Getting to bottling day is an exercise in patience, but worth the wait

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By: Joe Kuharicjkuharic@flavor574.com

Joe Kuharic

Patience may be a virtue, but when it comes to making mead — or wine, for that matter — it’s a virtue that’s difficult to maintain.

For anyone who missed the beginning of my mead making adventure, catch up here.

My two carboys full of apple-honey-cinnamon goodness have been sitting on the cool concrete floor of my basement for five weeks. A soft and gentle bubble of carbon dioxide – blurp – occasionally escapes the double bubbler.

My mind has meandered much of the past five weeks, wondering what tantalizing flavors the mead is developing. I can only tap my foot.

Today, however, is bottling day. The mead will taunt me no longer! Sort of.

Step 1: Cleaning the bottles

As with all things related to brewing, sanitation is of utmost importance. Bottles must be washed with hot water and sanitizing solution. It’s best to invest in a bottle cleaning attachment for your faucet to properly clean your bottles. A simple valve regulates a jet of water that gets into the elbows of the bottom of a bottle.

Since my folks make a fair amount of wine, I have access to a bottle tree to help drain and air dry my bottles, which helps prevent contamination.

Step 2: Filling the bottles

Once the bottles are clean and dry, they’re ready for bottling. When bottling mead, or beer, you need to add a bit of priming sugar to your brew so the remaining yeast will create CO₂ in the bottle and add carbonation.

To ensure an even distribution of priming sugar, I prefer to add the sugar to my carboy of brew so I don’t over-carbonate and have bottle bombs — bottles with too much carbonation that blow their tops in a moment of utterly heartbreaking chemical reaction.

I don’t normally bottle in bulk, so my system is a small set up. I use gravity and a tube with a pressure release valve to fill individual bottles. The valve is touchy, which requires me to watch my fill level closely, but I generally only have a few spillovers.

Step 3: Put a cap on it

The final step in bottling is capping. It’s a simple process — pull lever, cap bottle, pull lever, cap bottle — that’s a satisfying culmination of slow forward progress.

There are many types of capping devices on the market, but I prefer to use an old bottle capper that belonged to my grandfather. The rubber o-ring in the capping lid is worn, the handle is loose (which forces you to pull down hard) and there’s no keeper to easily hold the bottle in place (which occasionally results in spilled bottles that’ve slipped on the smooth, wet metal surface). But when I use it, I’m part of the story of my family — and that’s worth dealing with the busted knuckles and broken bottles.

After finishing bottling I wind up with a count of 97 bottles of mead. My first batch ends up at 12.6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and the second batch ends up at 10.5 percent ABV.

After two weeks bottle conditioning and carbonating, the mead will be read to drink; by Nov. 17 I’ll be sipping the cold weather away. Past Joe had wonderful foresight.

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