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Old 08-04-2008, 08:01 AM   #1
TheFlatline
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Default The Harrowing, A Mead Tale

It's been 4 hours or so, and I feel like I've recovered enough to briefly relate the insanity I willingly subjected myself to. I hope some of you can laugh at this, because it was a *long* day.

The goal:

4 5 gallon batches of mead plus 1 5 gallon batch of stout PM.

The idiots... errr... I mean intrepid brewers:
2 beer brewers plus one guy who had made mead with someone half a dozen times.

Starting time: 11am

Pre-disaster: Our 9am start time was pushed back to 11am.

First disaster:
11:30 am, after everything has been staged. Guy with experience dumps 5 gallons of water into a 6.5 gallon pot, and then starts to add 15 pounds of honey before turning on the flame. I point out that we're still 5 pounds shy of our honey requirement and are about to overflow. Solution? Rack off some of the solution into the brew kettle I was intending to use for my PM. Stout is now off the table for today. Brew kettle is boiled and skimmed along with the rest of the batch, until everything boils down to fit again. Footnote to the first disaster; Even with a turkey fryer, boiling 6.5 gallons of fluid takes too damn long when everything was still cold from the night before.

Second Disaster:
12:30pm. Mead guy wasn't paying attention, and let the brew spoon fall into the hot, bubbling, nigh-on bubbling over kettle, which just so happens to trigger a severely impressive boil over, which then puts out the burner (which we didn't notice for 3 minutes or so). Fishing the spoon out of boiling hot honey water was not a pleasant experience.

Third Disaster:
3:30pm, after we had pitched yeast for the first batch, I notice that our propane tank is starting to freeze over due to it being so empty. Yes, 4 hours and we finished the *first* batch. It's time for lunch and propane.

After that, we decide that 2.5 gallons of water in the PM brew kettle on the stove and 2.5 gallons in the main brew kettle on the turkey fryer is ideal, as by the time the PM kettle has been boiling for 10 minutes (dinky little stove) we're at flameout on the main kettle, we combine both kettles (boil off doing it's thing) and there's just enough room for our immersion chiller and to stir. Second batch finished in 90 minutes. Far, far better.

Fourth Disaster:
5:30pm. Someone decided to crank up the burner to full, and besides the regulator wanting to frost over, we get massive boil-over #2 when it's neglected for 5 minutes. I delegate myself "fire master" and assume all temperature responsibilities, including preventing boil-overs. Third batch is done in an hour. We admit we're probably getting into "the zone".

Fifth Disaster:
6:45pm. We feel like we've got this down, and for a while it looked like we were going to shave this batch down to 45 minutes from start to finish. Then the bees come. I wish I had my video camera to record this. See, all that honey made a sticky mess, and all day long we had a bee here, a bee there, nothing too significant. Then we realize, as the day is cooling off, that up the hill is an orange orchard, and that my friend remembers bee keepers heading up there a day or two ago to do their voodoo. We want to finish fast. Too fast. Massive boil-over #3 happens due to me not skimming fast enough and the wind having died completely right at the moment where the pot decided to boil over. A huge plume of honey-scented steam wafts into the air, and the entire house smells like honey now. By the time we get halfway through boil, we've got maybe 200 bees checking things out. *Three* make a beeline (no pun intended) for the bubbling kettle at the same time, and despite the huge plume of steam plunge straight into what they can only imagine is the mother of all orange blossoms. Instant foam up, and we have boil-over #4, even with a vornado fan blowing directly into the kettle to prevent such things. At this point, I turn down the heat to maintain boil, and partially cover the kettle with the lid while I fan the remaining vent to keep bees away. We're up to 400 bees now, I guess the dinner bell was ringing back at the hive. We have so many bees that occasionally I hear little knocks and pings, as a bee flies way too close to the intake of the vornado fan, and is thusly ejected, chopped up, at 30 miles an hour into the kettle wall. By flame out, the porch sounds like a hive, and there is probably well over 500 bees in the front yard, porch, and attacking our kettle, the remains of the honey bucket (now washed, but that doesn't make much of a difference), and anything else that could even feasibly have once been sticky (during the heating phase we cleaned almost everything up we possibly could). We eventually put a dish of honey mixed with warm water out about 50 feet from the work area, and while the bees swarm it, it's not enough to keep the bees out of our mead. Thus, while the kettle is covered, out comes the cigars, cigarettes, hookah, and anything else we could drum up to make smoke and repel the bees. So there are three grown men, hyperventilating with tobacco, all in a ring blowing smoke at our kettle while the IC does it's thing. We drop temperature, and the bees are hovering around us, the smoke providing a wall, and they look like they're getting pissed. We rack, pitch, and put away the carboy, and literally throw the empty kettle encrusted with cooked-on honey and the burner stand out into the lawn about 30 feet from the house, along with the brew spoon, and let the swarm follow out there and gorge. After 10 or 15 minutes of blissful silence, we washed everything up, and the bees moved on. Final cleanup was done at 8pm.

So there you have it. 20 gallons of mead (we're used to doing 5 gallon batches on the weekend, so this was epic), 4 glass carboys, 9 hours, 5 major disasters, what felt like half a bee hive invading, and god only knows what else. When I drink this stuff next spring, it better be the best tasting stuff *ever*, or I'm going to cry. I'm so done with brewing (especially brewing with honey) that I could take a month off and not feel bad.

The stout brews tomorrow though. The masochist in me is looking forward to it. Without the bees.

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Old 08-04-2008, 08:37 AM   #2
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Never brewed any mead but sounds like a crazy bee attack. They actually go back to their hives and dance to let other bees know where the food source is. In this case all your honey.

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Old 08-04-2008, 08:56 AM   #3
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I have an awesome solution to most all of your problems: stop boiling the honey, you're ruining it.


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Old 08-04-2008, 10:27 PM   #4
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step 1: don't boil your honey. I could make four 5gal batches in under an hour because you don't need to boil the honey...and in fact kill much of the aroma and flavor doing so.

step 2: relax and enjoy the process

step 3: get more attentive helpers

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Old 08-04-2008, 10:37 PM   #5
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Nothin' like a beautiful day out in the yard with good friends! Sort of a male-bonding experience.

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Old 08-05-2008, 12:16 AM   #6
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I'm with Malkore...don't boil your honey. I don't heat at all (unless the honey is crystallized) and I haven't had any problems. Three of us made 60 gallons of mead in 2 1/2 hours. It would have been faster, but the water filter couldn't keep up.

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Old 08-05-2008, 12:29 AM   #7
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I would agree with the not boiling....Sounds like you could use a good book!

Try this one. The Compleat Meadmaker

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Old 08-06-2008, 12:25 AM   #8
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WOW! Truly a harrowing tale. I'm with the rest of the folks here on the "quit boiling honey" issue, no need for it & it ruins the honey in my opinion. Try using your turkey fryer pot for a mixing pot, just heat the water & mix it with the honey to dissolve & then transfer to your carbouy(s). I've never made such a large batch, but I like to use a sanitized blender to mix/dissolve honey into water/juices. It works well for a 5 or 6 gallon batch & has the added advantage of super areating the must. Mixes in all my adjuncts really well too. Hope you find some of this info useful, GF.

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Old 08-06-2008, 01:33 AM   #9
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this seems like a reoccuring topic at the moment, let me sum it up, DONT BOIL THE FREAKIN HONEY, and get a cigar for the process.

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Old 08-06-2008, 05:46 AM   #10
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Thats freakin crazy. I love brewing beer and pitching yeast in honey but I swear I only have trouble when I have "help".

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