Glossary

This page will continue to have additions over time…

Alcohol by volume (ABV): The percent of alcohol by volume (as opposed to weight) in the liquid being measured.  Measured by changes in the gravity (Brix or Balling) as measured by a hydrometer.  ABV can be figured by the following equation: OG-FG/.75 = ABV%.

Amelioration: Adding sugar (honey or juice), acid and water to properly balance mead.

Aroma: The smell or fragrance that comes from the honey (and added fruits, spices, etc.).

Astringency: The dry, puckery mouthfeel/taste caused by tannins in wine. It is found in many fruits, grape and banana skins.

Backsweetening: Once a mead is finished, stabilizing it to prevent any further fermentation, then adding a sugar source to increase the sweetness and gravity.

Balance: When the alcohol level, sweetness, acidity or sourness, and bitterness work together in a finished mead and do not overpower one another. Also called a “round” wine.

Bentonite: An absorbent powdery clay used as a fining agent.

Campden Tablets: A compressed, tablet form of potassium metabisulfite (see Potassium metabisulfite).  One tablet per gallon is used to preserve mead, wine, or sanitize juice.  Binding agents are added to the potassium metabisulfite to make it in tablet form, which makes it harder to dissolve completely.  This can be a bother when you are trying to clarify your mead fully.  On the other hand, you do not have to worry about getting the dosage wrong with the premeasured tablets.

Cap: When making melomels, pyments, cysers, or any wine with fruit or vegetable bits in the primary; they will float to the top of the fermenting mead, forming a cap. During primary, it often has to be “punched down” so oxygen can reach the rest of the must.

Carboy: A large glass jug used in fermentation, usually between 1/2 gallon and 15 gallons. They often have a handle on the smaller sizes.

Champagne: A sparkling wine made in well-defined region of France. That is why I make sparking mead, not Champagne.

Clarifying  (a.k.a., Clearing or Falling Bright): The settling out of particles and suspended matter in mead over time.  This can occur naturally or with the aid of clarifying agents such as bentonite or egg whites.  It is generally considered better to let mead clarify naturally than to use clarifying agents, because the agents might also rob the mead of aroma or flavor as well as reduce the number of suspended particles.  Some, such as bentonite, might also impart different flavors in the mead.

Clean: A mead that leaves a pleasant aftertaste with no off odors or flavors.

Cloudy: Mead with, usually low alcohol content, that has proteins refusing to settle out in the lees.

Cyser: Mead with apples or apple juice added.  This is the European precursor to New England’s hard cider and AppleJack.

Decant: Pouring clean wine from a bottle into another container and leaving the sediment behind. This often also adds oxygen, letting the wine breath before drinking.

Deposit: The normal sediment that precipitates out of mead as it matures in the bottle. This is not a defect.

Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol): Also just called alcohol or drinking alcohol. A biproduct of fermentation of sugars by yeast. It is a neurotoxic, psychoactive chemical (it is an anesthetic and central nervous system depressant) and one of the oldest recreational drugs known to humankind.

Fermentation: See Primary Fermentation or Secondary Fermentation.

Fermentation Lock: (aka Air Lock) A device that lets carbon dioxide gas to escape a bottle without allowing air into it.

Final Gravity (FG): The gravity of the must once it is done fermenting and any back-sweetening is finished.

Fine: Clarifying wine by adding fining agents such as bentonite, gelatin, isinglass, etc.

Gravity: Measure of the amount of solid dissolved in a liquid by use of a hydrometer.  It is actually a ratio of the density of juice or wine to the density of distilled water at 680 F.  Because it is a ratio, distilled water will always be 1.000, completely dry wines will be less than 1.000, and wine with any residual sweetness will always be greater than 1.000.  In the case of mead, it is measuring the density of fermentable sugar in the form of honey or fruit juice.  As the sugars are consumed by the yeast, the amount of solid present will reduce as will the gravity measurement.  The Original Gravity (OG) is the initial gravity reading at the start of primary fermentation.  The Specific Gravity (SG) is the reading at any given time, typically during the process of fermentation.  The Final Gravity (FG) is the reading of gravity taken at the end of fermentation (sometimes also taken after the mead has been backsweetened once fermentation is complete and the mead has been stabilized).

Hydrometer: An instrument for measuring the density of liquids (such as gravity).

Harshness: The “freshly fermented funk” found in young meads that have not been aged.

Lees: The gunk found at the bottom of the carboy during fermentation.

Melomel: Mead with fruit or fruit juices added.  This is not typically applied to apple or grape mead (see Cyser and Pyment respectively).  It can also apply to vegetable juice or vegetables (although mead with root vegetables is rhyzomel) being added.

Metheglin: Mead with herbs and/or spices added.  These days, home meadmakers are putting all kinds of things in their meads, and I assume many of them would fall under this title; however, there has been a push to create new names (such as capsicumel for mead with peppers).

Must: The unfermented or fermenting blend of honey, water, and other ingredients.  It is typically used to describe wines being fermented, not beers (that is called wort).

Original Gravity (OG): The gravity of the must before it ferments. Also called the starting gravity.

Oxidation: When mead comes in contact with oxygen. The chemical changes that occur can cause mead to turn brown and deteriorate.

pH: A measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. Pure water has a pH very close to 7.

Piquant: The right amount of balance and acidity in wine.

Pitching: Adding yeast to a must to begin fermentation.

Potassium Metabisulfite: This chemical can be sold as powder or in tablet form (see Campden tablets).  It inhibits the formation of molds and bacteria, serves as an antioxidant for your mead, and can be used as a sanitization/general cleaning agent.  When used for cleaning it is typically 3T per gallon of water.  When used to preserve mead, 1/8 t per gallon is used.

Primary Fermentation: The first, vigorous phase of fermentation.  During this aerobic stage of fermentation, the yeast converts fermentable sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.  Sometimes called the alcoholic fermentation.  See also, Secondary Fermentation.

Pyment: Mead with grapes or grape juice added (or grape wine with honey added).

Racking: The process of transferring the mead or juice from one vessel to another.  Typically, this is done to take the clearest part of the must (usually the top ¾) off the lees and to strain out fruit, pulp, herbs or other additives that might prevent clarifying.  This is usually accomplished with siphoning.  (Once fermentation is complete, it is recommended that with each racking, potassium sulfite is added to reduce bacteria or wild yeast infection.)

Rhodomel: Mead with rose petals, rose water, or rose hips added.

Rhyzomel: Mead made with root vegetables (e.g., potatoes or carrots)

Sanitizing: Treating a surface or equipment to reduce the microbial load to acceptable limits – usually by using a chemical solution.  This should not be confused with cleaning – the physical removal of visible soil, grunge, grease, etc.; or sterilizing – which means the area is completely free of bacteria and other microorganisms, which can only be accomplished in controlled laboratory settings.

Secondary Fermentation: This can actually refer to a couple of things.  It can be a second aerobic fermentation where additional fermentable materials (such as juice, fruit, or more honey) are added to the must.  This is sometimes done in melomels, and sometimes done to increase the alcoholic content and/or sweetness of the mead (such as with a sack mead).  This can also be done in the bottle to produce sparkling, champagne-like mead.  Also, it can refer to a type of bacteria fermentation (malolactic fermentation) that is common with grape wines.  For our purposes it can also mean the completion of the reducing of sugars in the must, usually after the vigorous primary fermentation has ended and the mead has been racked off those lees (thus completing the anaerobic fermentation).

Siphon: A tube that utilizes gravity (the full container with the mead needing to be transferred is at a higher level than the empty container) to transfer wine from one container to another during racking.

Stuck fermentation: A mead that has stopped fermenting before all the sugars have been consumed, and before the target final gravity has been obtained.

Tartness: The fruit-acid in wines. When it is in balance it is pleasant and also called “being crisp.”

Topping off (a.k.a. Topping up):  After racking, adding something to the fermentation vessel to take up head space (the space between the top of the liquid and the top of the carboy).  Because too much head space can lead to oxidation of the mead, it is recommended this space is as small as possible.  Topping off can be accomplished with same or similar mead, water, honey and water, honey, juice, or sanitized marbles or glass beads.

Yeasty: A characteristic of mead that has an aroma or taste of yeast. Duh.

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