Forces Unknown and other things we don't know........
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2019 we were invited to participate at our first hop event. The focus was on whole cone hops, specially using them wet and/or fresh for a one day festival held at the legendary Reub Golberg Brewing Machine. It was organised jointly by RG and Ryefield Hops based in Bemboka on the South Coast of NSW and home to some amazing quality local hops. This year the hop harvest festival saw brewers from around the state and even interstate come and be a part of the harvest.
We brew with hops all the time, see International Waters, but never with hops straight off the bine but brewing with fresh whole cone hops was definitely a first. Continuing with our exploration of the endless possibilities that mead can be we didn't have to be asked twice.
So what did we do and how did it go? Good questions. Firstly, for those considering hopping a mead there's a few things to consider. Firstly is balance; hopping at the standard recommended rates you would use for beer in mead could potentially lead to over-bittering quite easily. Our meads are dry; like bone dry 1.000 final gravity. Hops in beer are used to overcome the residual unfermentable sugars remaining in a beer. Without hops, beer would be a malty sweet beverage-but hopping in balance see's a well rounded end result. Same with mead, be delicate, don't go too hard-you can always add more than take some out.
But also remember; hop characteristics fade, so don't under hop either! We ended up doing a boil with a low SG must and some fresh Saaz hops from Ryefield Hops, adding to this cold water and the rest of the honey and then pitching our yeast. We double dry hopped with Sazz and Centennial towards the end of primary and late in secondary. Is this like a double IPA? Not really, remember what we said about balance. It's delicate, inviting, surprising. We think of it more as a lager than an ale (even though its neither, just helps with a point of reference) as it was fermented at lager temps.
So a whole cone double dry hopped, lager temp fermented mead, yeh we had no idea where this would lead us and what obstacles we would face along the way. As it turned out, the mead is delicious. Just the right balance of bittering and honey, hops and carbonation. Forces Unknown; are you ready to face it?