started a batch of mead. I've made beer/ale since then, but not mead. Considering that batch is what gave me the ice wine metheglin that received favorable reviews at the 2014 Texas Mead Fest. What made that batch successful (at least the ice wine version--plum and pear didn't turn out so well) was the fact that I'd finally learned the need to degas the must daily to release all the dissolved CO2 that can become toxic and stress the yeasts, as well as keep the fermentation temperature low--below 70F at least. I'd gotten into homebrewing by making ales, which ferment normally at high temperatures using (duh) ale yeasts. Put wine yeasts in the same conditions, and they stress greatly, creating fusel alcohols and off-flavors. So it only took me a decade of making mediocre meads to learn this--what can I say? I'm a slow learner. Now, however, I was ready to put that earned knowledge to work. One problem though--the big, 6-gallon Mr. Beer fermentor (pictured above) was no more. Back this summer, when I brewed up 12 gallons of "In-The-Buff Brown Ale" for my book release party, I discovered the entire bottom of my Mr. Beer was ringed with deep cracks. I learned this when I tried to sanitize it for the wort, and the water I poured in spewed out the bottom almost as quickly. Color me depressed. I had other fermentors for the beer, but the Mr. Beer was special. Follow: Back when The Wife and I were planning the whole wedding thing, I went with her to Target, JC Penney and Dillard's to do the whole bridal registry thing. There's a reason it's called a bridal registry and not a groom's registry. The entire day (it was a Sunday, if memory serves) consisted of her saying "What do you think about these bed sheets?" or "How do you think this silverware would go with the china?" To which my replay was a variation of "Whatever you want." Late in the day, being quite tired and more than a little disinterested, I turned a corner in Dillard's and there it was, a huge Mr. Beer display at the entrance to the Men's section. My eyes lit up. A choir of angels began to sing in the distance. The Wife-To-Be said "Absolutely not." It was a preemptive no before I could say anything but I was not deterred. "Look," I said, "our wedding registry has 597 items picked out on it, of which I've contributed zero. I think I'm entitled." So I took the little barcode scanner and added Mr. Beer to our registry. The next day, when I got home for work, that Mr. Beer was on the dining room table, waiting for me. Having it on our registry so mortified her that The Wife bought it for me just to keep it from the list. And I've been home brewing ever since. I particularly loved the Mr. Beer because it was clear, PET plastic, which let me watch the fermentation as it happens. That's not the case with opaque buckets. So when Midwestern Supplies had 6-gallon "Big Mouth Bubblers" on sale for Black Friday, including free shipping, I could not resist. These, like Mr. Beer, have a spigot, so there's no need to siphon. That makes racking and bottling very easy. It came in on Thursday. To get it ready, I needed to clean and sanitize it. Many homebrewers look down on using chlorine bleach for sanitizing, but I've had good success in the past. I capped the bung at the bottom with a borrowed spigot from a plastic bucket fermentor I have, and tossed all the other parts into the Big Mouth Bubbler, added a couple cups of bleach and filled up all the way with water in the walk-in shower. After that, I let it sit for the better part of a day. Walker Honey Farm wildflower honey from HEB. They're based in Rogers, a town I know fairly well, and are the folks behind Dancing Bee Meadery, which produces some pretty decent meads. Also, I planned to make only 3 gallons this time. In the past I've always tried to make 6 gallon batches, and that's a lot of time and money gone to waste if it sucks. I figure 3 gallons is more manageable (one gallon batches are so small they're not really worth the effort). BOMM online. This did not exist the last time I made mead. It was invented by a fellow named Bray who experimented with using a bunch of different Belgian ale strains that had high gravity and high alcohol tolerances to find which ones might be useful for mead. Most beer yeast is stressed and/or killed by alcohol levels approaching that of wine, making them inappropriate for the most part. But Bray found that Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale produced a quality mead quickly at relatively high temperatures. The yeast's listed alcohol tolerance of 12 percent is solidly in the lower range of wine, so that's a plus. Until now, I'd only used dry yeasts--liquid was new for me. But I activated the packet as instructed and set it aside for six hours of so for the yeast to build up momentum.
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