When brewing alcohol, there are several stages to go through before you get to the drinking stage – and after a few weeks of initial fermentation, my batches of mead have gotten to the next stage – racking. This is where you siphon off the liquid from the must into a clean container so it can finish fermenting.
Here you can see the chocolate mead in the process of being siphoned off into a clean 5-litre plastic demijohn, using a length of clean food-grade plastic tubing. The easiest way to get the liquid siphoning is to fill the tube with water with a thumb over each end. Insert one end into the full demijohn on the higher surface, and then point the other end into an empty cup until all the water has run out and you’re starting to get mead flowing through. Cover the end with your thumb and transfer the end of the tube into the mouth of your lower, empty demijohn, take away your thumb, then stand back and watch as the liquid is transferred easily and effortlessly into the clean demijohn – hygienically and with minimum mess! Leave behind any solids and the yeast residue that has settled out (“flocculated”) to the bottom of the demijohn. Then cap the demijohn with a clean airlock, and leave it to finish fermenting in peace and quiet for a few more weeks.
The racking stage is the perfect time to take samples to check specific gravity. I’ll go into more detail about specific gravity in another post; basically SG readings are how you calculate the alcohol content of your mead and also help you work out when fermentation has finished and it’s time to bottle the mead. If you bottle it before it’s finished fermenting, you’ll end up with potentially dangerous mead-bombs that could explode without warning.
It’s also a point at which you can do a little taste testing, if you’re so inclined. Most meads aren’t really drinkable after only three or four weeks unless you’re making a very small batch or making a short mead – and even those would be improved with some aging. After 4 weeks fermenting, the orange blossom mead really isn’t ready for drinking – it has a very sharp, thin, almost vinegary flavour that definitely needs to mellow with age. The chocolate mead is a little better – it’s a surprisingly bitter brew at present, but there’s promise there.
The spiced orange short mead is, indeed, drinkable after only 3 weeks although it’s quite a sharp taste; racking for a few weeks longer will improve it further but it’s certainly mead.
The real surprise has been the agave mead. The natural sugars in agave were not enough to feed the yeast so fermentation stopped after only a week, with the spent yeast flocculating well into a pale sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Test readings with the hydrometer showed the alcohol content was only 0.1% – so agave by itself isn’t an adequate source of sugar to brew with. So the next stage of the experiment was to add sugar and more yeast, to test out what the flavour of agave would be like when brewed. I added 8 teaspoons of white powdered sugar and half a teaspoon of Young’s General Purpose brewing yeast, which kickstarted the fermentation again nicely; and I racked it into a clean bottle at the same time as I racked the other meads. I reserved a little for taste testing – and this one was a real surprise! Very smooth and drinkable, with a delicate taste – honeyish but without being cloying. This one’s been a real success, so I’ll be brewing up a larger, 5-litre batch of this one next.