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Historical research assistance

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Stonecougar

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 20, 2007
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Greetings, one and all! I'm a budding mead-maker, and I have a request for assistance.

I'm in the Society for Creative Anachronism (I'm certain some of you know what that is, for those of you who don't, we're a bunch of crazy weirdos who go off and pretend we live in the middle ages for a weekend.) and I've gotten myself geared up to enter a brewing contest. Well, my mead will be ready for said contest this weekend, and the event is next weekend, but I'm in a bit of a pickle. One of the "extra credit" bits of the judging is documentation on the historical nature of your recipe. Now, my recipe is about as dirt-stupid-simple as they come, so I can't imagine it being anything but historically accurate... but I don't know exactly what, where, when, etc. I was hoping to plumb the depths of knowledge here. My recipe is:

1 gallon honey
4 gallons water
1 packet champagne yeast

Boil the honey into the water, dump it into the carboy, pour in the yeast, and leave it set for about 6 months. Rack halfway through.

See? Told ya it was simple. But for the life of me, I'm lost as to where to begin with that documentation. Anyone have any ideas?
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
Well, as one crazy weirdo to another, "Welcome to Gotmead?" !! :cheers:

Now that you're here, you only have to poke around the site a bit to find enough documentation of your basic mead recipe -- the sources quoted here are all authoritative: http://www.gotmead.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogsection&id=7&Itemid=19

You did boil the must (and skim protein scum as it rose to the surface, right??). That qualifies as an ancient and well documented meadmaking technique going back at least 500 years in documented western European tradition, and over a thousand years in eastern Europe. You'll find enough recipes quoted from historical texts on this site to supply the documentation you'll need, I think.

BTW - From hereon out, we will "gently encourage" you to never boil your honey again! :tongue3:

Although boiling renders a final product that clears quicker than an un-boiled product, the act of boiling removes much of the flavor elements in the honey that make mead such a pleasure to drink. So, poke around here in the forum a bit more and you'll learn much about how we are all making mead these days -- and BTW, this "Modern Era" meadmaking is relatively new -- you'll still find lots of recipes out there recommending practices and ingredients that make absolutely no sense, but they sounded good in the day. :D
 

Pewter_of_Deodar

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 23, 2004
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Cedar Rapids, IA
How soon do you need the documentation?

(And some of us will encourage you to continue to heat the must, though maybe not to boiling) ::) ::) ::)

I am an SCA brewer myself. Where do you live?
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
I think he needs it quickly (by next weekend was what he said), so that's why I pointed him to the online references. I don't have anything on paper that I could send him quickly (via scan or other), but if you do, I'm sure he'd appreciate that!

You still hard over on heating the must, eh?? Well... it's nice to know I'm not the only Luddite on the forum! (But my "traditional idiosyncracies" are in other areas -- I don't heat honey musts any more unless the honey looks really scuzzy.)
 

Stonecougar

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 20, 2007
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Thanks for the help! I do heat the must. I bring it to a quick boil just enough to ensure an even consistency with the water. I don't boil the honey by itself; that would be messy and pointless. :p So yeah, heat *must*, skim scum, and off I go. This particular batch was made with raw, unpasteurized honey from a local(ish) farmer's market sort of thing... I've found a source where I can get a gallon of the stuff for $26. Trouble is, the supplies are inconsistent... never know what sort of honey it'll be, or even if they'll have any. I'll skulk around the historical documents here, see what I can find. Thanks again!
 

Pewter_of_Deodar

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Registered Member
Sep 23, 2004
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Cedar Rapids, IA
wayneb said:
You still hard over on heating the must, eh??
I'd challenge you to do an experiment just once. Heat your water to almost boiling and work in the honey, which will generally knock the temperature down to 140F or so. Bring the must to a simmer (I find this happens around 170F or so for me.) Skim the scum that is produced. Taste the first stuff you skim and then tell me if that is a taste you want in your mead...

That taste is the reason why I simmer and skim. But I have lowered the temperature from a boil to 170F and the length of time down until the stuff I am skimming no longer has the bad taste and is just "sugary". This is usually about 5 minutes or so...

Good luck,
Pewter
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
I've actually done this very experiment, since the last batch of wildflower honey I got from a colleague at work had some funky side-notes that I wanted to get rid of. So I tried a non-heated batch (well, the water I dissolved the honey in was heated to around 135F before I dumped the honey in), a full-boil batch, and a "pasteurized" batch where I brought the temp up to 175F and held it there until I skimmed the bulk of the scum off.

Bottom line -- there was no difference between the 175F and the full-boil batches, and both of them had far less "aromatic" notes than the warm-mixed batch when they finished fermenting. The warm-mix batch took significantly longer to clear -- about 30% longer than either of the skimmed batches.

I think that the proteins you end up skimming off during the course of a heating will eventually precipitate out of suspension in the finished mead, and they will leave none of that "yucky scum" character in the final product, but you need to be more patient in the bulk aging/clearing phase.

This is based solely on my experience, using the honey I had readily available and using my home well water. it might be that different honey/water combinations may produce different results; it wouldn't be right to extrapolate my results to cover "all mead fermentations," but this practice works well for me.
 

Stonecougar

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 20, 2007
3
0
0
In a delayed reply to Pewter... Barony of Madrone, An Tir. (For those of you not in the know, that's near Seattle, Washington. :p)
 

Rhianni

NewBee
Registered Member
Nov 13, 2006
292
1
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Pewter_of_Deodar said:
Taste the first stuff you skim and then tell me if that is a taste you want in your mead...
That assumes that that flavor would be present in mead. Is that flavor present in a straight up spoonful of honey in the mouth? If I chewed on a piece of oak wood I would not want that in mead or wine yet the flavor that it does give I enjoy. I used to boil the heck out of honey, then moved to simmer, and now just 140 degrees, remove from heat, add honey to disolve. I havent tasted any scummy taste in anything.
 

Pewter_of_Deodar

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 23, 2004
1,867
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Cedar Rapids, IA
Rhianni said:
[That assumes that that flavor would be present in mead. Is that flavor present in a straight up spoonful of honey in the mouth? If I chewed on a piece of oak wood I would not want that in mead or wine yet the flavor that it does give I enjoy. I used to boil the heck out of honey, then moved to simmer, and now just 140 degrees, remove from heat, add honey to disolve. I havent tasted any scummy taste in anything.
I am just thinking out loud and really am not hardcore on any particular method...

In a spoonful of the honey, any subtle tastes you might get are overpowered by the honey taste of the honey. In most meads, this overpowering "honey" characteristic has dramatically lessened or even disappeared in the final product. So no, I don't taste the nastiness directly but it is there and can be tasted when it is skimmed out.

Again thinking out loud...

If I ferment a batch, I have a lot of the aroma of whatever is in the batch, come out of the trap, whether it is honey, fruit, or whatever. How much of the "aroma" do I lose in heating for a few minutes versus how much do I lose in fermenting for several months?

Maybe the best way to get all of the characterisitcs of the honey into the batch is to add honey towards the end of the fermentation?
 

Rhianni

NewBee
Registered Member
Nov 13, 2006
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Hmm possibly. Maybe similar to how there are different hops for beer and the aroma hops are added last as the boiling breaks it down too much.
I've been meaning to test this exact thing. 3 side by side batches. boil, heat to 140 and disolve honey. dump the honey into the primary. I have tried to do tests in series but there are too many variables that come into play that way that can skew the results
 

Rhianni

NewBee
Registered Member
Nov 13, 2006
292
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Check this to see if you did anything. http://www.gotmead.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=334&Itemid=374

I know irish moss is a common additive and I always see that coming in old references. There is an old orange very thin mead book written by a retired english colonel. cant remember it offhand I am at work. He has some historical references.

I'm afraid the use of champagne yeast isnt very historical in the centuries ago reckoning.
 

Yo momma

NewBee
Registered Member
Jul 14, 2007
934
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48
Flint, Michigan
I don't mean to butt in but I don't heat up my water at all. It takes a lot longer to mix but I use a little at a time to about a gallon(not to over honey my mead it's usually about 5# to a gallon @ first). Then I do a S&G and add as needed. It really adds some good aration to the must because it takes longer to mix. If this is wrong please let me know as I have been doing this to every batch. In doing it this way you lose nothing of the flavor or aromas by heating it up.
 

wildaho

Got Mead? Patron
GotMead Patron
May 22, 2007
858
1
0
McCall, ID
wildaho.blogspot.com
On the heating/scum thing: My very first batch 5 years ago I pasteurized, brought everything up to 160 degrees and then, after it cooled, I added campden and let it sit for a day before innoculating. Unfortunately, it was a crab apple cyser (too much crap appleP and was very astringent but still didn't last long.

Since then, I've done 14 batches with just dumping everything into my primary, no heat, no campden. I'm not sure what the yuckiness in the scum you are talking about but all my meads come out tooooo damn fine! My last batch didn't even make it into the bottles, it was all "quality sampled" away. And it was a 21% Ginger Meth that didn't even survive 6 months from date of initial ferment.

I do have a few bottles of 3 year old Pear Mel left and there's never been a bitterness or yuckiness issue with them. If anything, it justs gets better and more buttery like a good chardonnay, even without oak.

Your mileage may vary Pewter. I really think you should give the no-heat method a try just for comparison. As we've seen here so many times, we learn a method and stick with it and that becomes the law of the land. Honestly, just because you learned how to brew in the SCA, does that mean that your meads can't improve? You are obviously not doing original medieval recipes now with the modern yeasts, etc. Maybe take another step forward? You don't heat your wines, do you?

I don't mean to make this personal. We all do things once and they work so we stick with them. But if we don't try other methods, how do we know that we're on the right path? I've tried both methods. I like the no-heat process myself. Your mileage may vary.
 

Rhianni

NewBee
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Nov 13, 2006
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Yo momma said:
If this is wrong please let me know as I have been doing this to every batch.
Any process (heat or no) that you have fun making and end up with something you enjoy drinking is the right way of making mead.
 

Pewter_of_Deodar

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 23, 2004
1,867
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Cedar Rapids, IA
Yo momma said:
I don't mean to butt in but I don't heat up my water at all. It takes a lot longer to mix but I use a little at a time to about a gallon(not to over honey my mead it's usually about 5# to a gallon @ first). Then I do a S&G and add as needed. It really adds some good aration to the must because it takes longer to mix. If this is wrong please let me know as I have been doing this to every batch. In doing it this way you lose nothing of the flavor or aromas by heating it up.
I think you can see from the discussion that people use whatever method works for them. What is right for you is what works for you. The method you describe should work just fine.
 

Pewter_of_Deodar

NewBee
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Sep 23, 2004
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Seems like we should start another thread rather than steal this one but I wasn't sure which forum so here goes...

Discussion on Brewing PHILOSOPHIES

It's interesting that what I do in terms of my meadmaking techniques really has nothing to do with my being in the SCA other than my methods duplicate those of the two Barons, whose meads are the best I've ever had (so far). I met them through the SCA and get together with them at SCA events, but I am not pursuing SCA awards or recognition for brewing like a medieval brewer. It is also doubtful that you will ever see me entered in a mundane competition anywhere. It's not my thing...

I have no desire to recreate historical recipes unless they result in better tasting mead than what I already have. Someone told me early in my SCA career that I could "make historically accurate meads that taste like sh**" or that I could "make meads that really taste great". So long ago I decided to incorporate things into my "mechanics" of meadmaking that move me forward on my personal QUEST (as Katphish calls it) towards a better mead. The Barons heat their mead, therefore I heat mine, not because it was medieval, but because they do it and end up with really great mead. My goal is to get to their level then eventually exceed it... but until I know better, I mimic them...

Other things I do reflect personal preferences. I treat meadmaking as a form of art, like cooking, where many methods can all end up creating dang good food. I believe that you can also treat meadmaking like a science and brew like a chemist. But I personally choose to be a cook and so I shy away from methods that use chemicals and lab techniques.

Can you "no heat" and brew like a chemist and end up with great stuff? Absolutely! Can you heat your must and brew like a cook and have great mead. Of course! There is no right or wrong. This isn't a debate with a winner and a loser. We each recommend what works for us. I heat my must, don't use energizers or sulfites or sulfates and end up with good mead. There is room for improvement in my stuff and every batch is hopefully working towards the ultimate mead. So my recommendations, as those of everyone else here, reflect our personal preferences. So try things and see what works for you... if it doesn't work for you, try something else until you find something that does...

Some people believe that Chaucer's Mead is really good stuff and others think it is swill. Some people love Joe's Ancient Orange and others think the pithiness is unacceptable and ruins it. Some people think that mead is wonderful to consume from the day it stops fermenting while others believe it takes a minimum of a year or more before a mead should be touched. Funny thing is that they are all correct because what works for them is really all that matters.

What I would recommend to everyone, and what I have done, is to find someone in the hobby that makes mead that you like and learn from them how to do it. I am willing to help people and it is why I post here. I would hope that the same is true of everyone else here as well. And I am guessing that we are all pursuing that same quest to create our own ultimate meads even though mine may be sweet and yours may be dry, mine may be heated and yours may not, mine may use raisins and yours may use energizer, mine may use wine yeast and yours may use bread yeast, yours may be organic and mine may not... you get the idea...

Peace,
Pewter
 

Yo momma

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Jul 14, 2007
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Talk about summing it up in one breath or maybe two. Very well put Pewter. I learned from someone who warms there water and then puts in the honey. I just found it to be easier the way I do it. Plus I like to take my time with my must making. It feels goos to know that I am making something in my own design. Again very well put.
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
Well, I hope that everyone keeps on experimenting, as that is the only guaranteed way to improve your meads. We can all learn from each other; certainly there will always be room for polite discussion of differences in approach, but I would encourage everyone interested in the personal goal of making the best possible meads that you can, to not take any of our opinions as divine inspiration! We are all engaged in similar experimentation, and I can tell you that I for one have radically changed my meadmaking practice compared with the way I used to do it. I have always kept detailed notes of the effects of any changes in my meadmaking approach, and I learn something from every batch that I make. Further, just in the past year or so after exploring and testing some of the "new" techniques and processes that I've discovered here, my meads are now radically better. Further, I don't harbor any delusions that I have reached the pinnacle of meadmaking technique; undoubtedly I will continue to evolve my approach until I reach the time when I can no longer make mead!

I enjoy the diversity of opinions that are reflected in almost every thread on technique or process here at Gotmead! I would only advise the newbees out there who stumble on these "spirited discussions" to read carefully, compare the opinions expressed here with others that you find in other threads (and even on other forums), determine what will likely work best for you based on your knowledge and experience, and then get out there and make some mead! Only by doing it, will you learn what works best for you. :cheers:
 
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