Well, I am a few weeks late in starting it, but when you’re bulk aging something for a year, a few weeks seems like not so much to worry about.
For those who don’t know the term, a “cyser” is simply a mead/cider fusion. That is, it’s an alcoholic beverage in which the alcohol is created by the fermentation of sugars in honey (mead) and apple juice (cider).
I went with a five gallon batch, with approximately two gallons of the must being apple juice. The remainder is water in which 5.2 kilograms of acacia honey has been dissolved. The water was very warm when I dumped the acacia honey into it, but hot boiling; I did not boil the honey, either. I am depending on the mead yeast I’m using to kick in and ferment it quickly enough that wild yeasts and bacteria won’t turn it nasty.
The numbers (as calculated by the handy mead calculator at Gotmead.com) are as follows:
5.2 kilos of honey + 2 gallons of apple juice + 3 gallons of water =
Apparent ABV: 15.4% (Original estimate from recipe: 14.5%!)
Yeast: part of a second generation cake of Wyeast 4632 (“Dry Mead Yeast”)
Now, one interesting thing I noted when I racked the last batch of mead (a bokbunja melomel, or, for those who don’t know the mead terminology or Korean, a black raspberry fruit mead) off this cake and into a keg for bulk aging was that it had fermented way past 1.000, down to what I’m guessing was more like 0.900 or so.
Here’s a snap of the bokbunja melomel being racked into a keg for bulk aging:
The young melomel had a very strong, harsh flavor, but the alcohol was not particularly hot, and the aftertaste was, as Miss Jiwaku noticed, pretty nice. This is not particularly alarming, since, after all, mead is supposed to be aged for a pretty long time. (And the longer you bulk age it, the better it is for the mead.)
As you can see, the mead turned out pretty purplish, almost the color of a darker red wine. I don’t know what it will look like in a glass, except that it seemed pretty clear to me. I’ll be racking it to a new keg eventually, maybe in a few months, in the hopes of it clearing out thoroughly by the time it’s time to try the melomel out. I’m planning on racking it onto some oak for a while; I had planned to rack it onto more bokbunja, but it’s pretty berried-up and I don’t think it needs it. Maybe the next batch I make with berries, I can put half as many berries in primary, and more in the secondary fermentation.
I’m just waiting for the new mead to cool so I can dump it onto the yeast I harvested from the melomel. Note to self for future: when fermenting a melomel with the fruit in the primary, getting a clean yeast sample is not as easy as it sounds. But I’m in a hurry, so I’m going to live with the slight color of the yeast cake, and whatever it contributes to the mead. I hope it turns out okay, or I’ll have to pitch some other mead yeast into the bucket, and I think all I have left that is mead-specific is a “Sweet Mead” yeast. I’m kicking myself for not having done a clear batch of straight mead first, so as to build up a yeast cake I could take a few samples from. Anyway, I’m sure it will be fine. Worst comes to worst, I have some Belgian yeast I can pitch into it.
I think it will be interesting to see how the apple cidery qualities and the winey mead qualities blend together. Ken Schramm, from whose excellent book on meadmaking I took the recipe, says it’s a very fine beverage, and I am looking forward to sharing it when it comes time to celebrate my next birthday… which I intend to be my last birthday celebrated in Korea. I’ll see how it tastes in a few months, and probably also rack it onto a little toasted, boiled French oak for a while, till it gets a little bit oaky, as I think that might compliment the flavor. It might be a split batch by then, or it might not.
As for the bokbunja melomel, well, it has been aging for a few months already, since I pitched the yeast into it in late December. That’s something of a relief… I was worried it’d been sitting on the yeast since, say, November or October or something ridiculous.
I have to say, while I love brewing beer, making mead is a lot less labour intensive: you don’t need to (and indeed, some would say, ought not to) boil the honey, or mash any grains (unless you’re making a bragot, and that’s pretty much brewing if you ask me). It can be a very quick process, if you’re set up and ready to go, and focus on what needs to get done.
Which is to say, I think I’ll be making a few more meads in the next few months. Since I’ll have a year to age them all, it’ll be a good way of producing a pretty steady stream of nice, wine-like bottles of stuff to pass around to people, share, and enjoy when we don’t feel like beer. Plus, who knows, maybe if I bring some to one of the Korean brewing events, we could get a few more local people interested in making mead. It’s a start to something, at the very least… and since Korea has a fairly decent number of apiaries, I’m pretty sure mead is a viably easy form of home brewing to do here. Hmmm.
For at least one batch of future mead, I want to get some funky varietal honey. I’ve seen dark honeys from Jiri Mountain, down south, which I bet would make a killer dark mead. But that’s all for… well, for later.
UPDATE 8 April 2011: After checking a week or so ago and discovering the cyser still fermenting and at about 1.010, and leaving it be, today’s gravity reading puts the cyser at roughly 0.992 or so–that’s a guess, since my gravitometer doesn’t actually measure below 1.000, but the way it’s marked, it looks like there’s a cutoff line at 0.990, and just the first bit of it was showing.
I’m doubly pleased, since (a) the cyser is not particularly dark from the berry material–the color is a deep cold, but it’s primarily from the honey and apple juice, and (b) it tastes pretty good. Considering that I didn’t add any yeast nutrient or yeast energizer, I’m a bit surprised, but I take it to be a good thing. I’m not in a hurry to get it off the yeast, though: I will be attempting one more batch of mead (a metheglin I promised my friend Chris), I think, and I want to have the luxury of washing the yeast, building up a culture, and then pitching half the built-up mead yeast and disposing of the other half in some other way… I may try a braggot (honey beer), or I may try using the mead yeast to make a straight beer.
I have a “sweet mead” yeast as well, which I’m curious to try in terms of how a dessert mead would turn out, but I think that’s going to be a smaller couple of batches. Likely, at first, just a couple of gallons that I left sit for a few months bottled in small bottles. Even most of those will probably sit till winter, when I’ll really be able to see what I think of them.
Anyway, the cyser should make for some good drinking… maybe not on my birthday, depending on whether storing it till March (or our being here) actually happen. But this is one mead that I am definitely going to let sit for a long time.