View Full Version : Sparkling and avoiding bottle bombs

09-01-2009, 01:48 PM
I'm probably out of luck with doing a sparkling mead with this batch (my first batch), but I figured I'd pose this question anyway. I have my first batch of mead in the secondary now, it fermented dry and I'd like to sweeten it up a bit. (This was due to me only using 12lbs of honey and using lalvin 71B with nutrient and energizer, was down to .997 from 1.091 in 8 days..) I originally wanted to do a sparkling mead, but the problem is, if I want to sweeten it, that will probably use more honey than would be recommended for doing a sparkling mead I would imagine. So that means I would need to stabilize it with the Potassium sorbate/sulfite combo, which means priming bottles would do no good at that point. So outside of using a draft system, which I don't have, am I pretty much looking at a still batch if I choose to sweeten the mead? I should also mention that there were 5 1/2 lbs of blackberries in the primary, and an additional 2 1/2 added to the secondary.

I'm not sure how much honey you can safely add to a 5 gallon batch before you reach too high an atmosphere level. I read in The Compleat Meadmaker that dissolving I think it was 3/4 of a cup into 16oz of water creates 2 atmospheres (similar to beer), and that champagnes would be at about 4 or 5 atmospheres. But he never really states in the book if that's for a full 5 gallon batch, or what. So by that standard, to do a sparkling batch I could do no more than a cup and a half of honey and still be safe from the bottle bomb. I know I should probably just suck it up and enjoy it as a still batch, I guess I originally wanted sparkling.

Any advice?

09-01-2009, 03:47 PM
In general, to answer your first question you are stuck with a sweet still mead or a dry sparkling one. Sweet sparklers are possible but involve more work and/or luck. Methode Champagnoise is one way to get a sweet sparkler, if you dose the carbonated mead with sugar at the end (as is typical). There was talk about using dialysis tubing to help get the yeast out using this basic idea but skipping the riddling. Kegging or other means of force carbonating is the only other reliable and safe way to do it.

Also, 71B is not a great yeast for bottle priming. It tends to leave flavors that are not so tasty with prolonged exposure to the lees. In the future you might consider EC-1118 or similar yeasts (names like Epernay, Prise de Mousse, Champange, etc) for sparkling batches.

For bottle priming, I like to use fun tools like this one (http://hbd.org/cgi-bin/recipator/brew/widgets/bp.html). Obviously it's meant for beer, but bubbles are bubbles. Most beers have about 1.5-2.5 volumes of CO2 in them. I don't like to go higher than about 3-3.5 in a beer bottle; at that point you are getting close to a reasonable expectation of the burst pressure (with perhaps a safety factor of 2 if your bottle is in tip-top shape). Champagnes are pressurized at a much higher level, but beer bottles won't hold that much. If you want to go higher, you need to use sparkling wine bottles--the big thick ones with a nice sturdy punt (dent) on the bottom.

Some things to notice about the calculator: There is no option for honey, but you can calculate a honey addition based on the corn sugar option, which is basically the same as honey (sugar-wise) except 100% sugar. Honey is roughly 80% sugar so take the number you get and add 25% (by weight). The other thing to be careful about is the "residual CO2" calculation. This assumes that the liquid is still saturated (or nearly so) with CO2. If your mead has been sitting around for awhile, it will not be holding that much gas anymore. If you're not sure how much gas is left, err on the side of "some" and you can make adjustments in the future. I find that a few weeks of sitting around means I really should be adding enough sugar for an extra 0.3ish volumes compared to bottling right after fermentation is complete, based on this calculator.

If you do prime for a high pressure (be it 3.5 in a beer bottle or 5ish in a sparkling wine bottle), take the precaution of storing the bottles somewhere that they can explode safely if necessary. A tupperware container with a lid is a good choice. I've never had a bottle blow up on me, but I sure don't want to get hit with shards when it eventually does happen. (and it will, it's all a matter of statistics.)

09-01-2009, 05:05 PM
Thanks for the tool, I will keep that at the ready. It looks like if I used champagne bottles, I'd still be limited to about a 1/2lb of honey, which I doubt would even make much difference in the dryness of the mead. I don't need or even really want a "sweet" sparkling, but wouldn't mind a medium. I'm sure to do that I'd need at least 1 lb to bring up the sugar level, if not more? Seeing as this is my first batch, I haven't had to backsweeten, so I'm not sure how much would actually be needed to take a dry mead to a medium-medium/dry level.

I guess my next question would be, if I decided to try and do the sparkling by only adding the 8oz of honey, but then decided it wasn't quite sweet enough so I decide to add more and go for a still batch, is it then too late to stabilize the mead with the sorbate/sulfite combo seeing as the honey is already added?

And while I'm at it, I'll add a third question, which is probably the most ridiculous of the bunch. What if...I added the honey to taste, maybe just a hair sweeter than I want, then let it sit and do the start of a secondary fermentation, if any at this point since there won't be much population now, and about halfway through (about a week), rack again, and then bottle? The residual sugar would be lower than when I first added the extra honey, the abv might have gone up another point getting the yeast within less than 1% of its tolerance, so possibly with those two factors going for me I'd still get some carbonation and not as much risk of the exploding bottles (still using champagne bottles in a homemade bunker as a safety net). Can you tell I'm new at this?

Ok, now that you're done laughing at my last question...any thoughts on that? I think I'll likely just go with a still batch, sweeten to taste and go with that, but sometimes the idea machine keeps flowing, even if it's typically warped and loosely based in reality.

Medsen Fey
09-01-2009, 05:12 PM
As Akueck mentioned, you probably don't want to try making a sparkling mead with the yeast you've used. It can cause off flavors with autolysis. Using a Champagne yeast with future batches will give you better results.

As for trying to make a semi-sweet sparkling mead - you cannot do it without serious risk of bottle bombs unless you force carbonate it in a keg. You can naturally carbonate it in PET plastic bottles which will become hard as the CO2 pressure builds, and will not shatter if the pressure is too much.

Attempting to make a sweet sparkler is to invite flying glass shards!

Bonne Chance!

09-03-2009, 02:55 PM
This may be heresy but how about making a dry sparkler, and adding a splash of simple syrup when you drink it?

09-03-2009, 06:54 PM
Definitely not heresy, that is a great idea. You can make all sorts of flavored syrups and end up with 20 different meads from one batch. Sounds fun!

09-08-2009, 04:20 PM
Only trouble is, it's a blackberry mead, so I couldn't really play with the flavors much. Nah, I'm going to do it right and stabilize and backsweeten. Seems the safest route to go, and quite honestly, the best way to get the flavor I'm after anyway. Just thought it would be cool to do a sparkling batch so I wasn't as quick to let the idea go. Maybe I'll save that for one of my upcoming 1 gallon batches (plan on buying a surplus of jugs to experiment with multiple batches, then if one turns out, just multiply the recipe for a big batch), so even if I fail and/or create bottle bombs, I can contain the mess with 4 bottles better than I can with more than 20. ;D

09-08-2009, 04:37 PM
I don't have much experience, but I think the issue with bottle bombs is more serious injury/property damage/death than mess!;)

09-08-2009, 05:07 PM
The allow me to revise. I think it will be easier to dodge flying shrapnel from 4 bottles than it will be from 20 or more, or rather, I can fit 4 bottles under my metal basin horizontally, while I can't do that with 20 or more!

09-08-2009, 07:40 PM
You can always mix your mead with sparkling water for a fizzy "mead cooler" type drink. Or you can buy CO2 injector caps that fit on plastic soda bottles and squirt some gas in right before serving. (Plastic bottles are not great for long-term aging but are easy to fill half an hour before you want to pour a glass.)

09-18-2009, 01:25 PM
Ok, one last question. I've decided to go with a still batch and stabilize and backsweeten before bottling. So the question is, even when I stabilize with the sorbate/sulfite combo, are there any warning signs in your bottles prior to bottle bombs if for some reason either there wasn't enough sulfite or sorbate added, or you get a particularily stubborn strain that just does not feel like giving up quite yet? Like perhaps you'd start seeing bubbles forming in the bottles, or a sudden appearance of extra sediment in the bottom (I would expect that over time there will be SOME sediment anyway unless you do several rackings).

I'm worried about adding too little of each as I also really don't want to add too much as I understand that with both of these, a little goes a looong way, and you don't want those flavors and odors in excessive quantities.

09-18-2009, 04:08 PM
I've never noticed bubbles forming in bottles while they carbonated. Not a lot of headspace to fill, so the CO2 tends to stay in solution until you open it. As you mention, sediment could indicate a lot of things so it is not a reliable indicator. I think the best way to judge is to open a bottle periodically. If they suddenly start fizzing, you can bet that something is going on.

If you use the recommended dosage and sanitize your bottles & equipment, you should be fine.

09-18-2009, 04:28 PM
Yeah, 1/4 tsp of sulfite and 2 tsp of sorbate for my batch size, I'm assuming both dissolve well, but probably will stir it in a little with the degasser anyway.

As for sanitizing, I'm starting off on the cleaning and sanitizing before and after each use kick, period. It's a little extra work, but I'd rather overdo it than allow more growth of funky stuff between uses.

09-22-2009, 02:20 PM
Another question, aimed partially at those who have had bottle bombs happen to them. What kind of timeline would that typically happen in? I've heard if you're trying to carb up, it can take usually between 1 week and 1 month, so I would assume the same would be true for the bombs? I realize that yeast is never predictable and could possibly lay dormant for a while and suddenly wake up, but what I'm really looking for are the typical time frames experienced by those who have been unfortunate enough for this to happen. I guess I'm a little bit paranoid as the weather isn't cool enough for me to store this anywhere in the garage yet, and I have no basement. I don't want anything to happen to family or property. I am using the Ksulfate/Ksorbate combo to kill the batch before I backsweeten, but I'm still worried about it happening. To take some precautions I have purchased one of the big plastic sealable storage bins and plan on having towels above and below each row of bottles put within it.

I know this must seem like a bit of overkill, but I don't want to take any chances and possibly putting my family in harm's way by not taking every precaution possible. So while I'm sure they'd be reasonably safe while they're all packed away, eventually I have to take some out, and *gasp* give some away as gifts, so before I do that, I want to be past the point where I'm reasonably sure they would not explode. I'm assuming one month of bottle aging would be adequate to eliminate the explosion factor (but obviously not at the point of embibing).

09-22-2009, 03:17 PM
I haven't had any bottles blow up on me (yet) but I don't think there is a "safe" time limit. You could have a bottle that is at pressures high enough to break the bottle but it won't break until it is moved or jostled.

That being said, unless you notice bottles with bubbles in them you should be ok. If your bottles are clean then they should all behave in roughly the same way, carbonation-wise. I have never heard of folks seeing a single bottle out of a batch explode while the rest were still, but I have heard of many bottles out of a batch blowing up while some do not, but are nonetheless very carbonated. Bottle bombs are not the sort of thing that sneaks up on you. Either the whole batch is primed to go or they will all be fine. (dirty bottles are the exception but you shouldn't have those, right? ;))

Store them in the tub with the towels for now, see how it goes. I am 99% confident it will turn out great. (-1% for "sh!t happens" :p)

Medsen Fey
09-22-2009, 03:20 PM
The last batch that I had referment occurred after being sorbated and sulfited and backsweetened. Everything was fine at first, but at about 4 months, the bottles became fizzy. I did not have any bottle bombs or displaced cork (luck me :) ). While it is highly unlikely to have a bottle bomb after sorbate/sulfite, keeping it in a plastic bin is probably a good idea. Being safety conscious is always wise.

It is worth keeping in mind that Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey noted that in his sack strength meads which were not stabilized, he would see evidence of refermentation for as much as 2 years during the warmer temps of summer.

09-22-2009, 04:25 PM
Heh, I know I'm probably spouting some severe blasphemy, but has anyone ever tried backsweetening with an artificial sweetener? I imagine that you don't use a lot of honey/sugar when you backsweeten, unless you're really trying for a sweet mead, so I would imagine small amounts wouldn't carry over that funky diet soda flavor. Especially with one of the closer sweeteners like Splenda. Definitely not something I want to try with my first batch, but I had to wonder if anyone has thought of, or better yet, has tried this and noted anything "off" in the finished product. It might be an alternative for someone who wanted a sweeter mead after it fermented dry, or to make a "safe" sweeter sparkler. I would imagine anything more than 2 or 3 cups in a 5-gallon batch would bring about some off flavors though. And even without that much I'd think you could only do this if you bulk aged it prior as I'm not sure you'd want to age it too long in the bottle with it, not sure what that stuff does over time. Any thoughts? Or did I just rehash something from the past that left a bitter taste in the mouths of some of our posters and patrons (pun was unfortunately and horribly intended).

09-22-2009, 05:27 PM
Folks have indeed tried using things like Sweet N Low and Splenda as sweeteners for dry meads in the past. I've actually tasted several of these attempts over the course of some years, and I have to say that none of them were particularly successful, and you'd probably find them not to your taste unless you really like "diet" soft drinks.

The one relatively new product that I have not tasted in a mead is the sweetener based on Stevia plant extract. It is being sold here under the trade name "Truvia," in case you or anyone else wants to try to make a sweet mead with it.

I've personally given up on trying to find an artificially backsweetened mead that I like. :p

12-05-2009, 11:32 AM
What about lactose? Beer yeast at least won't ferment this stuff.

12-05-2009, 01:54 PM
Good suggestion! Lactose is in fact used by some folks to enhance the apparent sweetness of meads, as well as beers. But in my experience, since lactose doesn't taste all that sweet, you have to add lots (measured in pounds) to have much impact on the sweetness of your batch. Still, if you haven't used it before it is worth a try to see if you like it. ;D

12-12-2009, 10:04 PM
I sweetened a sparkling apple cider last month using Splenda for the first time, and I've had no complaints. As long as you don't tell anyone you've used an artificial sweetener, I don't think you'll have any complaints either. I certainly don't have any complaints. I used a light tablespoon per 12 oz bottle, and that added just the right amount of sweetness. Not ridiculous, but countered the bitter of the apple pretty well. It's not mead, but I hope that helps. In summation, the secret of using Splenda is not telling anyone you did it.

12-13-2009, 06:58 AM
It can be surprising how quickly these can develop.......

About 2 1/2 months ago, I was making a quick batch of "ginger beer". A recipe off the net that I'd used before.

I had enough ginger to make 10 litres, so the recipe was scaled up and mixed.

Now the instructions said about putting the mix into PET type pop/soda bottles, then leaving somewhere warm until the side of the bottle can't be depressed with the finger. At that point it goes into the fridge.

Unfortunately, because I'd made 10 litres, and so I didn't get nagged by "erindoors" about leaving bottles everywhere, I put them on top of the kitchen cabinets (sunday evening), and forgot about them. On the following wednesday morning I notice them and that the 2 x 2litre bottles were starting to deform in shape.

I took them down and put them on the floor in the outhouse while I was making room in the fridge, as I reached one of the 2 litre bottles, one of the 3 litre bottles fell over. It exploded, showering everything (including the 2 cats who were tucking into their breakfast biscuits) with ginger beer.

Luckily, and mainly because the bottles were plastic, I only suffered superficial cuts to the hand and shin, but it was a salutory lesson, only to make enough ginger beer to fit in the fridge in 1 go and to make sure that any efforts to make sparkling wines/meads will be in champagne bottles with plastic stoppers held on by wire cages and not there won't be any "warming" time, they'll go straight to the cool storage under the stairs to carbonate slowly - using the "priming" method.

Oh, and I agree with wayne about the artificial sweeteners, most of them taste "baarrrrffffff"! So I'd suggest either Lactose or sulphite/sorbate followed by back sweetener of honey or sugar.

12-16-2009, 05:51 PM
My friend and I just bottled one of his semi-sweets with honey as priming sugar!

I warned him about bottle bombs, but we decided to go with Belgians and corks with wires for extra protection. Final gravity was 1.010, so I'm not sure if that's enough with the extra priming sugar (1/2 cup for 5 gals = ~2 atmospheres, plus any of the residual) to bust a Belgian, but we'll see. (yeast is Wyeast 4134 I think)

They're tucked away in the back of a closet right now... I'll let you know if I hear a loud gunshot sound in the next week or so. I think I'm going to get some safety goggles and heavy gloves, though! The first one to be opened will be opened right in the box just in case sideways shrapnel is involved. :o

If you do it, at least leave some extra head space in the bottle above and beyond normal...

12-16-2009, 05:56 PM
Dude, the bomb issue isn't with the corks, it's with the glass! In fact, you'd be probably better off with a cork that would pop out under the pressure and just make a mess, rather than create a grenade. What kind of bottles did you use? From what I understand 1.010 is more than enough to blow up even a strong champagne bottle! I'm no expert, but I'd say get those bottles opened up FAST, and wear at the very least some kind of serious eye protection.

(is that 1.010 before or after you added even more fermentables? Adding "priming" to a batch that is already sweet isn't necessary, priming only works on dry meads, because the yeast have already consumed all the sugar and are waiting for more)

Edit: okay, I see you knew about the glass bomb issue... man I'd be pretty concerned if I were you!

12-16-2009, 06:17 PM
Man, haha, so you think I should be worried, huh? I warned my buddy about it, but he wanted to do it.

Like I said, it's an experiment. I realize the glass will bust first (my idea was that the Belgians might be stronger bottles... in other words we're going all or nothing here!), and maybe you're right... maybe we should have used a smaller plastic cork with no wires... but then I'd be afraid the corks would push out under normal pressures.

Yeah, it was 1.010 before adding 1/2 cup honey per 5 gallons!

To tell the truth, I'm not even sure it will keep fermenting because I think the yeast reached their alcohol tolerance already. But my friend had some theory that fresh sugar would jump start the yeast. Don't know where he got that, but now the experiment is in my closet! I'm not going in there without taking precautions though! I think I'll set a board over the box while I'm in there just in case... I know bottle bombs won't bust through heavy cardboard boxes.

It's only the second day, so we could recork... or at least take the wires off. Think regular 1 3/4 corks will pop out before the glass breaks?

We've had bottles bust before... last IPA he made a good 1/3 were bottle bombs in MY closet! I thought I was experiencing a drive by or something. But they seemed to level out after a while.

Anyone know what the upper atmosphere limit is on a Belgian?

12-16-2009, 06:24 PM
To be honest I know fairly little about bottle bombs, other than that I'm afraid of them. When I carbonated my frist batch of cider I used half the sugar recommended on the forum somewhere, and then I stored them inside an autoclave (1/4 or more thick steel, very strong).

No bombs yet!

12-16-2009, 06:36 PM
hehe, yeah. I really don't think bottle bombs are THAT powerful. I've had sturdy long-necks bust completely inside the cardboard box (as in completely shatter into 50 pieces) and neither the cardboard nor any surrounding bottles were damaged except for getting wet.

Cardboard boxes taped shut are enough to keep you safe... I think people just put them in plastic or other containers for clean-up purposes. You can even handle suspected bottle bombs out in the open as long as you do it right... although it's not advisable of course.

Now a Champagne bottle, we'll see! I'll have to think of a full-proof method for protection if we decide to go through with this.

In the future I'm just going to tell him to shell out the $200 for kegging equipment and a counter pressure filler.

Medsen Fey
12-17-2009, 12:24 AM
Setting out to make bottle bombs is a really bad idea. Even Champagne bottles are only meant to hold about 6 atmospheres, and the yeast can easily generate more than 8 atm. The heavier the bottle, the more the pressure, and the greater velocity of the glass shrapnel. If one explodes at the right moment, you can wind up carrying a white cane and sniffing a dog's ass for the rest of your life.

I'd seriously suggest you reconsider your plan, and I do hope you suffer no harm.


12-17-2009, 05:03 PM
hehe, yeah. I really don't think bottle bombs are THAT powerful.

Dude, you are mistaken. Even longneck beer bottles that are over-pressurized to the point of fracture can create glass shrapnel with enough energy behind it to go clean through a standard sheet of drywall.

Don't believe me, and want to keep up this insane experiment? Well, I'll watch for your name to come up in the next Darwin awards listing. I'm dead serious - you could be plain dead from games like this.

12-17-2009, 06:04 PM
hehe, yeah. I really don't think bottle bombs are THAT powerful. I've had sturdy long-necks bust completely inside the cardboard box (as in completely shatter into 50 pieces) and neither the cardboard nor any surrounding bottles were damaged except for getting wet.

Cardboard boxes taped shut are enough to keep you safe... I think people just put them in plastic or other containers for clean-up purposes. You can even handle suspected bottle bombs out in the open as long as you do it right... although it's not advisable of course.

Now a Champagne bottle, we'll see! I'll have to think of a full-proof method for protection if we decide to go through with this.

In the future I'm just going to tell him to shell out the $200 for kegging equipment and a counter pressure filler.

Howdy jonalexdeval,

Just a note of administrative caution here. Bottle bombs can and will cause serious injury. I've seen this first-hand.

We don't approve of or promote purposeful experimentation on anything we know to put our members at risk. I'm closing this thread and advising that you move on to another subject.

Your cooperation is appreciated,