10 Step Strawberry Rhubarb Melomel Tutorial

I recently came into possession of 5lbs of fresh garden grown green rhubarb and wanted make a special batch of mead this summer. I’ve been trying to hone in my mead making abilities and thought that a strawberry rhubarb melomel may be the best way to use all of this fresh rhubarb. Now all I needed were a few extra ingredients. I picked up a case of fresh picked organic strawberries and some fresh spring harvest honey from the Canby berry farms South of Portland at the local farmer’s market. The honey was light and had a slight brightness to it that I think will pair perfectly with the fruit.


Step 1: Wash the fruit, chop, vacuum seal, and freeze.  I filled the kitchen sink with a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water to wash the fruit (1 cup of distilled white vinegar to 8 cups water) using a brush to gently scrub everything. Some people include dish soap into these washes, however I do not do this. Fruit washes in a vinegar solution are a great way to extend the life of your fruit as it kills off native yeast, mold, and bacteria on the fruit. Once washed, I rinsed the fruit and started cutting it into smaller pieces. I cut the strawberries into halves and chopped the rhubarb into 2 inch pieces and weighed them. I used 3lbs of strawberries and just under 4lbs of rhubarb (which approximated to the same ratio I found in a strawberry rhubarb pie recipe online). I then threw them into vacuum sealed bags and froze them. Looking up pie recipes inspired me so much that I plan on making my next batch of mead using whole fresh baked fruit pies (cherry pie, huckleberry cobbler, or possibly even blueberry pie).

Step 2: Thaw fruit and refreeze This step is something I’ve only recently started doing. By freezing, you burst the cell walls of your fruit which makes juice more available. By freezing twice you further break up the fruit. Once it has thawed a second time, the fresh fruit now has a consistency of canned peaches.

Step 3: Thaw fruit and prep for brewday. Measure out yeast energizer, yeast nutrient, and pectic enzyme for 3 gallons of finished melomel and place them into a small bowl. I use half the recommended amount of yeast energizer and nutrient so that I can add more a few days into fermentation. Prep a rinse bucket and sanitizer bucket for your brew station. Set up brewing kettle and burner, measure out 5 gallons of filtered water, and set up your cooling workflow (I run a chugger pump into a counterflow wort chiller to quickly zapp the boiling liquid down to fermenting temperature and push it directly into my primary). Because I’m working with honey, I placed these beautiful jars of fresh honey in the sun to heat up and become less viscous (100°F outside today in Portland, OR. Ouch…).

Step 4: Test the system with boiling water to sanitize and work out any kinks. Once your water is boiling, cut the propane on your burner and connect your chiller setup to the ball valve on your kettle. Open the valve and let it flow into your chiller.  I power on the chugger pump for a few seconds to help start the siphoning process into my chiller before turning it off and letting gravity drain the water level down to 3 gallons. Once it’s reached 3 gallons close the ball valve on your kettle. Running boiling water through your chilling setup ensures that you are killing any yeast, bacteria, or mold that may be housed in your equipment.

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Step 5: Pour in your honey and stir to dissolve it into your heated water. My preheated honey pours just like warm motor oil. Make sure your heat is off while stirring in your honey to prevent scorching the sugar. I used a ratio of 2.5lbs of honey per gallon of water for a total of 7.5lbs of honey that will finish out at around 10.6% ABV (If I were to do this again I would have used 1.5lbs of honey per gallon to bring the ABV down to around 6-6.5% ABV).

Step 6: Chill your mead down to fermenting temperature and clean. I kick on the hose pushing water through my counterflow wort chiller, open up the valve on my kettle, and then power on my chugger pump. This draws my mead into my chiller and out of the system after passing through my Blichmann Thrumometer. I can adjust the temperature of my cooling mead by adjusting the kettle valve on my pot or the additional valve installed after the pump just before the chiller. This slows the flow of the mead while in the chiller which increases the contact time with the copper cooled by the water in system. I pumped my mead into my primary at 70°F.

Now that the brew day is over it’s time to clean. Make sure to scrub down your equipment, rinse, and dry everything. I also run additional boiling water through my chiller one last time to clean the inside of the chiller and heat up the copper to stave off bacteria before closing off the system. As you can see, I have Pedro’s approval that all is clean and ready to be packed away.

Step 7: Add your fruit and pitch your yeast. Now that you’ve transferred all of your mead into your cleaned and sanitized fermenter, add your fruit. Give the mixture a stir and take a gravity reading. The mead I made today was 1.080. Pitch your yeast on top of your fruit along with your nutrients and pectic enzyme. I use half the recommended amount of yeast energizer and nutrient, and add the other half after about 4-5 days. This helps provide the yeast with nutrients that it needs to continue powering through all that sugar. You can add the whole recommendation of pectic enzyme though. You want as much pectin to settle out as possible during the fermentation process to improve the clarity of your finished mead. There are a lot of different yeasts you can use for mead. Red Star Pasteur and Lalvin EC-1118 are both champagne yeasts and will ferment out dry without too much characteristics from the yeast itself. Wyeast Sweet Mead or Dry Mead are two liquid options that I’ve had a lot of luck with in the past. Today I’m using Mangrove Jack’s MO5 Mead yeast.

Step 8: FermentWhen I make beer/cider/wine I like to make sure I give the yeast plenty of time to do its thing. Don’t rush your mead through the system. The more times you open your fermenter, the more you expose it to Oxygen which will oxidize your finished product. That said, your mead is actively fermenting in the first 3-5 days. That’s a perfect time to throw in the rest of your yeast nutrient. Once you’ve done that, leave it alone for at least a couple of weeks at the proper fermenting temperature and then take a gravity reading. If the mead still has a way to go give it another week. Your final gravity should be 1.005 or lower. This will ensure it is not too sweet and ensures that the yeast has finished fermenting. If you are higher than 1.005 that is ok, it will just be a little on the sweet side.

Step 9: Rack your mead off the fruit and store in glass carboy for aging. Unfortunately this step can get a little messy. Above is a picture of a nectarine mead I recently racked into a 3 gallon glass carboy. The nectarines were so mushy they were easily pulled up into my racking cane and over to the secondary. It’s not the end of the world, but I’ll likely rack over to another carboy to remove the rest of the fruit and sediment. When racking your mead off of the fermented fruit, use extreme care. Your fermenter will likely have fruit still floating on top, and yeast accumulating at the bottom. You want the good stuff in the middle. Before you start transferring your mead over to a sanitized carboy I would recommend using a sanitized spoon to remove the floating fruit. Use care to not stir up the yeast at the bottom of the fermenter while removing the fruit. Transfer the mead over to glass with an autosiphon and age in glass. Over time you will notice that your mead will start clarifying, and yeast/fruit particles that will start settling out. If you are a stickler like I am you will likely rack your mead over to another carboy to further clarify your mead. Another thing to note is that I purge out the Oxygen in my fermentors when I open them up with CO2 from my kegging system. It’s a great way to decrease oxidation from taking root.


Step 10: Keg or bottle your mead. I prefer kegging my ferments as I can bottle directly from the keg using my Blichmann Beer Gun. This allows me to purge CO2 from my bottles before corking/capping my bottles. There is nothing wrong with bottle conditioning, however I prefer to force carbonate over conditioning in a bottle. You have officially made yourself some delicious mead! Chill and serve in your favorite glassware or in my case a fancy 2L drinking horn.

Mead has been made for thousands of years. Don’t feel like you have to buy a bunch of equipment to make it. I’m literally using equipment that I have accumulated over 10+ years homebrewing. Make sure you are using the freshest ingredients you can find. Use good sanitation practices. I would suggest using a glass carboy to age the mead in. Tuck your mead away and forget about it for a year (although make sure to keep the airlock filled) so that it can mature. I’ve found that cider and mead that have been aged for one year are much better than “hot” mead that was rushed into a bottle.  Consider aging some of your mead with liquor soaked oak cubes or maybe even adding some other microbes to the mix to create new and exciting flavor combinations. You can even blend finished meads together with cider or fruit wine!

Anatomy of a Recipe: German Pilsener

Sleek.  Sexy. Flawless production. The perfect blend of elegance and utility with nothing out of place.  The same oft used descriptors for precision-engineered German automobiles also apply to the most popular style of beer within Germany—the German Pilsener.pilspic

All German Pilseners share four characteristics 1) A grist composed almost exclusively of European pale malt with minimal (if any) specialty grains and NO adjuncts, 2) Assertive hopping with Tettnang, Hallertau, Spalt, Saaz and related noble varieties, 3) Cool fermentation with a clean, highly attenuative lager yeast, and most importantly, 4) Stringent brewing process and quality control.  They’re German beers, after all.

For a good introduction to German-brewed Pilseners, start with my personal favorite, the 40 IBU herbaceous hop-forward Jever, pronounced “Yay-ver”, then move on to the bready and soft Weihenstephaner Pils from Bavaria, the zingy Bitburger, then conclude your whirlwind tour with one of the many perfectly balanced Pilseners brewed by Warsteiner, Bamberger, Kulmbacher, or Koenig.  To avoid the light-struck skunk flavor, look for these exports in cans or covered packaging.  Not to be outdone, many American breweries produce a fine German Pilsener as well.  Victory’s Prima Pils, Firestone Walker’s Pivo, and Trumer Pils are three well-crafted examples of the style and stand up to any of their continental brethren.

Now that your thirst has been quenched, let’s talk about filling your refrigerator with a delicious home brewed German Pilsener.  First, let’s address fears and misconceptions about brewing pale lagers:

Lagers are not forgiving of off flavors – This is certainly true.  Like your first solo acoustic open mic gig, you cannot hide behind distortion and flavor pyrotechnics.  However, if you can manage process-related factors such as mash temperature, yeast cell count, oxygenation and wort temperature at time of pitching and sanitization to brew a delicious ale, you can also brew a fine German Pilsener in your kitchen or garage.  Don’t believe me?  Try it once and see.  I double-dog dare you!

I need a temperature controlled fermentation chamber – While temperature control is important, the winter and early spring months in the Midwest provide a window of opportunity for primary fermentation at the ideal range of 45-55⁰F.  If you have an unheated shed, garage, or mud room, keep an eye on your local forecast for a 7-10 span where the midpoint between the daily high and low temperature is 38⁰F to 48⁰F.  Yeasts like Safale 34/70, WY2007 and WY2124 are fairly forgiving of modest temperature swings.  Remember that a five gallon fermenter represents a lot of thermal mass and will not be immediately impacted by ambient temperature swings.  During winter months where more hours lean towards the daily low temperature, your five gallon fermenter will generally stay a several degrees above the midpoint temperature.  After the first 10 days or so of cool fermentation, simply move the fermenter to a slightly warmer (but cool) part of your home for a few days for a diacetyl rest.

Who wants to wait three months for a lager to be ready? – In my opinion, a 5% abv German Pilsener peaks around Day 60.  That’s two months.  By this point, in my house, usually the keg has been half-enjoyed and/or sent off for competitions.  Your patience will be rewarded.

A complicated and lengthy mash procedure scares the bejeezus out of me – It is possible to brew a delicious German Pilsener without a direct fired mash tun and/or decoction mash.  However, in my opinion, to truly replicate a commercial example of the style, a decoction mash is absolutely necessary.  Don’t change the channel now, because there’s more on this later.

Recipe Formulation

At this point in a home brewing article, the author usually provides extract and all grain recipes for the style, then with a pithy ‘goodbye’ encourages the reader to get busy brewing.  However, this author believes the relationship between ingredients and process in European pale lagers is much, much more critical, in general, than in the average ale recipe.  Remember, we’re brewing a Mercedes C-Class, not an F-150 pickup.  To that end, I think that you, the fearless home brewer will be best served with a range of grists and their ideal mash schedule.

I did a meta-analysis of over 60 German Pilsener recipes — 36 from personal experience brewed over the last decade and the rest from brewing publications.  My results are summarized below.  Note the relationship between Munich and Melanoidin malts and mash schedule.  Each one of these recipes and mash schedules will produce a delicious German Pilsener.  Pardon the esoteric road trip, but in my experience there is something magical about a 130/146/154/168 rest schedule.  A 130⁰ protein rest is not absolutely necessary, but I have found it results in the beer pouring clearer, earlier from the keg.


Extract brewers should consider adding half of the extract in the last 20 minutes of the boil to improve bittering hops utilization and keep the wort from darkening too much.  A full wort boil is highly recommended.

A typical decoction step is listed below:

  1. Remove about 25-30% of the grains with a strainer and place into a side kettle. In a 5 gallon batch with approximately 10 lbs of grain, this will equate to about 1 gallon of grain.  In double and triple decoctions, the last decoction is usually thin, meaning the decoction is mostly wort.
  2. Heat the decoction to 168⁰ and rest for 5-10 minutes, stirring while heat is applied.
  3. Heat the decoction to a boil and continue boiling for 15-30 minutes, stirring at least once every minute.
  4. Pour decoction back into the main mash, stir, and briefly heat (if necessary) to the next rest temperature.

Water profiles range in commercial German Pilseners from soft to moderately sulfated.  My go-to water profile, which results in a slightly hop-forward and crisp German Pilsener is [Ca (58) Mg (8) Na (10) Cl (77) SO4 (86)].  Per 5 gallons of brewing water, this equates to 0.5 tsp gypsum, 0.35 tsp epsom, 0.1 tsp NaCl, and 0.6 tsp CaCl.  Avoid iodized table salt for the NaCl addition.

Not being one to shirk homebrewing convention, here’s my standard German Pilsener recipe which has won its share of hardware.  Now that you have all my secrets, get brewing!

97% Best Malz Pilsner Malt

3% Munich Light

3 oz Acidulated Malt

Double Decoction per the above table

75 minute hard boil to drive off DMS precursors

30 IBU’s Magnum Hops @ 60 minutes

10 IBU’s Hallertau Hops @ 15 minutes

1 oz Hallertau when kettle cools to 150⁰

Safale 34/70: 350-400B cells per 5 gallons pitched when wort reaches 48⁰

Fermentation: 10 days-48⁰, 5 days-58⁰, 5-7 days-38⁰, rack to keg w/ gelatin around Day 22

Anatomy of a Recipe – Classic Rauchbier

Anatomy of a recipe is a new feature where Circle City Zymurgy members walk you through the process of developing and perfecting either an award-winning recipe, or a recipe they are just very proud of. Our first entry is by me, Steve Kent. My classic Rauchbier, Bamberger Helper, won silver at the Hammerdown Brewcup in April, made it to mini-best of show at the UpCup, and just last month finished third in the smoke and wood-aged category at the Indiana Brewers Cup. It is a very good beer.

Centuries ago all malts were kilned on wood fires, lending them a smoky-sweet flavor. But with the onset of the industrial revolution, these beers quickly fell out of favor and were replaced with beers brewed with the clean, neutral malt produced using steam power. But the small town of Bamberg in Northern

Doesn’t that look tasty!

Bavaria made sure that smoked beers wouldn’t go extinct. Their rauchbier (literally “smoke beer” in German) is brewed like a maltier, higher-alcohol Marzen with an unmistakable smokey flavor and aroma. Far and away the most popular exemplar of the style is Aecht Schlenkerla; and for good reason. It is an excellent beer, and if you can find it fresh (not always an easy task) it is delightful. Rauchbier was one of those styles that I knew I would love, even before I ever tried one. And when I had my first Aecht Schlenkerla at the Rathskeller, my hunch was confirmed. If you’re still on the fence, you just have to trust me. A good rauchbier is not like drinking a fire pit. When done right the smokiness is mild and serves to heighten and accentuate the clean, rich, malty flavor of the base beer. For me, rauchbier is the perfect beer for when you’re sitting in front of a fire on a March or April night; when it’s probably too cold to have a fire, but you’re too sick of winter to care. It is no coincidence that Bamberg is also the home of the Weyermann Malting Company. Their Rauchmalt, which is smoked over beechwood and is my preferred base malt for rauchbier. It clocks in at about 2.1-3.6 Lovibond and has enough diastatic power to self convert.

This puts the rauch in rauchbier

Attempting to brew a clone of Aecht Schlenkerla is a quixotic endeavor because, depending on who you believe, they either smoke their own malt or get their smoked malt specialty made by Weyermann. So the best I could do was make the best version of a rauchbier using the ingredients available to me. Based on everything I read, a beer brewed with 100% rauchmalt has too overpowering a smoke flavor. I wanted an assertive but not overpowering smoke flavor in my rauchbier, so I settled on 65% rauchmalt. Luckily that ended up providing just the right level of smoke. This style should be light amber to dark copper in color, moderately strong, and have a rich, sweet and toasty malt character. Given this information, the instinct is to incorporate crystal malt in the recipe, but I prefer not to use crystal malts in my continental lagers; instead I prefer to achieve a malty beer using richer base malts and multi-step mash schedule. I rounded out the grain bill with 30% dark Munich malt which provides an orange color, a pleasant breadiness, and a rich, malty sweetness, 3% melanoidin for even more maltiness, and 2% Carafa III to give it that deep copper color I wanted.

Even though this is a malt-forward style, I knew I was dealing with a very malty grain bill, so I couldn’t be shy with the hops. I went with about 23 IBU of Magnum for bittering. Usually a single bittering addition is enough, but I opted to add ½ oz of Tettnang hops with 15 minutes left in the boil. My reasoning was that the subtle hop flavor would help balance the maltiness better and it would allow the beer to be drinkable for a longer time. This particular beer won its two awards nearly three months apart, so I feel like that strategy worked perfectly.  

I perform a Hochkurz mash on all my continental lagers. This involves a beta rest at 145 degrees F and an alpha rest at 158 degrees F. Doughing in at a lower temperature allows me to better control the fermentability of their wort, and the higher alpha rest helps improve maltiness and head retention. Beers brewed with a Hochkurz mash will be well attenuated and still have a nice, malty finish, characteristic of the best German lagers. A 30 minute rest at each step followed by a mashout was sufficient. If I am not feeling lazy, I will perform a double decoction with this mash. The small differences between rest temperatures makes decocting easy. If you plan on performing a decoction, feel free to omit the melanoidin.

Water is very important when making rauchbier. You 100% can not use spring water or tap water. Chlorine and smoke don’t mix. Since I didn’t want my rauchbier to taste like rubber bands, I started with a base of 100% distilled water. Beyond that, I just kept my minerals low. I used a small amount of gypsum and a moderate amount of calcium chloride; enough to get my calcium levels close to 50 ppm.

Saflager 34/70 (the Weihenstephaner strain) has been my go-to yeast for most lagers. It has never done me wrong, so I figured why switch things up. I always pitch an insane amount of yeast and keep it as cold as it can possibly handle–46-48 degrees with a diacetyl rest after seven days. I wanted this beer to be clean, clean, clean.

The power of the homebrewer is being able to take a beer brewed solely in a German city of 70,000 people and say, “I can do that”. There is nothing quite like a fresh homebrewed rauchbier done right. And now that you know how to do it, go out and brew it. Prost!