Denard Brewing

Better brewing through science.

Oak Experiment in Mead

I've used oak in my meads for a long time, but I've never actually done a side by side experiment. I feel this is necessary to "know thy ingredients" a bit better. I also would like to test oak mixtures in a controlled fashion. I thought this would be useful to everyone, so I'm posting it here.

The Oak Experiment
I have a 2 year old OB Traditional that was made with Wyeast Dry mead. This mead will be sacrificed to the science gods for this experiment.

I put 1 cup of mead in 3 mason jars while reserving 1 cup for unoaked control sample. Each of the 3 jars will get 1 cube of medium toast Hungarian, American, and French oak. I'm not a fan of heavy toast, hence the focus on medium toast. This works out to slightly less than new barrel extraction rate. I will do a time course on the tasting. 

 

Oak Experiment - Day 3

I took 10 ml of each group and generated the following tasting notes:

Un-Oaked Control
Aroma: Orange blossoms and butter.
Taste: Buttery OB with a healthy dose of tartness on the finish. Warms the throat on finish.

Hungarian Oak
Nose: Hints of cognac and vanilla reduce the amount of OB in the nose.
Taste: Creates a fullness to the flavor with hints of vanilla; very faint cognac note. Improvement!

French Oak
Nose: Vanilla with a honeysuckle note. Completely negates all OB aroma.
Flavor: Raw oak flavor (the good) that tastes like oak smells. Musty. Removes some of the tartness, but has a harshness on the finish (the bad). Maybe better with aging after the oak is removed. Not an improvement.

American Oak
Nose: Vanilla with strong OB aroma. Remove some of the sour smell (good).*
Taste: Removes the tartness (good) and adds a fullness with notes of vanilla. Much improved.

1:1 Mix of American:Hungarian
Nose: Complex with vanilla, cognac, OB and something else un-identifiable but good.
Flavor: More tart than American alone. Very rounded with vanilla. Cognac not detected in the taste.
Improvement, but I think a 2:1 American: Hungarian would be better.

 

Oak Experiment - Day 8

Control (No oak)
Aroma: Sweet OB, Beeswax
Taste: Tart with OB, alcohol on the throat, thin body.

Hungarian Oak
I will preface this one by saying the extraction rate is much slower for Hungarian as compared to American or French. My observation in this has been confirmed by numerous others.
Aroma: Sweet Orange Blossom, subdued beeswax, faint cognac.
Taste: Not a lot of change from control in flavor, but it is less tart and has more body. There is very faint cognac and maybe some bitter chocolate notes.

French Oak
Aroma: Oaky OB, faint whiskey.
Taste: Lots of oakiness (think how oak smells). Tart is reduced. Body improved. Brings out a sweetness with vanilla notes.

American Oak
Aroma: Cotton candy with OB. Vanilla. Faint beeswax.
Flavor: Vanilla, cotton candy, and roses(?!). The tartness is removed and body increased.

 

Oak Experiment - Day 12

I took 10 ml of each group and generated the following tasting notes:

Un-Oaked Control
Aroma: Orange blossoms, butter, beeswax, &tartness.
Taste: Buttery OB with a healthy dose of tartness on the finish. Warms the throat on finish.

Hungarian Oak
Nose: Hints of cognac and vanilla reduce the amount of OB in the nose.
It has developed an earthy note as well.
Taste: Creates a fullness to the flavor with hints of vanilla; very faint cognac note. A reduction in tartness with a slightly fuller flavor.

French Oak
Nose: The smell is predominatently oak now with some OB.
Flavor: Lots of oak with some OB. Reduced tart. Full flavor and body. Some harshness on the finish.

American Oak
Nose: Cotton candy, faint OB, roses, vanilla.
Taste: Soft vanilla. Enhances body without overwhelming the OB. Reduced tart.

2:1 American:French
Nose: Vanilla, oak, & OB balanced
Flavor: Full bodied with vanilla and oak. Doesn't mask OB. Enhances body and reduces tartness. Very nice mix!

Here are my recommendations for 12 days of oak.

Hungarian - Cyser, Graff, Perry

French - Sack, Melomel, Porter, Stout

American - Traditional, Melomel, Porter, Stout.

2:1 American:French - Sweet and Dry Traditionals

 

Oak Experiment - Day 22

I took 10 ml of each group and generated the following tasting notes:

Un-Oaked Control
Aroma: Orange blossoms, butter, beeswax, tart.
Taste: Buttery OB with a healthy dose of tartness on the finish. Warms the throat on finish.

Hungarian Oak
Nose: Strong vanilla reduces the amount of OB in the nose. Trace earthy note as well.
Taste: Creates a fullness to the flavor with hints of vanilla; Strong cognac note. A reduction in tartness with a slightly fuller flavor.

French Oak
Nose: The smell is predominantly raw oak now; minimal OB.
Flavor: Lots of raw oak with trace OB. Reduced tart. Full flavor and body. Pretty harsh on the finish.

American Oak
Nose: Cotton candy, faint OB, bourbon, vanilla. Also smells sweet now.
Taste: Soft vanilla. Enhances body without overwhelming the OB. Makes the mead taste sweeter. Reduced tart. Really smooths the edges out and makes it much fuller.

Recommendation:

Hungarian needs longer to reach full potential.

French is already over oaked in my objective opinion.

American is wonderful. I will let it go longer to see how it develops.

 

Oak Experiment - 3.5 months 

I took 10 ml of each group and generated the following tasting notes:

Un-Oaked Control
Aroma: Orange blossoms, butter, beeswax, tart. 
Taste: Buttery OB with a healthy dose of tartness on the finish. Warms the throat on finish. 

Hungarian Oak
Nose: Strong cotton candy and OB in the nose. Trace earthy note as well.
Taste: Massive cotton candy and vanilla; cognac note has nearly died. A reduction in tartness with a MUCH fuller flavor. More fullness than all other oaks. 

French Oak
Nose: The smell is raw oak balanced with OB. 
Flavor: Some raw oak with OB. Vanilla has entered now. Reduced tart. Full flavor and body. Harsh finish is gone now. 

American Oak
Nose: Vanilla, OB, and bourbon! Still smells sweet. 
Taste: Tons of vanilla with a bourbon note emerging. Enhances body without overwhelming the OB. Makes the mead taste sweeter. Reduced tart. Really smooths the edges out and makes it much fuller. I'm hoping that bourbon note increases with time. It has so far. 

Recommendation:

Hungarian is the winner at 3.5 months. Absolutely delicious. 

I thought French was over oaked, but now has mellowed into no harshness with some vanilla notes and a pleasing amount of raw oak presence. 

American is still wonderful, but only second best now. Good for the impatient meads (BOMMs). Long term meads are probably best with Hungarian unless you want that bourbon note (Sweet OB mead, for instance). 

 

by denardb on March 13, 2015, 1:12 p.m.