So far I have mostly been talking about the making of my first couple of batches of mead, which I started in February 2009. I have mentioned in passing at the end of most of my entries what I thought of the meads after several weeks or a few months, but as I mentioned in my last entry mead needs to age a long time, upwards of a year. For the batches that I still retain a few bottles (only one for some, but I still have over a dozen from my first batch), they have been bottle aging for 12 – 18 months now. So I wanted to take a moment at talk about the meads I have made up to this point, and discuss how they taste after a little aging.
We might as well begin with my first batch of mead, which was made as a plain show mead. As a recall I didn’t use any special honey variety, I was mainly going for volume at the time. So I used plain white honey, which most likely meant it was a clover honey (albeit highly filtered and pasteurized). Tasting this mead after a year and a half, I find that it still quite harsh. I never measured the alcohol content for this mead, but considering the amount of honey (6.5 kg) and the yeast I used (Lavlin EC-1118) that puts the alcohol in the 15%+ range. Sadly there are not many redeeming qualities for my first batch of mead, other than as an engine degreaser. As someone noted: “Off characters smooth over time … as do mountains”. So a two year old crappy mead will also be a 10 year old crappy mead, so you need to do it right the first time!
The next two small batches of mead have all since been consumed before they were allowed to age significantly, except for one bottle of my second batch of an Alfalfa Orange Cinnamon mead. That batch turned out surprising well, if a little too strong in the cinnamon flavour. I have been saving that last bottle for my one year wedding anniversary, but I do have plans for making more of this mead. As for the taste of this mead in particular, the high alcohol content is certainly noticeable, but it appears to be masked by the residual sweetness. I had read about back sweetening of mead (or wine), which is just the addition of any sweeteners (e.g. honey, table sugar, etc.) after all the fermentation has stopped. Prior to the back sweetening, the mead was noticeably ‘hot’ and almost undrinkable. However, after adding some additional Alfalfa honey the heat was reduced and made the mead quite pleasant to drink! I have since used this technique to correct or tweak my meads to achieve the desired sweetness, but also to disguise my poor mead making skills. A technique that should be used sparingly or as a last resort, not as a matter of course. At any rate I am eager to share the last bottle of my first drinkable mead with my wife, I only hope that this will not be the last.
From my fourth batch of mead, I managed to hide a couple of the bottles for several months to let them age undisturbed. I had brought two of the recently bottled meads for a summer ending BBQ, and for a college who successfully defended his PhD. The meads did not have an opportunity to age, but I was able to get some feedback from some acquaintances, new colleges and other guests at the BBQ. The response for both my Manuka Ginger mead and Alfalfa Vanilla Bean mead was quite encouraging, with the women preferring the smooth and pleasant Alfalfa Vanilla Bean mead and a number of guys liked the spicy flavour in the Manuka Ginger mead. Both meads have a high alcohol content probably in the 15%+ range again, but I managed to back sweeten enough for both to make them drinkable. While I enjoyed the pleasant taste of the Alfalfa Vanilla Bean mead, the Manuka Ginger mead has a lingering bitterness that was a little off-putting to me. Neither of these two meads were on par with the previous batch of the Alfalfa Orange Cinnamon mead, but they were good enough that I thought they warranted a revisit. I only have a bottle each from these two batches of mead, after sharing some at a New Year’s Eve Party with some friends/peers from undergrad and for this past Mother’s day.
I also made my first Apple Cyser mead as part of this batch, but since I was fermenting and storing it in my parent’s basement it remained relatively sheltered. I had shared a bottle with family at meal when my wife and I were in town, but I didn’t get much of the rave reviews. I’ll admit it was quite strong, but I was quite sure that by back sweetening it with honey and fresh apple juice was going to make this a very tasty beverage. It wasn’t until this past Mother’s day when I received a somewhat belated compliment. I brought the last of the Alfalfa Vanilla Bean mead to my brother and sister-in-law’s place for the Mother’s day lunch, but I wasn’t sure so I also brought one of the Apple Cysers as well. We opened and drank the Alfalfa Vanilla Bean mead, but as we were about to walk out the door my sister-in-law made a parting comment to the effect: “I would like to try your Apple Cider mead again.” To which I told her a had a bottle with me, I wasn’t sure which one to open for the lunch. She was completely surprised, and I gave her the bottle. Perhaps because I was expecting to hear rave reviews when we shared that initial bottle that I completely missed my sister-in-law’s comments that day, needless to say I am paying more attention now 🙂
So I am learning that if you want to stay with a new hobby/project, you do have to look for encouragement wherever you can find it. However infrequent, grudging or delayed those kudos may be, these acknowledgements can and do have an enormous impact on your willingness to pursue your passion.