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View Full Version : Boil, or not to boil?



zxcvbob
09-21-2009, 04:49 PM
I'm ready to start my first batch of mead tonight (first batch in 15 years, anyway.) Do I need to boil the must (wort?) if I'm using storebought filtered honey?

This will be a small batch; probably end up around 3 gallons. (I've mentioned it in another thread.) I'll start with 2 gallons of water, 3 pounds of honey, a quart of lovely dark rose-colored crabapple juice leftover from last weeks jelly-making, and yeast nutrient. And I almost forgot, D71 yeast.

When the fermentation slows, I'll add a bunch of frozen/thawed/mashed crabapples mixed with pectin enzyme, and another 2 or 3 pounds of honey. I want to leave the must on the fruit long enough to extract the color and tannin from the peels and seeds, as well as the juice from the pulp.

When I eventually rack it the last time, I'm planning to squeeze the spent fruit pulp and dead yeast with a jelly bag and collect the liquid. Then use the squeezin's as a starter for another 1 gallon batch of mead using some dark, unfiltered wild honey that's been in my pantry way too long.

AToE
09-21-2009, 04:53 PM
Hey, one I can answer! You don't need to boil (or pastuerize) the must regardless of it being filtered/pasteurized etc.

Several members are running side by side tests of identical boiled/no-heat batchs of mead right now to see the effects on taste, smell, etc, but you definitely don't need to boil to kill anything off.

zxcvbob
09-21-2009, 05:08 PM
That was a quick reply! Thanks. I wasn't sure how succeptible mead is to bacterial infections (like beer definitely is.) That's also why I'm waiting to add the fruit until the yeast has got a good head start and there's enough alcohol to inhibit most. (I'm sure some of the crabapples are buggy)

One of these years I gotta finish that apple cider press that I started building a long time ago...

Angelic Alchemist
09-21-2009, 06:21 PM
As usual, people have lots of opinions on how to do this properly, and all methods have their own set of pros/cons.

I personally do not boil my honey because I believe that boiling evaporates some of the more subtle and exotic notes that I want to keep in my meads. Honey is naturally acidic to the point where it does not readily grow wild bacteria. This is why honey can be kept in your pantry without spoiling. It's also why one should either wait to add other acidic elements to the must until after fermentation is complete, or add an alkaline material to raise pH slightly in order to produce a favorable enviornment for the yeast. I aim for a pH between 5 and 6 for my starting musts by adding small amounts of potassium bicarb (you can use sodium bicarb or calcium carbonate, but they might change te flavor of your mead moreso than K2CO3). This pH range is still acidic enough to prevent infection, and the yeast that is pitched into the must outcompetes any yeast that grows naturally in the honey. Yeast like a pH around 5.2, and the alchohol produced during fermentation will lower pH of the must over time. I make pH adjustments right before pitching my yeast to give my critters the best chance possible for starting a healthy fermentation.

But I'm geeking out at this point. Sorry, a degree in cell and molecular biology will do that to a girl at times.

If you're really concerned about infection and would feel safer doing something to treat the must, pasteurization (keeping the must between 190F and 200F for 20 minutes) is sufficient for killing anything that would cause inconsistent results in your mead. Campden tablets are another way to safeguard your must, but these can also add weird flavors/aromas, plus some people are allergic to them.

TXBeowulf
09-21-2009, 06:32 PM
Honey is naturally antiseptic, so as long as you sanitize everything that touches the honey (equipment, water, ingredients, etc) the yeast should crank out enough alcohol to keep the whole lot from spoiling well before any spoilage can set in.

Medsen Fey
09-21-2009, 07:19 PM
As has been pointed out, from a sanitary perspective, honey musts do not need to be boiled. Very few things can survive in honey, but this is primarily due to its hygroscopic nature more so than its acidity. Honey is such a concentrated sugar solution that it creates an osmolar pressure that draws the water out of living cell, literally sucking them dry. Only a few osmophilic yeast and a variety of spores can typically be found in honey, and those osmophilic yeast are not adapted to survive at the concentrations that exist in a mead must so as soon as you mix in water, they are killed off.

Honey does have other antiseptic properties including enzymes that form gluconolactone from glucose while releasing hydrogen peroxide.

Yeast can function over a very broad pH range, but prefer an environment with a pH of 3.4-4.0 and will work diligently secreting organic acids to drop the pH to that range (which discourages competitors). When mixing up a honey must, the pH will often be 5 or higher, but as honey musts don't have much buffering capacity (unless you add fruit or other stuff), the pH tend to drop rapidly in the first 24-48 hours. Sometime adding some form of bicarbonate or other buffering agent is helpful to keep the pH from dropping too low, and generally it is a good idea to hold off on adding any acids until the fermentation is complete.

The question about boiling versus not boiling has been asked often but surprisingly there is very little data on which to formulate an answer. Several of us are running brewlogs now comparing identical boiled versus non-boiled batches to see if we can ascertain if there are advantages one way or the other in different styles of mead. This thread (http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthread.php?t=14724) outlines the issue. If you want to break your batch into two for a side by side, we'd love to include more data points in our evaluations.

Good luck on diving back into mead making!

Medsen

TimV
09-21-2009, 07:37 PM
Even though I just started I won't ever boil my must. I'm a beekeeper, and have a pretty good reputation at the local farmer's market. I'd rather give up beekeeping that kill my honey by boiling. I just won't make mead if it means I'd have to boil. It just doesn't taste like honey afterwards.

So, camben tabs is the route I've chosen. But from emotional/empiric reasons rather than any sort of experience with mead.

afdoty
09-21-2009, 07:55 PM
Even though I just started I won't ever boil my must. I'm a beekeeper, and have a pretty good reputation at the local farmer's market. I'd rather give up beekeeping that kill my honey by boiling. I just won't make mead if it means I'd have to boil. It just doesn't taste like honey afterwards.

So, camben tabs is the route I've chosen. But from emotional/empiric reasons rather than any sort of experience with mead.

When making traditional mead, I don't even use camben tablets. I sanitize everything that comes into contact with the must. Typically that means running everything through the dishwasher, with the sanitization, antibacterial settings on. Then a soak in One Step prior to actually using.

Iíll add camben tablets to a fruit batch the day before pitching the yeast.

TimV
09-21-2009, 08:00 PM
A great endorsement, and good info, Al.

wildoates
09-21-2009, 08:10 PM
When making traditional mead, I don't even use camben tablets. I sanitize everything that comes into contact with the must. Typically that means running everything through the dishwasher, with the sanitization, antibacterial settings on. Then a soak in One Step prior to actually using.

Iíll add camben tablets to a fruit batch the day before pitching the yeast.

I, uh...didn't even add it then.

I am a bad girl.

I'd really rather not add it at all, because I don't want anyone to think they can't drink my mead because it has the sulfites in it. The only time I've added it is after some time in the carboy when it was all but done fermenting anyway and I wanted to stabilize it. And the only boil I've done is the test, which will have to come out way better than the no-boil for me to bother with spending the BTUs to boil it.

Chalk it up to laziness if you like.

Medsen Fey
09-21-2009, 08:13 PM
Chalk it up to laziness if you like.

The line betweening laziness and Mazer-ness is thin,fine, and very blurry. ;D

wildoates
09-21-2009, 11:19 PM
Chortle!

I'll take that, Medsen. It's not laziness, it's thoughtful dedication to my art.

I ought to apply to the NEA for a grant. :)

Dan McFeeley
09-22-2009, 02:59 AM
Coming in late again -- most of the points on the boil/no boil have been covered. An advantage to boiling is that it helps clear the mead faster, expecially if you skim off the scum that forms on the surface.

The con side is that boiling the honey must can also boil off the aromatic flavor components that can really enhance the mead.

Brother Adam, in his 1953 Bee World article, noted that bringing the honey must to a boil for only a minute was sufficient for sanitation purposes, and didn't harm the final product. On the other hand, he was using heather honey in many of his meads, a honey noted for a strong aromatic property.

I like the basic "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" principle. Boiling the honey must was a technique in medieval and later meads, and had more to do with the honey itself, which had a lot of "stuff" in it, bee parts, etc. You boiled and skimmed off the foam. Honey today, whether from a local beekeeper or commercially produced product, is cleaner and better to work with.

Here's a thought -- would prolonged boiling caramelize the sugars in the honey and add a unique flavor profile?

afdoty
09-22-2009, 04:31 AM
Here's a thought -- would prolonged boiling caramelize the sugars in the honey and add a unique flavor profile?

Yes it does! I started a batch last February in which I used a totally of 15# Orange Blossom Honey, 5 of which was caramelized...Man, I need to write some more threads.... making mead is easy compared to typing... Err

Sorry about the highjack.

Medsen Fey
09-22-2009, 07:04 AM
Here's a thought -- would prolonged boiling caramelize the sugars in the honey and add a unique flavor profile?

Apparently so as this is the basic idea for a Bochet. I've got to make one of these as soon as I can free up some fermenter space.

Pewter_of_Deodar
09-22-2009, 10:49 AM
The thread has talked a lot about boiling and not really needing to pasteurize the honey which is generally agreed to because of a number of reasons.

Please allow me to throw two other considerations into the discussion that have not been discussed so far...

First, things like fresh fruit that could introduce contamination where you do not want to use chemicals to sterilze things.

Second, heating at lower temperatures (not boiling) for purposes of pasteurizing everything in the must, not just the honey.

My own personal preference these days is to bring the must (honey, water, and spices) to about 170F. I get the scum to skim at that point, with the advantages that Dan cites. I skim until the skum no longer tastes antiseptic which is usually less than 5 minutes.

I then remove the batch from the heat and introduce whatever fruit/puree to the must. Leaving the entire batch set at 150F or so for 30 minutes or more allows for pasteurization of the fruit to occur.

It seems like a nice chemical free compromise that does not boil the life out of the honey and it's aromatics. Your thoughts?

Dan McFeeley
09-22-2009, 01:35 PM
Seems like a good approach that makes the best of the pros and minimizes the cons.

Another reason for boiling the must is for the purpose of historical recreation of older style meads from the medieval period and elsewhere.

Angelic Alchemist
09-22-2009, 02:01 PM
As has been pointed out, from a sanitary perspective, honey musts do not need to be boiled. Very few things can survive in honey, but this is primarily due to its hygroscopic nature more so than its acidity. Honey is such a concentrated sugar solution that it creates an osmolar pressure that draws the water out of living cell, literally sucking them dry. Only a few osmophilic yeast and a variety of spores can typically be found in honey, and those osmophilic yeast are not adapted to survive at the concentrations that exist in a mead must so as soon as you mix in water, they are killed off.

Honey does have other antiseptic properties including enzymes that form gluconolactone from glucose while releasing hydrogen peroxide.

Yeast can function over a very broad pH range, but prefer an environment with a pH of 3.4-4.0 and will work diligently secreting organic acids to drop the pH to that range (which discourages competitors). When mixing up a honey must, the pH will often be 5 or higher, but as honey musts don't have much buffering capacity (unless you add fruit or other stuff), the pH tend to drop rapidly in the first 24-48 hours. Sometime adding some form of bicarbonate or other buffering agent is helpful to keep the pH from dropping too low, and generally it is a good idea to hold off on adding any acids until the fermentation is complete.

I totally forgot about that simple diffusion thing, good point, but a preferred pH of 3.4-4? That has not been my experience. My critters seem to like it a little higher than that, but then again, I whisper sweet nothings to them and wear short skirts around my condo to keep them working hard. :D

Medsen Fey
09-22-2009, 03:38 PM
Ideal pH for yeast is around 3.8 or thereabouts. For a finished wine or mead, you may want the pH even lower to discourage potential spoilage organisms. Some of those operate best with pH above 4.0

Medsen

akueck
09-22-2009, 03:53 PM
Here's my experience: beer wort starts out in the neighborhood of 5 but the yeast will drop it down to the low 4's or 3's. Sour beers with non-saccharomyces yeast and/or bacteria can drop down into the high 2's. Fruit and honey musts tend to start in the 4's or high 3's and finish in the mid- to low-3's.

Your 5.2 number is the ideal pH for a barley mash. Starting there certainly won't hurt the yeast, but they will drop it from there if they can.

Angelic Alchemist
09-23-2009, 05:03 PM
So that's why the guy at the homebrew store looked at me funny when I told him the wine pH strips didn't go high enough.

Gents, I've posted this topic in the yeasties and beasties forum for further updusting. ;)