Melomels are meads made using honey and fruit. Why were fruits added to honeywine? Probably several reasons, to preserve the fruit harvest, to add fermentables to the mead thus increasing the alcohol (honey was a luxury in those days), to flavor the mead or possibly, in many cases, to hide fermentation problems which most certainly occurred back then.
Some kinds of fruit mead have been made for so long that they have a special name, given in antiquity, or before. These melomels are:
All other melomels are usually named with the fruit, ie. Blackberry Melomel, Cherry Melomel, Elderberry Melomel etc. What makes it confusing is when you start crossing over into other categories.
For example, a Capsicumel is a mead made with chile peppers. Are chiles considered a fruit or a spice? I guess it depends on whether you used the chilies whole or just the seeds, or ground as in cayenne pepper.
Before you enter your mead into a competition, consult the internet and BJCP guidelines. You don't want to mis-classify your mead and get points deducted for it being in the wrong category.
Whatever you call your melomel, you will be adding fruit to a honey wine. There are several ways of doing this and each will impart different nuances from the fruit. Fruit can be added:
How much fruit should you add? Most fruit melomels are going to be sweet when bottled. This allows you to add a lot of fruit.
It would be helpful to the meadmaker to know when a particular fruit will be harvested and in the supermarkets or road-side stands. Making fruit mead from the freshest fruit, organic when possible, is always a good idea.
Download a PDF version of Cuesa.org's Fruit & Nut Seasonality Chart. Good information to have when planning your mead recipes.
Here are some guidelines on adding fruit to your melomels. The amounts listed will give you a medium fruit character from each fruit. Adjust accordingly for a milder or stronger fruit character. The list below is for a 5 gallon batch of finished mead:
When preparing and selecting fruit for your melomels, take as much care as possible. When picking or choosing fresh fruit, discard any fruit of poor quality. If you wouldn't pop it into your mouth, then don't make mead with it.
Try to remove all leaves and stems from the fruit. Wash and clean thoroughly, then freeze the fruit to help break-down the cell walls.
If you are making stone-fruit melomels, remove the pits (except cherries which can be allowed to ferment for about 4 weeks, then removed).
You don't need to puree the fruit if using it in the primary because
fermentation will take care of breaking down the fruit. Add the fruit
to fine mesh bags and then add it to the fermenter. You can mash the
bags with your sanitized hands the first time and then mash against the
sides with a sanitized spoon when stirring the must.
When using canned purees or concentrates, you must stir frequently as they will settle to the bottom quickly. Sometimes adding some fresh fruit with a fruit concentrate or extract will add some freshness to your melomels.
If you have never made wine or mead before, you may not know about cap management. When the must begins to ferment and generate CO2, the fruit will float to the top and form a cap.
The temperature underneath the cap can get pretty warm because it cannot escape. CO2 will collect under the cap and is toxic to yeast. The top of the cap will get dry and this environment is ideal for molds and bacteria to flourish.
The cap must be "punched down" at least three times daily during the period of active fermentation. This accomplishes several key things.
It keeps the fruit in contact with the yeast, allowing for a quicker fermentation and better extraction of the fruit characters.
It keeps oxygen in the must at a time when the yeast need it most. Many meadmakers will add pure O2 at the same time they are punching the cap for added assurance that the yeast is getting plenty of oxygen for growth.
Punching the cap releases CO2 from below, keeping the yeast healthy and maintaining a steady temperature so the yeast will continue to ferment to completion without adding any off-flavors or fusel alcohols from the warm fermentation.
Some fruits will be deficient in nutrients for a healthy fermentation. How much nutrients the must requires is a guessing game and is dependent on the particular fruit, the area the fruit was grown in and a host of other variables.
Add your nutrient additions per this schedule: Nutrient Addition Schedule (at the bottom of the page).
Too many chemical nutrients may cause a metallic taste which will take months to age out. Try adding yeast hulls to your must for a more natural nutrient which will not cause these off flavors.
Here is what Curt Stock, one of AHA's meadmakers of the year, recommends for nutrient additions in your melomels, "I prefer to use Fermaid-K (yeast energizer) and diammonium phosphate or DAP (yeast nutrient) for adding the additional nutrient requirements of the yeast during fermentation. One teaspoon of Fermaid-K and two teaspoons DAP should be adequate for a 5 gallon batch. You can mix them together for a stock blend and add them using the following schedule:
Just be careful when you add nutrients to fermenting must. The addition can cause an explosion of CO2 foam. Try mixing the nutrients with some of the must first, then add the nutrient/must mixture back into the fermenting mead.
Stir slowly and increase the speed as the CO2 is released. Introduce as much oxygen as you can during the nutrient additions.
Once the last addition is done, or the mead is near the 50% sugar break, you can stop adding oxygen to the must. Keep stirring the cap, but do so gently so you don't introduce oxygen and oxidation."
The choice of which honey to use is not as critical in a melomel as it is in a traditional mead because many of the flavors will be masked by the fruit.
For most meadmakers, a good clover or wildflower honey will make excellent melomels. When using less assertive fruits, or only a small amount of fruit, you can experiment with some of the varietal honeys available to add complexity.
Be sure to use a good source of water with no chlorine or chloramines. If you have very hard water, try diluting with distilled water to lower the alkalinity and mineral content. If it tastes good, it should be OK for making mead. But, you are investing a lot of money in honey and fruit so if you have any questions about your water, buy good quality bottled water and use that to make your melomels.
When the mead has finished fermenting, rack over to a clean and sanitized secondary and age for several months.
Keep racking until you are satisfied the mead isn't dropping any more sediment and has finished fermenting.
If the mead still won't clear, you can use one of several fining products such as Super-Kleer to clarify the mead. Or, you can filter the mead if you can do so without adding any oxygen.
Once you are happy with the clarity, taste the mead to see if you want to add any more sweetness. I usually sulfite and sorbate my melomels if I'm going to back sweeten them.
Taste the mead and if you want more sweetness and/or honey character, add about 1 cup of honey at a time and stir gently with a drill-mounted lees-stirrer if you have one, or a sanitized spoon if you dont.
The honey will sink straight to the bottom, so stir well without adding oxygen. Taste and repeat until you are happy with the results.
Allow your melomels to rest for several weeks before bottling to allow time for the mixture to homogenize.
References: Much of this article came from my own experiences in making melomels. Some was adapted from an article by Curt Stock entitled "Other Fruit Melomels – for Experienced Dummies", and from posts by Oskarr in the forum at Gotmead.com regarding the amount of fruit to add for given strengths of melomels.
I highly recommend you get, "The Compleat MeadMaker" by Ken Schramm. Everything you need to know is in this book.
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