Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Metheglin and apfelwein

Back on December 12 I wrote that my current batch of mead had pretty much fermented dry, and that I planned to let it sit for a week or two before racking. Well, on December 24 I took that step, and racked the dry mead into a three-gallon glass carboy. I have to say (and this was my experience with the old Mr. Beer fermenter as well) that having a spigot at the bottom of the vessel makes racking sooooo much easier than siphoning from the top of a carboy.

I placed the primary vessel on the raised level of the kitchen bar, and set the glass carboy in the sink, linking the two with a clear siphon hose. Needless to say, I sanitized the hose and carboy with bleach (and thoroughly rinsed) prior to this step. I removed the airlock from the primary and stuffed a wadded paper towel in the opening, so as to allow air to flow but limit other contaminants.

As the mead transferred itself to its new home via the miracle of gravity, I prepared my secret ingredients that will turn this somewhat bland wildflower honey wine into a spiffy-keen metheglin. First up: Vanilla beans. I used two Rodelle Madagascar vanilla beans, mainly because that was readily available at the local HEB Plus. No Mexican vanilla beans to be had, unfortunately. I split these beans in two and the pasty innards immediately began throwing off a rich, sweet vanilla scent. Very nice. The potency of these beans is significantly higher than the previous beans I used, as I remember, although that was three or four years back and my memory isn't always accurate.

Next up, Icewine Tea. We picked this up a few years ago on a brief visit to Vancouver, and it turned out to be an amazing addition to a previous metheglin. Essentially, it's tea infused with ice wine and/or the pre-fermented juice from grapes destined to become ice wine. Most icewine tea is black tea, and I'd assumed for a long time that's what this was. But now that I look at the label, I realize this is herbal tea, not black. The "herbal" ingredients include rooibos, rosehips and hibiscus. I'm not a huge fan of rooibos, but in hindsight the earthy/spicy notes that worked so well in the icewine tea metheglin I made before are directly attributable to that rooibos. Curious.

Into the three gallons of mead, I added the two split vanilla beans and six bags of icewine tea.

Here's a closer look. In the days since, dissolved CO2 in the mead has gradually worked its way out of solution and pushed the tea bags up into the neck of the carboy. This has resulted in some of the mead and bits of vanilla bean bubbling up through the airlock. Yeah, that's a little messy. I've punched it down, and it seems like we've finally reached a sort of equilibrium. Already, the vanilla notes are pretty strong in the samples I've tasted, but the tea isn't noticeable yet. I'll check again in another week to see how it's progressing.

Now, we're entering unknown territory. I harvested the leftover Wyeast 1388 from the primary by "washing" it. I added roughly a gallon of boiled (then cooled) water to the primary and sloshed the mixture around to suspend the yeast, then let it settle for half an hour or so to let the trub--dead yeast and other impurities--precipitate out. Then I decanted into a large jar, and let the process of settling out repeat itself. Then I siphoned off the light yeast water into smaller jars, leaving the heavier fermentation leftovers behind. The Wyeast 1388 Belgian strong ale strain seems to be an outstanding performer for mead, at any rate, that I want to perpetuate it for future use. I ended up with five pint jars, which I placed in the refrigerator of safe keeping.

Which brings us to the apfelwein segment of our show. I've made several batches of German-style apfelwein in the past using variations of Ed Wort's recipe, and I drank the last remaining 12-ounce bottle back in November. So I've been hankering to make some more. This time, however, I've decided to use the Wyeast 1388 rather than the recommended Montrachet wine yeast, because I suspect the 1388 might preserve more of the apple flavor and aroma, as well as perform better at higher fermentation temperatures. Which, in theory, would produce a drinkable product in a shorter period of time (technically, one isn't supposed to use second-generation yeast for fermentations differing from the initial pitch, ie this yeast is attuned to honey from the previous fermentation, so isn't optimized for cider or beer or wine. I'm not convinced such evolutionary adaptations will be apparent in the second generation, so that's a risk I'm willing to take). I picked up three gallons of plain apple juice from HEB--always check to make sure there are no preservatives other than ascorbic acid. Another variant to the basic recipe I'm trying is the addition of undiluted apple juice concentrate to the juice, to increase the sugar content whilst simultaneously increasing the apple-intensity. I'd originally planned on adding four cans of concentrate, but the kids took one to make some juice.

The specific gravity of the concentrate/juice mix at this point was 1.060, which would ferment out to a 7.8 percent alcohol content. Ph at this point was 3.6. I want a little higher content to increase its keeping and aging stability, so I added 14 ounces of cane sugar, bringing up the specific gravity to 1.070. That should ferment out to around 9.1 percent ABV, which is in the range of a good riesling wine. To bring the ph up to make the must more hospitable for the yeast, I added 1 tsp potassium bicarbonate. Also, adapting the BOMM process I used for the above-mentioned metheglin, I added 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient and 2.25 tsp yeast energizer to the must. This is different from the DAP and Fermaid K I added to the honey must last go-round, but apple juice has a lot more nutrients in it for yeast to thrive on than honey does, and the basic apfelwein recipe doesn't call for any additional nutrients at all. I suspect I'm safe.

So, how to mix all these additives together and effectively aerate the must? I'm glad you asked! I just happen to have a new toy that came in shortly before Christmas that I've been wanting to try out--a drill-mounted wine degasser. After sanitizing it, I tried it out.

Works pretty well, huh? I whipped the apple juice and such up into a pretty good froth. Afterwards I checked the ph and found it to be around 4.8, which should keep the yeast happy. Earlier, I'd taken one of those bottles of yeast from the fridge and, after letting it warm to room temperature, added it to a quart jar half-filled with apple juice and a teaspoon of Go Ferm yeast nutrient. After six hours, give or take, I pitched it to the apfelwein must.

Today, the fermentation is steady although not as aggressive as I'd expected. There's a donut ring of kreusen that's formed, and a significant amount of foam built up when I degassed, but overall this is a sedate, restrained fermentation. I'm going to keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn't stall out.

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