Spring Is Here! Time to Think About Planting.


Well, it is official, spring is finally here. And that means it is time to start gardening again. If you are an avid gardener, use winter to prep your beds, plan the garden and order your seeds. I procrastinate too much for that, so I’m just now putting together my plans for this year. Although by the calendar spring really comes in March, unless you have a greenhouse in Maryland, many of your herbs and vegetables have to wait until later to plant (darn you pesky late freezes!). And in planning the garden this year, I am focusing on things I can use to enhance my meads.

I haven’t talked about it much, but you can’t make great meads without high quality ingredients. And what better way to ensure the quality of your ingredients than to grow them yourself? This includes keeping your own bees instead of purchasing honey, but at this point that is out of the question for me. If you don’t already have a good honey source, go check out the honey locator to find an apiary near you!

Gardening is one of my most satisfying summer hobbies, and not just for growing mead ingredients. It helps cut down on produce expenses, and ensures the quality of the food I eat. If you haven’t tried a homegrown heirloom tomato, for instance, you are truly missing out. Vine ripe tomatoes at your local grocery store don’t come close. The same is true for other vegetables, fresh cut herbs, and fruits that you can grow. Grocery stores and large scale farmers have chosen fruits and vegetables based on their appearance and ability to stay “fresh” over long periods of time on the shelf. They haven’t chosen them for taste. You have two choices to overcome this: grow your own, or find a trustworthy farmer and buy from them (at the local farmer’s market, perhaps). This year in our garden I am making a point of planting ingredients I can use for mead making. Here’s some of the ideas I have for what to harvest and plant.

Collecting flower petalsDandelion_2

In the early spring, rather than pulling all those dandelion “weeds” at first sight, I am letting them flower and collecting the petals to make dandelion wine. If you do this, make sure your lawn doesn’t have pesticides applied. I don’t want to get blamed for someone reading this and getting sick!

I’d like to say I will also collect our rose petals to make a rhodomel, but I don’t think my wife will let me. She purchased a purple rose bush this year, and I’d love to see what colors I could get out of it. Maybe in a few years, when the plant is mature enough, I can steal a few blooms when she isn’t looking.


Perhaps the easiest plants to grow in a home garden, herbs provide fantastic flavors to enhance your meads. Many of the standard mead herbs may not be easily grown at home depending on your climate (cloves, vanilla, allspice, cinnamon, etc), but there are many that apply to wide ranges of climate zones. This year, I am looking at planting some chamomile, lemon balm, and mint varieties. We already have a few lavender plants I can harvest from as well. You can also look into growing hops, exotic basil varieties, or coriander (the seeds come from cilantro for those TexMex fans out there), but alas our gardening space is limited.


In our So, What is Mead? post I talked about the common mead types, and melomels jump to the top of the list in popularity. I am extremely interested in growing fruits native to Maryland, and the United States as a whole. Cider and grape wines are predominately made from Old World fruits, and I would like to test the range of available flavors native to our climate. Nothing says eating local like eating something that would have grown in your backyard centuries ago.

Last fall, as one of our wedding presents, we received a slew of native fruits from a friend. Purchased from Earth Sangha, these plants were grown from wild seeds collected in the Mid Atlantic region around Washington, DC, and included persimmon, lowbush blueberry, huckleberry, and both red and black chokeberry. I don’t expect to harvest these for many years to come (persimmons can take 10+ years to flower when grown from seed), but am extremely excited about the possibilities.

The previous owner of our house also planted thornless blackberry, highbush blueberry, and hardy kiwi. We only had a few blackberries mature last year, but the blueberries may produce fruit this season. The hardy kiwi is still a few years away from really producing, as they aren’t properly trellised. (Note, hardy kiwi is not native to North America. However, given the plant is already in our backyard, I can’t see a reason to tear it out.) We have also planted rhubarb, which although not native, it does taste delicious in pies and mead!

Lastly, we have some wild raspberries, a mature mulberry tree, some pawpaws, and a few black cherry trees growing adjacent to our property that we can harvest. Needless to say, there will be a lot of fruit gathering this season, and hopefully more than we can eat. I only get the leftovers for making mead.


Aside from the fruits and spices, the one vegetable we will be growing for mead making are spicy peppers, likely just jalapenos. Don’t be shy on the spice, many commercial meaderies include habaneros and Thai chilies. Capsicumels may not be everyone’s favorite, but are worth a try if you enjoy spicy foods. You may need to make a recipe that finishes sweet to balance with the spice, and look to add the peppers in secondary to avoid the pepper oils interrupting the yeast.

Are you growing any other ingredients to use in your meads? Let us know in the comments section, as I am sure I’ve missed a few easily grown options.

Reclaiming Bottles


As you get more and more into making mead, beer, or wine, you will find yourself adding bottles to your collection at an increasingly quick rate. Each gallon that you make can yield anywhere from nine to twelve 12-oz bottles or four to five 750 mL wine bottles. So how do you keep up with the demand? There is always the option of purchasing new bottles. This is especially advantageous if you want a unique look for your homemade brand. But new bottles are expensive. Instead, I recommend reclaiming bottles rather than just recycling them. I haven’t gotten into corking bottles yet, so I will focus on reclaiming beer bottles.

Pry or Twist?

This may be more of a personal preference, but I have always chosen pry off bottles to reclaim, recycling all the twist off bottles I buy. I am not sure that there is any proof that pry off bottles create a better seal, but in my mind I like to think they do. I also worry that it is easier to break the small thread on the lip of the twist off via continuous opening and re-capping than the thick lip on the pry off bottles.

Rinse After Drinking

As your bottle collection grows and you find yourself with spares, you will greatly thank yourself if you have remembered to rinse the bottles as soon as you finish them, and not letting the bottles sit with those few small drops in the bottom. These drops can spawn mold growths that are very difficult to clean, even with a bottle brush. At this point, just throw the bottles away. It isn’t worth the effort to clean.

Soaking Off the Label

After you’ve saved up all your bottles, you need a way to clean off the labels. My method is to dissolve a heaping scoop of OxiClean in 5 gallons of hot water. Submerge your bottles in the solution for at least one hour, or until labels peal off easily with minimal residue. If you are lucky, the residue will wipe off by brushing with a finger, a sponge, or steel wool if necessary. There are some pesky labels that may need a razor blade to scrape off the label, but I leave that decision to you as to whether it is worth the time (I just recycle them). Each brewery uses its own label glue, and some are easier than others to remove. I leave it to you to determine what bottles are worth saving, and what bottles are not worth the effort.


So there you have it. Make the choice if you want to keep pry off, twist off, or both bottle types. Be sure to rinse the bottles soon after drinking. Soak off the label with OxiClean, and give it a quick rinse so none of the glue stays inside the bottle. Now you are off to saving loads of money when it comes time to bottle your next batch!

Got any other ideas on how to reclaim used bottles, or a blog idea you’d like me to cover? Let us know in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Musings, Episode 1

Let me start off this week with an apology. My goal for this year has been to write a single post each week on Monday night, and this week I completely strayed, just now getting to it on a Friday morning. That’s not to say I don’t have blog topics or ideas, it is just that life can sometimes get in the way when we let it. I had the time Monday to write, but did not succeed. I did at least transfer some of the better posts from my blogspot site to this one, but no new content was created. Looking back through those posts got me thinking about why I originally started writing this blog 14 months ago. Yes, I have a dream to one day run a small meadery that would provide enough income to keep our family afloat, but the origin of the blog was to create a reference set for the latest mead trends, be they experiments written about in forums, new publications from the mead, wine, and beer industry, or just funny anecdotes and stories. This week, I am going to stray from a post about making mead, to write about the things I have been thinking about the last few weeks. Let’s call it musings, episode 1. I will try to keep these types of posts minimal in the great scheme of things, but if you have any thoughts or would like me to continue in this vein, let me know. The URL for the site is www.terrapinbluffs.com after all, and although meadery is in the header, that doesn’t mean mead is the the only thing I will ever write about.

Musing Topic One: Blog Viewership

To this point, I haven’t done much to promote TBM other than mentioning it a few times on facebook and talking with friends about the content. I have created a twitter account, but my paltry 7 posts doesn’t inspire many people to follow me. And that’s ok. I have only been making mead for a little less than 5 years, so the authority with which I can speak on the subject dwarfs in comparison to some other blogs (I’m looking at you, Jack Keller, or Ricky and company at Groennfell Meadery, or Paul Reiss at The Meadist, or Chrissie Zaerpoor at Kookoolan World Meadery, or so many others I don’t have time to mention). So before I make that massive push to publicize my posts, I’ve preferred the stealth launch. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about why I should say or do to promote this blog and increase viewership.

I am extremely grateful that the friends who have found this site and make mead seem to come back, but being completely honest, my unique viewership over the last month was 19 visitors, with a total of 78 visits. And I’m pretty sure I myself account for half the visits, and at least 5 of the unique visitors (my laptop, my phone, my wife’s laptop, and both work computers). My viewership is growing, as I only had 7 viewers as of April 1, but the growth is disappointing. It bothers me more than I am often willing to admit. So, I spend much of my time thinking about the best ways to promote my site and get more people to read, while simultaneously doing everything I can to not tell people. It is a very interesting dynamic. But in the last few weeks there has been some great content posted about starting blogs, finding readers, and one day making the blog itself profitable. These ideas are universal, and worth a look if you blog, or ever intend to. (Note, my intent is not to make money off of the TBM blog, so I have avoided ads, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Who wants to pay for advertisement when there are only 19 viewers anyway?)

ProBlogger.net. In general, this is a great site for learning about what is necessary to run a blog, how to set it up, and what to expect in those first few weeks when no one is reading. About a month back, they published a Beginner’s Week series that is well worth a read if you are just starting out, or looking for new ideas on where blogging can take you. I especially liked the Katie 180 Success Story, and found it extremely relevant as I have another friend who occasionally posts on her own blog (Random Thoughts of a Random Dietician) about similar nutrition information.

Entrepreneur.com. When I can find a few minutes at work to take a break, I am usually perusing articles at Entrepreneur.com (and occasionally Inc.com). The entrepreneurial topics range across all business sectors, and have resulted in me keeping a folder at work of the inspiring articles I have read. Following Entrepreneur has been especially helpful the last few weeks, as they have posted five new articles in their 2nd quarter startup series about starting a blog as a business. And if you poke around a little more, you will find some other great articles, like this one about long-form content and its importance in gaining social shares and increasing backlinks to your site (if you aren’t familiar with google’s strategy for ranking websites, backlinks are one of the most important parts of the algorithm). I have some great ideas to use this on my site in the coming weeks, so look out for some long-form posts like last week’s analysis of a meadmaking recipe.

SmartPassiveIncome.com Pat Flynn has done a great job explaining the ins and outs of online business at SmartPassiveIncome.com. What I really like about his take on online business is the importance of getting to the first page in google’s search results. This especially helps with increasing ad revenue, as few people are likely to go beyond the first search page results, let alone beyond the first two or three available links. That doesn’t apply to my site, but it may to yours. If you are interested in online business, start with his Passive Income 101. Pat is also extremely open with his business, and posts monthly income reports highlighting what you can earn if you follow some of his best practices. Awesome stuff!

Musing Topic Two: Designing a Logo

If you have been following along, you might have noticed that when this site first launched I had an About Us section at the top linking to the origin of the TBM name and its logo. I have since deleted the About Us section, incorporated some of the ideas into the homepage, and now have recopied the name and logo pages as archived blogs from my blogspot site. I mention this because to this day I am still not 100% satisfied I have chosen the best name and logo, so I find myself continuously wanting to think up new names or at the least change the logo design. For those especially perceptive readers, to this end you might have noticed me changing background colors on the website a time or two. But what does this mean for you?

When you start a blog, or a business, it is nice to have confidence that your branding is finalized. Me, I spent months in the analysis paralysis stage before I finally decided to just go forward with Terrapin Bluffs Meadery as the name, knowing I could always change it in the future. This change may not be easy, so it is a good idea to spend as much time as possible finalizing your name and logo. Just don’t let it delay that go live stage, as so many things change once you finally start writing and find your unique voice.

Again from Entrepreneur.com, there have been some recent articles discussing the importance of logo design and branding. When you think of the color of brands, do you think about why those colors were chosen, or what they mean to your audience? Jeremy Smith’s article, How to Use the Psychology of Color to Increase Website Conversions, is a great primer on understanding the importance of these decisions as they relate to your audience. If you are marketing for men, they are most likely to prefer blue, green, and black; women are most likely to prefer blue, purple or green. And avoid orange and brown for both sexes, as these are likely to be the most disliked colors of the bunch. You should also check out this infographic, Color, Value, and Evolution of Logos, put together by Ruby Media Corporation, to get a good look at how large corporations have designed their logos and what the color choices say about them.

Smart Passive Income also has a great post discussing important factors when considering a website re-design. The Mega-Details Behind the New Design of The Smart Passive Income Blog is a great reference for those wondering what impacts your web design could have on your viewership and conversion rates. And it is important to remember that when you make these changes, if you are in it for the money, aesthetics and personal choice may not be the only factors to consider.

I mention these articles because over the next few weeks/months I am planning to experiment with the logo colors and a possible complete redesign. While I like the logo as it stands, the striking contrast of the yellow text on a pure black background bothers me. Printed with an inkjet for an iron on t-shirt patch (to this day, one of my favorite Christmas presents, given to me by my wife in 2013), the colors come out faded and more natural. On a computer screen, however, they come off artificial. I’d like to make the logo colors more natural, like the actual colors of the diamondback terrapin, specifically the centrata subspecies native to the coastal Carolina south to north Florida. It may even help with getting readers, as the dominant colors I am looking at are green and light blue (preferred by both men and women!), with accents of brown and grey-black (centrata terrapin shells are typically green to brown, skin is light blue to grey with dark grey to black spots and patterns). Check out some terrapin images here to get an idea.


And with that said, I am going to leave you with one final link to another entrepreneur.com article, 5 TED Talks That May Change Your View on Life, posted Tuesday. A great way to finish the week if you haven’t seen them already.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts on attracting blog viewership and logo design or redesign. Thanks for reading!

Analyzing Mead Recipes

Over the last weekend, “the best kind of friend that anyone could ever hope for” started his second and third batches of mead, and so graciously has allowed me to analyze his mead recipes on the blog (hence, the quotes were his concession to allow the conversation online). His goals were to examine the differences between two very common yeasts used to ferment mead, Lalvin 71B-1122 (71B) and Lalvin ICV D-47 (D47). On top of this, he wanted to compare some spiced samples of the finished mead to the un-spiced original. To this end, he developed the following recipe:

1 gallon Traditional Mead

  • 3.5 lbs honey
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient (1/2 at pitch, 1/2 at 20 hours after pitch)
  • 1/2 tsp yeast energizer (1/2 at pitch, 1/2 at 20 hours after pitch)
  • Make 2 identical musts. Rehydrate yeasts, and pitch D47 in one, 71B in the other. Ferment side by side and treat similarly.
  • After primary fermentation, split batch in half. Add spices to first half, bottle second half with no spice additions.

At first glance, this is a pretty simple recipe. It is just a traditional mead, but there are some important points to make about the recipe.

3.5 lbs honey

Initially, I wanted to know why he chose 3.5 lbs honey, and if this was a conscious choice recognizing the alcohol tolerance of the two yeasts in this test. His response was that his first mead (a JAO variant) had 3.5 lbs honey. He liked the sweetness at the end of this batch, and thought this one would follow a similar sweetness level. Unfortunately, 71B and D47 both have higher alcohol tolerances (14%) than your standard bread yeast (11%). But what does this really mean? This is where your hydrometer comes in handy.

When you dissolve 3.5 lbs of honey into a one gallon must (remember, must is unfermented wine or mead), you will end up with a specific gravity around 1.124. This means the mead has a total potential alcohol of a little over 17%. Using the 71B and D47, you would only have 3% of residual sweetness left after the ferment (granted, this is still considered a sweet mead), compared to the 6% residual sweetness in a JAO. If he wants a direct comparison at the same sweetness level, he would need to backsweeten the new batches or ferment with a greater initial quantity of honey. In this case, because the starting gravity is already so high, it is best to backsweeten if he indeed does want to try this.

I would generally recommend starting with a 3 lb honey per gallon of must recipe, but my friend prefers sweeter alcohols based on cider tastings, so the 3% residual sweetness is probably a good starting point. It will also provide some extra buffer to cover any mistakes if the ferment doesn’t go as well as planned (sweetness can mask any number of flaws).

Yeast Nutrient and Energizer

I mentioned last week that meads require additional nutrients for healthy fermentation. This can come in the form of fruit additions (this was the reason you added raisins in the JAO recipe), or more commonly just from yeast nutrient and energizer available from your local homebrew shop. The amount of nutrient and energizer is up to you, but if you are not familiar with calculating the total yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN) for your must, it is best to just follow the nutrient instructions. The nutrient and energizer are a proprietary blend, depending on the company, of diammonium phosphate (DAP), food grade urea, and other minerals to promote healthy yeast. I will likely cover this in further detail in a later post, but I myself have not done a YAN calculation. I have always just followed the packet directions.

It is also important to stagger your nutrient additions. Numerous staggered nutrient addition (SNA) protocols have been developed over the years, and personal preference combined with the time to monitor your fermentation will decide what is best for you. This topic deserves a much longer explanation, but for now a 50/50 split at pitch and some time up to 48 hours after pitch is a good rule of thumb. The staggered nutrients provide just enough at the growth phases of the yeast so that you don’t end up over feeding when it is not necessary.

When adding your nutrients, it is a good idea to stir the must prior to the addition. The must will react to the addition of your nutrients, possibly resulting in your must bubbling out the top of your carboy, otherwise known as a mead eruption accident (MEA). This could be a slow lava flow, or result in the must shooting up to your ceiling and all over your walls. Just be ready in case this does happen, and don’t say you weren’t warned. For additional information about MEAs and how to avoid them, check out my post on the old blogspot site, Do MEAs a Mazer Make?

Stirring also provides oxygen that is vital to yeast in its early growth stages. I know, it is always mentioned that when you open wine you should be worried about oxidation if you are storing the open bottle for any period of time. But in this case, early in fermentation, oxygen is good. You can aerate by any number of methods, but with a 1 gallon batch, shaking the carboy will suffice. Note, you will need to remove the airlock to allow oxygen in before shaking/stirring/swirling the carboy contents.

The Yeast Choice, 71B and D47

My friend chose some great mead yeasts for his first traditional batches. That said, both 71B and D47 have some unique characteristics you will need to pay attention to for them to finish successfully.

71B. This yeast was originally cultivated in the Narbonne region of France, and isolated to accentuate fruit flavors in wine. When I toured Moonlight Meadery in 2011 the tour guide stated this was the only yeast used to create the myriad flavors available in the shop. I can’t speak to the accuracy of that statement today, but it is a testament to the variety of meads that can be created from this single strain of yeast.

71B has an alcohol tolerance of 14%, and exhibits mild flocculation tendencies. It ferments naturally over a wide range of temperatures between the upper 50s and low 80s, although I would not recommend fermenting above 75 degrees F with most wine yeasts, 71B included. This yeast is usually forgiving when it comes to nutrient additions.

Your major concern when using 71B is to worry about autolysis. Autolysis occurs when a dead yeast cells break down after completed fermentation, creating in a ‘yeasty’ flavor. This is usually seen as a fault in meads, and in the few I have had suffer from this, the flavor did not age out even after a year of aging. To avoid this, you should always rack your mead off of the gross lees within 3 weeks of notices they have dropped out of suspension. It is said that your mead may be safe for up to 6 weeks after they have dropped, but I would rather err on the side of caution and rack early. You can also use a fining or clarifying agent at the end of your primary fermentation to drop the majority of the yeast out of suspension, but in practice I have still always had lees drop after fining.

D47. This yeast was originally isolated in Côtes du Rhône for barrel fermenting Chardonnay. D47 has a 14% alcohol tolerance, and has low to medium flocculation. Unlike 71B, this yeast is great for sur lie aging, and can provide some spicy aromas with tropical and citrus notes as a result of the process. In mead, however, there are two major items of note with D47.

First, you must, must, must pay attention to the temperature of your fermentation! Above 70 degrees F, D47 will create fusel alcohols. These may age out, but it can take years. It is better to just avoid the high temperature than wait to have something drinkable. To control the temperature, your best best is to ferment in a basement or over winter. You can also drape a damp t-shirt or rag around your carboy, as the evaporation of the water will provide a cooling effect. Submerging the mead in a bucket with ice could also help, but may result in the temperature dropping too low. While you don’t want it to get above 70 degrees F, you also want to keep it above 60 degrees F, with an ideal range between 60 and 65 degrees F.

The second major issue with D47 is that it is known to be a nutrient hog, especially in mead musts. To counteract this, follow your fermentation closely, and at the first signs of sulfur odors add more nutrients. Splash racking and introducing copper are known methods to remove the sulfur odor, but again, it is always better to avoid the problem in the first place.


All in all, my friend created a good first traditional recipe, and it provided a great starting point for the two of us to discuss some important aspects of meadmaking. What do you think of the recipe? Anything I left out that should be discussed? We’d love to hear from our readers, so let us know in the comments section below.