In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers questions about using honey instead of priming sugar, filtering to stabilize mead, gives a recipe for a simple one gallon batch, and more!
In the last few weeks since we published all of our recipes online, we have gotten one question over and over again: Why are your fermentation temperatures so high?
This question has come in many forms:
Some people think it's a typo or that we can't convert from fahrenheit to centigrade.
Other people think that it's something magical about being a commercial brewer.
Still others (especially those who live in areas where they can't get our mead) assume that we're sacrificing quality for turn-around time.
The truth is that over the years we have been systematically increasing our fermentation temperatures because it has been making better and better mead. The science behind it is a little complicated, but we'd better start off with a simple question: What is an off flavor?
It seems simple, right? An off flavor is a flavor in your beverage that you don't want there.
Is a heavy phenolic component a good thing in a beer? Well, if it's the right type of phenol for the style, absolutely. Phenols are what give Hefeweizens their distinctive banana and clove characteristics.
Phenols are also responsible for band-aid-like and medicinal characteristics. These you do not want.
What about grassy aromas? Lemon? Douglas Fir? Moss? All appropriate for IPAs.
Caprylic (goat-like) smells? Yes, there are even a few saisons where these are appropriate.
Making Craft Mead means taking a step back and asking yourself without any preconceived notions: What am I trying to make here? The answer can be very simple and straightforward: I'm trying to brew a beverage that my friends enjoy drinking.
Early on, we followed the general rules for brewing: Low and Slow makes clean meads. We fermented at around 68°F, and we got a beverage that was, well, flavorless.
If you're brewing a hydromel (5% abv mead) with no adjuncts or other flavors and you're fermenting at the low-end of your yeast's tolerance, you are going to get something that a) takes forever to brew, b) tastes like slightly honey-flavored seltzer, and c) quite likely has a huge sulfur component.
Yes, you read that right. A slow fermentation may not be vigorous enough to purge the off-flavors from your mead. You can end up with residual hydrogen sulfide from a languid fermentation.
What about the off-flavors from fermenting so hot? First of all, 82°F is NOT that hot. It's only a tiny bit above the Lalvin recommended range. (We'll get to Psychopomp and Old Wayfarer in a minute.) Second, what do you mean by off flavors?
Many of the cool flavors from wildflower honey are similar to the aldehydes and phenols produced by D-47 and similar strains of yeast fermenting slightly above their traditional range. We specifically select our yeast strains in-house such that they will complement the honeys we use, not strip them of flavors or fight with them.
It should also be noted that many off-flavors are, in fact, secondary metabolites, which you can learn about in an article here, and they require certain compounds (primary constituents) to form which simply are not present in honey. Grain has lots and lots of different chemicals for yeast to play with, as does fruit, but honey is mostly sugar. This means that there are fewer potential off-flavors from hot fermentations. This leads us to Psychopomp and Old Wayfarer...
Since we're shooting for a robust, phenolic profile in both of these fine meads, we have to push the envelope when it comes to fermentation temperatures just to get secondary metabolites at all. Yes, we do get some "eggy" aromas during fermentation (we constantly apologize to our neighbors), but these are easily dealt with through CO2 purging and degassing. This is why the recipes specifically require this step before kegging or bottling.
Also, little known fact, these flavors and aromas age-out. This is what we do with Mannaz: a very long aging process (which is why it's not included in our craft mead recipes, although it is, technically, a craft mead).
Furthermore, unhealthy fermentations can happen anywhere on the thermometer. Pitching a sufficient amount of yeast and using adequate nutrient can be even more important than proper fermentation temperatures. You can learn about brewing when it's cold in one of our earliest articles.
Now, remember, we have the ability to temperature control our bataches. There is a possibility that if you try to ferment as high as we do without the ability to bring the temperature down, the metabolic activity of the yeast will keep pushing the temperature higher and higher and either kill itself or make the mead taste a little... gamey. This, however, is true of everything you've ever fermented, not just mead.
So, there you have it. Without getting too deep into the science (which is incompletely understood anyway), that is why we ferment at slightly higher temperatures than you might be used to. Stop freaking out and go try it for yourselves.You know the worst thing that can happen? You have five gallons of a mead that you have to wait a while to drink.
Every once in a while, there is an individual who stands out above the the thousands of people who help build and shape a company. It is especially notable when those people shine from dark corners. They are not brewers or builders or financiers. They are the unexpected artists who change a life.
For our company, one of those people is the late John Hurt.
While it may seem strange for a meadery to eulogize a British actor best known for having an alien burst through his chest, our earliest experience of the work of Sir Hurt comes from a vastly different genre: Jim Henson's The Storyteller.
The Storyteller was most delightful show that mixed myth and legend, fact and fiction, puppets and live action, all to the hypnotic tones of John Hurt. The stories are beautiful, and it is likely that nothing like them will ever be made again.
Here is a true story about The Storyteller.
Long ago, when the world was not quite so ancient, there lived a little boy who would grow up to be Ricky the Meadmaker. When Ricky was very, very little he was afraid of many things. He was afraid of the dark. He was afraid of loud noises. He was afraid of owls.
Most of all, he was afraid of being afraid.
Then, one day, Ricky watched a scary show about a Hedgehog named Hans. He was so taken by the voice of the narrator that he forgot that he was scared. Ricky got all the way to the end of the show and learned that there was a happy ending.
Then Ricky learned about a boy named Fearnot who was born without the ability to fear and had to learn this very gift that came so naturally to Ricky.
One by one Ricky watched every episode of the The Storyteller. Then he watched them all again.
When Ricky was a little older he started going to schools around the world to teach storytelling to little ones who might not know how to face their own fears. Sometimes, finding a story helps us tell our own.
Storytelling became Ricky's great passion so he traveled to Denmark and Sweden and Iceland to learn the great Sagas and know the lands that inspired them. Ricky traveled to India to learn the great epics. On every continent he visited, Ricky studied storytelling and tried to teach what little he knew.
Years went by and Ricky decided that it was time to tell his big story. This story was so big that he couldn't tell it by himself. It took Kelly the boss to get it started, then Lillian to become a hero. It took customers to both populate and appreciate the narrative. For in fact, customers are not our supernumeraries, nor are they merely our audience; they are the very lifeblood of our story.
So you see, Sir John Hurt started a story that he never even knew about. Without him, there would be no Groennfell Meadery. There would be no Colchester's Mead Hall. There wouldn't even be Ricky the Meadmaker... not really.
So, thank you to all of you for being part of our story, and a special thank you to Sir John Hurt; you were an incredible man and you will be missed.
In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers questions about a yeasty taste in mead, the differences between Wyeast nutrient and Fermaid, what he would have done differently if he knew then what he knows now, and more!
Groennfell Meadery is Vermont’s premier craft meadery. Inspired by Old Norse legends, brewed with extraordinary ingredients, Groennfell’s meads are unlike anything you’ve had before. Crisp, clean, and astoundingly drinkable, the only way to explain any one of Groennfell’s meads is to try one yourself.