I love the flavors a barrel imparts on mead. If I could, almost every mead I make would be put in a barrel. Sadly, this is not possible due to cost (I would make space). As usual, I’ve decided to use science to find the closest mimic through side by side testing.
Searching for viable alternatives to actual barrel aging, I found the following options:
1. Oak cubes: Tried and true, but lacks a fullness of a barrel.
2. Xoakers: Think round oak cubes, but supposedly a bit higher quality.
3. Staves/Winestix: I find the thickness to be lacking here. Cubes are actually better in most cases unless you have a really thick stave. I have no reliable source of thick staves.
4. Liquid Tannins: This is a new product I recently discovered. I’ve never tested it, but it claims to be superior to powder additives such as booster blanc. I’m trying two versions here. Vanilla and fruit enhancer plus. I plan to try a mixture as well. They also have a mocha, but that didn’t sound like the flavor profile I’m going for here.
The question is which method is the closest to a real barrel aged mead? Since no one has published anything about this, I have to do the experiment.
The Experimental Design
For a true side by side test, the only variable that can change is the tannin source. To perform the experiment, a large batch of mead will be made, then split into subsequent tannin testing batches as follows:
1. Barrel Aged Control (Medium Toast Plus American): We must have this to determine what is closest to an actual barrel aged mead.
2. Oak cubes (Medium Toast Plus American)
3. Xoakers (Medium Toast Plus American)
4. Toasted Oak Liquid Tannin - Vanilla
5. Toasted Oak Liquid Tannin - Fruit Enhancer Plus
6. #4 & #5 combined.
Post fermentation, the mead will be exposed to each tannin source. At intervals, the meads will be evaluated blindly for characteristics and evaluated on an overall 10 point scale with 3 criteria:
1. Similarity to a barrel aged mead
2. Improvement of the mead
3. Overall impressions (ie: Do I want more?)
Once optimal barrel levels are reached, meads will be bottled and evaluated over time to determine how they integrate the tannin sources.
I will follow manufacture dosing for cubes and xoakers. For liquid tannin, I’ll follow manufacturers protocol for max dosing. For this experiment, I’m using a particular Wildflower honey that I already know shines in a barrel.
The Mead: Fermentation
1. For a 12 gallon batch, add 42 lbs of honey to 7.5 gallons of Ozarka spring water (1.140).
2. Add 22.5 g Fermaid K, 18 g KHCO3 & 38 g Fermaid O. Add 38 g Fermaid O at 1.110 (Day 2: 2/28/2019) and 1.080 (Day 4: 3/2/2019).
3. Mix with a drill powered stirrer until honey is dissolved. My drill died. I had to do it with a hand crank.
4. Add a 1 gallon starter of Wyeast 1388. (Began starter 2/20/19. Stepped up from my yeast bank).
5. Ferment at 74 F in a temperature controlled chamber (this is more like 68 F because it’s been cold here). Stir vigorously everyday with a drill powered stirrer.
6. Once terminal gravity is reached (~1.020), cold crash until most yeast have settled.
7. Rack into the following:
-5.3 gallons into the barrel
-1 gallon onto 2 Xoaker spheres
-1 gallon onto 4 cubes
-1 gallon + 3.7 ml Liquid Vanilla Tannin
-1 gallon + 2.5 ml Liquid Fruit Tannin
-1 gallon + 1.85 ml both Liquid Tannins
-1 gallon for untreated control
-1 gallons saved for barrel top off
8. Tastings will be performed at 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months. Longer if needed.
I’m just putting these here to help explain some of my logic. Apparently, barrel aging is not quite as efficient as adding spheres/cubes/staves; therefore, much less is needed. Mead in barrels is only exposed to side grains and cannot penetrate into the wood very far. Cubes have side grains and can be fully penetrated (giggity). As a result, cubes/xoakers/staves have more contact surface than that calculated by raw surface area.
From the rough math below, there seems to be a factor of 20-fold built into the barrel alternatives surface area. For example, 6 square inches of xoaker surface area has the oaking potential of 120 square inches of barrel. Of course, none of these barrel alternatives have the micro oxidation effect barrels have.
As a note, I’m using new oak barrels. I really love the full flavor they provide. It is also more relevant to the oak alternatives I am using here.
Barrel Surface Area
In terms I understand (combining metric and standard is just strange):
For 1.32 gallon barrel, 431 square inches per gallon.
For 5.3 gallon barrel, 260 square inches per gallon.
For 53 gallon barrel, 123 square inches per gallon.
1” sphere: 4*pi*r^2 = 3.14 square inches per gallon per sphere.
-Add 2 per gallon for 6.28 square inches per gallon.
-Need 39 per gallon to equal the raw surface area of a 53 gallon barrel. Using our 20-fold factor, only 2 xoakers are needed per gallon to equal a 53 gallon barrel.
Roughly 0.5 inch cubes: 6*a^2 or 1.5 square inches per cube.
-Add 4.18 to equal 2 Xoakers. Call it 4.
Vanilla Liquid Tannin (4 oz = 118.29 ml)
-Low dose: 4 oz>313 gallons
—-0.38 ml per gallon
-High dose: 4 oz>32 gallons
—-3.7 ml per gallon
My reason for using high dose is my desire for intense oak.
Fruit Enhancer Plus Liquid Tannin
-Low dose: 4 oz>125 gallons
—-0.95 ml per gallon
-High dose: 4 oz>47 gallons
—-2.51 ml per gallon[/QUOTE]