The Agony of Defeat

We don’t always learn through our successes. In fact, some of the best lessons we ever learn are through failures, mistakes, and crashes. Below are some lessons in meadmaking I had to learn the hard way…

FAIL: Never got fermentation started…

My friends have several grape vines and shared their bounty with me. I carefully picked, prepped, and smashed gallons of grapes and then added sodium metabisulfite, covered and refrigerated overnight in order to sanitize it. I let it sit out through the next day until it was room temperature and I had waited 24 hours after adding the meta. However, after pitching the yeast, I never did get the fermentation started. That was a lot of wasted resources. Now, I just simmer the grapes for 20 minutes (NEVER letting it get over a low simmer), cool to room temperature, then pitch my must.

FAIL: Follow the dang recipe, especially at first!

I found a recipe for an almond wine. I really like amaretto, so I decided to try it. The recipe called for 3 oz. of chopped bitter almonds. In typical American fashion, I thought if 3 oz was good, 8 oz would be better. Even then, I added more almonds to the secondary. Well, this stuff was so astringent at one year, I could not drink it. At 18 mos, it still sucked. Finally, at 2 years old, I admitted my mistake and dumped the rest. Next time, I think I’ll try 3 oz. of bitter almonds.

FAIL: WTF? Sometimes, things just don’t work out.

I wound up with a lot of carrots after a party and found a recipe for carrot wine. I followed the recipe, I swear! I don’t know if I over-boiled the carrots, or if I used carrots that were too large, or what. But I never got this to clarify – and it created some kind of weird stink. I gave it time, I added pectic enzyme, and then bentonite. I was going to filter it, but realized that the stink would not go away even when filtered. Maybe something was not as sanitary as I thought. I’m not sure what happened, but it happens to everyone (or so I’m told).

FAIL: Not my fault…

I ordered some Tupelo honey, a rare honey from the Florida Everglades. I tried this as my first sparkling mead. I kept the gravity low, fermented it to dryness, added some honey and bottled, then waited… I opened it at one year and it was beautiful. Clear and bubbly, and stinky and horrible tasting. This was not funk of fermentation gone wrong, it smelled kind of like the Florida Everglades. Sort of earthy, rotty, alligator-poopy… I tried again almost one year later. Again, beautiful in the glass, even the smell wasn’t too bad, but it still tasted awful and I dumped the rest. So…when I say honey is the most important ingredient, I mean it! I won’t use that again for fermenting.

FAIL: Didn’t double check notes or numbers…

I hadn’t pitched a mead in over a year and didn’t double check my numbers.  For some reason I thought I needed to start the original gravity at 1.030 (instead of 1.080).  I kept adding water until the OG was so low it was useless.  The other problem?  I didn’t double check my notes for eight months!  So, I had racked it, stabilized and sweetened it already.  It clarified beautifully.  Once I realized the error, I had hoped I had just written the OG down wrong.  But no.  I tasted it and it was horrible.  Like extremely watered down wine.  So, the lesson here is double check your notes, your numbers, your percentages, etc.  “Remembering” incorrectly can cost you several months and a couple gallons of mead.

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