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Blending Sour And Funky Mead P IV: Berliner Style Meads

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Sour and Funky Mead Making Pt IV: Berliner Style Meads
Previous Parts can be found here:
Part 1: Lambic Mead making https://www.homebrewtalk.com/lambic-sour-and-funky-mead-making-pt-1.html
Part 2: Adding Fruit https://www.homebrewtalk.com/lambic-sour-and-funky-mead-making-pt-2.html
Part 3: Blending https://www.homebrewtalk.com/blending-sour-and-funky-mead-piii.html
As we continue our journey into all things wild in the world of mead making; The next process I'll dig into is Berliner Style meads. These meads are soured with just lactobacillus, and don't have funky contributions from brettanomyces or other lactic acid bacteria like pediococcus.
Something great about higher acid in meads is that it really softens the harsh aggressive notes you get from very dry meads that lie around 1.000 final gravity. If you don't like the funky farmhouse-esque notes either, you can still cross over through Berliner style meads.
There are a couple of approaches (just like regular Berliner Weisse beers) you can take to get the effect of a soured mead. The first is a sour mash.

Berliner Mead Gravity

Sour "Mashing" the Must with Uncrushed Grain:

Similar to sour mashing a wort before boiling, you can do the same in a mead must. The first thing you're going to do is make up a typical mead must. You're going to need to heat the must up just a little (to 100-110F or so), so keep that in mind if you normally just put everything in a carboy and shake (carboys typically don't like direct heat). Because of this I recommend mixing some or most of your must in a large pot to warm up and add later.
After the must is mixed, it's time to heat the must to around 100F. At that time, you can add it into the carboy. Once you have your volume of must, top it up with uncracked base malt (I used Pilsner malt because that's what I had around but any plain base malt will do). Fill the carboy with grain until there is only a tiny bit of headspace in the neck. Keeping the carboy as warm as possible for the next step is ideal.
On the grain you added are living cultures of lactobacillus (lacto for short) which love warm temps. It helps them work faster, and the warmer temps help keep the bacteria that release those dreaded vomit smells and flavors at bay. Those bad profiles also need oxygen to be produced, which is why we top up as much as we can. There is a small amount of krausen that forms, but nothing even near a typical mead fermentation (which are more subdued than beer ones). Don't add your yeast yet. Lacto is pretty alcohol sensitive and needs 1-3 days in order to produce its characteristic lactic sourness.

Sour Mash
In this time, do what you can to keep it warm. Wrap it in blankets, bathe it in hot water. Don't remove the airlock though, since you'll be adding excess oxygen to the equation and not helping your case. The amount of time you need to leave the grain to work depends on your goals for the batch. This is a basic timeline, but your results may vary some.
24 Hours - Not much acid is produced. A 24 hour souring will result in being able to add some crispness to a very dry mead. It also adds some more flavor complexity to lackluster meads. If you plan on entering a Berliner mead as a dry traditional into a contest, this is the timeline you should shoot for.
1 Day - Expect more noticeable acidity. This is what you'd aim for if you want a present sourness as part of the flavor profile.
2 Days - Sour mash for this long if you want a dominating sourness to be the star of your mead. If it ends up being too sour at this stage, you can keep it as a blend.
Also take note of what you want your final gravity to be. The dryer the mead, the more acidic the mead will be perceived as.
After you've sour mashed for your desired amount of time, add the water into a pot large enough to heat the entire must. Heat your batch to 190F, kill the heat and cool as fast as possible to to prevent excess loss of aromatics. This kills everything and gives your yeast a clean slate to ferment. It also means you can use equipment that you use for non sour batches.
Souring the Must with Commercial Lactobacillus:
Now, if you are unsure about your process, or the ability to keep oxygen out of the equation. Pitching a lactobacillus culture from Wyeast or White Labs may be your next best option. There are two commercial strains readily available. Lacto Delbrueckii produces less acid overall and Lacto Brevis, more acid.
Mix the must as you normally would and add the culture directly. Fussing with the temperature is optional and will speed up results, but the large colonies cultures of off flavor producing bacteria are not present in this method.
The lacto still needs time to grow and develop, so refer to the above timeline again.

Pasteurize After Sour Mash
You also have the choice to not kill or not kill the lactobacillus. If you have equipment set aside for sour making, and want to preserve the most aromatics and build a better acid profile throughout fermentation, you can forgo the pasteurization and pitch your yeast.
In Closing:
Berliner style meads are now another tool you can use when making some amazing meads. In terms of recipe formulation, since you are developing your acidity prior to alcoholic fermentation, you can set your ABV limit to even sack strength recipes.
 
Thank you for your post. The way you write it, it seems easy to make a sour mead. I will try it sometime. =)
I think you made a mistake here: "You also have the choice to not kill or not kill the lactobacillus."
You probably wanted to write "to kill or not to kill the lacto..".
 
That's cool. I didn't know lacto was present on uncrushed malt... I'm guessing it isn't just lacto though huh? But I'm guessing there is more of it so it has a head start.
 
@electrolight Correct, there's lacto and some other things. Also if you can keep the temp in that 110-120F range, the lacto will grow pretty quick.
@Jahnke Yup should be kill or not kill.
 
if using this method for beer where there will be oxygen in the wort from vorlauffing and sparging, do you recommend bringing the wort to a short boil to remove said oxygen prior to adding the grain, or is that overkill?
 
@bunt1828 You can, if you have a good way to not reintroduce the oxygen when transferring back to the mash tun.
However, the biggest oxygen contributor will be the head-space in the mash tun.
 
Neat article, mixing two things I love, Mead and Berliners. I may have missed this, but at what time frame do you remove the grains from the Must?
Thanks
 
@BarleyAndVine
24 Hours - Not much acid is produced. A 24 hour souring will result in being able to add some crispness to a very dry mead. It also adds some more flavor complexity to lackluster meads. If you plan on entering a Berliner mead as a dry traditional into a contest, this is the timeline you should shoot for.
2 Days - Expect more noticeable acidity. This is what you'd aim for if you want a present sourness as part of the flavor profile.
3 Days - Sour mash for this long if you want a dominating sourness to be the star of your mead. If it ends up being too sour at this stage, you can keep it as a blend.
 
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