Meadery Expansion!

The last few weeks I have been working on upgrading my “Meadery,” that is, the closet where I ferment and age all of my meads.  After buying our house, I quickly claimed a closet in an extra bedroom for fermenting before we ever moved anything in.  This small, 36″x31″ space is where all of my equipment should reside, but just having the floor and single top shelf was proving to be a problem.  I don’t trust the top shelf to hold any weight, and my carboys, buckets and bottles were overflowing into all rooms of the house.  Add in the additional brewing equipment I received for the Holidays, and an upgrade was in order.




A full brewing closet, with carboys, bottles, and odds and ends all over the place.


Given the constraints on space, I wanted to add a single mid-level shelf that could support the weight of six 5-gallon carboys.  The shelf also needed enough space both above and below such that you could fit a carboy with an S-type airlock attached, and still have a few inches to add water to the airlock as necessary. I wanted the shelf to span the full 31″ width of the closet.  This meant it had to be built into the closet, as the doorway was only 23″ wide.

Taking the inspiration from Ted’s Fishroom, I decided to use a modified dado joint to create the shelf.  (Note: I also have a freshwater fish tank, that before I started brewing was fully stocked with white cloud mountain minnows and cherry shrimp, and aquascaped with assorted crypts, anubias, rotala and java fern.)  I added two interior 2″x4″ spacers so that my plywood shelf would not bow under the additional weight.  While fish tanks can be fully supported on their two long sides, my carboys carry the same weights, but the round bottom needs to be supported on all sides.  I also drilled two outside spacers into the studs as additional support.  This mitigates any issues from knocking the legs on accident and causing the shelf to topple.

A 5-gallon Better Bottle plastic carboy is roughly 26″ in height when the airlock is attached, so I planned for a minimum of 30″ space on the middle and bottom shelves.  Measuring floor to the bottom of the hanger bar already installed in the closet, I had 68″ of space.  This was just enough to fit in my design as I needed to take into account the additional height of the 2″x4″ cross members with the 3/4″ plywood shelf.


Left: The empty closet. Center: The initial frame with the back legs and two interior spacers drilled to the back cross member. Right: The finished shelf. 

Over the course of 3 days, and what felt like way too long considering the simplicity of the design (but at least it is level!), I finally put the last screw into the shelf.  Of course, after building it, I still have leftover equipment in the house.  But a haphazard carboy or two is far better than where I began!

The completed closet, missing two 5-gallon carboys, a 1 gallon carboy, and a 1/2 gallon carboy, all currently in the center of our living room floor under MEA-watch. Looking closely, you can see the blackberry stain created by the first mead made on the new shelf.

Do MEAs a Mazer Make?

It took me four and a half years, but I have officially created my first mead eruption accident (MEA).  A MEA happens when a batch overflows from its carboy or fermenting vessel, often resulting in the unintentional remodeling of the kitchen, basement, or closet you conduct your fermenting in.  I missed the chance to take photos this morning as the accident was found minutes before leaving for work and resulted in a half hour delay of my arrival, but if the batch blows again I will be sure to update!  Luckily, this was on top of my newly constructed shelf (next blog post, hint hint), keeping the mess contained.  Only about a cup of mead was lost to the eruption, and it now sits bubbling along, ever threatening a repeat disaster.

So what happened?

Last night, I started a Blackberry Bliss batch, this time increasing the blackberry from 60 ounces to 84 ounces (seven large grocery store containers).  The batch also has a pint of blueberries, approximately 17 pounds of orange blossom honey, 5 “mushy” raspberries, with water to 5 gallons.  This was all mixed together in a 5 gallon carboy and Fleishman’s Active Dry Yeast was added (admittedly, most of the honey is still not dissolved, but the yeast will eventually make its way through the sugars).  I thought I left enough headspace to avoid the dreaded MEA, but fate would have it other ways.

Can you avoid it?

MEAs are easily avoided if you have the right fermentation equipment.  Your best bet is to always ferment in buckets, leaving the carboys for aging.  Also, you should ferment in containers significantly larger than your must, think at least 1 gallon more space than you have in the batch.  Unfortunately, I do not have a 5 gallon brewing bucket or anything larger (yet! My honey pail will become one as soon as I have used the remaining gallon of honey in another batch).  During fermentation, be sure to stir the batch regularly early in fermentation to degas the mead (this releases the CO2 in solution so you don’t have it release unbeknownst to you in your fermenting closet).  In heavy fruit batches, it is also a good idea to add anti-foam drops, but alas, I was unprepared.

If it does happen, you should split the batch into multiple fermenters.  This will allow you to increase the headspace per fermenter, making it less likely to erupt again.  Next, ensure to manage the cap (the layer of foam and must ingredients that forms at the top of the carboy/bucket during fermentation) by punching it down frequently into the must.  This requires stirring the mead such that the cap is completely submerged, and the bubbles are minimal on the surface.  This may be every hour, or just twice a day; it will depend on your individual ferment.  In this batch, if I leave it more than 15 minutes it is likely to erupt again, even after extracting 1/2 gallon from the carboy.

Do you have a MEA to confess to, or any additional ideas on how to manage it?  Let me know in the comments below.  The Mead Eruption Accident Decrement Society (M.E.A.D.S.) is excited to hear about your experiences!

Christmas Gifts

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who added to my mead supply collection! This year, I received four new 1 gallon carboys (edit: and one bottle capper!) courtesy of my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces.  My parents got me new carboy bungs (stoppers) and airlocks, as I realized I did not have enough to brew with my complete collection of equipment.  I also received two fun books, Making Wild Wines and Meads and The Drunken Botanist from my mom.  Looking through the first, I have some fun ideas for the fruits we have growing in our backyard, especially the mulberry tree.  Hopefully the crows don’t eat all the fruit this year!

I also purchased some chemistry equipment for myself to improve my yeast capture experiments. (I swear at some point I will post about the process and what results I am getting!) The cache includes test tubes for storing yeast, plastic pipettes to extract the yeast cakes from completed fermentations, 60x15mm petri dishes for isolating yeast, and the requisite agar-agar powder to use the dishes.  Lastly, I bought Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition to learn about the procedures the professionals use for yeast capture.  I haven’t made it through the book yet, but at first glance it is a good reference for my experiments. 

Again, thank you everyone for the new equipment!  It will come in great use for making this next year’s batches.

2013 Holiday Special Part II

When I wrote the Part I of the Holiday Special series, I fully expected I would have good news to report for part two.  I had made a 2 gallon batch of Spiced Cherry Cyser 2 years ago, and remembered it being rather tasty the last time I tried it (over a year ago now).  It was left aging in a 1 gallon and a 1/2 gallon carboy.  Unfortunately, only a single bottle was opened for our Winter Solstice gathering, despite having 16 available.  Nevertheless, I provide this to you as background so that you can avoid the same mistake.

The recipe was as follows:

2 gallon batch

  • 1 gallon Trader Joe’s Spiced Apple Cider
  • 1/2 gallon Trader Joe’s Cherry Cider
  • 3 lbs Mesquite Honey (also Trader Joe’s… anyone sensing a pattern here?)
  • Water to 1.092 SG (12% potential ABV)
  • 1 packet D47 yeast (would take the batch dry, which is likely the problem I encountered)

I followed a semi-staggered nutrient addition, adding half the nutrients at pitching and the other half 15 hours later.  I also aerated regularly during the first half of fermentation.  I left the mead on the yeast for a little sur lees aging, and after 5 months racked it from the bucket fermenter.  At the time, it had nice notes of spiced apple cider minimal cherry flavor.  There was no off flavoring from the yeast, just wasn’t my favorite since the batch went dry.  I added a little bit of honey to a glass to test backsweetening, and my wife (who prefers sweeter drinks) absolutely loved it.  With that said, I hoped this would be a great option to serve for our Winter Solstice Gathering

This batch was finally bottled 5 days before they gathering, and that was when I noticed something tasted off.  I worry the main issue with the batch was that I let the airlocks dry out and oxidized the mead.  I do not have experience with oxidation, so I don’t know what to taste for other than wet cardboard, and that isn’t exactly the problem.  The mead tastes very tart from the cherries, with a kick of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove from the spices.  The apple is also present, although the tartness dominates.  The tartness and spices do not go well together, especially without any sweetness to balance it.

Determined to get tasting notes, I served small samples to a handful of guests to gauge their reactions.  Noting that many do not like mead as they’ve only ever tasted it sweet, I was wondering if someone who liked dry wines could comment and provide any additional feedback.  Alas, none of my family fits in that dry wine category, and only one guest had anything positive to say.  A few were nice enough to finish the bottle, although they grimaced through those last few sips.  For now, it is back to the drawing board with this batch.  I will likely age for another year and open at Christmas just to see the difference.  If the perceived sweetness comes back over time, it might just turn into something drinkable, if never special.

I still believe a cherry and apple combination should go well together (see Zombie Killer), it just can’t finish dry or with spices.