Lambic, Sour, and Funky Mead Making - Part 2

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If you missed Part one, it can be found here https://www.homebrewtalk.com/lambic-s...king-pt-1.html
So, last time we left off with a traditional Lambic mead (just honey, water, and maltodextrin). It makes a great mead, but what happens when you want to add some more character by adding fruit to your lambic meads? Here we'll go over adding fruits to wild meads and how to go about it. It does have similar rules of thumb as standard mead making, but has a few different nuances.

Adding Fruit Early
Let's assume you just racked at around 6 months and you want to add some fruit at this point. The fruit you add at this point will certainly be fermented and the sweetness from that fruit will be converted into alcohol, and probably some more lactic acid (by your bugs). You'll get some good color out of it as well. You will still add fruit character to your mead, despite having the sugars fermented out of it. It will be a dry fruit character and will hit more of the sides of your palate instead of a sweet hit right on the tongue. This dry fruit character balances well with the acid from your fermentation and they both play off of each other well.
At this stage, you don't need to go overboard with the fruit. Just - 1 pound per gallon will be enough to add some light color and those dry fruit characters. Any more at this point won't hurt, but you'll start to get diminishing returns. The good part about adding early is that your bugs will still be working and it won't really add any extra time to a finished mead. But, you won't get those dominant fruit characters that you may be looking or as well, at which point you'll want to try...
Adding Fruit Late
You just racked at around 6 months and you want to add some fruit at this point. The fruit you add at this stage will still ferment, but have a fresher, brighter character. Here you'll be adding fruit 1.5 - 2 months before you plan on bottling. Note: If you go this route, you'll want to ensure a stable final gravity before adding the fruit so you can rest easy at bottling time.
You should aim to be adding around 2-3 pounds of fruit per gallon. Your mead will be very dry (despite the acidity adding a perceived sweetness), so you don't need to add that typical 3-5 pounds per gallon for big fruit notes. You'll also get a hit of color, and the fruit will ferment out again, but have a fresher sweeter quality to it.
If you want your fruit to be entirely for backsweetening (biggest fruit character), you can pasteurize your batch to kill the bugs and yeast to prevent any extra fermentation in the bottles. To do this, you need to heat your batch to between 165 and 170 (alcohol will start to evaporate at 173, so don't go over that) and hold it there for 15 minutes. You'll cook off some aromatics, but there will be plenty leftover. You'll also create a pectin haze which can be left (traditional lambics have some cloudiness anyways), or it can be
corrected with pectic enzyme. To be extra sure about any continued fermentation in bottles, you should bottle these meads in capped beer bottles, as they will hold carbonation and further reduce the risk of bottle bombs.
Some other things to look for
When you add fruit, you may end up breaking the pellicle. While you shouldn't aim to do this all the time, breaking it just to add fruit or to take the occasional gravity sample is OK, as a new one will form. Since fruit is fermenting and your batch is releasing CO2, you may notice the pellicle not come back for right away (as pellicles are a direct response to oxygen). Another thing is that the fruit can degrade pretty heavily while floating on the surface and sometimes growths that look like mold may appear. This isn't a cause for alarm unless they are legitimately dark and fuzzy. Everything else is usually just a bit of pellicle. The alcohol in your batch will soak up into the fruit, so even fruit exposed to the surface is protected by the alcohol inside.

If you're very unlucky, you'll get some kind of mold growth. In that case rack beneath the mold into a new, sanitized container, leaving the mold behind. I've only had one batch grow some mold (due to a long lag phase in the beginning), and racking it saved the batch from being dumped.
Adding fruit to both lambic and regular meads greatly increases your options for variety and experimentation. Some fruits that are common in sour making are:
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Blackberries
  • Apples
But don't limit yourself to those! There are dozens of different fruits you can use, so get out there and make more sour meads, and don't forget to be patient and have fun.
Another thing I'd point out is that in order to mitigate unwanted growths on the fruit, you could practice "punch downs". Essentially you submerge the fruit below the water line (or I guess beer/mead/wine line) and the alcohol helps keep it safe. Just make sure your beverage is kept around 60 degrees to prevent aceto-bacter from jumping in. Jester King discusses this technique in further detail in their blog; for the curious brewer.
@Electrolight The alcohol keeps surface fruit safe by osmosis. Similar to a tequila worm (although it is submerged), the worm absorbs the boos. I've only gotten bad things growing in my meads when fermentation didn't start after a long period of time. A lot of times when I punch the cap I'm trying to let CO2 from active fermentation out.
I'm sure however that with enough fruit in a given space that the alcohol may not reach it in time for some other infection, so punch at your leisure if you will.
Thanks for your info and reading!
Your article says 'You just racked at 6 months' for both 'Adding Fruit Early' and 'Adding Fruit Late' sections. I assume the early additions would maybe around 6 weeks? Or even during primary? Would love to hear you elaborate on the timings...
Thanks for the great articles!
This is one of the best articles on sours, (meads & applicable ales), that we've seen in a long time. Well done!
@LexusChris - Hey LexusChris, Yeah that's a typo I noticed shortly after it being published *face palm*, to clear some confusion up.
Adding fruit that early (primary) - You're really just going to get color out of it, as those sugars will have fermented through and through (and aromas would get blown out the airlock from active fermentation) by the time you are bottling.
If you do end up adding during primary fermentation I would recommend following electrolight's advice of punching the cap.
So, "early" is 6 months because that's the earliest I think you can add it and still get some level of fruitiness.
Late additions SHOULD say around 10 months.
@CSI Thanks! And thank you everyone who has shared, tweeted, or just enjoyed the articles
What sort of vessel are you using when you are adding fruit: a bucket, or another glass carboy? 2-3 lbs of fruit plus ~1 gallon of mead likely wouldn't fit in a 1 gallon glass jug
@mneilson Your mead won't have a very active ferment so your mead can go right to the top of the carboy. I typically use plastic or glass carboys for all my sours.