Last weekend we headed down to the meadery for what I thought was a quick transfer of a batch to another tank. Since I didn’t expect it take very long so I decided to forgo breakfast till later. Once we got into the meadery and reviewed our notes I realized we had a bit more to do….quite a bit more. We quickly got busy moving one batch from the primary fermentation vat to a maturation tank and then racked another batch from tank to tank. After some discussion, we also decided it was time to move our fig and saffron mead into oak barrels. This is where things got interesting.

Oak barrels have been used in wine making for centuries and for good reason. The barrels imparts both flavor and aroma to the wine, increasing the body and structure of the wine. The barrels are perfect for storage because they allow a small amount of oxygen through the wood which can make the wine smoother and less astringent. Barrel aging is also ideal for malolactic fermentation, a process where malic acids are converted to creamier lactic acids, creating a wonderfully velvety mouth feel.

There are tons of choices on the varieties of barrels to use and flavors they can impart. We chose a medium grain American oak and when we emptied the barrels (stored full to keep the staves hydrated) the smell was enough to almost make me swoon. Notes of vanilla, spice and hints of smoky coconut. We still my heart. When we added the deep toffee and caramel notes from the fig mead…well my mouth began watering and my stomach began growling. I was seriously getting hangry!

Standing over the barrel during the transfer was a oddly pleasurable torture. These are the times when I wish the internet had a smell feature. The scent is indescribably good. I actually dreamed about this fig and saffron mead last night. I’m impatiently waiting for this to finish aging so I can get my mead on.