What are melomels? They are meads with fruit (or vegetables) added. But to make it more complicated, it is mead with any fruit (or vegetable) added NOT including apples or grapes – those would by cysers or pyments respectively.
There are several different ways to begin the process of making a melomel I have found in the literature. Some recipes call for boiling the fruit and honey in enough water to cover, letting it cool, and then pitching the yeast. From the little chemistry I remember, that can damage the fruit’s cells and alter the aroma and flavor. Some recipes call for placing the fruit in your primary fermentation bucket, covering with water, and sulfiting the whole lot. This does work to kill bacteria and wild yeast, but you must let it set, well covered, for AT LEAST 24 hours before you can pitch your yeast. The one time I tried this, I could not get my yeast to take, even though it sat for 24 hours. With both of these methods, the fruit is added at the beginning of the fermentation and then you rack off the fruit into the secondary. This will work, however I do not think it is ideal. When the fruit is placed in the must at the beginning of the process, it does have to fight harder against wild yeast and bacteria. Plus, as it is fermented and consumed by the yeast, many of its aromas might be lost through all the gas escaping. Remember, most of our “taste” is actually aroma.
So, here is what I recommend: Pitch your yeast and honey and start your melomel as show mead. Once it is fermented to completion, rack it over your fruit (with a bit of the yeast cake (lees) from the bottom of the carboy). This will then create a second fermentation that will be much briefer and less vigorous than the primary, thus reducing much of the gas loss of aroma. The main problem I have found with this is it is very difficult to get accurate gravity readings. However, if you are using fruit instead of juice, it is difficult to get accurate gravity readings no matter when you add the fruit. This method not only preserves some of the aroma, but it helps with sanitation without the use of sulfites. You are now racking alcohol over the fruit, which is an antiseptic, and retards the growth of wild wee beasties.
Another thing I recommend to get the most juice out of your fresh fruit is to put it in the freezer. Yes, that’s right, but that farm-fresh, local, perfectly ripe fruit in the freezer. This is not for long term storage. Do you remember chemistry class when you learned what happens when water freezes? Well, the water within the cells of the fruit will freeze, thus expanding and bursting the cells of the fruit. Once you thaw it, the juice will more easily escape the cells. The juice is what you want in your must. Take it out and put it in your fermentation vessel (again, I recommend a two gallon fermentation bucket if you are making one gallon of melomel) to thaw completely before racking the show mead over it. Some recipes recommend stirring the cap (all the fruit that floats to the top and dries out) and I do as well. During the first couple of days of this secondary fermentation, gently stir the cap down (with a sanitized spoon or stir stick) to make sure it is damp all over. The drying cap is exposed to air, which has bacteria and wild yeast in it. Keeping it moist helps prevent the bacteria from growing. After those first few days, I then seal my bucket and airlock it to prevent any further oxygen exposure.
Once the secondary fermentation is complete, rack it off the fruit immediately. We don’t want the fruit floating in there and possibly rotting. Now comes the clarifying part. If you used dark fruit or red fruit, you might want to place that carboy in a dark place to let it age. Light gets through our clear carboys and can slowly damage the cells of our melomel. This changes the colors and can turn pink into peach, red into brown, and sparkling yellow into not so sparkling yellow (have you ever seen bright yellow mustard dry out into brown, duck-poop yellow – same thing).
Some people put in pectic enzyme when they add the fruit. This helps break down the pectin (it eats the pectin) from the fruit, thus reducing cloudiness and helping it clarify. I have not done this yet. I see meadmaking as an exercise in patience, and with enough time and rackings, the mead will clear without it. However, I may try this in the future and see the difference in time it takes to clarify.
There are a couple of ways to obtain juice. One is very easy – go to the store and buy it. The other is a little more complicated. You can use a cider press to obtain apple or pear juice, or a juicer to obtain juice from just about anything. I once simmered a pot of berries down to extract and concentrate the juice. If you use this method, do NOT boil the berries. This is a long, slow, barely simmering method. I did this before I had my fermentation bucket and could not fit the berries in my carboy. Also, if you are making your own juice, be prepared to use it (or freeze or vacuum seal it) immediately. Oxidation of the juice will start right away and you do not want any browning or loss of aroma and flavor in your juice. Using juice is less messy, and it is easier to keep track of the pH and gravity readings. There are many brands of organic juices at your local health food store (or on the internet).
If you are buying juice – beware. Beware of juices that add sulfites as preservatives. If any of the ingredients are “ite” do not use it – it will probably prevent your fermentation from starting. Many juices use acid (such as citric acid) as a preservative and this is fine, but check the pH of your must. Also, read the ingredients and get juices that contain just the juice you are looking for– many juices contain apple or pear juice, even though they say “blueberry” or “black cherry.” Also beware of added sugar and stay away from “cocktail” juices. Just as I recommend organic fruit, I recommend organic juice. I really do not want to think about what is happening to the fermentation of pesticides and herbicides. I also don’t want to drink it.
Melomel Recipes with Fruit:
I called this one Wild Rumpus and it has a light, fruity flavor. It can compete with any rose wine!
- 2.5 lbs Raw Honey (I used wildflower honey from a local farm – they had placed the hives in the field to propagate their crops and the resulting honey was a light, clear, fruity-flavored honey).
- Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne) yeast, rehydrated according to package directions.
- ½ t each of yeast nutrient and energizer
- Two pounds of berries (mix of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries). I bought mine at the local farmer’s market. The blackberries I used ripened in the fall, making them tart, not sweet.
The OG should be around 1.100-1.105.
Ferment the show mead to completion – the SG should be 1.000. Rack over thawed (or fresh) berries and cover tightly, but do not seal (the SG can be around 1.010-1.015). Stir down the cap twice a day for the next two-three days, then seal and airlock. Once that is complete, rack into your carboy with a campden tablet (or 1/8 t potassium metabisulfite). It should be a dark red color. Let age 2-3 months before the next racking, and every three months after until clear and free of lees. Melomels typically take longer to age than show meads. I also oaked mine with 1 T medium American Oak chips for one month – this really helped bring out the darker fruit flavors and added a bit of a spicy note and tannin to the melomel.
Barrel aging is also recommended for darker melomels. So, leave it in the carboy as long as you can before bottling.
More recipes will be posted as I complete them and know they taste good…