to place them as cool as possible in order to stop the fermentation, however, the fridge was overfull and we experienced few comparatively warm days. Still as my room kept quite cool I hoped to be able to at least separate the mead from the yeast that had sunk to the bottom. However, after just two days the fermentation processes seemed to have continued at least in the first batch. As I opened the bottle a foam quickly raised and I had to close it again in order to not loose anything. This procedure quickly mixed the yeast, making any attempt to separate yeast and mead futile. I resealed the bottles as I had to rush of to my hearth for some other cooking attempts. After yet another few days, when I believed it to have been cooler I made a new attempt with almost the same result, except that now also the second batch (fly and caraway) had started to ferment in a similar manner.

Apparently the conditions for making any advanced trials when it comes to fermentation seems to be somewhat restricted at the moment, why I may continue this line of experiments once I have returned to Sweden. The samples of mead I made here was far to small to give opportunity to do any fargoing experiments. As I discussed in an earlier post I could either use cold -like a cold storing place, which makes summer a bad time of brewing- or heat to stop the fermentation. For heat I would imagine that one could make use of a hot stone to quickly heat the top of the brew and thus killing of the yeast. Another could perhaps be to add an infusion of the herbs one wants to spice the mead with. The boiling infusion would then kill the yeast in the top and after it has cooled down enough one may separate the dead yeast from the mead.

As one of my meads may be somewhat lessened by the addition of a fly I am still thinking that I should perhaps try the last method on this one. I could also try to stop the fermentation of that mead using a small amount of crushed lingonberries. These things will have to be done if time allows as I am now trying to get all parts of my participation of the local festival in order.

Finally the actual tasting, a few days ago circumstances allowed for a beer tasting, why I also brought out the first batch of the mead. It was still foaming quite a bit when I opened the battle and thus was rather fizzy. The colour was a somewhat cloudy and darker yellow, with a rather fresh smell of honey. The taste was still sweet, and did not feel to strong, but one could sense the alcohol beneath it all. While not very strong it had a nice balanced taste, with enough sweetness to make it a drink to sample rather than gorge.

8 Responses to “Mead – tasting it”

  1. Christian Stubø said

    Today at the museum, some visitors asked me about the possibility to use birch sap as a substitute for honey in mead-making – apparently the father or grandfather of one of them had used to make an alcoholic drink from birch sap, as it apparently will ferment easily enough. They also mentioned the eating of a while pulp just inside the birch barch, between the bark and the actual wood.

  2. In the previous post about mead you mentioned that you didn’t want to heat it to stop fermentation as you didn’t want the alcohol to evaporate. I’m really no yeast expert, but doesn’t yeast die when heated above, say, 60 degrees or so (whilst alcohol evaporates at 78 degrees)?

    That wouldn’t be such big problem after all. A quick heating, perhaps from a hot stone, could make the mead hot enough to kill the yeast. The amount of alcohol lost in this process would hopefully noy be too great, especially if measures are taken to cool the mead quickly by stirring it well and placing the container in a cold water bath.

    • eldrimner said

      That would be a feasible way of finishing the fermentation, however, I can see the practical problem of getting a brew to maintain an even temperature of about 60 degrees. This would probably would have to be done using either hot stones or very closely monitored cauldron. The question would of course be, not if they would have been able to monitor the temperature, but if this method could be a probable empirical conclusion in a society that lack any means of measuring temperatures or alcohol content.

  3. Daniel Schneider said

    Hej Daniel, interesting post! On the question of the fly, and “cock ale” recipes, it’s not a myth. Yeast needs more than just sugar to do well, small amounts of protien are also needed.You see a lot of directions for cider-making suggest throwing a chunk of meat into the barrel as well. When I’ve made mead with modern, store-bought honey, I generally add commercial yeast nutrient, but a bit of blood, or meat, (or a fly) would do it. The period honey wouldn’t have been filtered as finely as modern-day honwy, and probably would have contained small bits of dead bees, which would have provided some nutrients for the yeasts.
    In terms of adding boiling liquids to kill of the yeasts at the top, the problem is that there will be yeast throughout the mead- the stuff on top is simply the most active stuff. If you do kill it, the yeast dispersed throughout the mead will live on and keep the fermentation going. What I’ve found is that mead fermentation is 2 stage: the first stage is more active , and creates a certain amount of alcohol, but dies down before all of the sugar is fermented out, which is followed by a much slower secondary fermentation, which can continue for nearly a year before all of the sugar is consumed.I’d suggest letting it go till it dies down by itself, then trying it-it should still have a fair bit of sweetness and honey flavour, without the foaming problem (and the possibility of bursting bottles)

    • eldrimner said

      On the protein; in many of the early recipes for mead one is often advised to boil the honey and skim of the foam (proteins), so the question is if it was to get rid of the protein or other impurities that might be found in the honey.

      The notion of the two steps of fermentation of the mead is quite interesting. It would perhaps suggest that there are rather two natural options of finishing the fermentation – either at the end of the first quick fermentation or at the end when all the sugar has been fermented. Today there seem to be a preference for mead that has been fermented for the full year. However, looking at the earlier recipes the result seem to be achieved earlier and the finished result seem to be on the sweeter side.

  4. Did you get my post, by the way? Or did you choose to not publish it?😉

  5. Daniel Schneider said

    — On Thu, 8/19/10, Eldrimner wrote:
    >On the protein; in many of the early recipes for mead one is often advised to boil the >honey and skim of the foam (proteins), so the question is if it was to get rid of the protein >or other impurities that might be found in the honey.

    Well, I tend to think that in the earliest recipes (the earliest one I have is 13th c) the boiling and skimming was mostly to get rid of the small bits of bee, bark straw, etc, that made it through whatever filtering they may have done (which rasises the question; how much *did* they filter their honey, and how?); and to a lesser extent, regularise their results by killing off random wild yeasts so that when they pitched their barm/dregs, those yeasties wouldn’t have any competition. More modern recipes-those intended to be bottled and/or served in glass- probably *did* care about getting rid of proteins, as they can make the resulting mead cloudy, and in a glass bottle/glass, a clear mead would have been seen as higher quality.

    >The notion of the two steps of fermentation of the mead is quite interesting. It would >perhaps suggest that there are rather two natural options of finishing the fermentation – >either at the end of the first quick fermentation or at the end when all the sugar has been >fermented. Today there seem to be a preference for mead that has been fermented for the >full year.

    Yes, I tend to prefer a drier mead myself: less extreme consequences the next morning if you overdo it, for one thing…

    > However, looking at the earlier recipes the result seem to be achieved earlier and >the finished result seem to be on the sweeter side.

    Yes, I think you were spot-on about the conspicuous consumption aspect of the honey in mead during the VA. I actually think that your point can be applied to *many* wines, till quite a lot later – look how popular sweet wines such as Sack Canary, Madeira, Tokay, were as late as the 18th century- I suspect that untill sugar was cheap and plentiful, “sweet” would have had connotations of luxury, prosperity, and “the good life” in general; which today, with our cheap, plentiful sweenteners, doesn’t hold true.
    Dan

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