In this experimead, three different forms of souring are tested in standard meads. This includes Kombucha, probiotic pills (lactobacilius), and a ginger bug. The meads are evaluated in a oaked, 12% ABV, blueberry blossom honey, traditional, sparkling mead. The meads are quite distinct so judges are presented a flight and asked to provide feedback on the aroma and flavor differences perceived in the meads.
The inspiration for the base recipe for this experimead is the Sour Orange Blossom Mead from Gold Coast Meadery. I oaked the mead, used 50-50 amber blueberry blossom and golden wildflower honey, and used the TANG nutrient profile. After fermentation I added acid to traditional and bottle conditioned to 2.3 vol.
Lets talk about the sour cultures.
Ginger Bug: a relatively unknown culture in brewing, but it is AMAZING. You can make it quite easily and is mostly lacto and yeast. It is often used to ferment sparking lemonade, ginger ale, and root beer. It’s the real stuff. It tasted like lacto in a ginger candy solution. I built up this starter for a month. Google the recipe. I also used it to ferment out apple cider with fantastic results. The ginger shines though clearly.
Kombucha: I made Kombucha using an equal blend of green, white, and black tea. I use white sugar, and follow the standard recipe. I often only let my kombucha get to 70-80% fermentation since after that I find the Acetobacter usually kicks in too much which most people find off-putting. For the culture, I pulled off my kombucha jug at around 70 percent completed. It is nice and tart without too much acetic acid.
Probiotic pills: I dumped several probiotic pills into a one liter soda stream bottle with filtered tap water and a TBSP and a half of golden brown sugar. I let it sit for 5 weeks and it tasted clean, sweet, soured brown sugar-water. I also added three probiotic pills when I pitched the starter. I don’t recommend this method, but it worked. I now just add 500 million cells per gallon rehydrated in a go-ferm addition at 95f. Pitch and wait 2-3 days for the PH to drop before pitching the yeast.
Recipe: 12%, TANG Soured Traditional Mead, November 2017, 4×1 gallon
- 0.92 gallon/ 3.5 L
- 0.375 liters Raw Hogans Golden Wildflower Honey
- 0.375 liters Amber Blueberry Blossom Wildflower Honey
- 2.4 lbs honey total
- 3 g of US-05 yeast
- 75-25 distilled-filtered tap water
- OG- 1.09
- Tar. FG-0.998
- The MeadMakr BatchBuildr for total recommended YAN (162)
- 1.5 g Fermaid-K (Contributed 38 YAN)
- 1.5 g Fermaid-O (Contributed 72 YAN)
- 1.5 g Go-ferm (Contributed 52 YAN)
- Total: 162 YAN
- Mixed honey and 2.5 liters distilled water, shook for 1 minute to mix
- Aerated 0.45 seconds with pure O2
- Added 1 liter of sour starter
- Topped up to 3.5 liters using filtered tap water
- Add 0.25G Fermaid-K
- Shook all four to mix well
- Add three medium toast American oak cubes that had been boiled for 5 minutes
- Rehydrated 1 packet of US-05 (11.5 grams) with 6 grams Go-ferm, added 3 tsp brown sugar after 30 minutes
- Pitch ¼ yeast starter after 24 hours – traditional immediately
- +12 h – Added 0.3g Fermaid-K – no sign of fermentation, 64°F . Swirled.
- +24 h pitched the rest of the starter. Traditional going to town, 64°F
- +36 h swirled, 64°F
- +48 h – 0.8 g Fermaid K, 0.5 g Fermaid-O , 64°F
- +60 h swirled, 64°F
- +72 h 0.5 g Fermaid-O , swirled, foamed up quite a bit, 64°F
- + 84 h – 2 weeks swirled morning and evening
- +1 week- Traditional at 1.036. Clean, super sweet, and yummy 🙂
- +3 Weeks- still off gassing quite a bit, bubbling when swirled.
- +1 Month – the musts have dropped clear. FG 0.998. Tasted and smelled of raw sweet honey, bubble gum, red berries- current and pomegranate. Super clean. Near clear – shook it one last time. 60°F
- +4 Month – Bottled to 2 vol., using mesquite honey as priming sugar. Added 0.2 grams/ liter of 50-50 malic-tartaric acid to the tradtional.
At bottling they all tasted amazing!! The blueberry-honey character dominated and is supported in the background by the pomme-honey golden honey. They are all very clean, with lots of perceived sweetness. The acidity was present from the soured meads. The traditional was very complex, but rich, and I noted that it needed some acidity to compliment the rich blueberry honey flavor.
The meads were evaluated when they were 6 months old. Eight panelists participated in the evaluation. The meads were all presented during at the same time during a mead-up. Everyone received all fours meads. 2oz of each mead were poured for all participants. The meads were evaulated in a flight using four different colored 8 oz party cups. All panelists were instructed to fill out the following score sheet:
There were eight participants in total. The evaluation took 30 minutes. Two of the panelists knew the treatment, the other half were blind.
The following table presents the average of the values for the check boxes.
Overall, people generally tended to score in the midrange of the metric. The probiotic souring was evaluated highly, particularly for taste, technical merit, and overall perception. The kombucha had no perceivable acidic acid. It scored the highest for the aroma, but fell in the mid range for the other statistics and the lowest overall. The ginger bug scored on the lower end of the scores, but was very unique and faired better in overall scores. Finally, the traditional did relatively poorly on aroma, but was the preferred for body, and rated highly for taste, and technical merit.
The following table presents the standard deviation of the values for the check boxes. The higher tannin and “funk” for the kombucha spit participants on their preferences. A few participants raved about it afterwards, whereas other attributed its characteristics to off flavors. This can be seen by the highest standard deviation in all metrics. The traditional had the lowest standard deviation in aroma and technical merit. The ginger bug had the smallest standard deviation for overall merits, with most people finding it desireable.
The following table presents the descriptors of the overall/ tastes section. The number of times a descriptor was used is listed next to the word. Only the traditional mead had the terms honey and enjoyable used more than once (twice to be precise). While the exact words were different, there is direction in the object being described. The traditional was described as a more classic profile. The probiotic was tart and people used descriptors associated with dry and tart beverages. The ginger bug was more complex, with generally positive descriptors. The descriptors for kombucha was a bit more dispersed.
The aroma descriptors had more unity of terms compared to the overall/ tastes section. The traditional mead had sulfur descriptors from half of the participants. I have a low sulfur threshold and wonder if it was just from this bottle, as it was not noticed in other bottles. The probiotic aroma descriptor emphases its honey and stronger character. The descriptors for kombucha had estery used twice. The ginger bug also had notable honey character, with some alcohol and a breath of terms that suggests complexity.
The flavor descriptors had the most unity. The traditional mead had honey-sweet, low acid, and low alcohol used twice. The probiotic flavor descriptor emphases the lactic acid which gave it a dry, almost herbal-citrus profile. The flavor descriptors for kombucha had mentions of estery again, with a notable sour-sweet feature mentioned by 5 of the participants. The ginger bug also had notable honey-sweet character, again with some alcohol and lower-light amounts of acid.
The interesting feature of these results is that the souring methods, are not merely adding forms of acids, but also adding a breath of other flavours. The kombucha and the ginger bug were very different despite the common base. The lactic acid of the probiotic pills seemed to emphases the base mead in the aroma, but seemly went a bit over board on the degree of sourness.
I enjoyed this experiment since I learned lots about making sours. Mainly, souring is a cool set of tools for the modern meadmaker. I do regret no letting the sours work away at the must more than 24 hours before pitching to get more sour character. For the probiotic pills, the opposite is true. As mentioned at the start, unstead of doing the starter, I would just recommend adding 500 million cells per gallon rehydrated in a Go-ferm addition at 95f. The key to any sour is getting the acid-sweet balance correct. The interesting thing about this mead is how dry and clean it can come out. The honey characters shine, without any actual sweetness, other than perceived. If I was to boost the FG to 1.002, the evaluation and descriptors would of been very different. Also, blueberry honey can be difficult to work with in traditional, as it is very rich. This is what allowed the extra acidity to provide the counter balance and cut through the richness. That said, I would recommend orange blossom over blueberry in a traditional anyday.