Brad’s Tart Cherry Mead – Mead Case Study

by Brad Smith on January 15, 2024 · 2 comments

This week I thought I would mix things up a bit by presenting a very high gravity Tart Cherry fruit mead made with widely available ingredients.

High Gravity Mead Design

I started making high gravity melomels back in 2016 as I have always been fascinated with the style, which I find to be some of the most delicious meads available. Ken Schramm of Schramm’s meadery who I’ve had on the podcast a number of times, makes some of the best commercial examples of these meads and while I lack his experience I’ve spent a lot of time researching how great meads are made.

While I’ve made a number of meads using fresh fruit, this week I’m going to start with a simple mead made only from fruit juice and honey – something any beer brewer can make easily.

Having spent countless hours researching high gravity fruit meads, I’m going to start with a few simple rules of thumb and design concepts.

The first concept is that we’re going to start the mead at an extremely high starting gravity, and then select a yeast with an appropriate alcohol tolerance so that the yeast actually gives up (reaches its limit) before the sugars in the honey are all consumed. This will result in residual sweetness in the finished beer because not all the honey will be consumed. It will also give us a high finishing gravity.

Second, the volume of fruit or juice used should be approximately the same or slightly higher than the volume of honey. We’re also going to select a fruit with a lot of either acidity or tannins to offset the residual sugar in the finished mead. It is this critical balance between the remaining sugar in the mead and tannins/acidity in the fruit that gives the mead its flavor.

Third is that we’re actually going to target the final gravity based on the acidity of the fruit. In this case we’re using Tart Cherry juice which is only moderately acidic, but if we were using a more acidic fruit like black currants we would actually target an even higher finishing gravity.

Finally, we’re going to use a modern staggered nutrient addition with degassing to accelerate the fermentation of the mead. Honey is notoriously nitrogen poor, so it requires additives to ferment rapidly. I personally like the TONSA-3 schedule which is incorporated with BeerSmith and uses four Fermaid-O nutrient additions starting at 24, 48, 72 and then the 1/3 sugar break.

The Tart Cherry Mead Recipe

Building the recipe now is mostly an exercise in selecting our target finishing gravity and then applying the rules above. I built my recipe in BeerSmith using the mead features to calculate gravities as well as the TONSA nutrient additions. I selected a 5 gallon (19 l) batch size, which while not cheap gives you quite a few bottles of finished mead.

Starting with a final gravity target of 1.035 which is a bit on the sweet side, I began building the recipe. I started with 18 lbs of orange blossom honey which has a volume of almost exactly 1.5 gallons. I like orange blossom honey as it has a fairly neutral flowery profile that works well with fruits. I will probably target a slightly lower OG if I make this again.

For tart cherries, I ended up using Knudsen Just Tart Cherry juice which is pasteurized, but has no additives to inhibit fermentation. I used 2 gallons of it which is above the 1:1 ratio of honey to fruit. With a sugar content (measured with a hydrometer) of 14 brix, the tart cherry does contribute about 1/3 of the sugars.

I selected the classic Lalvin 71B Narbonne yeast, which is widely used in melomels by many commercial mead makers. This yeast I’ve used on almost all of my meads, and it has a well defined alcohol tolerance of around 15.1% which translates to about .110 gravity points. So this mead with a starting gravity of 1.145 will finish out around 1.035 (110 gravity points lower) using this yeast.

I used the TONSA Fermaid-O additions of 4 grams each staggered at 24, 48, 72 and the 1/3 sugar break. The mead was degassed twice a day for the first week, and the yeast was treated up front with GoFerm and then slowly raised in gravity with small additions over time before pitching to avoid osmotic shock (due to the very high gravity).

Tart Cherry Mead Results

The mead was initially a bit “hot” flavored but it mellowed out nicely after a few months. The tart cherry came through well and though it is a bit on the sweet side the finished mead was very drinkable. If I had to do it again I might adjust a few points lower on the starting/finishing gravity to avoid some of the sweetness. As the mead aged it has continued to improve.

I hope you enjoyed today’s article on fruit mead design. Please subscribe for regular weekly delivery, and don’t hesitate to retweet, link, like or mention any of my articles on social media.

Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:

Enjoy this Article? You'll Love Our BeerSmith Software!
  Don't make another bad batch of beer! Give BeerSmith a try - you'll brew your best beer ever.
Download a free 21 day trial of BeerSmith now

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

andreas karlsson January 26, 2024 at 7:25 am

“This yeast I’ve used on almost all of my meads, and it has a well defined alcohol tolerance of around 15.1% which translates to about .110 gravity points. So this mead with a starting gravity of 1.145 will finish out around 1.035 (110 gravity points lower) using this yeast.”

I’m a novice at mead and first batch was quite similar to this recipe. But when I used the 71B with starting gravity of 1.130 and it went bone dry. I see that most commercial meads ends at 14% and from what I heard the do not back sweet. Do they cold crash and add chemicals to kill of the yeast at 14% ?

And final word: the podcast are superb, almost every episode are listened to twice and the episodes with Schramm and Fairbrother have been on to many times to be counted.

Brad Smith January 29, 2024 at 4:22 pm

I get a very consistent 15.1% or about 110 gravity points using this yeast with the TONSA-2 nutrient regime. You could get slightly different performance depending on your nutrients and technique, but it should be in that ballpark as both of the commercial mead makers I’ve talked to also get 15% with the 71B Narbonne yeast.

Thanks for the kind words on the podcast! — Brad

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: