Thursday, August 21, 2008

Buried Treasure (Orange-Cranberry Mead)

In the spring of 2006 I was inspired by Charlie Papazian's story in New Joy of Homebrewing about burying some of his Prickly Pear Mead which he digs up once a year. My friend Mat liked the idea as well, so we decided to brew up a mead. After we dissolved the honey in some warm water we used orange and cranberry juice for the rest of the liquid. If any brewers out there haven't done a mead yet, it takes about 30 minutes including clean up... makes extract brewing seem like a colossal pain.

Sadly 6 months after we brewed it I got a new job and moved down to DC from Massachusetts. We decided to bottle the mead before it had adequate time to settle, and as a result it dropped about 2 inches of sludge in each bottle. It took us two years to get around to transferring the mead off of the goo and into fresh bottles. We took the added step of waxing the bottles so the caps won't rust while they are underground. We also embedded a coin into the wax for some added visual appeal.

My friend Sarah was nice enough to knit us some nylon nets so we can fish the bottles out with a hook without having to actually climb down into the pit. We are hoping that the nylon stands up to the next 8+ years underground.

For the box we used an old tank shell case from an army surplus store. We painted it with some black paint and lined the edge with rope caulk to give it some water resistance and put a eye bolt on the lid so we can open it without pulling it out of the ground.

Mat and I dug a 5 foot deep trench in my parents' backyard on the Cape. It should be down far enough that there isn't much chance of the bottles freezing (the alcohol and sugar should help as well), and won't get that hot in the summer.

Two years later we unearthed the crate of mead for the first time. The bottles survived, and the mead inside the one we opened was worth the wait.

Mike and Mat's Melomel (3M)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 3.60
Total Grain (Lbs): 24.00
Anticipated OG: 1.100
Anticipated SRM: 5.8
Wort Boil Time: 0 Minutes

6.00 lbs. Honey
2 gallons Orange Juice
1 quart Cranberry Juice

0.25 Oz Sweet Orange Peel @ 0 Min.(boil)

WYeast 3184 Sweet Mead

4/6/06 starter made with 3 oz honey, 1 pint water, 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient and 1/4 tsp yeast energizer.

4/9/06 "Brewed" with Mat, heated 1 qrt water with rounded half tsp yeast nutrient and 1/2 tsp yeast energizer. Mixed with honey that we warmed in a hot water bath. Pitched decanted starter, oxygenated, threw in zest of one Valencia orange. Measured OG 1.110.

4/23/06 Racked to 3 gallon fermenter, down to 1.010, topped off with 6 cups of water (volume adjusted up and gravity down to include this).

Racked 6/7/06 Down to 1.005, some sludge on the bottom, mead is now an orange/brown color. Taste is pretty good, but still a bit "hot." I'm surprised the sweet mead yeast fermented it that dry.

8/6/06 Fined with 1 tsp Benonite in .25 cups warm water (got lumpy and didn't seem to do much) followed by .5 tsp Sparkloid in .5 cups boiling water (seemed to do more) . Some clumps formed and the sediment layer seems to be increasing. 12 hours later put into fridge at 60 degrees.

9/5/06 Bottled 10 champagne four 12 oz, primed two of the 12's with 1/2 tsp corn sugar (these never carbonated). The taste is coming along, smoother with more honey. Still pretty cloudy despite the finings and cold.

Within a few months of bottling ever bottle dropped a few inches of gooey sediment, we should have given it longer in the fermenter.

8/14/08 Re-bottled to get it off of all the sludge that fell out in the original bottles. The process cost us 1.5 bottles, but we still have seven 750's, a bomber, and a 12 oz'er. We waxed the bottles to ensure that the caps the flavor has really improved with the orange flavor in particular getting very nice.

8/17/09 Buried the mead.

8/16/10 Retrieved one bottle from the pit, complex, tasty, I'll have to brew more.


Anonymous said...

How do you determine the amount of ferment-able sugar in Cranberry and Orange juice? I'm thinking of scaling this up to 5 gallons.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You can take a hydrometer reading of the juice if you want to know the gravity. Then just figure out the difference between what it is and what you want, and add enough honey to get you there. Pretty much all of the sugars in fruit juice are fermentable.

Tichols said...


First of all I want to thank you for a very cool and informative website. I started brewing mead 5 years ago, and moved into beer about 1 year ago. Brewing and or reading about it, is taking all my spare time now, and I thoroughly enjoy reading your site.

I have a question about brewing with juices, more specifically if you can ferment sugars with preservatives. And are there other issues I should be concerned with, when adding something with preservatives to a brew.

I have made a christmas ale with some prune juice, (without preservatives) which went quite fine.
But I have also made a mead once with some elderflower concentrate (with preservatives) that I added after the boil. The two liquids wouldnt blend for the first week - after a week a greyish liquid started floating on top of the mix, (along with the grey yeast on the bottom). Finally after two weeks, the airlock just starting puking all the grey stuff out :P
The mead turned out pretty good, but it still needs a little more age:)

Thanks again,
Thomas Nichols
- Denmark

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Usually preservatives are only effective at killing/inhibiting microbes at some certain concentration. Usually diluting a small amount of something with preservatives into a batch of beer/mead shouldn’t be an issue. In your case it sounds like the fermentation from the sugars in the concentrate were enough to lift yeast/trub/gunk from the bottom of the carboy. Odd that it took two weeks to really get going, you might want to mix the syrup with some warm water next time before mixing it into the mead.

I would be worried doing something like this orange/cranberry mead with juices containing preservatives, just not enough dilution to make me feel safe.

Pewther said...

Did you pull anymore of these bottles lately?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Maybe three years ago? It was already tasting a bit oxidized, so difficult to muster the effort for an afternoon of digging! Maybe I'll get around to pulling the remaining bottles this year.

Mike Edwards said...

Any movement on the rest of the bottles?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

There still down there...

Unknown said...

You have to unearth them!