Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Batches 004 & 005: Black Napalm and Unnamed Blackberry Cider

This week I took a break from brewing beer to try out a few new things.  This is my first attempt at a homebrewed mead and my first true cider.  I have done some work with apple juice in the past, but always in the form of graff (a beer/cider hybrid).  Recently, BrewingTV(a production of Northern Brewer) used one of my graffs in an episode of theirs.  Check them out at if you haven't seen it.  They put out a lot of great information.

The mead.  I enjoy mead, but have never thought to make my own.  Then I found a mead I had never heard of that was completely different than the others that I had seen, bochet.  A bochet is a burnt mead, meaning you boil and caramelize the honey prior to diluting to your starting gravity.  I read online that it would taste like toasted marshmallows before fermentation, but couldn't find many descriptions of the finished product other than that it was all gone and they wished they had more.  That convinced me.  Due to the fact that you will be boiling the honey the variety won't matter as much as it would in a traditional mead.  I did a 1 1/2 gallon batch and used 6 lbs of clover honey.  Beersmith told me I would hit 1.138 OG and because of the cooking process it should end around 1.020-30, giving me a nice 14-16%ABV.  I am not going to trust Beersmith with honey any more and I will get to that later.

 The process. With pictures this time! This is a fairly straight forward process, boil until black, dilute, reheat, cool, pitch, wait.  I added my 6 lbs of honey to my 3 gallon brew pot. 

 As you can see it doesn't take up much room, for now.  Begin heating your honey, but keep an eye on it.  About 20 minutes later I was at a boil and had to quickly turn the heat down.

At this point I spent half an hour stirring to avoid a boil over and adjusting the heat to look for the sweet spot that kept it rolling, but kept the foam under control.  Soon after I was able to walk away from the pot for about 5 minutes at a time to do other things as long as I remembered to come back and give it a quick stir to knock it back down.  While it was boiling I managed to transfer St. Nick's Nog (Batch 002) to secondary and bottle up Papa's Pale Ale (Batch 001).  I also put together the cider which I will explain more below.

An hour into the boil the honey had darkened considerably, but not yet to the black that I had seen online.

Now, unfortunately after this the process kept me busy and I was unable to take more pictures.  I boiled for another hour and turned the flame off as the timer rolled past the 2 hour mark.  I gave the honey about 5 minutes to cool slightly before adding 1 gallon of water very carefully.  The water will instantly boil when it hits the hot honey so go slowly.  I mixed the honey into solution and started to heat it up again to ensure that the water was sanitized.  At about 190F I killed the heat and started the cooling process.  I took a small sample and put it in my refractometer to check the gravity.  I couldn't read it at all so I cleaned it off and did a base reading on some tap water.  0 Brix, right where it should be, so I tested the must again and still could not make out a reading.  That's when I took 1 once of tap water and mixed it in a cup with 1 once of must and tested that knowing that the gravity would be double the reading I would get.  My reading came out to 20.5 Brix, double that is 41 Brix or about 1.182 OG.  I checked this reading three more times and tried to figure out what went wrong.  I checked Beersmith one more time, 1.5 gallon batch, 6 lbs of honey =1.138.  Unfortunately I don't have anything larger than a 2 gallon fermenter so I sighed, added my yeast nutrient and started to rehydrate my yeast.  My 14-16% mead now (if the yeast allows) will be around 20%.  This has now become an experiment in making rocket fuel taste good.  Here's hoping I can make this work out.  I named this Black Napalm for a reason.  As the honey boils it will bubble up.  As those bubbles break occasionally they will spit honey out.  If your hand is in the wrong place at the wrong time, that molten honey will hit you and solidify on contact.  I only got hit once, but that was enough.  Not being able to take what is burning you off your skin is not a good situation.  With the higher gravity, I may end up naming this Black Death instead, but only time will tell.

The cider.  I hadn't really planned on doing a cider, but saw some good looking blackberries pop up at the store and thought why not.  I kept this super simple and just bought some preservative-free apple juice and the blackberries.  I smashed the berries with a potato smasher and added some pectic enzyme to help break them down and give me some good color and hopefully more flavor.  I let the enzyme work for an hour and then pour the berries into a muslin bag which was hanging in a one gallon jug.  I have made the mistake of not bagging blackberries in the past and would like not to deal with the seeds clogging every valve and tube they pass.  After that I just poured apple juice in to just above the 1 gallon mark, added yeast nutrient and my yeast and set it aside to work.  I haven't come up with a name for this one yet, but it has a wonderful dark pink/purple color.  Can't wait to try it.

So no recipes this week, just a couple wishful looks at airlocks hoping that everything turns out for the best.

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