Experience with Heather Honey

For those making mead and related drinks
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Carnot
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Experience with Heather Honey

Post by Carnot » Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:07 pm

In my other post on why honey is expensive I was asked to comment on heather honey in mead making. I am not expert on mead having only been brewing the stuff for about one year. Some of it is now coming of age but there are no hard and fast rules.

I recover my mead making honey from cappings which is a laborious process. I also do not boil the must so no heat treatment is used in the preparation. I add a small amount of bisulphite to the must whilst the yeast starter is prepping. The cappings are roughly sorted into spring, summer and autumn (usually heather honey if we are lucky). Heather honey is not a given. The weather needs to be right for a good yield of heather nectar. Too dry and there is none. Too cold at the right time and the yield is impaired.Rule of thumb is one in three. Every third year you might get a good. crop.

Heather honey is a pig to harvest. It cannot be recovered via a centrifugal extractor and must be pressed from the honey comb which means loss of the frame. I have one exceptional brew of heather blend honey from this year. on the first racking is t was crystal clear and it is now on the second racking with no hint of sediment. Taste wise it is strong but it is too early to say how good it will be after ageing. An early heather honey mix was much cloudier on racking and only finally cleared after the second racking.

Some of the other Meads have also developed into something respectable after the 2nd racking. There is no doubt that the various honies have very different clarification properties. Some clarify easily, others take an age. Sediment loadings can be high. Expect to lose up to 20% of the brew during racking and it is important to have mead available to top up the racking vessels. I have got better at salvaging the bottoms from racking. I combine them together and let them stand, and use the old chemists trick of a conical flask. Some of the bottoms have subsequently cleared to near crystal clear and are quite promising taste wise. An exact opposite to what I was expecting. I have not played around with melomels or adding other fermentables. I have added wine tannins at different loadings but there is no clear answer on this one. I think the main factor is time and ageing. I am going to try oak ageing one of my batches with medium toasted oak chips, as a substitute for ageing in an oak barrel. I think that mead is very much like wine. There will be vintage years and so-so years. Much will depend on the weather and the bees. We see quite large variations in the honey from year to year, so one can expect the same with the mead.

I would be happy to exchange views, but I am very much a beginner for mead making, though so far the output is about 300 litres and only now is some getting to be drinkable, having mellowed. I am setting my standards high. It will not be offered to drink until it is ready.

demig
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by demig » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:08 pm

Sounds like you are far more advanced with your mead making than I am. Can I ask how do you deal with the callings, do you wash with treated tap water or use a DI water? Do you monitor gravity as you wash the cappings or have a rough weight of cappings to water ratio? I find that the yield of honey from cappings is extremely variable depending on the honey, the time the cappings are left to drain, how good I am with the uncapping knife and the type of honey some having more thixotropic heather like qualities.

I agree with not heating as that seems to me to be potentially ruining the product, you’d not heat the honey so why do it for mead, HMF mead does not appeal.

Also I am interested in whether you have noticed any propolis type qualities creeping in. Nice clean white cappings are the order of the day on some of my colonies but I have some that seem to even propolis the cappings. I’ve not tried mead from those yet and I would expect the propolis not to wash off due to its nature. I am somewhat intrigued by the possibility of adding some harvested propolis to a mead as a tincture. Would have to be a very low quantity but might be interesting? Would be interested in your thoughts on this.

Cheers

Iain

Btw this year is bizarre, I have drones!
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Carnot
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by Carnot » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:35 pm

Your are right. Dealing with the cappings is not as easy as it seems and you will have a lot to wash. Volume wise I tend to wash about two 15 litre buckets of cappings for around 20 ltrs of must. Some cappings are more honey rich than others and much depends on the bees making perfect frames which is not always the case. The cappings are roughly drained on a sieve to recover as much honey as possible. Our cappings are variable some a near pure white and some are much darker. As we do not use queen excluders as a norm some of our honey comes from supers that may have held brood. This usually raises the eyebrows of some beekeepers and really gets the steam up. Our philosophy is think like bees. Bees do not have queen excluders in the wild and the brood nest moves up and down the hive during the season. Queen excluders are in our opinion a recipe for swarms, and bees will not draw comb above a queen excluder. A lot of our bee customers have now adopted this technique.

I use a filter bag available from here: http://stores.ebay.co.uk/filterbagman2? ... 7675.l2563. This chap is cheap, honest and fast. He can supply various types but for mead I use a 200 micron bag 18 inches long and 6 inch diameter.

Roughly load the bag with cappings and pour 2 ltrs warm water over the cappings draining into 15 ltr stainless steel bucket (Amazon sell these). Work the capping with your hand and tease the honey off the cappings . Lift the bag an drain. I have a lab stand to hold the bag above the bucket while if drains. Squeeze the bag an consolidate the wax. The cappings will form a ball which can be carefully lifted out. Repeat the process with another load of cappings. Charge the washings - roughly 5 litres to the fermentor. You will soon learn to guess the gravity. Repeat. I usually check after 10 litres to see if I am on target. The hydrometer will float at this volume. Repeat process until you have 20 ltrs or your target brew volume. The last washing is the hardest - It is best to be slightly high at 15 ltrs rather than low. You can always add a bit more water. It takes me about 90 minutes to get the required volume. You can use some of the must to make a starter. I tend to make the starter using some raw honey, as I normally do this the day before to get the yeast going. It takes a few hours for the must to cool. Typically is it around 26-30 deg C after prepping and I like to get the temp to below 25 deg C before pitching the yeast. Therefore I add about 2.5g sulphites to the must whilst is is cooling. I do not pratt about too much with water. The water supply is fairly constant and is mildly alkaline pH 7.3. Personally I would never use RO/ DI water as it severely demineralises the water and can leave it unbufferred. Once the fermentation starts the generated CO2 will naturally depress the pH. I also do not like the high wastage of water with RO units especially if your water supply pressure is low. There is also a risk of bacteria growing on the membrane. I have a philosophy of keep it simple.

The whitest cappings will surprise you with the amount of contained propylis. The recovered wax is dumped into a wax melter, glorified tea urn, and melted down at around 80 deg C. This will result in huge clumps of hydrated propylis forming in lumps in the wax, and some very brown water. I lift out the wax and propylis as a disc after it has cooled and then reprocess. The crude wax disc is roughly broken and then steamed over a filter with removes the propylis from the wax. The wax collects under the filter in a stainless steel roasting tray along with the condensate. The steam is generated by a wallpaper steamer. this produces some pretty good wax. If you want to make candles it probably needs to be filtered again through a very fine filter. Candles need ultra pure wax. I have done this using a filter bag in the steamer.

I hope that this helps. I have not thought of the adding propylis to the mead. It is certainly possible but I am not sure what it would do. It does have some strong antibacterial properties and I am not sure if this would be a good thing. It might be something to add to the 2nd racking. I will keep an open mind on this.

demig
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by demig » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:31 pm

Thanks for such a detailed reply and the link. This is very useful indeed. Your wax recovery process sounds similar to mine, I’ve not actually gone as far as candles but do make hand cream etc for family members but most just gets traded in for foundation.

I may try the propolis addition to see what happens, I have had a propolis schnapps in Slovenia which was potent stuff! Slovenia is a fabulous place to visit for a bee keeper, bee house everywhere just sat by country lanes and no one vandalising gives.

I like your water approach, I must admit to being sceptical about ro in general and it is appallingly wasteful.

Also interesting thoughts on queen excluders, have to say I agree, mine certainly do not like drawing above an excluded, they will fill drawn comb but will in my experience assume the hive is full and clear off without that natural selection expansion. I’m not doing it to sell vast quantities so the first super on tends to be a winter food super anyway, I prefer this to feeding if possible as it is after all their food! I’ve not had brood in the second super, being in Northumberland with as close to amm as possible the colonies never get large enough to go higher.

Appreciate the expertise.

Cheers

Demig
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WalesAles
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by WalesAles » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:47 pm

carnot, demig,
Thanks for the great insight into Bee-Keeping.
Perhaps you would like to send or bring your Mead to this.........
viewtopic.php?f=78&t=79245
My first attempt at Mead will be there vying for 1st prize.
Come along and have some FUN! :D

WA

Sent from my sofa.

Jambo
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by Jambo » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:48 pm

Carnot do you add any acids to your mead? (Apologies if you've already said and I have missed it).

My book suggests a decent quantity of malic and tartaric, followed it but to early to say if it's good!

Going to try to get some heather honey myself now :)

Carnot
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by Carnot » Wed Oct 18, 2017 8:34 am

Essentially, I see edible acid additions as seasoning, very much like cooking. Once you have a presentable mead you can season it with acid additions. So, to date, as I do not think I yet have a finished mead I have not gotten around to seasoning the mead. It is getting close with some of the early batches but there is no substitute for time. Patience in mead making is a must (no pun intended). It is amazing how some strong tasting meads mellow.

I read in an earlier post about haze and clarification. The mechanism of haze is well known; essentially down to small charged particles repelling one another. Haze is often due to ultrafine colloidal matter. The clarify this material is tricky. Lower pH helps and so do positively charged low molecular weight coagulants. Think about milk and coagulants. Acids are used to coagulate milk. Once coagulation has started fine flocs will form. The fine can be flocculated into large flocs by a flocculant- normally a negatively charged high molecular weight substance. Weighting agent can also be added, usually a clay to add weight to the floc. But keeping to my mantra keep it simple, so far I have avoided clarification agents, using time as my preference.

Some of the haze in my mead is probably due to the type of pollens in the honey. I have no idea at this stage what is worse or better but I am loosely working on it, more for information purposes as I have no control over the bees. There is no doubt in my mind that at time recontact with the trub in the bottom of the racking vessels has a positive effect. Perverse it might sound but it happens. I suspect that the trub forms heavy flocs which when remixed into the liquor have a positive effect in colloid removal, probably acting as a nucleating site. Just a theory at this stage.

Fortunately before I moved onto petroleum chemistry I spent six years working on water treatment chemistry. I never forgot what I learned to this day.

Jambo
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by Jambo » Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:52 pm

Carnot wrote:
Wed Oct 18, 2017 8:34 am
Essentially, I see edible acid additions as seasoning, very much like cooking. Once you have a presentable mead you can season it with acid additions. So, to date, as I do not think I yet have a finished mead I have not gotten around to seasoning the mead.
Yep I see what you're getting at there. The book I'm referring to on mead suggests that it is more than seasoning though, that fermentation will create some off flavours if the pH isn't reduced. I made up some heather mead today and the small (1 gallon) batch filled the house with an overpowering delicious smell while I was mixing it up - I'm sure the resulting mead will be fantastic eventually. The added acidity (malic + tartaric) balanced it nicely although obviously it's hard to say what it'll be like once the sweetness is fermented out.
Carnot wrote:
Wed Oct 18, 2017 8:34 am
Some of the haze in my mead is probably due to the type of pollens in the honey. I have no idea at this stage what is worse or better but I am loosely working on it, more for information purposes as I have no control over the bees.
I'd assumed the same based on my layman's chemistry, proteins cause haze in beer therefore pollen (the protein used by bees) probably causes the haze in mead. If that's correct then your approach of using the cappings is probably a great way to minimise haze since the bees don't cap pollen, although I appreciate pollen will be there in some quantity either way.

I need to find a good way to deal with the floating bits of wax in mead batches, such a PITA trying to rack off sediment AND floaters!

Carnot
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Re: Experience with Heather Honey

Post by Carnot » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:37 pm

There is an old saying. Ask 10 different bee keepers and you will get 11 different answers.

Here is link to a mead site. there are others but pH 4 -4.5 seems about optimum

http://makemead.net/adjusting-ph-and-ac ... -mead.aspx

This partly why I am reluctant to add acids up front into the must. I am also not that hung up about pH measurements. pH meters are fine when they are working but measuring pH accurately is much harder than it appears. pH probes are the limiting factor and can foul readily, especially when proteins and others organic substances are about. They need very careful handling and need to be kept ultra-clean. For that reason I do not get to excited about pH even though I have 3 pH meters including a Voltcraft, which is really a budget meter remarkably well made.

If you really want to be pedantic then measuring the acidity by titration is probably more accurate. Methyl orange will change at about 4.4 pH, so if you are red you have basically overdone it. This is what is used for measuring the alkalinity in boilers and cooling systems; to measure acidity you do the reverse and titrate with 0.01 M sodium hydroxide to the methyle orange and phenolphthalein endpoint. Once you get the hang of it this titration is easy and is not temperature dependent. But in reality this is probably overkill.

Unless you have a particularly thin water which is unusual in most of the UK there will be some buffering in the water which will prevent wild swings in pH. The honey should reduce the pH to about where the optimum is required(4- 4.5) and stay fairly steady, especially as the carbon dioxide is liberated. What most people do not realise is that about 50 % of the mass of sugars is lost as carbon dioxide and the yeast will also metabolise sugars both during the growth and fermentation stages, that is a lot of carbon dioxide- something like 3.5 Kg (80 moles or 1780 litres )in a 22 litre brew batch. You might also be able to determine a small temperature rise- that is entropy.

On the matter of wax I too have a problem. I think fine flecks of wax get through the filter bag and collect at the top of the carboy. I am going to try a side arm flask connected to a vacuum cleaner. Make sure you have a bleed hole and a narrow tube. There is not much but it is an issue and some batches are worse than others. The other option is to float(displace) the wax out. A small funnel below the surface. Add mead an displace the wax. Wrap a paper towel around the neck to prevent a mess. You could also achieve the same effect with a large syringe and long needle.

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