Discuss the key components of the study guide and what is needed to know for the Mead Entrance Exam and Mead Judging Exam. Focus should be on defining the program, what to expect from the exams, and key areas of the Mead Study Guide. Build upon the high level overview of the mead making process and ingredients from the previous course using some of the more advanced topics. Sample and discuss different types of meads and varieties of honey. Introduce the attendees to the Mead Study Guide and other recommended readings.
All the material for the section below can be found in the Mead Exam Study Guide. Further information can also be drawn from The Compleat Mead Maker by Ken Schramm and The Complete Guide To Making Mead by Steve Piatz. These should be used as the base for this discussion and reviewed by the attendees prior to the course taking place.
Key Points / Discussion
The following are a list of key points and discussion items that should be covered during the course. Encourage discussion among the attendees and if possible send out the reading list ahead of time so that the attendees can review the material in advance.
Mead Judge Designation is awarded to person passing the Mead Exam.
- For existing BJCP judges, the designation is called an endorsement. Judges continue to hold their existing BJCP ranks, and otherwise operate within the program in the same manner as before. They may refer to themselves as Mead Judges, but their rank is still based on their beer exam score.
- For those who have not taken the BJCP Beer Exam, the designation will be the judge’s rank. Non-BJCP members passing the exam become active BJCP judges, get assigned a BJCP ID, may accumulate experience points, and have all other rights, privileges, and responsibilities due an active BJCP member.
- Both groups of judges are full BJCP members.
- The Mead Judge rank differs from the Beer Judge ranks (Apprentice through Grand Master) in that there is only one Mead Judge rank level – no advancement in rank is possible without taking the BJCP Beer Exam.
- Note that there are not different types of judging experience points; no distinction is made whether they are earned judging mead, beer or cider.
Two part exam consisting of the Mead Entrance Exam (online) followed by Mead Judging Exam (tasting). Passing the BJCP Mead Entrance Exam is a prerequisite for taking the BJCP Mead Judging Exam.
BJCP Mead Judge Entrance Examination
- Consists of 200 questions to be answered in a 60 minute time period.
- Mixture of multiple choice, true-false and multiple answer questions.
- Designed to test a prospective mead judge’s knowledge of mead styles, mead characteristics and the mead making process.
- Questions on the BJCP Mead Entrance Exam cover the following topics:
- The BJCP Mead Program.
- BJCP judging procedures and ethics.
- Mead Balance and Style Attributes.
- Varietal Honey Identification and Usage.
- Non-Honey Ingredients in Mead.
- Identifying/Troubleshooting Mead Characteristics.
- Mead Making and Process Control.
- Mead Troubleshooting.
BJCP Mead Judging Examination
- Judging of six meads as if one were at a competition.
- Closed book.
- Scoresheets evaluated on the basis of scoring accuracy, perception, descriptive ability, feedback and completeness.
- Meads judged should include at least one mead from each major BJCP style category
- M1 Traditional Mead
- M2 Fruit Mead
- M3 Spiced Mead
- Should include at least one varietal mead, one flawed example, one very good mead example.
- Within the M4 Specialty Mead category only M4A Braggot is a potential candidate for inclusion on the exam.
- M4B Historical Mead and M4C Experimental Mead will not be used as exam meads.
Importance of Balance
It is highly recommended that there be a thorough review Chapter 6: Balance in Mead since it is one of the main components of judging and making mead. The key points below are just a few of those listed in the study guide:
- Balance refers to the interaction and harmony between two or more of the mead’s constituents.
- Mead balance is the synergy of all the components that formulate an enjoyable tasting experience: aroma (bouquet), flavor (taste, honey flavor), structure (tannin, acid, and alcohol), residual sweetness, and mouthfeel (body, carbonation). In a balanced mead, individual components do not overshadow one another, and the resulting combination is appropriate for the particular style of mead.
- The use of words like synergy, balance, and harmony shouldn’t imply that all flavors are of equal intensity. That is much too simplistic (and generally wrong). It means that the components complement each other in a pleasant way.
Components of Balance
- Sweetness – simply refers to the amount of residual sugar in the mead.
- Acidity – is the perception of acids or low pH in mead, and sometimes could be described as tartness or sourness.
- Tannin – are astringent, bitter-tasting plant polyphenols that bind and precipitate proteins.
- Alcohol Strength – Ethanol also has a sharp flavor and can add bitterness while also being perceived by some people as sweet. Alcohol produces a warming mouthfeel, which usually increases with alcohol strength.
- Honey Flavor – Honey flavor is adjusted by honey variety selection and the amount of honey used.
- Carbonation – Carbonation refers to the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide in solution. It is an aspect of mouthfeel, although higher carbonation adds carbonic acid to mead.
- Body – refers to the viscosity of mead perceived as a sensation of weight or thickness on the tongue; it is a mouthfeel texture, not a flavor.
- The sweetness-acidity- tannin balance is most important in determining the overall drinkability of mead, but the balance between honey flavors and those of added fruit or spices is important in melomels and metheglins.
- Mead with low sweetness compared to acidity will seem tart.
- Mead with high sweetness compared to acidity will seem flabby and soft.
- Tannin and acidity are somewhat interchangeable. Together they provide balance to sweetness and honey flavor. Less tannin means that more acidity can be used; less acidity means that more tannin can be used. Using too much of both results in a harsh, astringent mead.
- The balance between astringency (tannins) and acidity is an interesting topic, since both provide structure to mead.
The less tannic a mead is, the more acidity it can support. The higher a mead is in tannins, the lower its acidity should
- Alcohol (and some honey varieties and some adjuncts) can add bitterness. Bitterness balances sweetness.
- Higher carbonation adds carbonic acid to the mead, which gives a “bite” to the finish and can help balance sweetness. Higher carbonation can also balance higher body, making the mead seem lighter.
- Serving temperature can play a role in balance; low serving temperatures make tannins seem much more apparent while suppressing the honey flavors. Lower temperatures make mead seem a bit less acidic. Higher serving temperatures will make alcohol more apparent.
The Mead-Making Process (see chapter 8 of the study guide for greater detail)
Judges need to understand the production process so that any potential flaws can be diagnosed. Having a good understanding of how raw ingredients are transformed into the final product makes it easier to offer comments on individual components or steps that may have been used to produce the mead. Traditional mead consists of:
- Honey is the main flavor component of any Traditional Mead.
- Start with fresh honey that has undergone the least amount of processing possible.
- Honey is best stored cold to reduce enzymatic action and prevent degradation and color changes.
- Select the honey for the type of mead being made. Use the honey references to understand the varietal character of particular honey.
- A good source of water is critical to making great mead.
- Water that is clean, tastes good, and is free of chlorine and bacteria will work well.
- Do not use water that has been processed through a home water softener as this often leaves a salty taste in mead.
- Avoid water high in minerals or containing any iron.
A wide variety of yeast can be used to ferment the must, but most mead makers use wine yeast strains. When evaluating yeast for making mead, there are a few characteristics to note:
- Flavor Profile
- Alcohol Tolerance
- Temperature Range
- Nutrient Requirements
- Select a strain that has the necessary alcohol tolerance for the style of mead being made, and that generally fits the other environmental characteristics (temperature and nutritional requirements).
Honey is notoriously deficient in nutrients necessary for fermentation, particularly nitrogen and phosphate. If sufficient nutrients aren’t available, the fermentation will be sluggish and the mead may have off-flavors that take a long time to age out.
- When to use additives is just as important as the type of additives to use.
- GO-FERM – Lallemand’s proprietary micronutrient blend containing vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
- Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) – Sometimes called Yeast Nutrient, DAP provides the nitrogen necessary for yeast growth and a proper fermentation.
- Fermaid-K – Lallemand’s proprietary yeast nutrient blend, provides nitrogen, key vitamins and nutrients and inactivated yeast hulls. Sometimes known as Yeast Energizer.
- Potassium Carbonate (K2CO3) or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH)- . Minerals play a large role in buffering the must. Potassium levels above 300 ppm are critical to maintaining proper pH.
- Acid Blend – A blend of citric acid, tartaric acid, and malic acid. Used to adjust acidity of the mead.
- Grape Tannin – Derived from grape skins, adds tannin.
- Pectic Enzyme – Pectinase, used in some melomels to reduce pectin haze.
- Potassium Sorbate – A commercial food preservative used to inhibit mold and yeast growth.
- Potassium Metabisulfite – Also known as Campden tablets, added before fermentation to kill off any wild yeasts or after fermentation to stabilize the product.
Basic Mead-Making Process
- Ingredient Preparation
- Fermentation Management
- Finishing and Stabilizing
Mead-Making Process Options
Refer to the Mead Study guide for pros and cons of each option. When it comes to must preparations there are a few different ways to prepare for fermentation.
- Boiling the must.
- Potassium metabisulfite.
- Sterile filtration.
- No-boil approach.
Current thinking embraces rehydration, but with added micronutrients in order to best prepare the yeast for the stress of fermentation.
- Pitching yeast directly into the must.
- Making a starter.
- Adding a micronutrient blend to the rehydration liquid.
Current research has provided detailed information on yeast nutrient requirements and on the nutrient levels in honey.
- Adding no nutrients.
- Adding nutrients all at once.
- The staggered nutrient addition – Instead of adding all the nutrients at once, the same amount is staggered over several days. SNA promotes yeast health and helps assure a fast, clean and healthy fermentation. This allows the mead to be enjoyed sooner because it doesn’t require as much aging.
Fermentation management can have an impact on how much aging the mead will need before it is drinkable, as well as the obvious contribution to overall flavor profile.
- Fermentation temperature.
- Step feeding.
- Length of fermentation.
Melomel is a term for mead comprised of honey and fruit. The BJCP style guidelines split Fruit Meads into five separate styles for judging convenience. Two traditional varieties of melomels with their own BJCP categories are Cyser (mead with apple cider) and Pyment (mead with wine grapes). Making fruit meads is similar to making traditional meads, except that additional thought must be given to:
- Honey selection – Honey choice in a big melomel is not that crucial. Varietal honey character will be overshadowed in most melomels by the strong fruit character.
- Fruit handling – Choosing a fruit for your melomel is as simple as deciding what type of fruit you like. If you enjoy eating the fruit, it will likely yield pleasant mead to you.
- Amount of fruit – The amount of fruit used will vary depending on preference, sweetness level and type of fruit. Sweeter meads generally require more fruit to balance.
- Fruit Preparation – Care should be taken when selecting and preparing fruit. If you are handpicking or buying from a local market, be sure to discard any poor quality or moldy fruit. If you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t use it in your mead. Remove all stems and leafy material. Clean the fruit, then freeze it to burst the cell walls. Stone fruits, with the exception of cherries, should be pitted and frozen.
- Adjusting pH – The pH of the mead must is important for healthy fermentation. pH will drop during fermentation. Yeast can adapt to the lower pH environment to a point, but an extreme drop in pH could result in a stuck fermentation.
- When to add fruit – Options include primary vs secondary, separate fermentation and two stage fermentation.
- Cap management
- By CO2 during fermentation.
- The cap is the layer of fruit that floats up and is held at the top of the fermentation vessel.
- Managing the cap during early fermentation is important to reduce the loss of fruit flavor, reduce yeast stress, help prevent a stuck fermentation, and to reduce off flavors or characters.
- Breaking up (or “punching down”) the cap accomplishes two key goals: releasing toxic CO2 and preventing temperature buildup below the cap.
Includes meads made with a combination of spices and fruit as well as mead made from spice, herb or vegetables or a combination of them. Metheglin is a term for mead made with honey and spices. Metheglins are easier to make than melomels since spices don’t add any fermentables. However, achieving a pleasant balance with spices is harder than fruit because the intensity of spices is much greater so there is less of a margin for error.
- Steeping spices in the boil.
- Adding spices in the primary.
- Adding spices in the secondary.
- Making a spice tea.
- Making a spice tincture.
Are meads made with malt. Braggots will always contain malt, and may contain hops.
- Braggots can be produced in two different ways:
- Fermenting the malt along with the honey.
- Fermenting a beer and a mead separately and then blending.
- Balance between the honey/mead and the beer is critical to the overall impression.
- Judges will be looking for a beer-based mead not a beer with some honey character.
- Braggots are often made without hops.
Historical and Experimental Meads
Can feature any ingredient or technique, most meads that are entered in this category fall into four groups:
- Historical or indigenous meads.
- Combination of two or more mead styles.
- Meads that use additional fermentables.
- Meads that have some kind of post-processing.
Advanced Topics in Mead-Making
(Chapter 9 in Mead Study Guide)
- Imparts structure, complexity, additional sensory elements and flavors.
- American oak infuses more quickly and imparts more vanilla, woody, sugary and toasty character.
- Hungarian oak (from oak trees in Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, and Ukraine) imparts a unique array of toasted, vanilla, spicy, woody, sugary and caramel-like flavors.
- French oak is most expensive and sports the highest tannin level of the common oak varieties. Presents more types of extracted characters for mead and wine including those from caryophyllene sweet, woody, spice, clove, and dry flavors) and copaene (dry and spicy flavors).
- Oak products come in a range of toast levels:
- Light toast adds a light coconut (American) or vanilla (French) character.
- Medium toast adds more bouquet than tannin, so will impart more aroma than flavor.
- Medium plus toast adds honey, roasted nuts, and light coffee flavors.
- Heavy toast adds highly caramelized, carbonized and toast flavors quickly.
- Oak comes in a variety of shapes and sizes for many different fermentation, aging and storage vessels, but chips and cubes are the easiest to find.
- Other oak forms include strips, spirals, stave segments, powder and oak essence.
Experienced mead makers know that mead will often have to be adjusted to achieve a pleasant final balance, whether it is adding sweetness, acidity, tannin, or other components. Most adjustments to mead are done after fermentation is complete. Common adjustments included:
- Fermentation has finished (not stuck) but the alcohol seems low.
- Sweetness is the most common element to adjust and there are several methods for adjusting.
- Once the sweetness level is correct, adjust acidity and tannin. This can add structure and eliminate flabbiness.
Means attempting to keep the character and composition of a mead stable over time and can included:
- Time and multiple rankings.
- Filtration will remove yeast, but can also remove color and flavor components.
- Flash pasteurization.
- Potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate.
- Do nothing alternative.
Clarifying agents work to remove haze from mead. Haze can be the result of suspended yeast, particles of protein, pectin haze, starch haze, polyphenols (tannins) in the mead, or perhaps a metallic contamination.
- Super-Kleer K.C. is a two-stage liquid clarifier from Europe, containing kieselsol (silica gel) and chitosan (derived from shellfish).
- Sparkolloid is a proprietary material manufactured by Scott Laboratories. It contains a polysaccharide substance dispersed in diatomaceous earth, and comes in hot-mix and cold-mix forms.
- Bentonite is a gray clay with high montmorillonite content.
- Gelatin is an animal protein-derived substance that is positively charged.
- Pectic enzyme. Pectin is the compound in fruits that will gel when heated.
Aging normally reduces esters, bitterness, alcohol sharpness, color, and intensity of flavors. Proteins, tannins, yeast and other particulates tend to precipitate from solution, enhancing clarity.
Blending is the mixing of mead with another beverage (usually another mead, but it could be something else). It can be used to create consistency between batches, to correct flaws in a batch, or to create a new concept.
(See chapter 10 Mead Study Guide)
A good mead judge should be able to identify, describe, and diagnose common problems in mead, and provide feedback to the mead maker on possible solutions to the problems.
Common Mead Faults
The Mead Study Guide lists many of the common faults that can be found in mead in the following format:
- Definition – the technical definition of the fault.
- Perception – description of the fault and the perceptual cues it triggers.
- Causes and controls – describe how the problem can be introduced, and how it might be fixed.
A stuck (or sluggish) fermentation can be caused by one or more of the following factors:
- Not enough viable yeast.
- Failure to maintain the fermentation in a correct pH range.
- Not providing adequate nutrients for the yeast.
- Too much nutrient can over-stimulate the yeast.
- Insufficient oxygen in solution during the yeast growth phase.
- Failing to maintain an appropriate temperature range for yeast.
- Too much CO2 can kill off yeast.
- Failing to keep the must properly mixed.
- General yeast stress caused by high gravity fermentations.
- Other Common Fermentation Problems:
- Fermentation never starts.
- Prolonged, slow fermentation.