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Old 05-10-2013, 01:53 AM   #1
SouthernGorilla
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Default Wood experiment

About a week ago I went and ordered one each of almost all these; http://bbcharcoal.com/products/flavoring-wood-pellets/

The plan is to make a fake mead by diluting vodka to about 10% ABV and sweetening it with honey. Then put each flavor of wood in its own little sample and let them all "age" for a few weeks. The purpose is just to see what the different woods contribute to a drink. I'm planning to test both raw and toasted versions of each flavor for comparison.

I realize this isn't going to produce perfectly accurate results. I can't be certain the pellets are 100% the wood they claim to be. The fake mead will not taste exactly like a real mead. And the pellets will not react the same way as solid wood chunks would react. I'm hoping it gives me enough information to narrow down potentially useful woods so I can find real wood chunks to test.

As always, I'm interested in input on the idea.

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Old 05-10-2013, 02:32 PM   #2
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With so many varibles off and the fact that you know all of your items aren't going to taste like it will in an actual mead with properly oaking it, I am not sure that this will yeild any reliable results. By your own admision, every component is not what it will be in the mead. Why not just make a show mead, then take your samples and oak them?

I did an experiment myself, I made 3 five gal batches of mead the exact same way and oaked each with a different toast of oak: Light, Medium, and Heavy. Then compaired the results. They were suprisingly different and each tasty. I also get to compare them over time. I also did a batch of lightly toasted oak vs no oak the same way and compaired that too. That was the first test.

Here are my early results after only a year of aging:

Oaking vs Light Toasted Oak (Lightly toasted oak chips) 1 oz. infused for 3 weeks in 5 gal
1. Lower aging time needed before it was drinkable with the oaked.
2. Not much flavor imparted but the oaked was a little sweeter.
3. The oaked was a little paler. Visible side by side.
4. The Oaked seemed to clear quicker.
5. Even after aging the Oaked was hands down prefered and lacked an acidic harshness that the non-oaked did.

Triple Oak Test (3 5 gal batches with a different toast in each)

Light Toast
1. notes were the least noticeable but sweet and slightly floral.
2. This would be the best to use if I wanted to focus on a Melomel of a light taste. Or not have the oaking affect the overall flavor.

Medium Toast
1. Notes were more rounded and a light carmelly flavor and almost nutty.
2. Though the notes were there, they can be easily blend with more robust flavors and enhance them, much like a little vanilla enhances a flavor and is not noticeable or detracting from that flavor.
3. Recomend with strong melomels or Meglithins of a light to medium flavor. It would also work well with Bragots.

Heavy Toast
1. Notes were the most noticable. A light smokyness that many people liked.
2. The notes were strong and a good flavor on it's own. Scotch drinkers loved this mead.
3. Recomended for heavy flavors, it would not work well with light flavors or meads where you wish to showcase the honey type. Bochett, Braggots, Pumpkin, and other heavier flavors would pair well with the Heavy Toast. Also if you are layering several flavors and blending spices and fruit it would work too.

I still think that it would be good to do your own full expiriment on this with a batch of real mead. Just do up a show mead and then spit it into parts and oak each differently. Keep the varibles down, that way you can truely judge what the difference is in your pallet. And create your recipies with this kept in mind.

Hope that this helps.

Matrix

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Old 05-10-2013, 04:06 PM   #3
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The main point of my experiment is to get an idea of the woods themselves. So I don't see the need to go to the hassle and expense of mazing a batch of mead for it. The vodka/honey concoction is decent enough for this purpose. Although I wouldn't recommend it as a regular drink. And time is a consideration. If I were to maze a batch just for this experiment I'd then have to wait a month or more before I could complete the experiment. I'd rather use that time mazing a mead with a recipe built with the knowledge I gained from the experiment.

Just this morning I sampled several herbs and spices I had left soaking overnight in the same vodka/honey concoction. And it very clearly showed how well this method can work. The samples all absorbed the flavors of their respective herbs and gave me a decent idea of which herbs I might want to use in a real mead. A couple of the herbs even pulled some of the harshness out of the vodka, leaving those samples noticeably smoother than the others. And that all happened overnight. I expect the wood test to be similarly quick since the pellets have more surface area than chunks or spirals. And they might crumble when wet which would further increase their contact area.

My wife and I plan to do the testing blind as well. So whichever of us is tasting the samples will have no idea what the sample is. That's to remove what I consider the fatal flaw of every taste test I've ever seen on a brewing forum. Everybody who tastes orange blossom honey always detects "faint hints of citrus" even though there is nothing in an orange blossom that would make bee excrement taste like an orange. It's a simple psychological trick. So we don't want to be thinking about rootbeer when we taste the sassafras sample.

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Old 05-10-2013, 08:37 PM   #4
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I agree with you on the flaws of others taste testing it if they know what it is. I did my taste test of the two oak experiments I told you about blind with my friends not knowing what they are drinking. Hmm, I like the herb thing. I may just have to try that.

I know the reason why it was so fast to. Extracting flavors with a high alcohol content is quicker. In some cases overnight may be too much. But I shall have to try this when experimenting more with herbs. What sort of honey/alcohol mixture are you using?

From what you describe, you are making a quick extract with adding honey. think I may make up some herb extracts with this and then thin them out for testing. Sure, it will take a couple of months but then I could use the extracts in the mead instead and have a good idea of what I will get and not over spice things.

Matrix

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Old 05-10-2013, 08:56 PM   #5
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I hadn't really considered the fact that I am basically making extracts. Thanks for pointing that out. I might get some stronger alcohol and try to make better extracts. I agree that extracts would be much easier to dose than raw herbs. Plus you could then have scores of little corked bottles on the shelves each labeled "eye of newt" or "frog hair" or some similarly amusing silliness.

The mixture I used for the herb experiment was just vodka diluted to 10% ABV and sweetened to taste with honey. I used vodka since it doesn't have added flavors like may other spirits.

The herbs I sampled were coriander, cardamom, rose hips, star anise, paradise seed, and juniper. I would readily use any of them in a mead except for the paradise seed. It didn't seem to add anything at all. I also spiced separate samples with thyme, garlic, and cumin. Those were interesting enough to warrant further tests.

I'm still waiting for the pellets to arrive so I can start this experiment. Seems it's been long enough they should be here by now.

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Old 05-13-2013, 03:22 PM   #6
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Well to make vanilla extract it does take about 2 months of extracting in 30-35% alcohol. Not sure if it would be longer or shorter for some herbs. I know that Mint Extract is about the same. Though you do end up with about half strength mint. So that would prob be why it doesn't impart much flavor but would if you did it in a batch.

I would recomend that you try your herbs again. Make true tintures (same as extract but not reduced after the process) and have your little bottles then add the herbs to your vodka/honey mix in small measured doses. Then you sould judge the flavor better. Then if you like you could make the same extract and expand the ratio to put into the mead.

Yes, I like the "eye of newt, hair of the frog" thing for lables on the extracts. And for me it wouldn't be little bottles, but a series of jars. I make my vanilla extract in batches of 3-6 cups.

Also for the seeds or some of the extracts you would need to crack the seeds when putting them in.

Sounds like you got a plan I might implament. Spice Extracts. hey a new business.

Matrix

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Old 05-13-2013, 10:54 PM   #7
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Even with extracts or tinctures you'll never know exactly how much you're getting from a spice or herb. It's still based on what was in the original herbs you used to make the extract. The only real advantage to extracts is shelf life. Well, you would know what each jar would provide. But there'd be little consistency from batch to batch. You might need three drops per gallon from one jar and five drops from the next jar to get the same flavor in the final product. No different from using fresh herbs.

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Old 05-17-2013, 10:43 PM   #8
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Well the wood pellets finally showed up. The bags are small, only 1.6 ounces net. They're meant to be just enough to smoke once on the grill. I'm confident each bag contains enough wood to age a gallon of mead. I definitely have more than enough to complete this experiment.

Of course I had to open the bags and sniff the woods. A few of them had noticeably different aromas. But most of them just smelled like wood. I'm anxious to see if roasting them amplifies the differences. I'm also anxious to see if soaking brings out flavors beyond what the aromas promise.

One problem I see is that the pellets are almost certainly going to disintegrate while soaking. I'll have to run the samples through coffee filters or something before tasting them.

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Old 05-20-2013, 05:09 PM   #9
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You may be able to avoid that by putting it in a paper tea bag.

1 oz is enough to "oak" a 5-6 gal batch.

Matrix

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Old 05-20-2013, 10:52 PM   #10
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Good idea. I wonder if I can get empty tea bags somewhere.

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