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Old 08-17-2013, 06:44 PM   #1
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Default Melomel; Fruit in Primary or secondary?

It has been some time since I have made a mead or melomel. And doing some reading here, it looks like the processes have changed significantly since then.

I have a friend who keeps bees. He has set aside 15# of honey from his recent harvest and contacted me about making a mead or melomel with it. The honey is light in color and body (the bees primarliy fed on winter wheat and wildflowers). It has a light peach/pear flavor and pleasant floral aroma.

That being said, we've decided on an apricot melomel. We're going to make at least part of it sparkling, so I am not sure if that changes the name from melomel to something else. But my friend and our wives are looking for something with some effervesence, so we'll go that route with a portion of it.

I've picked up a lot by reading Hightest's sticky FAQs, but have a couple of questions about the process, as I plan it:

1. I intend to use one of the 3# cans of apricot puree available at the brew shop. My plan is to have the fruit enhance, but not overwhelm, the natural flavors and aromas in the honey. This is for a 5 gallon batch. I intend to follow Hightest's basic mead recipe with the stepped nutrient additions. Then just add the fruit as an additional component. My question here is over timing of the fruit addition. Should I add the fruit in primary? Or should I ferment the mead out, then rack it onto the fruit?

1a. If I use the fruit in primary, will the fermentation scrub all of the flavor and aromatics from the apricots? Will I still have to add fruit later?

2. Still vs. sparkling. My plan here is to bottle a small portion still for myself, then keg, carbonate and bottle the rest for my wife and our friends. Are there any drawbacks to this method vs. trying to naturally carbonate the sparkling portion?

2a. Yeast killing. I'd like the best control over my carbonation level possible, so keg contitioning and bottling with my CP filler seems like the likely way to go. That being the case, what's the best way to kill the yeast. I have used potassium metabisulfate in some of my wine attempts in the past. Is there something better? (this ties into #3 as well)

3. Back sweetening. I figure if I go with the keg carb method in #2 above, back sweetening would be easier if it is needed. I am assuming I can use potassium metabisulfate to kill the yeast prior to back sweetening? I've also seen a wine conditioner in the brew shop that is supposed to be part sweetener, part yeast killer. Would that work here?

4. Acid additions? Hightest's acid blend suggestions mention adding acid blend to taste at bottling. If I am making a melomel with a fruit like apricot, will acid additions be as likely (I've heard that acid will make the fruit flavor stand out better, so perhaps some level of acid adjustment may be necessary)? If so, does the acid blend go in dry? I was thinking I might get more control by mixing the acid blend in water and pulling a small amount of melomel into a measured glass. I could then dose the glass with measured amounts of my water/acid mixture until the taste was to my liking, then extrapolate that portion and dose the full batch.

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Old 08-17-2013, 07:03 PM   #2
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1a. If I use the fruit in primary, will the fermentation scrub all of the flavor and aromatics from the apricots? Will I still have to add fruit later?
I am still learning, but I have an apricot melomel going and I used one of those cans of puree from my LHBS (3 gal batch). I added mine to the primary and it pretty much scrubbed all of the flavour of the apricots. There is a little flavour, but I really couldn't tell the difference between the apricot & strawberry melomel I had sitting side by side with no identifying markings on the carboy (one was slightly darker). I am going to back sweeten soon. Not sure if I am going to use another can of puree or go with fresh fruit. All that being said, I don't know what time in a bottle will do to the product. I am just starting and haven't had any finish bottle aging so I will be looking to see what others have to say. Time might work things over so that there is some flavour that comes through.
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Old 08-17-2013, 09:19 PM   #3
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As an alternative, I heard something on a Jamil podcast that sounded promising. He advocated using the fruit purée, then dosing lightly with extract at bottling to "punch up" the aroma and flavor. Granted, it was beer and he was secondarying on fruit, but it might be one way.

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Old 08-18-2013, 09:20 AM   #4
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Ok, so you have to consider what flavour it is that you're actually aiming for.....

We often think of a fruit flavour for an ingredient, but the flavour as it is when the fruit is in its natural form. Strawberry being an excellent example, as is Raspberry.

Now if it's in primary, then the fruit sugars will be fermented out and you end up with a completely different flavour to the one of the original fruit. Plus you have to manage the fermentation properly or you can get "capping" issues like with "proper" grape wine making. With the strawberry example, you often get little or no red colouration of the brew, it actually goes a pale straw colour and while it might smell of the strawberry aroma, most of the familiar taste is gone (some of it may recover a bit after ageing), raspberry can still smell great, but with the fruit sugars gone, you can get a very sharp, acidic taste from the fruit. Yes, depending on the colour and ripeness of the fruit, some pigmentation transfer, but not usually anywhere as deep as the original fruit.......

So then the other side of the coin, being that of putting fruit into secondary. You have to think of what the definition of "secondary" actually is. Is it when you're most of the way through primary ? or when primary is done and you've racked the batch off the gross lees ? And the actually "secondary" stage is more about clearing the batch ?

In any case, if you put fruit into secondary, you will most likely not ferment out all the fruit sugars, so the resulting flavour is more "fruit cordial" in character, or at least more fruity in the original taste, as was more likely considered/intended.

There are other issues to consider, like possible oxidation (especially with fruit involved), though most of those are negated by good practice.

Personally, I either do the secondary or I do both. If both, then I use 1/3rd of the fruit in primary, as that will help with pH buffering and nutrition, even though I have to make sure that the fruit stays moist as there's still the possibility of spoilage, yet the fruit in primary does seem to help with the final character of the brew, then once the ferment is complete, I carefully add the rest of the fruit. I use a gentle swirling of the fermenter to make sure that any floating fruit stays wet/moist and I always aim to let it drop before racking - I'm not always that patient, some fruit will show signs of good extraction of flavour/colour (strawbs and rasps tend to look paler/whiter etc). You usually get a much more fruit/cordial taste this way.

So as you can see, both techniques have pro's and con's, bring you back to what flavour it is that you're actually aiming for in the brew.......

To the other points, Kmeta doesn't kill the yeast, it stuns it. If the sulphites dissipate, the yeast can start up again.

Stabilising should be with the Kmeta, and also sorbate (potassium sorbate), at the appropriate doses.

The Kmeta stuns the yeast, but also acts as an anti-oxidant as well as preventing any MLF bacteria present from munching the sorbate (which prevents the yeast from multiplying) and creating geraniols, which will screw a batch completely, hence stabilising is the 2 pronged approach. If you did want MLF deliberately then it's done before any stabilising or even just sulphiting takes place - the sulphites have to be at natural levels i.e. less than 20 ppm.

If you're gonna try and hit a certain gravity then kill the yeast, your best approach would be cold crashing to less than 4C/39F for a week or so, then racking the batch off any lees onto the stabilising chems while still cold.

For the acid addition points, have a google about which fruit acids match which fruit i.e. grapes/pyment, tartaric, or citrus fruits, black currants, etc, it's citrus fruits. Apples/pears etc, malic or a mix of malic/tartaric.....

Acid blends are all different and the variation of levels of all three acids aren't always the best bet, especially if "they" don't tell you how much of each is in the blend, some will possibly have a negative effect.

If you made a traditional, I've found a blend of 2 parts malic to 1 part tartaric works well (not my idea, it's from Ashton & Duncan's "Making Mead" book - now out of print I believe).

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Old 08-18-2013, 10:46 PM   #5
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It's funny that you mention "Making Mead". Everybody is talking about the Compleat Mead Maker (which I have not yet purchased). However, I was taking a look at my brewing library last night and found the copy of "Making Mead" I bought back in the 90s when I was wooing my wife and realized how much she enjoyed this magical potion. I've tossed it in my car to read at lunch this week at work.

As for the flavor/aroma profile I am targeting, my goal is to have the apricot enhance but not define the melomel. By that, I am saying if I hit my mark, most people who drink this will take a sniff, then a sip and look at me and ask, "Do I pick up apricots?"

Reading what you've written, I would take that to mean I should probably go with the apricots in primary. I am viewing secondary as a stage to rack off the main lees and begin clarification. I am guessing I could do as I have seen Jamil Z. suggest for fruit beers. I could go with the puree in the primary. Rack a couple of times and age after primary ferment. Then use acid and possibly apricot extract (is there such a thing) to adjust flavor at bottling.

I'll have to read up again on sulfate and potassium sorbate. My goal at this point is to bulk age, then shock/kill the yeast to prevent further fermentation. I will probably pull about 25% and bottle it still for myself. The remainder will go into a keg for carbonation and bottling as a sparkling beverage for my wife and the friend who runs the apiary.

As he keeps quite a large hive, if I don't get it right the first time, I always know where I can find more honey.

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Old 08-23-2013, 02:38 PM   #6
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Fatbloke -a couple of follow up questions while I am waiting for the nutrients and such that I've ordered to arrive from the brew shop.

1. My wife and I have been talking about the benefits of fruiting 100% in the primary vs the 1/3 in primary 2/3 in secondary that you mention.

If we were to go with the split addition, what is the best way to store the second portion of fruit while we are fermenting. I am using a 3 pound can of apricot purée from my brew shop. Once I open it, any portion that does not go into the primary is a target for contamination. My thought is that I can sanitize a canning jar and put the remaining fruit in that. I could store it in the refrigerator until I was ready to transfer. Does that sound sufficient?

2. At what point should I transfer to the secondary and the additional fruit if I use this method. Should I wait for the airlock to go completely still before racking? Or is there some benefit to racking it onto the remaining fruit while fermentation is still visibly active? Would I need another nutrient addition when racking, or are the nutrients in the fruit sufficient?

3. Since I am planning to stabilize with kmeta and sorbate, I assume this will mean racking to a third vessel. I also assume that I would want to cold crash the melomel when my secondary ferment slows or stops and I am at FG. Then I would cold crash and rack onto the stabilizers and set it aside for clearing and some period of bulk aging. Does this sound correct?

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Old 08-23-2013, 04:51 PM   #7
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2. At what point should I transfer to the secondary and the additional fruit if I use this method. Should I wait for the airlock to go completely still before racking? Or is there some benefit to racking it onto the remaining fruit while fermentation is still visibly active? Would I need another nutrient addition when racking, or are the nutrients in the fruit sufficient?
Im no expert but i think it may be best to rack when your airlock.. has slowed way down, but not completely stopped. This way you rack off of the yeast, and the continued fermentation would fill the headspace. This would allow the must to clear. Once the fermentation has stopped, slowed down significantly, take a reading. K-sorbate/K-meta to stop, wait a week, further clearing, and ensure fermentation ceased. Rack off into another clean carboy with the rest of the puree, top off as normal.

This way, the second addition of fruit is not "blown off" thru fermentation. Allow this to clear and rack only when lees are thick. Continue until must no longer drops lees.

if im wrong.. please someone correct me.
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Old 08-23-2013, 05:59 PM   #8
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Just to be that monkey that throws the wrench into the spokes. I dont go into a secondary vessel until major clearing has already occurred (unless fruit is in primary, but I don't do that anymore). I try to rack as little as possible since you lose some good mead every time.

Then in my secondary, I stabilize and back-sweeten if part of the plan. There it does bulk aging, clearing, and I bottle from that carboy.

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Old 08-23-2013, 06:14 PM   #9
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Just to be that monkey that throws the wrench into the spokes. I dont go into a secondary vessel until major clearing has already occurred (unless fruit is in primary, but I don't do that anymore). I try to rack as little as possible since you lose some good mead every time.

Then in my secondary, I stabilize and back-sweeten if part of the plan. There it does bulk aging, clearing, and I bottle from that carboy.
By "but I don't do that anymore", do you mean that you don't ferment your fruit in the primary? Or do you mean that you don't make melomels at all?

At the end of it all, my goal is a melomel in which the fruit is present, and enhances the overall character of the drink. But one in which the apricots do not take center stage, or create a "fruit cordial" character as fatbloke describes above.

I am not sure if it is here, or in another thread, where I said if I were to hit it properly, my goal is for the drinker to not say, "This is a great apricot drink", but rather to take a sip and ask, "Do I taste apricots?"
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Old 08-23-2013, 06:48 PM   #10
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Sorry for any confusion. I don't put fruit in primary anymore. I used some Jam (red currant jam) in a red currant strawberry one because I didn't want to have to rack off the Jam even later. I'll be backsweetening with strawberry juice so that it doesn't ferment and doesn't change flavor character (as Fatbloke has above mentioned).

Here's the scoop.
•Will the apricots in Primary contribute flavor or get mostly scrubbed off?: Mostly scrubbed off, so what's the point?
•Taste levels of fruit in secondary are valued in pounds per gallon, not when they're added: Each fruit has different amounts of pounds that would go into a mead to add different levels of flavor. Example: 1-2 pounds of strawberries per gallon would result in a mild flavor, 3 pounds would be moderate flavor, and 4-5 pounds would be a strong strawberry flavor.

Ken Shcramm's compleat meadmaker has a chart that has a ton of fruits and the pounds per gallon for each level. I can't remember if apricots are on there, but if it is, you would also need to convert the level of puree to actual pounds of fruit (something along the lines of 1# of blackberry puree = 1.5 pounds of actual fruit).

So at the end of this lengthy (possibly off on a tangent) answer you really are just looking to ask yourself,

Do I really need to use all 3# of Fruit Puree in this batch to get my desired flavor?. My guess if you were going for a light apricot note would be 1-1.5 lbs of puree (Per gallon) in secondary. Maybe start with 1, and add more if you need to. Edit: Sorry I thought you were doing a 1 gal batch for some reason. But I would add maybe half at first to see how it is, and add more if you need it.

If you want to use the rest of the puree; whats stopping you from buying a gallon of apple juice, adding the puree, pitching some yeast, and having something to sip on during football (American football (not soccer (football))) games.

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