Things I’ve learned

Author: LadySylvia

So, there are loads of things I’ve learned along my brewing journey.  Some I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made, others from other brewers, and some from going to SCA competitions and round tables.  I will try to seperate these concepts into lists that lump like items together.

Starting out:

* There is no such thing as “too clean!”  Clean everything thoroughly.  This can’t be stated enough.  A dirty carboy can ruin an entire batch of mead.

* Check your recipe before starting.  It stinks to get half way into a recipe and discover you are missing something important.  It’s a good thing I have Vey, who is more than happy to make emergency ingredient/equipment runs for me!

* Start things early enough.  Especially if you are heating your honey.  You need enough time for the must to cools so you aren’t up until stupid o’clock at night waiting for the correct temperature to pitch the yeast!  If you choose to boil the honey, you will need 3-4 hours for it to cool to the correct temperature.

* Have all your equipment ready to go.  It’s annoying to be ready to put a must in a fermentation container and not have the container, or funnel ready.

During the Process:

* Write things down!  Have a worksheet where you keep records.  (My basic template is included in this site.)  Please, even if you do not ever want to enter a competition or another type of panel, please keep records.  I use them the most when I am hanging out with friends and they ask about ingredients, timing, methods, etc.

*Boiling isn’t necessary.  Most honey comes prepasturized.  Even honey directly from an aviary will have likely been filtered.  I do like to heat my honey a bit, just to help it encorporate into the water.  (It’s easier than lots of shaking for me.)  I also tend to make a lot of melomels, so I like to heat things enough to kill any wild yeast strains or other possible contaminants that may have been on the fruit.  Most people tend to heat to 150 degrees for about 15 minutes.  I tend to heat to about 180 degrees and then turn off the heat.  This is working well for me, because I don’t have the patience to monitor the temperature that closely.  This also maintains more of the honey flavors.

* Start your yeast early.  Put it a bit of warm juice.  That will geth them going and ready to really get to work when you pitch it into the must.   (Not necessary, but helpful.)

* DON’T, I repeat, DON’T walk away from your must while the stove is on.  Enough said.

When the must is ready to go:

* For meads – Put them into a glass carboy that already has some cold water in it.

* For melomels and methaglins – put them into a bucket fermetor until the initial fermentation is complete (1-2 weeks).  It is difficult to get the fruit or spice bag in and out of a carboy.

* Invest in a large funnel.  Never try to get the hot must into a carboy with a siphon.  It will bend your siphon and get too hot to be safe. (I have ruined several siphons this way, appearantly not learning the first time!)  Funnels are your friend!

* Have a thermometer that will read down to 90 degrees.  If your must is between 90-100 degrees, your yeast will do fine when pitched.

* Invest in a hydrometer!  Even if you don’t understand them, take the readings anyway.  They will come in handy later when you want to calulate the alcohol content of your mead.

* Put your carboy somewhere where you can monitor it for the first week or so.  If the airlock gets full of foam, you’ll need to take it out and clean it right away. Don’t put your face over the airlock!  It may be pressurized!  (Raining mead – an interesting experience!)  Also, if is is not fermenting, you’ll want to repitch the yeast.

* Keep your airlocks full of water.   When your mead gets exposed to air, it will oxidize.  That is a total bummer because then you have feet mead.  Nobody wants feet mead.  Lesson learned… Sigh.

Bottling:

* Invest in a bottling wand.  It will pay for itself in unlost mead.  Without it, you will make a collosal mess.  Trust me on this one!

* Invest in a mechanical bottle corker thingy.  It is well worth the $10.00 you’ll probably spend.  Trying to hand cork your bottles will result in poorly corked bottles and possible contamination.

* Fill the bottle to approximately 1 inch below where the bottom of the cork will be.  This takes some trial and error, so fill then cork each bottle individually until you have a sense of where that is.  This will help with a few things – properly preserving your mead and getting better remarks on any judging that involves “presentation,” which includes proper fill levels.  (Although no matter where I fill things, it seems it is always too high or too low for someone!)  🙂

* Label, label, label!  Label your bottles.  Mystery mead is only fun when you don’t care what you are drinking.  Labelling bottles is a current project for me and something which is evolving.  I am learning that good labels: are resilient when transported, have a simple name that reflects what is in the bottle, includes brewing and bottling dates, include your name and any other pertinent information you want others to know.  (For example, I like people to know I am from the Shire of Endewearde in the East Kingdom, so I include that on my label. I also include my heraldry so I can be recognized that way as well.)

I’m expecting that this page will be updated as I think of more things and learn additional tips.  Others are welcome and encouraged to post additions to this list!