Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Primitive Blackberry Melomel

The melomel may be in trouble and the Winepress forum is down. I could have a dozen good answers in an hour otherwise but I am just going to have to flail about on my own. I'm probably worrying too much but I thought I would document the process of worry, test, tinker, worry some more, tinker some more, etc. That's what makes wine making so dang fun!

I just got the first jug of Joe's Ancient Orange and Spice Mead bottled and it's really very good despite being quite sweet. Not enough spice, though. I decided to start two more jugs and up the spices, play with slightly reducing the honey.

After getting the first jug going, I recalled the pounds of Oregon blackberries in the freezer. Well, I know others have tinkered with Joe's recipe so I figured I'd try a blackberry melomel (mead with fruit) instead of the orange and spice. The forum was down then, too, but I figured I had a handle on things.

I thawed a pound of berries, put them in a nylon straining bag and mashed them up well in my small fermentor. I dissolved the honey in some warm water and poured it over the berries, adding a bit more than 3 pounds to get the specific gravity up to 1.114. That's a potential alcohol content of 16% but I'm using bread yeast and expecting it to finish lower than that and still sweet. That what makes it early-drinking. I left out Joe's raisins because I think they are meant as food for the yeast and the blackberries should fill that role. For some now unknown reason, I decide to wedge one quarter of a lemon and toss that in with the juice and zest of another quarter lemon. Well, lemon tastes nice. I think that's why. I don't think it'll need the acid because blackberries are acidic enough.

So I have this all in the fermentor. I whisk it up good to aerate, toss in a teaspoon of Fleishman's Rapid Rise and put the lid and airlock on. I left the bucket (that's the fermentor) in the kitchen next to the gas stove.

Next morning, the kitchen is maybe 60 degrees and of course, there's no activity. Too cold. I moved the bucket to the living room next to the electric heater where I can now get it up to 72 or even 75 degrees F. Pretty soon, we have bubbles through the airlock. Yay!

Next day - nothing. Well, that's not right! The jug of orange and spice right next to it is sputtering and gurgling constantly. I check the pH.: 3.67 - fine. I aerate some more and pitch in another teaspoon of yeast in the morning. 11 hours later - nothing.

Ok. Thinking. So maybe there isn't enough food for the yeast in the blackberries after all. I have yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. The little bottle of energizer specifically mentions stuck fermentations so I go for that one. Whisk it on in. This morning - nothing.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have put in that lemon. Maybe it doesn't like being in the bucket. Maybe my pH meter needed calibrating and it's really below 3.00. Maybe it's just being a slow starter. Maybe any number of things, really.

I checked the SG this morning and it was at 1.099 but that doesn't tell me anything as it was fermenting for a little while. I'll check it again tonight. PH, too. If we still have nothing, I'll consider hydrating some Lalvin D47 and pitch it in. Most likely, that'll take it to full dry and I'll be looking at more than a year of aging time instead of three or four months but that's better than losing the batch. Rather not do it though. That takes it out of the realm of primitive.

It's such a pretty color and smells nice, too. One way or another, it's going to happen.

Update 6:30pm: The SG has dropped to 1.092. Though I thought the addition of fruit would cause vigorous foaming, this doesn't seem to be the case for me. It's fermenting just fine. I'm going to leave the fruit in there for a few days, then move everything else to a jug. The photo may not look pretty to some, but it's sure pretty to me!

Update 12/19: I just transferred everything but the fruit to a 4 liter jug and it's fizzing away with heavy bubble traffic through the airlock. My tentative conclusion is that the large headspace in the primary bucket combined with the quieter activity of bread yeast just made it hard to tell it was fermenting without the aid of my trusty hydrometer.

The berries had broken down to a mushy pulp. There's a lot of berry suspended in the mead so I imagine it'll take a while to fall clear. Or not. The experiment continues...

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