Worth Celebrating

My son recently got engaged. They have set the wedding date for next August. To celebrate, he brewed a modified version of the wonderful Hübsch Märzen (as an Oktoberfest) and got to try out his new copper wort chiller. Me, I brewed this morning a batch of mead which we will use as the toast at his wedding.

I generally brew 5 gallons, or 2 if I am experimenting with a spice, fruit, or process. This was the opposite end of the spectrum, making enough mead for 150 people to share as we wish the newlyweds well. 12 gallons. Undoubtedly the most expensive batch I have ever brewed. It will be about 8% abv, and will be fermented on blackberries in the secondary, then bottled (sparkling) in champagne bottles and aged for 8 months or so. I am really under pressure here, though, because if this doesn’t come out right, there is no back-up plan…

To brew it, I brought 9 gallons of water to a boil (in 2 separate kettles) and added, almost evenly divided, 20 lbs. of local honey. I stirred it in well (it wanted to settle on the bottom and scorch…) and added a tablespoon each of winemaker’s acid blend and yeast nutrient (to each kettle). Bringing the two pots back to boiling, I set the timer for 45 minutes and went about some other chores. When the timer rang, I was in the middle of something and let it boil another 5 minutes or so before beginning to chill it. When both kettles were down to 80°F, I blended them in two 6.5-gallon plastic primary buckets and added about a half-gallon of cold water to each, making up almost 6 gallons in each. One measured 1080, the other 1075. They will be blended again at bottling time.

I pitched a starter that was a blend of a cider yeast (White Labs WLP 775) and  a “Super High Gravity” yeast (WLP099). I want this to ferment out pretty dry, as the fruit will add back some sweetness, as well as a light blush coloring.

The timing should be: primary fermentation about three weeks, aging on fruit (2.5 lbs. hand-picked blackberries in each carboy) in the secondary about three more, and then another four in a tertiary stage to clarify. Blending and bottling will follow, with 1-1/2 cups of corn sugar added for carbonation. The bottles (champagne-style) will be aged in the cellar until August (although somewhere along the line I suppose I will have to try some to make sure it’s drinkable)…

Between now and bottling day (January?) I need to round up about 75 champagne bottles…

Update: On Saturday August 13, more than 150 guests toasted the new bride and groom with a glass of this mead. The logistics of pouring 150-plus 4-oz. samples were handled admirably by the caterer and her staff, and I got to explain to the crowd just what mead is, how it’s made and why it’s significant and appropriate for a wedding toast. I received almost as many congratulating comments on the mead itself as I did on the fact that my son was now married, so I guess everybody liked it!

Braggin’ on Braggot

In the world of homebrewing, there are some brews that get interesting reactions when you tell people about them. Braggot is one – in part because there is some disagreement about the real name – is it braggot, bracket, bracken…? I’ve seen all of them used. Then there is the description – pale? amber? dark? could be any of the three… The mystery is complicated by the fact that it is a hybrid brew – part strong ale, part mead.

Another part of the braggot puzzle is the need to age it well. A new, “raw” braggot just doesn’t really taste great. Oh, it’s drinkable after a month or so, but it really needs a long cool settling period. The braggot I am brewing today will probably be approaching “ready” around Groundhog Day, and be “good” next fall. Patience and perseverance are required to enjoy a properly made braggot.

Dark Sky Braggot 2010

5 gallons, grain and honey brew

Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs. Maris Otter 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. 20°L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. honey malt
  • 1 lb. Belgian Coffee/Special roast malt
  • 5.5 lbs. honey
  • 1 oz. Bravo hop pellets (11.3% aa)
  • 1 oz. Sovereign hop pellets (5.7% aa)
  • White Labs Australian Ale yeast (WLP009)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 12 quarts water to 167°F, mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 155°F. Heat another 12 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 22 quarts of sweet wort. Add honey to kettle, along with a quart of hot tap water to rinse out honey container, stir well. Heat wort to boiling. Add Bravo hops, boil 45 minutes. Add Sovereign hops, boil 15 minutes and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 70°F for ten to fourteen days. Rack to secondary, age cooler (55°F) for six to eight weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (45 – 50°F) for at least eight weeks.

OG: 1086

IBU’s: 55

Notes on style: True braggot should be about 50% malt and 50% honey – although that is not carved in stone. The BJCP guidelines really leave it wide open as far as color, strength, bitterness, balance, etc…

Notes on ingredients: Aiming to drink this brew in the dark cold months of winter, I opted to make it a darker brew, using the Coffee roast malt as the main coloring adjunct. At 165 – 175°L, this dark Belgian specialty malt gives a really nice dark caramel flavor and undelines the sweetness of the honey. The honey malt is kilned to about 25°L, and also contributes a sweet, nutty malt flavor. Your homebrew shop can get them both from Brewcraft in Oregon.

Notes on yeast: I was looking for a yeast that worked quickly and at relatively warm temperatures, since I am brewing in July. The Australian yeast is reputed to start quickly, finish quickly and not add a noticeable yeast flavor, but instead promotes a bready malt aroma and flavor.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

This Thursday, April 8, on what would normally be a Brew Day, I have been asked to speak at a lunch meeting of the local Rotary. I am really not sure why, but I am honored, and looking forward to it. The downside, of course, is that I won’t be able to brew. Which may be a good thing, give me a chance to get some more bottles emptied and others filled before I brew again on the 15th… Anyway, I hope to post the text of my speech here, in case anyone is interested (outside of the Rotarians, of course).

In the meantime, however, I decided to try a little experiment. OK, so yes, I did brew, sort of. I made a batch of mead today, but here’s where it gets “different” – instead of honey, I used agave nectar. Several people have mentioned to me that they threw agave into lots of different recipes where honey was called for, although I can’t remember if anyone actually brewing with it.  I have never been a big Tequila drinker, only a couple glasses on Cinco de Mayo, and I don’t like Margaritas… But wouldn’t it be cool to make a mead that tasted something like Tequila? That’s what I thought too!

So here I went. I made a 5-gallon batch, which, if this turns out well, will be great, but if it doesn’t, it will be a colossal waste of agave nectar. Of which I used 10.75 lbs. Like most meads, this was very simple and straightforward – 5 gallons of water, including the rinsings from the agave jars, a tablespoon of winemaker’s acid blend, 2 tablespoons of yeast nutrient, plus of course the nectar. Bring to a boil, boil 30 minutes. Chill to 80°F, pitch the yeast. I recultured a couple expired vials of White Labs yeast – the English Cider (WLP775) and the Champagne (WLP715), and not being convinced that they were really strong cultures, I also added a packet of dry wine yeast (Red Star Côte des Blancs). I got an OG of 1085, about what I expected (I assumed that the agave would have about the same extract per lb. as honey).

I’ll keep you posted – I don’t expect to taste this much before late fall, perhaps it’ll be ready for el Día de los Muertos?

Oh, and then a funny thing happened – looking ahead, I got online in search of a recipe. I had an idea for a brew, but wanted to see if anyone else had already posted something that I could draw inspiration from. I found an article, began to read it, looking over  the recipe, etc., when I had this weird feeling of déjà vu – and then I realized it was my own article, in Brew Your Own, from 1997 – “Clone Your Own”, the article that started it all! Kinda surreal!