Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Honey Apple Wine

Terminology in the realm of homebrew fruit wines starts to get real complicated real quick. My most recent project is a perfect example of this. Fermented apple cider is typically called cider, though if you get the alcohol content high enough and you don’t carbonate it, the result is probably more accurate to call apple wine. Honey wine is, of course, mead. If you mix apple cider with honey and ferment it, the result is typically called cyser, though the more general term for a fruit-flavored mead is melomel.

The word “cyser” seems to me like a play on the word “cider”. So if I were making something like a cider, but used honey instead of ordinary sugar I would certainly call it a cyser. However, I pushed the starting gravity all the way up to 1.100, which is going to yield something closer to wine strength (and hopefully with plenty of residual sweetness). Since the end result I’m aiming for is not  “cider-like”, it seems funny to me to call it a “cyser”.

The name “Apple Melomel” seems like it might be a good choice, but I feel like that obscures the situation: Apple is the star of the show, highlighted with the flavor of honey. This is basically the same thing as my Caramel Apple Wine, if we replace the caramel syrup with honey instead. So, following that pattern, I’m going to call this one “Honey Apple Wine”.

Honey Apple Wine

  • Apple Cider
  • Honey [1]
  • Yeast [2]
  • Pectic Enzyme [3]
  • Yeast Nutrient

Add honey to the apple cider to bring the starting gravity to 1.100 [4]. Bring to a boil in a large pot to sterilize. Skim off foam, which can contain leftover wax and other waste products. Mix in pectic enzyme. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour).

Pitch yeast as instructed and add yeast nutrient. Move the mixture to the primary container, attach air lock. Rack to secondary when fermentation has stopped or slowed significantly.

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On the left of this picture is my Caramel Apple Wine, which is a much darker, redder color and is slowly starting to clarify.

Notes

  1. I used a local clover honey.
  2. I went to the brew store looking for White Labs WLP-775 “English Cider” yeast. That was out of stock, so I picked up a packet of “Cider House Select” yeast, which seems specialized for cider but for which I can’t find any information online.
  3. This is the first batch I’ve made with pectic enzyme. I didn’t see any obvious change at pitch, but I’m expecting some improvements later to clarity.
  4. I added 2 cups of honey to the cider, boiled it, cooled it, and took a gravity reading. The intention was to use white sugar to bump up to 1.100. However, when I took the reading I was at 1.100 almost exactly, so I left it as is. It was a happy accident, but I wasn’t expecting the SG to go so high on only 2 cups of honey.


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Simple Mead 2: Bottled

I bottled my Simple Mead 2. Here’s a review.

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Timeline

  • Pitched: 23 February 2014
  • Fed: 27 February 2014
  • Secondary: 19 March 2014
  • Bottled: 9 October 2014

Notes

You’ll notice that the process for this one was much simpler than for my first mead. The first one was racked twice, stabilized and back-sweetened before bottling. This one had a much simpler recipe and was handled much less.

I tried to degas the jug with the handle of a silicone spatula. It wasn’t an ideal tool for the job, but I think the job got done anyway. Note to self: I need to buy a proper long-handled home brew spoon, if not a specialized degas tool.

Final Tasting Results

Compared to the first batch, this one is pretty darn good. This mead finished sweet, sweeter perhaps than I expected. Where the first batch had lots of off-flavors including oxidation and vinegar notes, this one is much smoother and cleaner.

This is the batch of wine I’ve really been waiting for. It’s proof that I can make things that I like to drink, and it’s encouragement that I can do even better in the future. I’m looking forward to trying out some of my other waiting wines, and I’m really looking forward to testing this one again after it’s aged for a few more months or even a year.

Disaster

I degassed the wine, didn’t back-sweeten and thought that it was pretty much dead. There were no more bubbles to be had, and no new sugar for yeast to eat. However, a few days after putting the corks in, one of my bottles shattered.

SHATTERED.

Glass and delicious honey wine everywhere. Probably about half my batch, months of work, wasted. Lame.

While I don’t know the cause for certain, I suspect it was a buildup of gas from live yeast doing yeast things. I didn’t stabilize this batch like I should have and, not wanting to pour it all out of the bottles and figure out stabilization ratios, I decided to take a different route. I took the corks out of the remaining two bottles, covered with aluminum foil, and pasteurized in a pot of water. 170+ degrees for about 20 minutes (there are other temperatures and times you can use, look it up). When the bottles cooled down, I took the foil off and put new corks in. I’m hoping that the bottles do better after this. Next time, I’ll definitely stabilize properly.


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Simple Mead 1: Bottled

My first batch of Simple Mead 1 has been bottled. Here’s an overview:

Timeline

  • 26 January 2014: Pitched
  • 14 February 2014: Racked to secondary
  • 19 March 2014: Racked to tertiary
  • 27 July 2014: Stabilized
  • 16 August 2014: Bottled

Stabilization and Back-Sweetening

To stabilize I followed directions and used 1 Campden Tablet and 0.5 Tsp Potassium Sorbate. I decided to let it sit for a while longer before back-Sweetening and bottling.

As an experiment, I only decided to back-Sweeten half of it. I put up two bottles with the wine as it was. Then I added about 1/8th cup of honey dissolved in a little bit of distilled water. I heated this mixture on the stove and then let it cool. When it was cool, I funneled it into the jug and filled the other bottles.

All told, there were 4 full bottles which were corked and a fifth mostly-filled bottle which I put on a tasting cork and stuffed it into the fridge. I expect to be drinking more of that in the coming days.

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Final Results

The good: It has a good amber color reminiscent of the honey that was used to make it. The mead has a strong and pleasant honey flavor and aroma. It tastes better refrigerated than it does at room temperature.

The bad: There are many off-flavors in the final result. There is still some rawness and hotness to the flavor despite the many months spent aging. That’s not even the worst problem. There are off-flavors. The mead got too much air and tastes oxidized and bitter. There are more than a few vinegar notes. Luckily, after this batch I got a lot better about sanitation and being careful when racking back and forth between different jugs.

In the end this was a good experimental batch, and I learned much about technique including stabilization, back-sweetening and bottling. My second batch of mead is going to be much better than this one, so I’ll be able to put those lessons to good use.


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Cherry Melomel Review

My two batches of Cherry Melomel are ready for review, so I cracked open the jugs and gave them a big test.

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Cherry Melomel 1

My first batch of cherry melomel is the much darker of the two. It has a rich, ruby color. The cherry flavor is present mostly in the aftertaste but is quite recognizable. The texture is a little watery and it doesn’t have a huge amount of body. However, what it does have is alcohol and quite a lot of it. This melomel is strong. It is smooth, doesn’t have hardly any off-flavor, and is much more palatable when chilled.

Cherry Melomel 2

The second batch of cherry melomel (I originally called it “Cherry Cyser“) is very light, like a blushed hard cider. It has even less cherry flavor, which is hardly discernible. It almost tastes more like apples, which makes sense considering the ingredient list. The final combination isn’t unpleasant, it just isn’t very strong. It has a little bit more body than the first but also comes across as quite watery. It is also quite strong, has no off flavor, is very smooth, and is better when chilled.

I’m not quite sure what to do about the lack of body in these two. Some tannin, acid blend or other additives probably hold the key, though I don’t have a clear idea about where to start experimenting. I have the strong opinion in mind that these two would do better with some sparkle. One day when I have some bottles and the right equipment, I would definitely try carbonating something like this.

I also suspect that I could get better, more clear cherry flavor if I added the cherries (or their juice) to secondary instead of in primary. I also want to try experimenting with some tart cherries, to try and get more acid into the final product.

 


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Simple Mead 2

My first Simple Mead isn’t done yet, so I’m not sure how it’s going to ultimately turn out. That’s enough of a success story for me, so I went ahead and started another batch of a simple mead. This time, I used some different yeast and some different techniques, to contrast with my first effort.

I was thinking about doing something more complicated, like a bochet (caramelized honey mead) or some kind of melomel (mead with fruit/juice), but it occurs to me that I still don’t have a good baseline understanding of mead making. Since I’m not versed in the basics, I can’t attempt an improvement or complication on the recipe with any confidence. What I need to do is stick with the basics, for now.

Simple Mead 2

  • 1 Quart Honey [1]
  • Water [2]
  • Yeast nutrient
  • Yeast [3]

Sterilize your fermenter and all equipment. Add the honey to your fermenter [4]. Add water to bring the total volume up to around 1 and a quarter gallons of must [5]. Put on the lid and shake vigorously to aerate. Add your yeast and yeast nutrient to the must. Cover the fermenter and attach the airlock.

Let sit, in a warm room for 3 weeks or until primary fermentation is complete [6]. Rack to a secondary fermentation to age until its ready to drink.

First Rack

When primary was complete, I racked to secondary stealing a sip along the way. The mead is definitely young, though noticeably smoother and less harsh than the first batch.

Because my first racking of the prior batch was so sloppy, I needed to rack again to tertiary. I tasted it again along the way, but even after two months my Simple Mead 1 is harsher, less floral and has a little less honey character than this second batch is on the way into secondary. I suspect that the “Sweet Mead” yeast just produces a result that is smoother out of primary.  I may stick with that (or, at least, steer clear of the Champagne yeast) for the next few batches.

Here is a picture of the two batches, Simple Mead 1 on the left and Simple Mead 2 on the right.

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Notes

  1. I used a combination of left-over “Local Honey” from my first batch and some crystallized clover honey from the back of my closet. The honey and a little bit of water used to loosen it up, came out to just over a quart by volume. I didn’t weigh the honey and don’t have a hydrometer, so I can’t tell you exactly what the sugar content or starting gravity is.
  2. I used bottled spring water.
  3. The yeast I used this time was WLP-720 “Sweet Mead” from White Labs. I didn’t realize at the time, but the vial I bought was after it’s sell-by date. I made a small starter with water, honey and a dash of nutrient, and allowed to sit out, covered, overnight. By the next morning the starter was bubbling and active, so it was ready to use. This yeast has an attenuation of 75% or more, so I am expecting the finished product to be quite sweet.
  4. I heated the honey up in a double-boiler arrangement to get it loose enough to pour. Some recipes require the honey to be boiled, but I’ve been advised not to heat the honey hotter than 165°F for risk of losing quality.
  5. I wanted a little bit extra, because I lose a bit on every racking. When it gets into secondary, I’m sure I’ll have much closer to 1 gallon.
  6. It took well over 3 weeks for this batch to finish primary, and even then I’m not convinced that it was 100% complete, but I had a limited window of time to rack it, so that’s when it happened. I suspect the Sweet Mead yeast is just a little bit less vigorous than the Champagne yeast and other yeasts I’ve used for other things.


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Simple Mead 1

With few exceptions, I generally don’t like wine. I’m working to develop more of a taste for it, but in general I find most wines to be absolutely, unforgivably, boring. Yes, I recognize that different varieties of grapes, grown in different places and on different years can produce different wines (with subtle complexity, no less!). Yes, I recognize that many other details may be changed, such as how and for how long the wine is aged, can also change the character of the wine. But the reality is that all these wines are all made from simple grapes, often single-variety, single-farm, single-season. Wine blends might seem like the solution, but most blends are extremely conservative: Two varieties of closely-related red grapes, from a single farm in a single year. Capital B boring.

Grape wine has been done to death. It’s like digging a hole that is very deep, but not very wide. Yes, we’ve found some interesting things down this hole, but there are plenty of other places worth digging but so few people are doing it.

Some of the favorite wines I’ve ever had were rare and different. I had a cherry wine that I really liked. I’ve tasted some spiced wines, including one spiced apple wine that I still remember fondly. These kinds of things, while rare, I always find to be fun and interesting. If I want more exciting new things, I need to make them myself.

Why Mead?

The short answer: I like honey, a lot.

The longer answer: I really like honey, and oranges are in season but I’ve been having trouble finding oranges at a decent price and of a quality I would use for wine. I’ve had some commercial meads before, but I found them to be lousy: A winery offering a single bottom-shelf type of mead to make it look like they are more diverse than they actually are (“yes we have mead, but have you seen our 200 varieties of grape wine up here?“). I had always sort of suspected that I might really like mead, if I could find something that cost more than 12$ per bottle because somebody put effort into it.

I had a conversation with a friend who has been making mead for a long time, and here is what she has to say:

One of the cool things about mead is that you soon find yourself making things that cannot be purchased at any price.

Also, if you consider brewing to be an investment, the “return” in terms of comparable market value for a commercial product is better for mead than any other type of home brewing.

10 years ago, you almost wouldn’t have been able to find any mead on the market, and what you found was probably of dubious quality. Mead is a bit more common today, but if you want a really good mead you’re going to be paying top dollar. Recently mead has been more in vogue and meaderies seem to be popping up here and there. It’s still hard to find a decent selection (especially in good-ole’ PA). Again, it seems that if I want something, I need to make it myself.

I’ve sampled a few recipes from around the internet, done a little bit of research, and put together a recipe for my first batch of simple mead. First I’ll talk about some equipment, then I’ll talk about the mead.

Equipment

As mentioned in my posts about Cherry Melomel, I have some equipment already: airlocks, a syphon, sanitizer, and a bottle of yeast nutrient. To get started on mead, I went out and picked up some glass 1-gallon jugs.

1 gallon glass jugs are reasonably cheap but because they are big, fragile and relatively heavy shipping costs can be prohibitive if you want to buy them on the internet. Shipping on a jug or a box of them can more than double your price! Larger 5- and 6.5-gallon carboys are likewise even heavier and more expensive to ship.

Many people I’ve seen on the internet will put tape on the jug, or tape paper to it to write on details of the recipe: What it is, when it was started, what was the starting gravity, etc. Having lots of time on my hands because of the snow, I decided to do something a little bit more involved. We ran down to the local craft store and picked up a bottle of Glass Etching Cream. This is an extremely nasty chemical that is one of the few things crazy enough to dissolve glass. Scientists use glass to store acids, flesh-eating bacteria and rocket fuel. No matter. Glass etching cream eats right through it. To etch glass, you spread the cream on the surface and wash it off a few seconds later.

On each of the four jugs I etched measurement lines at quart intervals and a unique symbol which I can use to identify the jug: A square, a triangle, a trapezoid and a nabla. Now, when all the jugs are filled with nondescript brownish liquid, I can look at the etched shape, compare to my notes, and figure out exactly what is inside.

I also picked up a 2-gallon food grade fermenting bucket, to serve as my primary fermenter, especially for brews where I have chunks of fruit to be included.

Now let’s talk about the Mead.

Simple Mead 1

  1. 1 Quart Honey (approx 3lbs) [1]
  2. 3 Quarts water (enough, when combined with the honey, to make 1 gallon total)
  3. 2 Medium oranges
  4. 1 Handful of raisins [2]
  5. Yeast [3]
  6. Yeast nutrient [4]

Sanitize all your equipment beforehand. Peel and roughly slice the oranges [5]. Add the orange slices, raisins, honey, water and yeast nutrient to the primary. Put on the lid and shake vigorously to mix and aerate. Pitch in your yeast, seal the container [6], add the airlock and set aside until primary fermentation is complete. I ended up waiting about 3 weeks, part of which we lost power (and the house got cold). When primary is complete, rack the mead to a new, sterile container for secondary fermentation and conditioning.

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I tasted the mead during the first racking. It’s good but a little sweeter than I expected. There were some off-flavors and a bit of alcohol “hotness”, which I expect to go away with a few months of aging. My racking wasn’t very clean, so I ended up with a bit of extra sediment that I will need to rack out, probably within the next month or so.

I’ll post updates along the way when I perform additional racks, bottle and finally drink this mead.

Notes

  1. I found a 5lb jug of “Local Honey” at a local farm market. That’s all it says on the jar, “Local Honey”. I don’t know what kinds of flowers it’s from, but it has an aroma reminiscent of alfalfa or buckwheat (it doesn’t have the dark color of buckwheat honey, however). Depending on the exact consistency of the honey, 1 pound is about one and a third cups. So three pounds of honey is about four cups (1 quart). On the internet, I’ve seen people do anything from one quart of honey per gallon (1:3) or one gallon of honey per 5-gallon carboy (1:4). For my purposes, I’m going to stick with about a 1:3 ratio until I get a hydrometer (or a scale) and can be a little bit more precise.
  2. Many recipes use raisins as a source of nutrients for the yeast, because honey doesn’t really have enough of the potassium or nitrogen to help keep the yeast healthy. I used raisins and a half-dose of chemical nutrient initially, and added another quarter dose of chemical nutrient about a week into the fermentation.
  3. I used the same Champagne yeast that I used for my Cherry Melomel and Cherry Cyser. It should be more than capable of fermenting to dryness. I’ve heard tell that this might not be a great choice, so in the future I’ll try different types.
  4. I’m looking at a staggered feeding schedule to keep the yeast healthier throughout the fermentation, produce fewer off-flavors, and hopefully produce a mead which doesn’t require so much aging to be drinkable. I added a half-dose of nutrient at the start, will add some about halfway through the fermentation, and will play things by ear after that.
  5. Many recipes I’ve seen involve slicing a single orange, peel and all, and throwing it into the fermenter. My oranges really were looking a little creepy on the outside, so I decided to cut off the peel, and just use the sliced innards of two oranges instead. The outer zest is where most of the flavor is, but the pulp and juice will add some much-needed nutrients and acid to (hopefully) keep the mead balanced. This isn’t intended to be an in-your-face Orange melomel, but the oranges will doubtlessly contribute to the flavor (and I don’t think an Orange Melomel would be bad, if that’s what it turned into).
  6. Yeast need oxygen to reproduce, and then then oxygen needs to be kept out to promote the anaerobic conversion of sugar to alcohol. My fermentation got off to a sluggish start, so I kept the bucket with the lid off (covered by a clean towel) for a few hours until the yeast became more active and the mixture built up a nice froth. After that, I put on the lid and airlock, and it’s been bubbling like a champ.


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Both Cherry Melomel and Cherry Cyser have finished primary fermentation, sat for about a month, and been racked. Here’s a quick update.

Cherry Melomel

The Cherry Melomel has a great cherry flavor, notes of honey, and lots of residual sweetness. I liken it to a cherry-flavored Moscato, with plenty of sweetness. It has a very dark color which makes it opaque in the jug, but in the cup it’s has a clear color more like a dark red wine.  There is quite a bit of harshness to the flavor, so it’s going to sit for a few months.  I’ll probably see if it needs to be racked again in April, and plan to be drinking it by mid-summer.

Cherry Cyser

I racked the Cherry Cyser today, although I was a bit sloppy and stirred up a bit of sediment. It has very strong aromas of both cherry and the honey, and there are definite notes of both cherry and apple in the taste. Like the Cherry Melomel it has some serious harshness to it so it’s going to need a few months to mellow out. I’ll probably rack it again by the end of February to try and get some more sediment out, see if it needs another rack around May and plan to drink it towards the end of summer.