Stephen Snudden is a homebrewer based out of Kingston, ON, and the creator of Experimeads.com, a community resource for mead experiments, data and recipes. Here’s our chat with him about how why he started the website, and how to really nail that mead recipe.
SS: I’ve been home brewing for a pretty short amount of time, about a year and a half. I got into it because I really wanted to try meads but had no idea where to get them. My only option was to cross to the states, cross provinces or make it myself. Since I knew of all the different variety of meads, I wanted to try them all and really homebrewing is by far the best way to do that. I got to make mead the way I wanted to and got to try all that I wanted to try.
CHA: Very cool. Since you started homebrewing, you’ve launched a website. Can you talk a little more about that?
SS: There is a ton of information on beer, beer brewing, whereas a lot of mead making has happened in just the last decade or so. Most of the information can be found in a few books and even those are outdated. I’ve never been a fan of forums and just hearing people’s random opinions. I was inspired by the brülosophy website for beer and wanted to run a couple experiments for mead. It was a combination of being frustrated and trying to understand how to optimize fermentation but also trying to get an objective opinion on preferences and taste.
For example if someone runs their own experiment, even as simple as someone finishing an fermentation with acid additions, the preference of the people doing their own experiment is going to weigh heavily on the outcome. I wanted to find out if techniques that people are using are really optimal and see if whether or not they hold objectively and statistically. The journey was becoming a BJCP judge and mead judge so that I can really understand how to improve my own mead-making through evaluations, by just being able to listen to responses and hear other people describe meads. I find interesting because it helps to build my vocabulary and understanding of the characteristics of mead and honey.
CHA: Tell me more about the Great Canadian Short Yeast Experiment.
SS: The idea was that I brewed 12 one gallon batches of mead all with the same must and pitched a different yeast. I sent samples out to homebrew clubs in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa. They were evaluated by mead enthusiasts and BJCP judges. The base mead was a traditional carbonated bottle conditioned short mead. I had designed it so when I chose the yeast, I had taken the preferred yeast from several experiments that I’ve tested various yeasts in the past and I’ve chosen the yeast that were deemed to be the best of those experiments and I wanted to put together against each other. I wanted to compare different main yeasts that were being used for short meads such as D47, US05 and 71B. The meads were all evaluated at 2 months and I got some really cool feedback on that. There were six triangle tests and people provided descriptors of the yeast profiles, including aromatics, flavour and ester profiles. I try to provide that information from the experiment so people can use that as a resource for when they are selecting their yeast types for meads. Doing these triangle tests experiments with your peers is going to be really helpful for you to understand the meads and to see what matters in your own mead making.
CHA: What are some of the honey varieties available in your area?
SS: So the main varietals are raspberry blossom and blueberry blossom and those are extremely rare to come by. In Ontario there isn’t a market for varietals. Most of the varietal honey that I get come from Quebec. In Ontario, they basically just have your light, golden and wildflower classification, which just means an alfalfa, clover which would mean the white and your golden is going to be your mid harvest and your later season of honey is what they would classify as wildflower. But that’s a pretty crude gradient so I generally seek out golden wildflower varietals from fruit producing areas. You would want to find some that are unpasteurized, raw, and the more pollen and bee parts in it, the better it’s going to be.
CHA: So you’ve been brewing for a while now and that you’ve won a few awards for your meads. What is one tip that you would give to mead home brewers?
SS: I’ll have to give credit to Ken Schramm. He’s really the guru and one of his main philosophy is that it’s quality in and quality out. I think what that means is good quality fruit, good clean water but especially for meads, a good source of honey. I think that’s something that’s really hard for homebrewers to realize like, “Why can’t I just go to Costco and just get some honey.”
Basically the terroir of honey is something that needs to be learned. For example, the same honey, same single source of honey from the same producer year after year will differ. Wildflower honey can be anything from sweet and fruity to musky as in so floral that it’s almost to the point of being dank. If you really wanted to be serious about meads especially traditional, I would suggest generally a lighter honey, a honey that comes from a fruit source. I’m just doing a honey comparison so doing small amounts from the aviaries around the area and sampling them and see what stands out and in terms of taste profiles, the acidity. Invite your friends and see which ones they pick out, cause the meads will tend to depend on water profiles and yeast, but you cant make a good mead without a good honey.
Mead…has its own fermentation science that’s unique relative to beer, in some ways closer to cider and wine making. I heavily advocate the use of activated yeast starters with the use of Gofirm, organic nutrients and agitation of the musk and musk aeration. A big game changer in my own mead making was getting myself an oxygen stone and learning when and how to gas and to agitate.
Editor’s Note: Snudden was reported to be based of Ottawa erroneously. He is indeed based out of Kingston, ON.