I put together a batch of Mead, somewhat on a curious whim because I had no idea what to expect, and there was a sale on honey at Costco! (funny the reasons you choose to do something).
Knowing little about mead aside from what is written in the Wikipedia article about it or in a great book I got as a present: Making Wines Liqueurs and Cordials and a great article in the archives of Wine Maker Magazine on Mead.
I ended up using a recipe from a website called Storm the Castle which has a lot of information on the mead making process and many recipes that you can try out with notes on which ones would be easier. The main website is about making things that relate to a video game that I have not played, so I can’t comment on that, but the mead recipes and info are descent and were the first hits when I searched mead recipes online. So again, an odd journey which got me to the recipe for Orange Clove Mead on the recipe page: link. It was noted that this recipe would be good for a first time attempt.
I made three gallons because somewhere I read that this is a better test size than one gallon though I don’t remember where that was….
Well this was back in Jan of 2013, I diligently monitored the primary fermentation, racked it into secondary fermentation and then I completely forgot about it. Which seems to be a good thing for fermentations of wine and all things not beer.
Then in my classic style I left everything to almost the last minute. My wine guild had a competition in March and I hadn’t adequately planned my entries. We get three for free per year with our membership and I had two decent kit wines that I had put together in 2012 so it seemed that the mead needed to get entered.
I emailed out a mass email to Rob’s and now also my Beer Brewing List Serve / Group and asked for advice for someone like me who had left things late.
My concerns, the mead was a bit sweet, but not overly so, I didn’t know if I wanted to carbonate or further flavor as all the flavors seemed soft and not as strong as I would have expected. The recipe calls for cloves, cinnamon and star anise as well as orange slices. It was also a bit bitter on the finish, which I suspect is because I used the whole orange slice, not just the zest and the juice like many things I have read since recommend.
One of the most knowledgeable and concise person I have met emailed back with the simple suggestion that I force carbonate it in a keg (which is an options for us) as it would be the easiest and would be good with little time left to go.
This is what I did, and after that, got some feedback from a wine maker on bubble structure not being as good in the keg, not to mention that forced CO2 is cheating! AK! Too late now.
We almost didn’t get it bottled because of some work travel. Then Rob graciously bottled it for me but we saw the morning that I had to drop it off that the bottle had some sediment in it (nooooo!) A rushed 8 am re-bottle, a little domestic stress and we were set.
The poured glass from the keg looked good (pictured at the top of the post).
As for taste… I was still nervous. And I had no idea what to bench mark against. Three are a few great mead makers around, but I have not yet got to sample their works.
The wine competition (entered into the sparkling category) it got 75 / 100.
You can squint at my eval sheet shown above. The main points.
75 is considered a bronze medal in the competition (yes). Is only rated as a passable wine to drink and may have some minor faults (nooo!).
Noted faults were carbonation was light – likely due to my rushed forced carbonation and possibly a bad capping as we were rushing.
Other notes were that it was one dimensional and overly sweet.
Hmm… well considering my goals in the competition last year were to not blind anyone with what I made… I am still calling it a personal success. And I would like to point out other new members in the club that got Gold have been making wine and generally fermenting for years – which I call cheating!
Seeking other opinions I brought a bottle to a long time friend and surrogate brother that lives quite far away and told him to try it because he is known to try to make mead.
His review -directly quoted: Absolutely Fantastic – Just the right sweetness, and lots of (I’m out of my culinary descriptor depth here… ) depth. Perhaps he meant a certain Je ne sais quoi?
Professionally trained wine maker friend indicated the bubbles were wrong, like she said, but was too nice to say I told you so, but that she loved the flavour profile nice and light.
General beer club opinion was that it was great. Nice flavor, good sweetness.
Verdict. I am glad I made it. I will likely make another mead. A suggestion put forward was a more savory mead. Perhaps with Pepper? Interesting. I will also eventually bottle a few of this batch and lay them down for another year to see what happens as the flavors do significantly change over time. The various opinions I got certainly differed and likely the wine making competition was not the best venue for mead evaluation because it is not strictly wine as many wine snobs define it. I like to make unique things though so if nothing else this was neat. I would like to try this again with a better quality honey as well and I know there is a certain individual with an apiary in our beer club that might be getting an email!
I have had a few people ask for notes, so consider this post the notes I have.
Looking back in my book the only specific notes I have are:
Made it with the Wine Maker Starter Kit I bought online at impulse that started all this in 2012.
Had to get the 3 gallon carboy for the test batches.
When racked to secondary (after two weeks or approximately when the orange slices sink to the bottom) was still very cloudy.
Was actively bubbling away in the basement in secondary for a few months. then more slowly for a few months after that.
The recipe suggests you rack it 6 months in. I didn’t. (see the forgetting about part).
And I have not notes on gravity or anything. This is likely during our spree of breaking hydrometers. Now we have a plastic one which came in a Coopers Beer Kit (seen below intact).
I have no proof on this, but I assume the plastic one is not as accurate, but it tends to be less broken. I will compare soon! and for those that have glass ones. I encourage you to get a storage case.
As for fermentation temperature. No specific notes but the basement fluctuates between 10 and 15 degrees C. And it was aged just over 16 months.
If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will get back to you.