View Full Version : Maple wine stuck, won't finish. Suggestions?

04-02-2009, 07:02 PM
Hey guys,

I'm brand new here. I've brewed quite a few beers, but I'm branching out a bit. On a whim I wondered about maple wine, and heard that a fermented maple beverage can really turn out like ambrosia. So I started one last July. It's stuck at 1.060 and I can't get it to attenuate. I know this isn't mead, but mead is probably the closest thing so I figured you guys would probably be the ones to seek out for technique questions.

Here's what I did:

2 Gallons Grade B maple syrup, topped up to 5 gallons with water.
4.5 tsp yeast nutrient
2 pkgs Lalvin EC-1118


I racked the must back and forth a few times through a siphon sprayer to aerate. I then rehydrated my yeast and pitched it in. Airlock activity began within a day, but never at a very fast rate. It blipped slowly along for over a month, before coming to a stop. I figured it was about done, after a long, slow fermentation, and was surprised to find out that the SG reading was still sitting at 1.098!!

So I checked the pH, and it seemed to be within the normal desirable range. I decided maybe a starter would help. So I took some fresh packets of the same yeast and did a starter using honey, to which I gradually added some of the partially fermented must to acclimate it. I aerated the must again and I pitched this in. Activity took off again, though at a very moderate pace. I let it sit for more than a month, and transferred to secondary, only to discover that the gravity was still high. It was now sitting at 1.060. It tastes quite good, like a sherry, but overly sweet. I'd like to get it down another 20 or 30 points. It's been in that secondary at 1.060 since Christmas, since I'm away at school, but I'll be home soon and hope to deal with it.

I'm at a loss for what to do now-- this stuff is almost 9 months old. Should I try another strain of yeast? Is there something I'm doing wrong? I've never had such a problem getting something to attenuate before. How do I get fermentation going again, and get it to finish this time?

Medsen Fey
04-02-2009, 07:12 PM
Welcome to Gotmead? Rustrose!!!

I'm sorry to hear of your frustrating effort.

We need a more details please, such as:
What temperature are you keeping it?
Did you aerate it after pitching the yeast (heresy for a brewer, I know, but essential for a winemaker/mazer)?
What is the pH now?
What kind of nutrient are you using? DAP?


04-02-2009, 08:09 PM
OK, I'll give you as much info as I've got at the moment. It's at my parents house basically just dormant right now. I'll be back in about a week or two and want to be ready to address the problem, especially if I need to mail-order anything.

It was fermented around 70 degrees. Currently it is in secondary sitting in the upper 60s. I don't expect anything to be going on right now, as nothing had happened for a long time before I left it, and there has been no airlock activity.

When I first started the maple wine, I added 4.5 tsp of yeast nutrient, the diammonium phosphate and food-grade urea type from ID Carlson.

As far as aerating, I did my best to aerate before pitching the yeast both on my first try and when I added new yeast. My only means of doing this is to siphon it back and forth a few times with a spray-tip on the end that fans the must out pretty thin and hopefully oxygenates it sufficiently. I did not aerate after pitching the yeast (i.e. during fermentation) either time, because, like you said, that's beer brewing heresy. Maybe this is a big difference between beer and other beverages? I hadn't considered that a wine/mead might require a different approach in this regard.

When I added my second dose of yeast to get the thing started again, I rehydrated my two EC1118 yeast packs with 0.5 oz of Go-Ferm according to instructions. I didn't add any other nutrients.

I'm not sure what the pH is now. When it first got stuck at 1.098, I found the pH to be in the middle of what I thought was the desirable range (I have a figure of 3.7-4.6). It was 4.3 or 4.4. I figured I had nothing to worry about. I haven't checked it since it got stuck at 1.060, because I had no access to pH testing strips (my friend had these). Is it likely to have changed enough to be a problem? Where do I want the pH to be to encourage the fermentation to finish? This is an aspect I have no experience or knowledge with, as it was never a concern with beer.

OK, so, any tips on how to get this one going again?

Medsen Fey
04-02-2009, 08:49 PM
Well, I suppose a change to a different yeast couldn't hurt. For a tough restart I would probably pick Uvaferm 43. It is a strong yeast that is good for starting in fairly high alcohol enviroments. It sounds like you already rehydrate using GoFerm which is ideal, and you are familiar with acclimating the yeast. I would follow this same process and, acclimate the yeast up into a good starter of at least 1.5 liters or more by gradual must additions.

Before pitching I would check the pH again, as it may have shifted. The ideal pH for yeast is between 3.4-4.0, but you don't have to worry about them sticking unless the pH is really low (below 3.0).

I would aerate the must again. I would also add yeast hulls (ghosts) 1 gram per gallon, as these can bind yeast toxins such as medium chain fatty acids, and they may also help the yeast by providing binding sites. I would also add 2 grams per gallon of yeast extract such as Fermaid 2133, or Fermaid O which can provide nutrients that the yeast will be able to assimilate late in the fermentation (I sometimes use GoFerm in place of these others when I don't have them - it is similar). I might also add 1 gram of Epsom salts, the Magnesium may help the yeast get a little extra.

After you've pitched the starter, I would swirl the mead daily to keep the yeast up in the suspension, and I would keep the temp up around 70F.

If all this fails, Lallemand makes an encapsulated yeast called Pro-restart which is already acclimated to harsh conditions before being dehydrated. It might be worth a shot.

There are some other more extreme measures one can take if none of this works, but the effects on the flavor of the final product may be such that you might be better off making another batch, and making it dry, and then blending with this batch to get where you want.

Endeavor to persevere!

04-02-2009, 09:08 PM
Thanks for some great tips! Very very helpful. I have a couple follow-up questions:

First, about aeration. Do I not need to worry about aeration causing staling and flavor degradation at this late in the game? Is there a stage when aeration becomes really problematic? I'm at about 9% ABV at the moment and don't expect to get below 1.030, which is 30 more points. The approach to aeration in the mead/wine world seems to be something much different than what I'm used to. What is a normal approach to aeration in a typical mead, assuming a healthy start to fermentation and everything? Does one aerate before pitching the yeast and then also while it is fermenting as a kind of standard approach?

Second, regarding yeasts: I've heard that in the world of wine yeasts, some strains will kill others off, and some strains prevent others from working after them. Is this something I need to be concerned about, having used EC1118?

Was EC1118 a bad choice to start out with for something like this?

Finally, how long is it safe to let a mead sit in primary with a new dose of yeast? Is it bad if it sits like that for a month to six weeks before racking it off to secondary?

Medsen Fey
04-02-2009, 09:29 PM
In a typical fermentation for a mead, it is generally recommended to aerate it up to the 1/3 fermentation point. This Thread (http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthread.php?t=12811)has some good explanation of the biochem behind this. Another thread here (http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthread.php?t=13252) has a good link to an article on oxygenation. For a fermentation that is stuck, the risks of oxidation are outweighed by the risk of spoilage if you leave it alone. While there are active yeast and lees at work, they tend to consume the oxygen and prevent oxidation of the must.

Yes, there are killer strains that produce peptides that can be toxic to some other strains. At this point, it doesn't sound like your yeast are producing much of anything. UvaFerm 43 should be able to get going.

EC-1118 is a very good and strong yeast, but to complete a high gravity fermentation, even EC-1118 needs to be managed carefully.

Ideally, a fermentation that is handled with care should be complete in 2-3 weeks so you don't need to worry about how long. I would not rack this until it is done. Every time you rack, you leave behind active yeast, and right now, you want all the active yeast you can get to finish the job.

If the UvaFerm gets going well, you may wind up with a very-high alcohol, not-at-all sweet, "hot" maple wine that will need sweetening and age (lots) to be enjoyable.

I hope it works well.


04-02-2009, 11:47 PM
Thanks for all this help! 8)

So the peptides produced by killer strains are only really a concern when the killer strain is actively fermenting, and dissipate afterward? EC1118 I saw is listed as a killer strain. Would the only real concern with the peptides be if I were trying to ferment with two strains at the same time?

For future reference, I'm wondering if there's a cheap and easy aeration technique that can be used once fermentation is going-- I don't own an aquarium pump or whatever. Is that the standard method of aeration among home meadmakers?

The reason I was asking about how long it's ok to sit on yeast in primary is because I will be home for about a week, then away for 3 or 4 weeks. But I guess that's short enough a time I don't really get worried about that. I'm just sort of wondering if meadmakers (is the proper word mazers?) worry about off-flavors from yeast autolysis as much as beer brewers, who start to get concerned certainly by a month's time. I'm wondering if it's common to have much longer primary fermentations with mead/wine, or if there's received wisdom about the point you want to get it off the yeast.

Thanks for the awesome article links, and for all your patience with a total newb.

04-03-2009, 01:00 AM
I aerate with a spoon. Stir, grasshopper!

Medsen Fey
04-03-2009, 10:47 AM
I'm a whisk man myself! WTC out of it works well. Of course, If you have a fermenter with plenty of headspace, just opening it to let air in, then closing it and swirling/shaking/splashing it will aerate it nicely. While many folks do have airstones and pumps, you can successfully aerate using the low-tech approach.

The killer strain issue is of concern when you try fermenting two strains (or more) together.

There are some yeast that it is good to get off the lees sooner rather than later (71B for example). There are others that are very good for lees aging and the gradual autolysis improves the mouthfeel and flavor of a wine or mead. This is one of the many differences between beer and mead making. Even with the yeast that should be racked early, the autolysis problems usually won't develop for 2-3 months.

The term Mazer actually applies to a bowl, usually wooden, that was used as a drink vessel for mead and other beverages. I happen to like using it for describing a meadmaker because it sounds kinda cool. With the rebirth of the Mazer Cup International mead competition, I think it will continue to grow in use. This question has caused some raging debate - some folks like the term Methier, others just like mead maker (no, not meat... mead.) ;D

There is actually a good thread where this is discussed if you use the search function. By the way, when you have questions, it is always a good idea to use the advanced search. It will allow you to narrow down and find information that is specific. GotMead has a huge amount of information compiled here, and if you have a question, it has almost certainly been asked by someone else at some point. If you can't find an answer searching, you'll find folks here happy to help.

Please do let us know how this batch goes.

Good Mazing!

04-03-2009, 12:11 PM
Thanks for all your very kind help, Medsen! It looks like this batch is going to be redeemable, which is fantastic, given the expense of it. Also, there's just so much good info here that I think I'll have to dive into mead a little deeper. I've browsed around and all the great info on new techniques is fascinating. I got the Compleat Meadmaker for Christmas, and now with this board, looks like its time to really get started! Thanks! :cheers: