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Old 06-25-2010, 02:35 AM   #1
KCWortHog
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Default What I learned at NHC

I went to three different mead-oriented sessions/functions while in Minneapolis for NHC: the BJCP banquet, a Varietal Mead session, and Meadmaker of the Year panel. I'm sure some of you here did as well.

1. BJCP banquet. Though there were some logistical issues with the event itself, the content of the mead portion was an excellent experience. Basically, there was a ton of semi-sweet mead available, along with pipettes in jars of various additives around the perimeter of the room (and on a table in the middle). Additives were basically tinctures of juniper, rose, ginger, mint, tannin, acid, oak, and other various flavorings that can be used to manipulate the flavors of mead. I learned that rose flavoring goes a LONG way. So does mint. Ginger pairs with mead extremely well, and it takes a LOT of juniper extract to alter the flavor of a mead.

But probably the biggest take-away I got from this was that mead with acid & tannin added becomes much more complex and interesting than mead without. I highly recommend experimenting with taking a measured sample of traditional mead, adding measured amounts of acid blend & tannin to your liking, and finding the right proportions to make your mead stand out. Then scale up & add those amounts to your batch.

On the same note, it seems that the most reliable way to make a good-tasting metheglin is not to add any herbs or spices during fermentation, but instead to make an extract by "steeping" your selected ingredient in a neutral spirit (like vodka) for a couple of weeks, then adding a measured amount to your mead until it tastes right. Then scale up & add that amount to your batch. Way more reliable than guessing pre-fermentation amounts.


2. Varietal Meads: Gordon Strong & Susan Ruud. We tasted different honeys and the meads made from each. We tasted orange blossom, tupelo, basswood, white sage, mesquite, and... I think there was 1 more but my memory fails me.

The main thing I took from this was that you should REALLY taste your honey before making a mead out of it. Basswood smelled like hay to me and the mead tasted like minerals. OK, but not great. They were all fine, but the Orange Blossom and Tupelo really stood out as the shining stars of varietal mead. Though I'd love to try sourwood some time, these were representative of typically-available honey.


3. Meadmaker of the Year panel: Steve Piatz, Curt Stock, Steve Fletty, Thomas Eibner, and Joe Formanek.

This was basically a Q&A forum and there were a lot of questions. I asked Eibner how he did his award-winning braggot (add honey to fermenting product, or make beer & mead then blend) and he added the honey to the fermenter after cooling the wort, then pitched the yeast & fermented it out. I think I'll still stick to making braggots by blending beer & mead, but wanted to mention that this approach clearly works.

If there was ONE thing that I had to list as my #1 takeaway from this session, it's DEGAS. Piatz gave everyone a handout, which should be available when all presentations are posted (here). CO2 is toxic to yeast, so it makes sense that removing as much CO2 as possible assists fermentation. I was degassing by stirring, but it's clear now that it's not nearly enough - it needs to last until CO2 bubbles no longer rise to the surface. Piatz stated that he ferments a 5-gallon batch of mead in a food-safe garbage can - and when he degasses (with a drill-operated lees stirrer), foam rises nearly to the top of the container. That is a LOT of foam!

When asked about nutrient additions, it seemed that everyone on the panel did something slightly different. All of them did nutrient additions - some with KOH, some without. Piatz claimed that he never tests his pH (not sure I believe that, but that's what he said). Fletty said he doesn't do staggered nutrients; he just adds them all at once. But the one thing they ALL did was degas.

It's clear to me now that degassing is just as important as nutrient additions, but it doesn't get nearly as much attention. And not just stirring, but vigorous degassing with a lees stirrer to remove as much CO2 as possible. The panel recommended degassing several times a day, if possible. (maybe I can tell my boss I have to go home 3 times a day to de-gas... think he'd object? )

Everyone on the panel did fruit in primary. There's some disagreement on how much aroma you're losing in fermentation, but the general consensus is that you don't lose enough to ruin your mead.

The panel also all recommended SuperKleer KC for fining.

As for backsweetening, the general consensus was to backsweeten with the same honey you used for the base. Piatz said he backsweetens with sack mead, but I would think that'd require having a sh!t ton of sack mead sitting around for backsweetening... It was suggested at one of the social events by Ruud that you can still get a mead with varietal properties by making a mead with any old base honey (wildflower, clover), ferment it out, then backsweeten with a varietal for flavor & aroma. Sure beats spending $250 on a bucket of tupelo.

That's all I got! Enjoy

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Old 06-25-2010, 03:26 AM   #2
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Thanks for the info man! How long do people degas when they do it, and do they do it until they transfer and then stop? Always been unclear on that.

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Old 06-25-2010, 03:33 AM   #3
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You're welcome! They said they degas until the bubbles stop rising up - several minutes at least. I've never done it that long, just until they slow. But they were all very clear that you degas until the CO2 bubbles stop rising. In other words, when you stop the lees stirrer, you shouldn't see any CO2 bubbles coming up.

As for when you stop degassing all together, it's about a week. 7-8 days.

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Old 06-25-2010, 12:47 PM   #4
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Thanks for the excellent summary of the event.

And yes, if you get a chance to taste sourwood mead, you'll find it has a light but delicious flavor.

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Old 06-25-2010, 03:46 PM   #5
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I keep remembering tidbits I forgot in my initial post.

the panel also said they sulphite their fruit for melomels. I thought Piatz had a great idea, making a sulphite solution & putting it in a spray bottle then spraying the fruit in a bag. They also all put any fruit in a large mesh bag after mixing the water & honey prior to fermentation. The string on the bag can be looped over a spoon hansle & suspended during aeration (so as not to rip the bag with the lees stirrer).

I highly recommend getting Steve's handout once it's available. It has a good piece of info on targeting your final gravity. Oh, and on that, I thought he had a good idea for accurately starting with your desired OG without taking multiple samples of the must till you hit it. Since you want to ferment in a large bucket, you can simply mix honey & water, float your hydrometer in it, then add water & stir until your hydrometer shows the right OG.

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Old 06-25-2010, 04:02 PM   #6
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Great stuff! I will have to try the acid and tannin additions. I brew strictly varietal meads, but that sounds like some fun experimentation. Sourwood does indeed make a fine mead.

This is how I degas my wines/meads.





Connect the suction line from a small compressor to a carboy hood and let it rip. I leave it running for a couple 20 minute bursts. Works great! People also use food savers in the same way.

I think degassing is the most important step in mead making. It is a huge and striking difference. Also, I have never been able to naturally degas with time. I have had meads under the airlock for literally 2+ years, that still had a ton of entrained CO2.

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Old 07-11-2010, 11:12 PM   #7
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Presentations have been posted! Here's Steve's handout. And here's the page with all the presentations.

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Old 07-14-2010, 10:20 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by KCWortHog View Post
Presentations have been posted! Here's Steve's handout. And here's the page with all the presentations.
Thanks for posting those links!

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Old 08-24-2010, 11:26 PM   #9
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Thanks!

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Old 10-20-2010, 09:51 PM   #10
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I think the issue with blending is that you're using more water than you would if you added the honey at flameout. You use water both in preparing beer and preparing mead, whereas if you ferment it all at once you're not adding to the water volume in the original wort.

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