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KingDave
10-20-2009, 11:21 AM
Hi all,

Long time reader, first time poster. So I just started my first mead and am having some trouble. I have considerable experience with wine and beer making but I'm stumped on this mead. Recipe:

13.2 lbs Store bought honey (the cheapest kind).
The juice and rinds of one lemon.
A decent amount of rosemary.
1 tsp of boiled bread yeast (as nutrients for the champagne yeast).
2 packets champagne yeast.

So all was boiled, except the packets of champagne yeast, put into primary fermenter (a bucket, don't know why you all seem to put the must into a carboy to start it off) and then when cooled added champagne yeast packets.

Anyways, so its been 5 days. A layer of foam forms daily and I stir it back down forcefully to aerate, which results in lots of bubbles. But there's not the usual violent fermentation going on, that is common in wine or beer making. No bubbles observable at all. Am I doing something wrong? Does mead take longer to start up than wine or beer? I can smell alcohol but this is a REALLY slow fermentation.

afdoty
10-20-2009, 11:47 AM
Anyways, so its been 5 days. A layer of foam forms daily and I stir it back down forcefully to aerate, which results in lots of bubbles. But there's not the usual violent fermentation going on, that is common in wine or beer making. No bubbles observable at all. Am I doing something wrong? Does mead take longer to start up than wine or beer? I can smell alcohol but this is a REALLY slow fermentation.

Knowing the orig SG and current SG would be very helpful. Did you measure the PH?

A quick read through the New Bee guide will give you a handle on managing your fermentation and nutrient additions.

Arcanum
10-20-2009, 12:29 PM
Anyways, so its been 5 days. A layer of foam forms daily and I stir it back down forcefully to aerate, which results in lots of bubbles. But there's not the usual violent fermentation going on, that is common in wine or beer making. No bubbles observable at all. Am I doing something wrong? Does mead take longer to start up than wine or beer? I can smell alcohol but this is a REALLY slow fermentation.

To put afdoty's comment about nutrient addition management in context, mead musts are extremely low in nitrogen and other nutrients compared to beer worts (and I assume wine musts to a lesser degree). An unaugmented mead must with relatively high nutrients might have 20ppm free nitrogen. Contrast that to the 300ppm or more that is a recommended target for wine musts. Nutrient management is hugely important, even if it's something as simple as "rehydrate yeast with Go-Ferm, pitch 1 tsp each of diammonium phospate (DAP) and Fermaid-K at the end of the lag phase and at the 1/3rd sugar break" (those numbers are for a ~5 gallon batch). With that sort of nutrient regimen, regular aeration is also beneficial.

pH management is something else that I've found can be a big deal. Usually (in my limited experience) it doesn't become as issue until you've had vigorous fermentation for a bit, but you added lemon juice so it might be an issue now. See, mead musts tend to start in the mid-3s to mid-4s range on the pH scale. That's all fine, the yeast is happy, and the lower end of that is low enough to help discourage other opportunistic organisms.

The problem (and I don't know if this happens in regular wine as well) is that during fermentation pH can drop like a rock. Just recently I had a fermenting must drop from a pH somewhere above 4.4 to a pH of about 3.0 in the space of a few days. Once you drop to 3.2 or below your fermentation can all-but stop. That must I mentioned had essentially stopped fermentation when the pH dropped that low. I stirred in 1/4 teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate, which brought the pH back up to 3.4, and vigorous fermentation restarted in a matter of a couple hours.

pH is probably not your current problem (nutrients is more likely), but test strips are cheap and it's a good thing to keep an eye on.

Aside from those, did you do a proper rehydration of the champaign yeast, or did you just toss in the packets dry (I'm assuming they were packets of dry yeast)? How big a batch are you doing/how much water did you add/what was your starting gravity?

akueck
10-20-2009, 04:10 PM
Plain honey musts don't generally form much of a krausen like beer, and don't have fruit bits to get clogged on top like grape wine. Even very quickly fermenting meads will not foam very much until you start putting other things in (grain, fruit, etc). Be wary about quiet looking ferments if you go to stir them, violent degassing can be messy.

Shanecb
10-20-2009, 04:28 PM
Be wary about quiet looking ferments if you go to stir them, violent degassing can be messy.
My kitchen floor and I back this comment up fully.

Medsen Fey
10-20-2009, 05:38 PM
Be wary about quiet looking ferments if you go to stir them, violent degassing can be messy.


My kitchen floor and I back this comment up fully.

My kitchen CEILING agrees. ;D

As a founding member of M.E.A.D.S (the Mead Eruption Accident Decrement Society) I wholeheartedly encourage you to act with all possible caution. It is easy to underestimate a mead, leaving stains and heartbreak in your wake. We support the use of buckets and larger volume primary fermenters. I often use a 10 gallon pail for 5 gallon musts - the bigger your primary the better. Antifoam drops are also a useful tool when your primary may be short of space. Gentle handling is always wise, and additives should be dissolved in a little water before being poured in.

If you have a setback, don't despair - just call us at 1-888-STOP-MEA and your Brothers and Sisters in M.E.A.D.S will be here to provide support (and a mop) and help you regroup.

Good Mazing!

Medsen (MEA free for 120 days) :)

KingDave
10-20-2009, 06:29 PM
Let me get one thing straight. SO during primary fermentation a mead WON'T bubble like mad, like a wine or beer? If this is true that takes care of all my worry.

As for the other bits of information. The original SG was 1.080 and the amount of water I added in was enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket minus the honey. The SG reading I got the day afterwards was 1.070 and as of today that has not changed.

Arcanum
10-20-2009, 06:54 PM
Let me get one thing straight. SO during primary fermentation a mead WON'T bubble like mad, like a wine or beer? If this is true that takes care of all my worry.

As for the other bits of information. The original SG was 1.080 and the amount of water I added in was enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket minus the honey. The SG reading I got the day afterwards was 1.070 and as of today that has not changed.

If you can, test your pH. Of my three batches, two have definitely stalled and needed correction due to low pH, and the third is strongly suspected (I cold-crashed, sulfited, and bottled before I started pH testing). The stall is usually pretty sudden as well. One day it seems fine, the next it's almost entirely stopped.

Wine pH test strips run about $5-$6 for a bottle containing a bunch (50 or 100). A bottle of potassium bicarbonate is similar. If the pH is about 3.2 or below, add 1/4 teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate, stir it in, and retest. Repeat until pH comes up to about 3.4 or 3.6. Assuming your yeast is still alive, I bet fermentation kicks back off in short order. How vigorous that fermentation will be depends on nutrient levels.

Oskaar
10-20-2009, 09:43 PM
Let me get one thing straight. SO during primary fermentation a mead WON'T bubble like mad, like a wine or beer? If this is true that takes care of all my worry.

As for the other bits of information. The original SG was 1.080 and the amount of water I added in was enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket minus the honey. The SG reading I got the day afterwards was 1.070 and as of today that has not changed.

This is not true at all. I've blown airlocks off of traditionals just like I have braggots, heffs and oatmeal stouts. Don't try to paint one "catch all" rule to a mead fermentation or you'll find yourself on the long end of a mop.

Expect that it will take off like a bat out of hell and plan accordingly. When you aerate be sure to start very very slow and the same holds true for adding nutrient. ALWAYS dissolve powdered/granulated additions into clean, room temperature H2O before adding to your must or you risk the dreaded mead volcano, and the lamentation of cleaning the ceiling.

Cheers,

Oskaar

akueck
10-20-2009, 10:48 PM
Sorry for any confusion. It will bubble like mad, you just don't often see the thick krausen like in beer (krausen is held up by proteins which are absent in honey). In fact the fermentations that have produced the most gas in the shortest time for me have always been meads. The deceiving part is thinking that all is calm when the surface has just a thin layer of bubbles, then you go to stir it and BOOM!

If your SG is no longer dropping, something is making the yeast slow down. It could be many things including lack of nutrients, lack of oxygen, or low pH. Read some of the processes in the established recipes and that will give you an idea of how to manage a mead fermentation (which is sometimes very different from beer or wine, especially concerning nutrient additions). Also be sure to degas your SG sample, the bubbles that stick to the hydrometer will give falsely high readings.

wildoates
10-20-2009, 11:12 PM
I have some huge thick black plastic garbage bags I set the bucket in for the first few days...keeps any mess localized and easy to clean up, but I haven't had it happen yet.

Yet.

Arcanum
10-21-2009, 12:42 AM
Sorry for any confusion. It will bubble like mad, you just don't often see the thick krausen like in beer (krausen is held up by proteins which are absent in honey).

You do see it on occasion. The dry wildflower mead I'm putting down to age soon ended up with a thick cap of froth on top after a day or so. It was almost meringue-like in consistency. Not quite that solid or dry, but I could scoop up blobs and plop them down on top of foam elsewhere to make room for the hydrometer.

This was a raw honey must done with a no-boil method. Hey-look-that's-pollen-clustered-around-the-top-of-the-jar raw.

Medsen Fey
10-21-2009, 09:08 AM
KingDave, do measure the gravity again today to see if it is dropping. If not, the pH would be the first thing I would check as the lemon juice may have dropped the pH down too low for the yeast to work well.

From a nutrient standpoint, 1 tsp of boiled yeast is not even close to enough nutrient for a 5 gallon traditional mead. Heck, 1 tsp of DAP wouldn't even be close. One gram of yeast in 1 gallon probably provides less than 30 ppm nitrogen (I really should send a sample to a lab to have that measured). For a healthy fermentation you probably need a minimum of 150-200 ppm (and they'd be happier with 300). One tsp of yeast probably weighs 3 grams or less, so you've only provided maybe a grand total of 18 ppm nitrogen so far. You are likely to have a long slow fermentation if you do not provide more nutrients for the yeast.

Medsen

KingDave
10-21-2009, 01:35 PM
Alright. I guess I need nutrients for them yeasties then. Is there anything around the house I can add as an alternative nutrient? Like for example, do you think boiling a few more grams of yeast would provide enough nutrients? And by a few I mean about half a cup?

Kee
10-21-2009, 03:50 PM
If your SG is no longer dropping, something is making the yeast slow down. It could be many things including lack of nutrients, lack of oxygen, or low pH.

I want to add temperature control; too cold can slow fermentation. It probably isn't the issue in this case. As someone with experience you probably know this, but the next person reading may not.

akueck
10-22-2009, 12:18 AM
Alright. I guess I need nutrients for them yeasties then. Is there anything around the house I can add as an alternative nutrient? Like for example, do you think boiling a few more grams of yeast would provide enough nutrients? And by a few I mean about half a cup?

Adding that much yeast might give you the right amount of nitrogen, but you'll be adding a ton of other unnecessary stuff along with it. I'd imagine you'd pick up a strong yeasty flavor in the mead that may or may not age out, which is possibly a case of the cure being worse than the disease. ;)

Every LHBS I have ever been to sells some sort of yeast nutrient, so that would be the first place I would send you. For the future you'll want something less generic than what most places repackage and sell, like perhaps some pure DAP (diammonium phosphate) and the ever-popular Fermaid K which is designed to work with the Lallemand/Lalvin yeasts that most of us use. These might not be available in your local store, but can be found at various online retailers. These are more concentrated sources of nutrients than blowed-up yeast, so in proper doses they should not contribute any flavor to your mead.

KingDave
10-28-2009, 10:56 AM
SO just thought I'd mention that yeast nutrients were purchased yesterday and about 12-18 hours later, the SG has dropped a very decent amount. Serious fermentation is going on, as much as I would expect with a wine or beer. Thank you for all of your confusing, sometimes random, help. Especially Medsen Fey, Arcanum and akueck.

Cheers,
The King.