What I discovered through brewing my latest 70 litre batch of 12% Meade Ale is thus:

Abstract:

We spend enormous amounts of energy (in the form of heat & labour) during the brewing process to
basically kill the life-giving fermentation processes that make healthy beer beer.
Then we have to expend even more energy to re-introduce the qualities of beer than every beer drinker
has in her ancestral memory…i.e. a foamy head; head retention; the cascade of tiny nitrogen bubbles;
the creamy texture of a well-made ale that tastes and feels like “food in a glass”, exhibiting “good legs”
up the side of that glass after being consumed…etcetera.

Critique of Process:

As I was kettle brewing this partial mash outside on Xmas Day…after BIAB mashing my Cream Ale
grain bill…there was a point where I looked at the infusion and thought… “Wow…this is the quality and
texture that I want my final product to have.” (I took a picture at that point).
I then boiled the wort for 60 minutes to hit the hot break and supposedly optimize the hop addition
chemistry (as is standard accepted brewing practice). A tiny voice in the back of my head was trying to
protest against this destructive action. (But I ignored it).
Note to Self: Next brew session…omit the wort/hop boil and treat the entire process as an infusion
mash! Observe and record the results for comparison.
Fast forward to the fermentation process. Due to physical equipment capacity limitations (I have a very
confined space to work in which is my bathroom) and a shortage of bottles, I decided to impulsively try
an experiment: Of the 70 litre batch…I obtained and sterilized enough bottles to bottle 40 litres. I was
anxious to have some Meade Ale…as I had been bereft of such and forced to drink store-bought beer
for quite some time. The most vigorous primary fermentation had completed right on schedule within
48 hours…and we were now in the glass air-locked secondaries. Specific Gravity tests revealed that the
Scottish Ale yeast had performed amazingly and that the 12% ABV ceiling had been reached and the
yeast was crawling to a halt and entering the dormant stage.
So, with the beer basically ready alcohol-wise…but the yeast still being in a suspension haze state…I
worked to bottle-condition the 40 litres with honey at a 2.6 volumes of CO2 carbonation level (Cream
Ale).
After 2 weeks, I observed a sizable amount of sediment in the bottles…and would shake them to “force
carbonation” to progress. I couldn’t wait…so I started drinking the bottled product after 2 weeks. As we
moved between 2 and 3 weeks of bottle conditioning…the ale produced was foaming out of the bottles
and was absolutely delicious! I had to clean ale residue off of my ceiling that the opening of one of the
bottles had produced. With a little coaxing (shaking and settling for a minute or two) a thick 2-inch
head was produced in a brandy glass that would settle into a thin one-quarter inch head within a minute
or so. (I had the creaminess that I was aiming for…considering the high alcohol level of 12% ABV!).
The remaining 30 litres was allowed to clear in the airlocked carboy for 3 weeks or so before I
endeavoured to bottle it. I racked the ale off of the lees and into the bottling bucket with again the 2.6
volumes CO2 honey/water solution and bottled it. After 3 weeks I opened a bottle and it is not
exhibiting the same characteristics as the 40 litre batch. It flattens out immediately after pouring and is
not foaming out of the bottle after some shaking. A huge disappointment.

Conclusion:

There is not enough yeast in suspension to produce the desired qualities when brewing a high-gravity
meade ale if the brewer allows that fermented ale to clear before bottle-conditioning is begun.
The best time to bottle is definitely immediately after primary fermentation has achieved the ABV
target percentage…and the yeast is still in suspension. (Otherwise…I conjecture that the brewer would
have to add fresh yeast or slurry to the bottling bucket along with the CO2 honey solution).

Bru Gordon
General Meade Company February 10, 2017