View Full Version : Please help me troubleshoot.

07-19-2008, 06:27 PM
Hello everyone. I admit up front that I am new to mead making. I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted to make a mead for our 25th wedding anniversary. I have to admit that that date has come and gone and still no mead.
Here is the recipe that I used. The local brewery shop here was of no help, and I didn't realise that the time that yeast could make such a difference to the final product. All I know is that it was a sweet wine yeast and the name wyeast, I think, sounds familiar.

3.5kg Outback honey (quality brand store bought)
3kg beechworth honey (quality brand store bought)
75ml vanilla extract
3 cinnamon sticks
4tsp acid blend
5tsp yeast nutrient
rain water to 22ltr
sweet wine yeast (all that I could find available here)
1/3 tsp sodium metabisulfite (because it said so).

initial SP 1.150 was actually a little higher, but that was the last measurement on my hydrometer

I have racked this three times in the last 2 years, because it was put in a corner and forgotten about. Racked this week and the SP was -0.98.

This time I could at least drink it, although it is not very sweet, and almost no spices came through, and feels very watery. I have, since making this found a supplier of raw honey, so 4 days ago I added another 4 cups of this honey along with a strond tea of cinnamon, vanilla beans, nutmeg, cloves and 2 tea bags. I added the tea and left the bag of spices hanging. Tasted yesterday and the spices are coming through quite strong, and the mead was marginally sweeter. I took the spice bag out after 48 hours, as I don't want these flavours to be too over powering. Can always add them back in later if I need to.

I am wanting a sweet mead, (that is our personal preference), and I was reading that for a sweet mead the ratio should be 3:1. If that is the case, then I have a lot of honey to add to bring it up to that ratio. Would I be correct in my thinking? My carboy holds 25 ltr, so that would mean I should have aprox 6.5 ltrs of honey to 18.5ltr water/juice? If that is so then I am way under in the honey department.

I was wondering if I should maybe pour off a litre or 2 every couple of weeks to a month and top up with honey for a while, and see if that improves the feel?
I've come this far, and I am prepared to wait another 2 years if I have to, but I would like to resurrect this one if I could first.
I agree that store bought honey is not the way to go, and was dissappointed that I could use raw honey in the first place. The next mead I make will definately be made with better honey.

So any advice, hints and tips would be much appreciated. I wish I had found this place before I started, but I guess, better late then never.
Many thanks.

07-20-2008, 12:04 AM
G'day, Tea! Welcome to the "GotMead?" community!!

From the quantities of honey and water in your original recipe, it appears that your original gravity should have actually been around 1.090, rather than the 1.150 that you indicate. It is possible that you drew the sample you tested for initial gravity from a portion of the must with some undissolved honey in it. It appears from everything that you say that you have fermented to dryness, so you currently have a dry mead that has approximately 11.5% alcohol by volume. Despite your "sweet wine" yeast strain, the yeast was able to take this mix completely dry. It is not surprising that the mead tasted a bit thin at that point, since this is a fairly low starting gravity for a mead, and with no residual sugar present, the honey flavors and mouthfeel will not begin to show itself again until an additional year or more of aging.

Since you want a sweet mead, the preferred approach at this time is to backsweeten, i.e., to add more honey to taste, exactly as you have guessed. I would also recommend that you consider using some additional potassium metabisulfite (rather than the sodium -- the sodium can leave a salty taste in your finished mead) along with some potassium sorbate to stabilize the batch as you add that additional honey -- else you run the risk of a renewed fermentation.

I would not suggest trying to achieve a sweet result simply by computing ratios of honey to water. Rather, I would suggest that you add a fixed qty of honey and stir it in well, albeit slowly, to ensure that it is completely dissolved. Then taste the result. If that is sweet enough, then you can stop adding and simply let it age a bit more to allow the flavors to integrate. If you still want it sweeter, then add an additional dose (I'd recommend a 1/2 liter for that second addition as the sweetness will become more apparent to your palate from smaller incremental additions from this point forward). Keep adding incrementally, until you achieve the sweetness that you desire.

FYI, you can find out much more about adjusting the sweetness of your final product simply by searching for the term 'backsweetening' using the forum search tool from the forum index.

Good Luck!

07-23-2008, 06:13 PM
Many thanks Wayneb, and my apologies for not replying sooner. Had a virus try and eat the computer, but I think we have it beat.

Ok back to the mead. A week after adding the original honey and spice, and flavours are completely different. The spice was quite harsh at first, but have mellowed out nicely at the moment. It was still a little "tart" so yesterday I added another 2 cups of honey. Also I have not had any hint of fermentation even looking like it was going to start up again.
I thought that I might leave it for another 3 months, and rack, and see what I think then, and continue to do this up to a year, adding as I think it needs it? Would that be advisable?
Many thanks again for your help.

07-23-2008, 08:33 PM
Aside from also adding some potassium sorbate to ensure that none of the dormant yeasties wake back up and begin to reproduce, I'd say you have a fine plan to get this one exactly where you want it to be!

Good luck with it, and keep us posted on progress -- clearly those updates won't be very frequent, but knowing where you eventually end up would be great.

07-24-2008, 06:20 PM
Thanks again Wayneb for your reply, they are really appreciated.
I have been reading like crazy, there is so much to glean here. Another thought has been rolling around. I was wondering if I put some oak or something similar in there. Would that help round out the flavours? If I was to, and having never used them before, would you recommend light or dark, and how much for a 5 gallon container? I don't know, I still feel that it need something else in there. Or maybe I could decant off some into a 1 gallon container and try putting oak in that first before I add to the whole lot? But then that would leave me with a lot of head room.
Questions, questions??

07-26-2008, 05:45 PM
Well I decided to add some French Oak, and the packet said 1tsp/ltr, so did that and already I can taste the difference. It seems to have rounded the edges somewhat. Only supposed to leave in for a week, so will rack next week, and make further decisions then.

07-26-2008, 07:53 PM
One tsp per liter? Does that mean you used oak powder? If so, then I would recommend that if you want to add oak to a mead in the future, that you try oak cubes or oak staves. They allow the oak characteristics to infuse into the mead over a longer period, and add a greater degree of complexity than the powder. Nonetheless, I'm glad that the oak addition helped your batch!

07-28-2008, 03:16 AM
Hi Wayneb, the only oak that I could find suitable for the mead was this one, and although I saw the blocks that you are talking about, unfortunately they were all for rum or whiskey. This one although it is not a powder, it is in splinter form, and I thought that a measurement of a tsp value was an unusual way to go too. Ended up using about half the packet. Thought I could add more later if I wanted to.
I know I wasn't going to, but I added another 2 cups of honey today. I just wish my JAO would be ready, it might help take my attention off this one, as I feel like I am micro managing this mead at the moment. :help:
Anyway, thanks again, and I will keep you updated on it's progress.

07-28-2008, 12:26 PM
Yes - don't tend it too much, since you can run the risk of doing more harm than good at this point. Patience, and benignly ignoring the batch for a few more months (at least) are probably your best approaches to a mead that has finished primary so long ago.

07-29-2008, 11:38 AM
Hello Tea!

Welcome to GotMead?!

I use a 200 ml graduated cylinder filled with 100 ml of mead. By adding 10 ml amounts and checking SG, you can estimate per liter how much honey you need to back-sweeten to your tastes.
I always make extra must (honey & juices ), label and freeze it if I ever do need to back-sweeten. It adds to the overall depth of the meads taste as it already has the same amounts as the recipe called for. This is also helpful if you make meads with alot of lees and lose a gal of mead everytime you rack off.
Just my .02 worth.



07-30-2008, 05:43 PM
Hi teufelhund, and thanks for the tips. My hydrometer has calculations for added extra sugars, but that's sugars, not honey, so for the moment I was aiming more for taste and feel, as there is question as to the validity of my OSG.

Great idea about the extra must. It has always bothered me added water to top up the carboy, and wondering what my other options were. Do many others do this too, is it an excepected practise? Just wondering what others think.

Also just wondering. The instruction on the packet of oak that I added said to leave in for a week. Just wondering if this is an absolute, or could I leave it in and rack in a couple of months. Just trying to get into the habit of leaving this mead alone, as it is only 2-3 weeks since I last racked? It's just I have read were usually the oak is left in for the long haul, so wondering what the prons and cons would be?

Sorry, but the more I read, the more questions I have.
Many thanks for your help.

07-30-2008, 06:15 PM
Hi again, Tea!

I generally make enough extra must to allow me to keep an additional gallon or two in a supplementary carboy for later topping up. I think that many, if not most, of us do that.

In general if you add oak powder or chips to the mead, you've pretty much extracted all you're going to get from that oak after a week or two. Longer exposure times are usually more beneficial for oak cubes (beans) or staves, as it takes longer for the constituents at greater depths in that oak to come out. I don't imagine that there would be any problems inherent in leaving any oak chips or powder in longer, unless you added so much to begin with that there is a possibility of over-oaking. To prevent the possibility of over-oaking if you like the taste of what you've got now, and if you don't think that any additional oak character would help further, then rack off the oak and allow the mead to age with nothing else in there for a bit.

07-30-2008, 11:00 PM
Ok one more question, and I promise to stop bugging you.
I racked today, and got rid of the oak. Did an SG and it read 1.020. So my question is, having taken a final SG before, and now having back sweetened, without there being any further fermentation, the SG of 1.020 is really showing me the new sugar content and not the ABV%, right?
The alcohol would be worked using your estimated OSG of 1.090, and the final fermentation SG of -.98 giving me a final % of around 11-12%. Correct?
Ok another question. Now that I have head room again, and I don't want to play with it anymore for now, should I just top it up with marbles?
Many thanks again.

07-30-2008, 11:35 PM
Yes, the alcohol content is calculated from the difference between your initial gravity and the final gravity when fermentation stopped, not that resulting from backsweetening. The new final gravity of 1.020 indicates that you added enough honey to increase the gravity by .022, and now you have a sweet mead. You did not change the overall volume of the mead enough with that addition to change the concentration of alcohol appreciably.

Topping up with marbles is OK (sanitize them first), or you can purge the headspace in your carboy using CO2 gas. Either way will work.

07-30-2008, 11:48 PM
Thanks. Good to know that I have something straight in my head.
Again many thanks, and I will keep you updated.

08-19-2008, 12:14 AM
Well it happened, and I know your going to say "I told you so", but my mead is now carbonated, which I am guessing means that the yeasties came back to life.
I haven't replaced the bung yet with the airlock, as it doesn't seem to be displacing the bung for the moment. I wasn't wanting to add any more chemicals etc to this, but it appears that I may have to if I am to stop the fermentation. So I need to add some potassium metabisulfite to this now, as the mead is definately not as sweet as it was a week ago.
Apart from the "stressed yeast fuelage taste", which I can't detect at the moment, should this have harmed the mead in any other way, other than possibly raising the ABV% marginally?

Many thanks.

08-19-2008, 12:42 AM
I have found some potassium sorbate in the pantry, and it says "fermentation inhibitor" 1gr per gal + 1 campden tablet. Would I need to still add the 1gr per gal considering fermentation is fairly weak, and is the campden tab necessary?

08-19-2008, 01:13 AM
No worries about the re-started fermentation at this point. You haven't let it proceed long enough to have any appreciable effect, other than the loss of some sweetness as you've already noted.

If you plan to use potassium sorbate to stabilize your mead, you should also use a source of SO2 (campden, or potassium metabisulfite) as part of that process. The metabisulfite actually kills off yeast cells if added in proper amounts (that is, enough to raise the equivalent free SO2 level to at least 75 ppm). Those cells left alive after the sulfite treatment are for the most part finished, but a small fraction of them, if allowed to do so, could still bud and form more yeast cells. That would be bad, because it means that fermentation could re-start at some point in the future. The sorbate acts as "birth control" for those remaining cells by inhibiting the production of a protein that allows them to bud. So the few survivors from the SO2 treatment will never reproduce, as long as they continue to live, making re-fermentation practically impossible.

You should use sulfite as well as sorbate because the two together are more effective than any one alone for preventing a re-start, but also to make sure that you don't have any lactic bacteria alive in the must. SO2 will also kill the malolactic bacteria outright, if added in sufficient quantity. Malolactic bacteria, in the presence of sorbate, will actually metabolize (eat) the sorbate and will produce a nasty "rotten geranium" smelling compound in the process. That compound is not removable once it is present in your mead, and so it is to be avoided at all costs.

08-19-2008, 11:02 PM
Ok I have added the sorbate and the campden at the recommended rates. How long should it be before I can expect the fermentation to stop, and how long before I can taste test again.
BTW I love you "birth control" analogy, very apt.

08-19-2008, 11:09 PM
It should have been nearly stopped, or at least dormant, before your sulfite and sorbate additions. It will be stable enough to bottle within a day of adding the chemicals if the must is already clear. If it still has suspended yeast in it, I'd give it some time to clarify before bottling. You can taste test at any time --the amount of sulfite and sorbate that you added should not influence the taste profile at all, and it is safe to drink immediately after the additions.

08-21-2008, 01:07 AM
Thanks for the information. I tasted it today, and it still is very carbonated. This that to stay, or will it eventually go away?
The must is a little cloudy since I started adding extra honey, so I was hoping that it would clear before bottling, but I thought I would leave it at least a week before I decide if I want to backsweeten just a little more.
Oh well, at least I am learning things with this one, that may have taken a number of batched to learn otherwise.

08-21-2008, 11:19 AM
The dissolved CO2 will slowly come out of solution as it ages, or if you're really impatient you can de-gas the mead by stirring it, or putting it under a slight vacuum, to force some of the CO2 out. I prefer to wait it out most times, by keeping the mead in an aging carboy under an airlock until all signs of pent-up CO2 are gone.

08-30-2008, 09:06 PM
Ok Wayne an update. I removed the bung and replaced it with an airlock, and it bubbled occasionally for a couple of days. Gave it a gentle swirl a couple of times and released a bit more. I have left the airlock in.
The taste really went dry and bland again, and it still was a bit carbonated, so a few days ago put in a couple of cups of honey. That really seemed to spark it up, so today I decided to put another cup of honey with a couple of liters of water, (to much headspace from all my thieving) along with some more oak. This addition has released quite a bit more gas, so air lock still in, and I will watch for the next couple of days and see what happens. No bubbling at the moment, just holding it's own.
Plan to rack off the oak next weekend unless I think it needs to come off earlier.
Thanks again for your patience.

09-01-2008, 04:51 PM
Well it seems that the sorbate was "off" as my mead was still blipping every minute of so the next morning, and the mead has lost it's sweetness again. :BangHead:
So went out and bought new supplies yesterday and started again. Hopefully this time I can get the fermentation to stop.

Medsen Fey
09-01-2008, 05:18 PM
Sorbate and sulfite may not be able to stop an active fermentation, as you can see.

One way to stop a fermentation is to "cold crash" it. Put it in a fridge or freezer with the temp down near freezing and let it sit for a week or two. The yeast go dormant, and precipitate, and you can rack off of them. The clearer your mead (i.e. the fewer yeast cells left in suspension) the easier it is for sorbate and sulfite to be effective. It may be good to repeat this a second to try to clear the yeast even further.

I usually do this before adding the sulfite/sorbate. I'm not sure of the exact amount of sorbate you used, but there might be room to increase the dose a bit, if you can tell us exactly how much was added (and to what volume).

09-01-2008, 06:44 PM
Another issue to be aware of when using sulfite and sorbate is the pH which will dictate what amount of sulfite you'll need to add. This takes a bit of research along with knowing the SO2 tolerance of your yeast. You can look at some of the LHBS websites that sell sulfites and they sometimes have little charts or estimates of how much sulfite to use based on pH. For all intent and purpose use the white wine chart as it will be more accurate for a mead than a red wine sulfite addition chart will be.

If you don't find that information then about 1/4 teaspoon of S02 per 5 gallons (US) will yield about 50 ppm. At last measure 1 teaspoon of SO2 is about 5.9 grams.

You may also make a 10% solution of SO2 in H2O and use a graduated pipette (I use a 5 ml size). Just take a 750 ml glass wine bottle (clear preferably) and measure out 75 grams of K-metabisulfite. Fill the bottle about half or slightly more with warm bottled water, dump in your K-meta, shake or swirl until the sulfite is dissolved and top up with more water.

Desired ppm 10 ppm 30 ppm 50 ppm
/liter .18 ml .53 ml .88 ml
/gallon .67 ml 2.00 ml 3.33 ml

There's also a formula you can use if you use sulfite titrets and have a reference chart for ideal free SO2 levels for white wines:

PPM of free SO2 needed x 3.785 x Gallons (US) of mead/white wine you're adjusting
0.57 (the actual % of SO2 "free" in your addition)

So if your titret reads 30 ppm of sulfite in the wine, you look at your handy dandy reference chart and see that the optimal ppm is actually 50 ppm. So, you'll need to bring your current sulfite level up by 20 ppm. Well you can't just add 20 ppm (.020 for calculation purposes) so you'll need to run it through the formula as in below:

.020 * 3.785 * 10 (gallons of mead you're adjusting) = 1.328 grams K-Meta

The amount of sulfite you'll need to add is 1.328 grams K-Meta to bring your ppm up to 50

Hope that helps,


09-01-2008, 07:10 PM
The reason I thought that the sorbate was off, is because it was two years old and the campden tabs were purchased new. Instruction are 1gr sorbate + 1 campden tab for every 5lts. I probably only have about 22ltr in the carboy, but added 5gr + 5tabs and stirred gently for a couple of mins after adding.
I will admit that the must is fairly cloudy, but I thought that was from the addition of the extra honey, but from your explaination it could well be the yeast.
As I have a large family fridge and freezer space is at a minimum, but I will see what I can do about organising something. Will try the cold crash before I do anything more.
Much to read up on and comprehend in your post, so bear with me please.
Many thanks for your reply.

Medsen Fey
09-02-2008, 11:54 AM
I don't think I would add any more sorbate. At the current level (around 227 mg/L) it shouldn't have much of a flavor impact, but at levels higher than this it may.

09-06-2008, 07:43 PM
Ok quick update again. Boy I hope I am doing this right. Couldn't beg borrow or steal a fridge from anyone, so I approached the local corner store, and asked if they have any room in their cold room, and they said yes!!! Shot home and picked up the carboy and put it in the cold room, which is set on 0C. If I need to get it cooler they said that I can move it to the freezer room if I need too.
So is 0C cold enough, or should it be colder. I can tell you that I was the butt of a lot of ribbing as I carried that thing through the store, so I hope this works.

Medsen Fey
09-06-2008, 08:06 PM
I can tell you that I was the butt of a lot of ribbing as I carried that thing through the store, so I hope this works.

Sipping well will be the best revenge!

That was a creative idea for getting some cold storage. :idea1:
0 C should be just fine for helping it to clear faster.

09-06-2008, 08:15 PM
mmm you can tell I was desperate can you. ::)

09-07-2008, 11:35 AM
Just offer to give them some samples when it is ready to drink. Once they have a taste, nobody will be snickering any more! :cheers:

09-20-2008, 11:33 PM
So the mead is back from being out in the cold. Forgot that I put oak in before I sent it away, so racked and tasted, and amazingly, even though it is still cold, it is not too bad. Definately tastes better than before it was cold crashed. I am going to wait for it to come back to room temp before I decide whether to tempt fate and backsweeten again.
There maybe hope for this one yet.

09-23-2008, 02:56 PM
Ok just for the record, I put another 2 cups of honey and another spice tea and bag in yesterday. Will leave in for a week and check again.
After sampling the JAO, this one is definately lack in a few areas.

10-01-2008, 05:09 PM
Well I am sure that this feels just a slightest bit carbonated again. :BangHead:
Tasted again and well, I'm not sure. I was wanting to use the carboy, so I am not sure whether I should leave this to bulk age a bit more, or just bottle it and put it away for later consideration. Not sure which way to go.

Medsen Fey
10-02-2008, 09:20 AM
When in doubt, age it more.

10-03-2008, 05:05 AM
I'd take a specific gravity reading, leave it alone for a week and then take another specific gravity reading.

If there are differences between the readings then I wouldn't bottle it. As you probably know taking readings is a good time to do a taste test as well.

Bottling too early can lead to bottle bombs and no-one wants to go there.

10-29-2008, 04:30 PM
Update again. I have just returned home after being away for a couple of weeks and checked the mead. When I removed the stopper it went off with a loud pop and quite a release of gas and of course it is also carbonated again. :BangHead:

So I decided that the best thing is going to be leaving it alone, and not try and back sweeten anymore, as it is being counter productive. I am going to let this age for another 12 month or so, and try it again. From there, depending on what I find, it might just be added to other batches, we'll see.

Many thanks to everyone for the help and advise. Even though this one may not be rescued, I have learnt a lot of valuable lessons doing this, so it has been worth the effort.