Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Games with Honey

There have been 6kg of honey just sat there in the cupboard since Australia day, and my brew fridge is finally empty, so it was time to try some more weird and interesting things. My honey-related experiments so far have been a success - Loathsome Braggot is probably the best thing I've brewed so far, being at the same time aromatic, flavoursome and bloody dangerous. Mellow-Mole mead turned out acceptable though over-sweet, though it's improving with age. What I reckon has happened there is that the yeast just gave up the ghost before it got through all the honey, then when primed with yet more honey all that happened was it got heavier and sweeter still.

So last Saturday (24th of March) I bottled Codename:Miyagi, my last-ditch attempt to make a golden ale, which had stabilised at around 1.010-1.011 (nice bit of body there), then started the sticky honeyed fun. First up was Bochet. I've been reading about this lately on homebrew talk, it seems that an old style of mead has recently been resurrected after being lost for a number of decades. Bochet means burnt mead. You take the honey, boil it up until it darkens and turns toffee-like, then make mead with it. I decided not to make this too strong as a very high gravity means that it takes a lot longer to ferment and condition and also the yeast might give up again. It's going to be fermented using champagne yeast, but I did that last time as well with mixed results.

First off, sterilise everything, as usual. This part is getting quite tedious! Then I made a yeast starter. Heat a bit of water in a small pan, add a good spoonful of yeast nutrient, boil for ten minutes (the nutrient needs this), add some caster sugar, allow to cool below 30C and then add the yeast. This lot was set aside for a couple of hours while I attended to the honey.

Having read about the hazards of boiling honey, using the 40l wort-boiling pan seemed a good plan, even though there were only 3.5 Kg of it. This turns out to have been wise. Boiling honey seems to turn into this hot, roiling foam. What's more it expands two to three times. I boiled it quite hard and stirred it frequently until the foam went from a yellow colour to a darker orangey-red, which took about 40 minutes. When the heat was switched off the foam kept foaming and looked like it was still in active boil as I slowly added water. Note - when you add water to boiling honey it will spit. Boiling honey burns like napalm and goes solid very fast, so wear a long sleeved shirt if you're going to try this. This is also where having a huge pan helps. I started adding cold water a teaspoon at a time and slamming the lid back on the pot. After a while I was able to put in more at a time with my stirring spoon, until I was eventually able to add a 3 litre jug to the mix and get the whole thing down to a reasonable temperature.

The liquid that came out of this process was almost black. When diluted down to the gravity target (1.074, for ~10% abv at the end) it made up around 14 litres of black, sweet-toffee smelling liquid. I put the entire glass vessel in the laundry sink with cool water and ice to cool it down, then got the now-active yeast in. It's happily bubbling away on the kitchen counter, giving the house a mild honey smell when you walk in :)

On Sunday the 25th I came up with a recipe for a malted quaffing mead/braggot. This is to be about 5% so you can drink it in pints! I recently tried Blackwood Meadery's old mead brew, which was quite tasty at about 6%, but had absolutely no body to it. This is why this one is malted with some speciality grains -

  • 500g Belgian Aromatic
  • 500g Crystal 20
  • 500g Carafoam/Carapils

Belgian Aromatic has a lovely flavour and has enough diastatic power to convert itself, and the other two are already fully converted grains so no base malt or extra enzyme was needed in the mash. All three of these grains should give a good body and reasonable head to the finished product. These were mashed for 60 minutes at 70C (with some effort to get the temperature up there) to give as complex and full bodied wort as possible (lower temperature = higher fermentability, higher temperature = more complex sugars that the yeast don't eat). I boiled this up for 60 minutes with a pretty simple schedule -

  • 20g Cascade at 30 minutes
  • Yeast Nutrient and Whirlfloc at 10 minutes
  • 20g Cascade and ~25g sweet orange peel at 5 minutes

I'm not 100% sure it should be hopped at all, but this shouldn't give too much bitterness, and the orange peel worked really well in the last braggot. At the end of the boil 2.5kg of honey went in to provide the main fermentable material and flavour. After rapid cooling through the heat exchanger I added two packets of dried Windsor ale yeast and moved the whole lot out to the brew fridge. It too is now enthusiastically outgassing.

So now all that's needed is patience and, if the last two honey drinks are any indication, a lot of it.

Photos of boiling honey later, if I can be bothered

1 comment:

  1. I should mention, for the sake of posterity and recreation, that the malted mead came in at 1.044 (82%!!), and was a 25 litre batch.