No Boil Bokbunja Melomel

UPDATE (17 Dec. 2010): I wrote this up on Tuesday but forgot to post it. Therefore, it refers to a future act which actually happened on Wednesday. Just so you know. The melomel, incidentally, is in a bucket right by my desk, bubbling away happily. Must remember to do a DAP addition this evening. And by the way, I haven’t racked the Golden Strong to clear, but I should be doing that soon. (As soon as I can rack my Persimmoned Wheat off the fruit and put it in a closet on my balcony to clear.)

ORIGINAL POST (written 14 Dec. 2010): Tomorrow, I’m going to make a no-boil “bokbunja melomel.”

Melomel is the name for a fruited mead–that is, a honey wine with fruit added to it. For those not living in Korea, bokbunja is the Korean word for black raspberry. Bokbunja is used to make a common liquor here, called bokbunja-ju, or “black raspberry liquor.” Indeed, bokbunja is one of the Korean traditional alcoholic drinks I like best, so I figured that it’d make a great fruit addition to a mead.

For the honey, I’m using approximately 5 kilograms, split basically in half between a very light acacia honey, and a darker clover honey I picked up in Itaewon. I’ll also be pitching the mead yeast starter that I have stepped up a few times, including the approximately half kilogram’s honey of “mead” that it has produced in the process of stepping up.

It may seem outright mad to make a mead this way, at this point, considering I will, at the very least, be moving in a few months. However, I’ve read that meads made using the no-boil method can be ready to drink in as little as six months, and I figure this can make a good present for others to hold onto and enjoy at some point in the future. (I’ll leave a few bottles cached somewhere and ask for a friend to post them to me later on.)

No-boil, however, suggests some possible problems in terms of infection. The wheat beer onto which I racked unpasteurized bokbunja ended up getting (seemingly) infected. (I’ve pitched some Brettanomyces into it, and hope that it simply sours over the next few months, but there’s now knowing how that will go.) Therefore, I am not going to boil the honey, but I am going to steep the fruit in pasteurization-temperature water. I don’t have pectin enzyme (and it seems harder to get in Korea than I had hoped), so that means the mead will likely come out cloudier than I would like, but I’d rather be assured of a cloudy unspoiled mead than to risk spoilage in  the name of clarity. However, if I maintain a temperature of between 71 and 82 degrees Celcius, I can pasteurize the berries without setting the pectin… so I’m going to do that.

1 kilogram of bokbunja is a pretty small addition, I realize. I have a second kilogram sitting in the freezer and once the mead has completed primary fermentation, I’ll rack it off the old berries and onto some portion of the new ones (maybe a kilo, maybe less.) This might sound like potential overkill, but I’ve heard that most of the aroma from the berries will be lost with the outgassing of primary fermentation, and that while the flavor complexity of the mead will be increased by the berries, it won’t end up having much of the original fruit character. Hence, the second kilo held in storage… though I might be talked into splitting that between another wheat beer experiment (with pasteurized berries) and the mead. We’ll see.

In all, it’ll be much less of a pain in the ass than brewing beer, in some ways — no spent grains to deal with, no mashing procedure — but the downside is that the stuff takes an age to mature. If I’m very careful with my yeast nutrient additions, and add them in three different stages along the way, I should get a nice quick fermentation of a couple of weeks. However, then it needs to go into secondary and sit for a few months. I’ll probably try clear it as much as possible of fruit and bottle it near the end of February, at which point it has to sit for another few months at least before anyone should consider even tasting it at all. I’m kicking myself for not starting on a batch of mead a lot sooner, but, well, life gets in the way sometimes.

I should be able to save up enough wine bottles by February, at least: someone in my building goes through a few bottles a week, and leaves them out by the front door near the recycling station. I wish they were drinking champagne, as I’d like to bottle a little of this batch to be sparkling, but there’s not a lot of good, affordable champagne in Korea, so… still mead it shall be, for the most part.

Anyway, I’ll be brewing that up tomorrow, and also racking the persimmoned wheat beer into a second vessel for clearing. For that matter, I’ll likely rack my Abigyuhwan Golden Strong Ale to a second fermented for clearing, too.

Actually, now that I think of it, I need to figure out procedure, since I want to also grab a small sample of the mead yeast to add to my On a Jag Dubbel (and see if it’ll carbonate) — it should, since the alcohol tolerance is up to 18%, but I’ll have to be careful as I’ve got a little more priming sugar in that beer than normal. I also want to rack the mead into the glass fermenter after its two week run, but would like to have racked the Belgian out of it, harvested the yeast, and soaked it in bleach by then.

I guess my procedure will look something like this:

  • Dump yeast starter into sterilized/sanitized fermentation bucket for mead, with some sterile water on top of it, along with taking a separate sample of the mead yeast. Seal fermenter.
  • Inoculate Dubbels with mead yeast, box, and leave to carbonate. (Maybe set reminders to let off some of the CO2 after two days, to prevent bottle bombs.)
  • Prepare mead/berries, cool, and rack onto yeast.
  • Clean up.

If I have the time and energy, I could also rack the golden strong to secondary to clear, but I’ll probably leave that for Wednesday. Tuesday is my last day of classes, and I have some grading to finish up, and one (fairly simple) final exam to prepare before then.

UPDATE (20 Dec. 2010): This melomel is bubbling away nicely, a little less vigorously but without any sign of stopping… actually, it hasn’t really even slowed down, which is a good thing: the OG was pretty high on it–that is to say, there was a lot of sugar from the honey and the fruit for the yeast to work on, and it’s likely to come out to 15% alcohol by volume if I remember right. 15% alcohol is a pretty harsh environment for a yeast, so they’ll slow down, probably exponentially, as they approach that amount, but the yeast tolerance is up to 18% so they should be able to make it all the way through to the end of fermentation. I’m expecting another week and a half of bubbling before I even remotely consider transferring it to a carboy. (And when I do, it’ll be sitting there as long as I can manage, before I bottle it… a long clearing and conditioning phase is normal for mead, but I’ll have to see what I can manage.)

UPDATE (24 Dec. 2010): Still bubbling along nicely, a constant little soundtrack next to my desk as I work on whatever I work on. Considering that I didn’t make any subsequent additions of DAP after the first one, I wonder if the bokbunja will make up for what is needed in terms of nutrients for the yeast. I hope so!

UPDATE (21 March 2011): Racked the bokbunja to a keg. Photo and brief discussion here, along with my newly started birthday cyser.

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