View Full Version : when to rack/how often

08-15-2006, 01:17 AM
I have a batch of cyser going. It's been almost 3 weeks I think. My original plan was to leave it for a couple of months (D47 yeast) before racking. There's a lot of apple stuff from the cloudy juice plus yeast currently sitting on the bottom, maybe close to an inch (in one gallon). Should I leave it as is, or rack it now? I understand that lees aging should produce "mouthfeel" with this yeast, but is there a downside to also having all that other stuff down there?

And as a general question, how often does one rack? This mead is getting pretty clear already and producing very few bubbles. If I rack it and it throws more lees, should I rack it again before bottling or just rack into my bottling bucket? What are the pros/cons?


08-15-2006, 09:29 AM
Here's what I think.

You need to do some research on your yeast. D47 is a great yeast for lees aging and the mead/cyser will benefit from exposure to the lees. There are a lot of people who think you should rack on a schedule, I don't buy into that for a second. The racking will depend on several factors which include:

+The yeast you're using
+The type of mead you're making
+The ambient temperature of the ferment in/out of the vessel
+The fruit you're using if you're making melomel and the size/thickness of the cap
+Whether or not you are stirring your primary fermentation daily, I do
+The amount of sediment you have and it's composition

To me it's ludicrous to say you have to rack when the lees reach a certain height. Hell, even the best winemakers in the world don’t approach racking that way. They make a decision with each ferment and the character/behavior they are seeing as it develops. There are some yeast that you do want to rack off of very quickly like 71B and others that are excellent for lees aging like CY3079. I have said this over and over on these forums in many of my posts, but it bears repeating. Then there are some yeast that you can do both ways. For example EC-1118, generally you want to rack off it in a hurry, but if you’re making a method champagnoise style sparkling wine/mead leaving the yeast in the bottle with the secondary ferment gives you that distinctive yeasty, bready, sharp and doughy kind of character that is so distinctive of the French sparkling wines from the Champagne region.

Another issue is the gross lees. Again, people out there will read an article on the internet and think they know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to lees, lees aging and lees management. It comes from experience. I have found in my experience that if you faithfully stir and swirl your fermentation vessels during the primary with a yeast like D47 you will not have a problem letting your mead sit in the primary on top of the lees for a few months. Witness my New Year Cyser (http://www.gotmead.com/component/option,com_smf/Itemid,103/topic,609.msg3761/,#msg3761)which was stirred regularly during fermentation, and then left to clear completely on top of the gross lees for 5 – 6 months. Again, this is in experience rather than just taking it on faith from someone who told me to rack off of it after a certain amount of time, or a certain lees buildup level, or because if you don’t rack off the lees it will ruin your mead. That’s a load of hooey and I don’t buy it. I entered that mead in the California State Fair and it took 3rd place in the open melomel category, and was judged by a very well established set of BJCP judges.

Much of the mis-information about lees is from folks who have not managed their fermentations properly and let them run too long. I’ve actually heard from people who have had their mead in primary fermentation, popping along for months due to a weak, flabby ferment that is throwing all kinds of off flavors, but they blame it on the lees without really even knowing what lees aged mead tastes like because they’ve never done it. The real culprit here is poor fermentation management and lack of knowledge, experience and understanding of the lees aging process.

So, when do you rack? You rack when it makes sense based on your yeast, your recipe and what you as the manager of your mead want to produce. You take all of these things into consideration and then you make a decision. If you are unsure about your yeast, your must composition and how it will work together, then post up what you are going to make and ask for some feedback. You’ll find that there is no shortage of opinion here on what to do with it.

Also, again, from my personal experience the question of lees is analogous to the “world is flat” theory. Too many people cap on lees aging without ever having tried, researched or applied that knowledge to their meadmaking. I think that it also really goes to gross (pun intended) inexperience with lees aging and the rigidity/unwillingness to try something new that runs contrary to your thinking. I'm running a batch now of my New Year Cyser in which I rehydrated my cherries and blueberries, blended them up in my faithfull Margarita Blender, and dumped that slurry into the must.

Here are some photos of the ferment so far:

Photo 1 (http://www.cyberclan.net/brew/cherrycyser00.jpg)

Photo 2 (http://www.cyberclan.net/brew/cherrycyser01.jpg)

Photo 3 (http://www.cyberclan.net/brew/cherrycyser02.jpg)

This is a particularly vigorous ferment for D47 so it looks like I may have found it's "G" (GotMead) spot when it comes to using rehydrated dried fruit. It looks happy and aggressive, just the way I like my little critter work force!

Try it, you'll like it!

Hope that helps,


Dan McFeeley
08-15-2006, 09:59 AM
Thanks Oskaar for posting this reply -- a lot of solid info here which can be teased out and discussed further.

I'm hesitant to add to this, due the perpetually disorganized state of my file system, but here goes.

I came across an article some time back which looked at the role of pH in regard to wine quality overall, and aging on the lees. The pH of the wine does seem to be important, however, if I recall the contents of the article correctly, it's not something to worry about too much. In other words, a health fermentation, carried out from start to finish, will have a good pH in the range needed to age on the lees. To put in simpler terms, relax, don't worry about the pH (it'll take care of itself so long as you take care of the fermentation), and have a glass of mead or two.

If I ever come across the article sometime soon, I'll have to post a summary of the results. Also -- readers of Homebrew Digest might recall some of Steve Alexander's postings on the general subject of autolysis and aging on the lees. He covered the subject thoroughly and was able to show that a lot of commonly held ideas regarding lees and off flavors from not racking off the lees quickly were actually misinformation.

Muirghein Tarot
08-15-2006, 06:27 PM
Those are very nice looking pics but is that a solid topper on them?

08-15-2006, 09:16 PM
Yes, that is a solid topper.



08-16-2006, 12:28 AM
Thanks Oskaar for your quick answers. A few more questions...

How long do you "stir daily"? I assume that has to eventually stop, even if you don't rack to the secondary yet.

I've stirred my cyser a couple of times, mostly just in the first few days during the really vigorous ferment. I'll try to take a gravity ready to see how it is coming. If it's done (or what I perceive to be done), what does that mean in terms of stirring? I would guess "stop stirring", but I could be wrong.

This fermentation seemed to go pretty well, as far as my limited experience goes, so I think I'll leave it sit where it is for another few weeks before racking. I'd wait longer, but I really want to start up another one and I shouldn't before racking this one.

How does the solid cap not blow off your carboy?

08-16-2006, 05:32 AM
Hey Akueck,

I stir for about about two minutes or so each time up to the 1/2 sugar break. I don't play any hard and fast rules though because each batch is different so I treat each of them differently. I start on very slow speed and get the must moving, and then bring the lees stirrer to the top of the must and out of it to let the paddles swat the top of the must and agitate it well, and then back down. Mind you this is all done on a very slow speed. Do it fast and you'll have a volcano the likes of which only the Diet Coke/Mentos guys would appreciate!

That doesn't mean I have wild variations for each batch, but it does mean that I actually pay attention to the progress of the fermentation in each vessel, and treat them all by batch rather than as total collective.
What I mean by that is if I make a thirty gallon batch of traditional sweet mead, I treat the five carboys pretty much the same with regard to racking, stirring, dosing, aerating, etc. However, if I started a 30 gallon batch of cyser at the same time, I'll follow a different schedule so I'm able to manage it as a cyser rather than as a traditional.

There are also times when I will treat each carboy from a larger batch as an individual, especially when oaking or other treatments. It really boils down to you as the Meadmaker making a judgement call based on what you want as an end product. That's the tough thing about making a large batch of mead, and then having it ferment and age in smaller containers. Meadmaking to me is a very long series of decision points from purchase of the honey, to bottling.

What is the exact cyser recipe, and which yeast did you use? That will help to figure out what you're looking at as far as what kind of stirring you need to do.

The solid top is on the bottle and set in place only, it is not twisted down so it literally just sits there to keep stuff out while I take photos and such. My cloth covering was looking gnarley so I decided to go with something a bit more pleasing to the eye. I also run some fermentations with a cap like you see in the photo in place, but not screwed down. I've never had one blow off though. Some barrel fermentations I've seen in France use a drilled bung with a stanless steel bolt dropped through the hole, when the pressure builds up enough it lifts the bolt a little and the pressure disperses. Mind you this was in a barrel fermented Chablis (Pinot Chardonnay grape), but the wine was superlative!



08-18-2006, 01:11 AM
The recipe is in the brewlog: "desert essence cyser". I think I'll sit on it as-is for another few weeks. Even two months in the primary is really long for me, so we'll see how it turns out. The stirring advice I'll take to heart for the next one, when I can start from the beginning. It will be a melomel, so I'll need to stir a lot anyway.

Thanks again.