Mead Wedding Favor

If you are looking to give away a great favor at your wedding, consider mead.

You could buy a large number of bottles from a commercial meadery, which is a option I support. Another choice is to make or have someone make a mead for you – a unique gift for you special day.

I was contracted to be a mead maker for a wedding. For those of you keeping score at home, here is a recap.

The Request

I brought a bottle of mead that I made into work one day and it sparked the imagination of a coworker of mine. He asked me if I would make a mead for his wedding. Thankfully there was enough lead time to do it right without rushing anything.

See the thoughts I had putting together the ingredients for this mead.

Read more about the making of this mead.

The Outcome

The lovely couple came over to my house and helped me bottle their mead. They had bought the bottles and had labels created for the favors. With me on sanitation duties and the two of them switching off between the filling and capping, we were finished with bottling almost ten gallons of mead in less than an hour.

I was happy with the outcome of the mead. It had cleared up very well and the oak conditioning left a nice complexity.

The venue for their reception required them to put a tag on cap that told their patrons not to open the bottle until they left the premises. I guess they thought the mead would take away from their bar sales or maybe the elixir would spin the crowd into a frenzy. Either way, it was good that the favors were positioned as gifts and not something to be gulped down.

Here’s a photo of the final product:

Mead Wedding Favor

If you’re looking for a great traditional wedding favor, mead makes a wonderful gift. Homemade mead makes a nice touch since it is as unique as your union. Find a home brewer or home mead maker to fulfill your wish and of course these brew dudes can consult if you want.

Brew On!

And if not – certainly Mead On!

Dry Hopping and the Diacetyl Rest

It’s the name of my new novel – Dry Hopping and the Diacetyl Rest. Do you think it will sell?

Probably not as well as The Joy of Homebrewing.

The title of this post is more of a mashup of what I did with my harvest lager last week and this past weekend.

In lager brewing, diacetyl rests are a way to get your yeast to clean up buttery flavors that can be present due to the production of diacetyl by the yeast earlier in the fermentation process. These rests are a period of time where the beer is allowed to warm up so the yeast can become more active.

I didn’t detect any buttery or butterscotch flavors in the lager but it doesn’t harm your beer to raise the temperature towards the end of fermentation.

Following a hot tip (said in a breathy voice – hhhhhot tip) I read in Brew Your Own magazine about dry hopping, I decided to add nearly 3 ounces of home grown hop cones to my fermentor during primary fermentation, which just so happened to coincide with the diacetyl rest.

The tip was to add the hops while the yeast were still active so that there was enough carbon dioxide to keep any yucky microbes from infecting the beer. With home grown hop cones, I thought it was a good idea. They were stored in my freezer but not vacuum sealed and still in contact with air.

With a few days to go in the fermentation, I moved the carboy out of my fridge and let it come up to room temperature which was about 65 degree F in my basement.

Boiling The Mesh Bag

While that was happening, I boiled the mesh bag I planned to use to hold the hops during the dry hopping time. It was boiled on my stove top for fifteen minutes along with some marbles. The marbles were my plan to keep the bag submerged in the bag. If you want to hear something annoying, boil some marbles in a stainless steel pot.

Once the boil was done, I put the hops and the marbles in the bag. I then put the bag in the carboy, which was a fun challenge. It took some effort to shove the whole bag through the carboy’s small opening.

The lager was moved to sit next to the cider I have fermenting.

Fermentation Buddies

After three days, I cold crashed the lager for 24 hours and then I racked it to a new carboy. The lager smelled wonderfully hoppy and tasted okay. Once the lagering period is over and it carbonates, we’ll see how well my hopping did.

Racking the Dry Hopped Lager

Brew On!

2014 Cider Making

Autumn brings the harvest and for me, at least for the past few years, cider making.

Like anything, it took me a few tries to make a cider that I really liked.

The New England version I like, but it can be boozy. I made a cran-cider that was ok but it got very tart over time in the bottle.

The ciders that I have liked the most have been the ones that were fortified a bit with some simple sugar and fermented with a neutral English ale yeast.

This year, the recipe was simplified. No blends of different sugars (white, brown, molasses, etc.) and no special ingredients like raisins or oak conditioning.

I went back to Cider Hill Farms in Amesbury, MA to buy the pressed apple juice. It’s very good even before fermentation so I bought 5 gallons – one for drinking now.

The rest of the juice went into the recipe:

4 gallons of pressed apple juice
1.5 pounds of local honey
2 teaspoons of pectic enzyme
2 teaspoons of tannin
1 tablespoon of acid blend
2 teaspoons of yeast nutrient
1 packet of Danstar Nottingham yeast

The pressed apple juice I bought was not pasteurized and had no preservatives. It was stored in a refrigerator at the farm store (naturally) so I had to let it warm up to around 60 degrees F before I started the process. While the juice was sitting there on my basement floor, I heated up some water and put the honey containers into the pot.

While the juice and honey were getting warmer, I proofed the one packet of yeast. By the time the yeast was ready, the other main ingredients were at temperature.

I mixed the apple juice, honey, and the other ingredients together. I have used the pectic enzyme before and it has helped with clarification. The tannin and acid blend additions were experimental. I wasn’t sure of the quantities but I thought they were good starting points.

The yeast nutrient is crucial in cider as it is in mead to get a good fermentation going. I will be adding a little to the cider over the next two days to keep it going.

The ale yeast will leave the cider a little less dry than a champagne yeast, which I am counting on. In two weeks, the primary fermentation should be done then the conditioning phase will start. Here are some photos from the cider making day:

Harvest Lager Brew Day

Hey there. Hope your brewing adventures have been going well. Yesterday I had time to brew up my Harvest Lager using home grown hops and a Mexican Lager strain.

Recipe Thoughts

The grain bill is simple. I got a nice American pale malt to mill along with a pound of 60⁰ L Caramel malt. I planned to make an amber colored, sweet wort that would go well with all the hops going into the beer.

I bought all the ingredients I needed from Rebel Brewer. These guys like to send love notes along with their packing slips.

Rebel Brewer

How sweet.

Hop Additions

I re-read my notes from last year’s harvest brew and it was clear I should add more hops to the kettle. I started off with an ounce of my Magnum hops once the boil started rolling. These hops do very well in my beers. I have brewed with them for many years now and they provide that same clean, smooth bitterness as the hops I buy in the stores do.

Then, with 20 minutes to go in the boil, I added an ounce and a half of the home grown Mt. Hood hops. In the past, I would put in just an ounce, and I am hoping a little bit more will work. Thinking about it, I should have added a full two ounces. Next time.

Hops in the full boil

Once the boil was done, I did add 2 ounces of Mt. Hood hops to steep before the chilling began. Because there were so many cones in the kettle, I put these hops in a fine mesh bag and shoved it under my immersion chiller so that it would stay submerged. After 20 minutes of steeping, I ran the water through my chiller and started to bring the temperature down.

The plan is to dry hop right before the end of fermentation with probably another 1 to 2 ounces of hop cones. I will have to see how much I can get into the carboy when the time comes.

2014 homegrown hops for lager

Mexican Lager Yeast Starter

For this brew, I bought two vials of White Labs WLP940 Mexican lager strain. I made two 3 liter starters and it’s a good thing too. One of the vials had an expiration date of October 9th which on brew day was only 4 days away. Of the two starters, that one took an extra day to get started. By the time I pitched it, it was at the peak of fermentation. I am glad I went through the steps of making a starter. If I hadn’t I would have had some sluggish yeast and it probably would have produced a crappy beer.

Making yeast starters has majorly improved my beer brewing. Get into them if you haven’t already.

White Beer Brewing Session

There are a few styles that I really want to brew right. Witbier is one that I have brew a few times and I have not been satisfied with any of my efforts.

Last Saturday, I gave it a try again. I bought a kit from Northern Brewer because it was there and it was an easy click to put in my online shopping cart. Unfortunately, I bought the wrong yeast so I had the awesome idea of cultivating yeast from commercial beers.

I bought three different versions of witbiers and made starters with the dregs of each. 2 of the 3 showed some activity so I used those two in my beer.

The kit itself had simple instructions. They were definitely written for the experienced homebrewer.
I am guessing since the recipe had oats in it, the mash included a protein rest. I had never done one before but I went ahead and held the mash at 122°F for 20 minutes before the 60 minutes at 152°F. No big deal.

More coriander and orange peel in this beer too. I write “more” because the saison kit I brewed had those ingredients in it too.

To keep the white beer cloudier for longer, I added a cup of wheat flour in the boil with fifteen minutes to go. I read this tip in a few different places so I felt it would help me get the look I want. In the past, my witbiers have cleared up way too quickly and it has affected my scores in competitions. We’ll see how that works out.

The big thing about white beers is keeping the fermentation temperatures cool so the funky flavors of the yeast don’t get too funky. Since it is still summer and the air temps are still warm in the house and outside, I put my fermentor in a water bath. This version of a swamp cooler should keep my carboy’s temperature in the 60 to 70°F. The cold water coming out of the tap is around 56°F so the vessel is well insulated here.

White Beer In A Swamp Cooler

I have some high hopes for this brew. If I can get that smooth, refreshing taste that I like so much in the commercial versions. Maybe some cultivated yeast is the way to go.