Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pectin: my most hated of all polysaccharides

Last week we bottled this year's meads. We ended up with about three and a half gallons each of traditional Still Sweet Orange Blossom Mead and Jackfruit Melomel. Both are quite good, but the filtering of the Jackfruit was horrendous. The problem: pectin. Jackfruit is loaded with it.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Jackfruit is a giant, spiky south Asian fruit related to breadfruit and durian. It tastes kinda like funky bananas and pineapple, is incredibly resinous and sticky to peel, and is loaded with kidney bean sized seeds (which can be cooked in curries, fried or salted and roasted!). I got my hands on about 10 lbs of raw jackfruit from a local farm, not even a whole one as the individual fruits can be upwards of 60 lbs. It took probably two hours to peel...ugh. Then I racked 4 gallons of mead onto it, added pectic enzyme, and let sit for a month or so.

Some people really go au naturale on their meads, adding water, honey, yeast and nothing else. Not me. Yeah the Vikings may have mixed honey and water in a barrel, spit in it for good luck and left it to ferment as it wanted, but not me. If figure if you can use it in wine, you can use it in mead. So I add yeast nutrient, fining agents, acid blend, sorbates and sulfites, and filtering as necessary to make something great come out in the end. However, patience is still a virtue.

Well after all the waiting, racking, waiting, sparkaloid, waiting, sulfites and sorbate, and more waiting, it was fairly cleared. But there was still some sediment and more importantly, pectic haze. Thanks a lot, pectic enzyme.

So into the filter it went!

I use a gravity fed vin-brite filter for my wines and meads, and while it works very well if things have been fined and given plenty of time to clear, it didn't fare so well against the jackfruit. I expected it might take 45 minutes or an hour...

It took eighteen hours.

Here's a photo or the carboy perched precariously on a chair for some extra gravity. I decided to just leave it to filter overnight, as it was barely going. By the next evening I was able to bottle it, blended with some of the sweet mead to balance its acidity and final gravity of about 0.996.

Obviously there are some oxidization concerns. Normally I would be worried, but these bottles won't last more than a few months anyway, and there is some ascorbic acid in the acid blend I added to taste before they went into the bottles.

The verdict? They are both still quite young, but are very good meads already. The jackfruit really comes through in the nose, and gives it a Chardonnay character in the flavor. The sweet mead is nice, you can really taste the honey, and the honey aromas are still around. The final gravity was about 1.022 so it's sweet but not cloying. Both have very nice color and clarity.

I ended up with 30 wine bottles and 8 smaller beer bottles for competition. The sweet mead got gold foil, jackfruit silver. Some of these will get special labels and end up as presents, most will just be enjoyed by us! Total cost: about $2.50 a bottle I'd guestimate. Plus hours of labor and months of waiting...

So here's some Tips For Mead:
  • Don't heat the honey. Just add one gallon of honey (I like Orange Blossom because I can get a gallon for about $25 around here!) and top up to 4 gallons total. Swirl and mix as best you can, either in the carboy or in a pot with a whisk. Add some yeast nutrient (a couple teaspoons) and your yeast and you're good to go.
  • Sanitization. Cleanliness is next to godliness. That said, honey is pretty resilient stuff. Don't stress too much.
  • Add fruit into the secondary. If you want, you can freeze it first which kills off some of the nasty bugs and more importantly causes the fruit cells to rupture, meaning more fruit flavor and aroma. You can use campden tablets to sanitize the fruit must if you wish. The slower fermentation in the secondary will not blow off nearly so much of the aromas, whereas if you put it in in the beginning you risk messy explosive blowoff and loss of flavor and aroma.
  • Add acid blend. It really helps round out the flavor, making your mead less of a one trick pony. If you add acid blend at the beginning, which can help the yeast, go easy. I say 'can', because yeast do like an acidic home, but honey is acidic, and some honeys are more acidic than others. I have had a fermentation get stuck because the PH dropped too low... Try 1/4 tsp for 4 gallons. You can always add, but you can't take it away. Then add to taste at bottling. I only put about a half teaspoon total in these.
  • Patience. Let it clear before bottling. This could take 6 months to a year. If you use bentonite or sparkaloid, mix it in very well then wait at least a week.
  • You can always sweeten to taste at bottling. Just be sure fermentation is done, and consider adding sulfites and sorbate to keep fermentation from starting up again.
  • Bottling. Move your carboy to where you're going to rack from at least a day before you plan to bottle. This applies to wine too. It's amazing how those sediments shoot up into suspension. Then rack into another carboy or bucket to get it off the lees. Then you can filter if you wish, or don't bother.
  • If you're going to make it sparkling or petilent (a little bubbly) use beer bottles and bottlecaps. Otherwise your corks will shoot out. If you aren't down with sulfites, use bottlecaps in case you get a restarted fermentation in the bottle.
For more info check out Ken Schramm's The Complete Meadmaker, a great book which I've found very helpful.


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