We're calling a Snow Day tomorrow (March 15th, 2017) because there's a big storm on the way, and we don't want our beloved meadiacs or staff risking their necks for Nordic Pulled Pork.
If you're stuck at home, you might be wondering what you should do with all this free time. What else? Brew Mead!
It's been a while since we reminded you that mead is insanely simple to make at home. If you've got some honey in your pantry, running water, and yeast of any sort (yes, any sort) today would be a great day to make a mead.
If it's your first time, we recommended reading these articles:
Your First Batch of Mead
How We Brew Everything We Brew
All of Our Secrets
Our Recipe Page
An Argument for Homebrewing Big
And if you're worried that it's too cold to brew today, well, good news! We actually have an article called Too Cold to Brew? No Way!
So, stay safe, stay warm, and happy brewing!
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.
Starting next week, all of our recipes are going to be available in one place on our site so you can try your hand at making all of our meads at home.
No more bugging Ricky the Meadmaker to e-mail you his formulae!
That said, rather than having all of the steps for each batch of mead, we're going to focus on making sure you know the ingredients, the ratios, and a few specific pointers for each brew.
Generally speaking, all of our meads are brewed in a very similar fashion. So, we thought we'd give you our techniques all in one place before inundating you with recipes.
Big Disclaimer: These are our practices, we are not claiming that they are necessarily the best practices.
With that out of the way, here are all of our general principles in one place:
We know that's an awful lot, but we'll have reminders in each recipe. We hope this is helpful!
Head over here for our recipes!
Groennfell Meadery and Havoc Mead are proud to be open-source companies. That means that all of our recipes are available to anyone who asks.
So, where the heck are they?
Lots of people write to us to ask where we post our recipes online, and the answer is that, for the most part, we don't.
There are three reasons for this:
1. Many of our recipes are simple to the point that your ability to replicate our honey source would be the most important detail, and that's not something we can really advise you on.
2. Most of what makes our mead special is the techniques we use, and not the ingredients.
3. Sometimes, our recipes change, and we don't want old versions floating out there in the ether.
To us, this last reason is the most important.
Take for example our Winter Warmer. Up until this year, we made a tea of some of our spices, added it, then aged the mead on cinnamon sticks. This year, we changed it up by playing around with the ratios of the spices and doing a longer aging period with no tea at a colder temperature.
It turns out that the staff likes this version better, but since we're not the people who buy it, we're going to wait to see what our Meadiacs have to say. If the consensus is that this is an improvement, then everyone who asks for the recipe this year will get a slightly different version from the one we've sent out in the past. (And, incidentally, gave to BYO magazine.)
This means that our homebrewing fans get not only the best recipe for replicating what we make, but also you'll have the most up-to-date recipes and techniques as we learn more about brewing.
This is definitely a more time-consuming way to do go about being an open-source company, but we think it helps keep us honest and innovative. We hope that you appreciate it as well!
So please contact us to request recipe info!
In which Ricky the Meadmaker is rather star-struck.
Learn more about Basic Brewing!
Did you know that you can actually get a certification that says that you are certifiably certified to judge mead? That there are people out there with a list of questions and a stopwatch who will affirm your ability to adequately drink and talk about meads of all ilk? That you could literally be a card carrying Mead Judge?
Well there is, there are, and you can.
Realizing that mead was often a category in homebrew competitions, but there was no standing system by which one could establish the perspicacity of self-proclaimed mead experts, a group of (probably besotted) individuals decided to do something about it.
Starting in 2008, the Beer Judge Certification Program (better known as the BJCP) piloted the first national Mead Judge Certification. The idea was to confirm the quality of the individuals who were tasting mead and giving homebrewers feedback. This is a noble goal indeed.
There are two standing problems, however.
The first, fully acknowledged in the Mead Exam Study guide is that “Unfortunately, there are much fewer (sic) books on mead than on beer, and the books on mead tend to be dated and offer unfortunate advice.” In other words, there isn’t all that much to learn or test for.
The second problem is that almost every mead produced by Groennfell Meadery would do abysmally in a competition judged by the BJCP.
It appears that our fine treatise “Craft Mead: A Possibly Contentious Article” has gone unobserved by the staff of the BJCP, as their brief intro to mead contains numerous statements which appear to confuse “honey wine,” a specific type of honey beverage, and Mead, the larger class which also contains craft mead.
Consider their appearance requirements, “Crystal clear, reflective examples with a bright, distinct meniscus are highly desirable.” Our meads are always unfiltered and intentionally cloudy in many cases.
Or the fact that they confuse body, mouthfeel, and sweetness: “…dry meads can still have some body. Dry meads do not have to be bone dry.”
Or the offensively judgmental and confusing statements: “Well-made examples will often have an elegant wine-like character.”
And, let’s not forget to stand up for our friends at Havoc Mead whose most popular draft mead is Bitter Bee when they say, “IBUs: not relevant for anything but braggot, but bittering hops are optional even in this style.”
So, while we certainly consider the acknowledgment of mead in homebrewing competitions an excellent step forward, we’re afraid that many of the best meads would get poor reviews and bad advice from judges who mistake mead, a very large class, for the smaller subcategory of honey wines.
We are not here to bash the BJCP, we think what they’re doing is awesome! We just want to make sure that our homebrewing meadiacs aren’t having their excellent beverages trodden upon unnecessarily.
What matters is that you enjoy what you're brewing and, ideally, that your friends enjoy it too.
To learn more about the Mead Judge Certification Program and to see whether it might be something you’re interested in, please visit the BJCP Mead Page by clicking here.
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.