View Full Version : Questions about secondary fermenter process

11-29-2010, 11:06 PM
I'm sorry if all this information has been covered before, but I couldn't find the answer to my specific questions.

I have finally somewhat mastered the ability to get a fast, clean fermentation on my meads in the primary fermenter, but now I am having problems in the secondary stage.

So say I have a mead that has gone thru primary fermentation, dropped specific gravity by 0.10 as I was expecting, and even tastes decent with the right amount of left over sweetness. Airlock activity has slowed considerably and now I rack it off the lees into a carboy for clearing and aging, or possibly for fruit and oak additions.

At this point I want the level of alcohol and sugar to stay as it was when I racked it, I don't really want any additional fermentation, but it appears the yeast has stalled out so I just let it sit in the carboy waiting for it to clear. Then I taste it again and decide whether to adjust the profile at all by adding either acid or honey.

This leads to my first question: should I expect the SG to continue to fall at this point? The problem I have encountered is that all of my meads have the SG I am shooting for at the point that I rack them off of the lees at the end of the primary stage, then they sit with no visible airlock activity (it is cocked off to the side though), and then when I go to sample later I find that the hydrometer shows that it has dropped to 0% sugar.

If I don't want my mead to change after the primary fermentation should I add potassium sorbate right away when I rack it for the first time? Is there another way to keep the mead from changing it's hydrometer readings between the point of the first racking and bottling without using potassium sorbate?

Also, I have let some meads sit until they are crystal clear, then rack them into a new container, mix in potassium sorbate to prevent the fermentation from restarting, let it sit for a day or so, then backsweeten til it tastes about right. But when I do that, the resulting mead is cloudy again, so again it goes into a carboy to sit again for several months until it clears again. Is this normal? I thought it was ok to backsweeten just before bottling, so do other people not have the problem of the backsweetened honey affecting clarity? We backsweetened two meads about a month ago now, and they are just showing the first signs of being clear, but they were crystal clear before we added the honey, and they are not dropping any sediment, just gradually becoming clear again.

Based on my experiences thus far it seems like I should add potassium sorbate when I rack into the secondary fermentor. Wait for most of the sediment to drop over the next week or so. Then rack and mix in the honey for backsweetening if needed, then age and bottle when clear. Instead of doing all those steps at the end.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


11-30-2010, 02:09 AM
What is the SG of the meads when you rack? What was the starting SG?

Sounds like you're trying to stop an active fermentation. Turns out that is a little tricky, as you've found. Adding sorbate will not stop the yeast from working, it will only stop them from reproducing. Any yeast cells in the mead will keep right on going. You will need to add sulfites to knock out the yeast that are in the mead. However, just adding sulfite and sorbate to an actively fermenting mead will still not usually stop it from fermenting, unless you add so much as to make it unpalatable.

You've got probably two options for killing the fermentation. One is cold crashing (dropping the temperature to just above freezing) for a week or two, then racking while cold onto sulfite & sorbate. The other is sterile filtration, removing all the yeast cells from the mead. Filtration is a bit of work, since you need to verify the pore size of the filter every time you do it to make sure all the yeast will be removed. Cold crashing is a bit easier to do, if you have a cold space large enough to put the container. However, the mead might still ferment a little while it is cooling, and possibly even after racking & stabilizing.

I suppose I'll mention option C, which is pasteurization. Heating the mead to kill all the yeast will stop it from fermenting, though you might cook off some alcohol and will probably change the flavor some.

Personally I would say it's easiest to let it finish and backsweeten. Yes, it is normal for a clear mead to be cloudy again after backsweetening and it will clear up on its own. You should add both sulfite & sorbate before adding sugars. There are several good threads on backsweetening and sulfite/sorbate usage.

11-30-2010, 02:13 AM
I agree, best option to me seems to stop trying to halt the fermentation, and either let it finish dry, stabilize and backsweeten to taste - or start with a higher gravity in the beginning to overshoot the yeast's ABV tolerance so that it finishes sweet.

11-30-2010, 04:11 AM
I agree. The simplest way is to know your yeast. Push you OG higher so that your final G ends where you want it. Trying to stop fermentation, or sterile filtration is tough to do on a homebrew basis, with good, consistent results.
Again, KNOW YOUR YEAST! Let them do all the work.

With back sweetening you run the risk of contamination. Even with a high alcoholic mead. Always remember to keep it simple.
Good mead luck!:cool:

Medsen Fey
11-30-2010, 10:51 AM
With back sweetening you run the risk of contamination. Even with a high alcoholic mead. Always remember to keep it simple.
Good mead luck!:cool:

While I agree it is good to know your yeast, I do not agree that backsweetening increases the risk of contamination. In fact, it is the other way around. I have not had batches that I have backsweetened become contaminated, and that is probably because when backsweetening the meads are treated with sorbate/sulfite. The presence of sorbate and sulfite in conjunction with alcohol and a low pH make it very difficult for spoilage organisms to grow.

On the other hand, I have had batches that were left with residual sugar that weren't treated with sulfite/sorbate go "funny" which I think may have been bacterial action (or Brett). Having a sweet mead that doesn't have agents to prevent wild organisms is an open invitation. I will usually sulfite my residual-sweet meads, even though I opt to skip the sorbate.


11-30-2010, 12:18 PM
It's pretty highly unlikely to get contamination from backsweetening. Don't get me wrong, I support good santization and so forth, why take unnecessary risks, but over the last 40 batches or so I've learned it's actually a lot hard to make mead spoil than you'd think. Especially considering that honey is pretty sterile to begin with.

Heck, one time I even dunked my arm into a batch of mead (unsanitized) trying to catch something I dropped in there, and no problems. I generally don't even make that high ABV mead either. I've actually accidentally dunked all kinds of unsanitized tools into my meads before realizing I'd forgotten to sanitize them, and have yet to have had a batch go bad.

12-01-2010, 03:08 PM
Thanks for the replies everyone. I know I still have a long way to go with understanding all the different types of yeast. I thought I was making progress, but it's been discouraging to see all of my meads finish dry when I thought I was on the right path for having some residual finish. I guess I'll just keeping increasing the amount of honey I use in the beginning until I can finish with a satisfactory residual sugar.

Here are some numbers I've had with my meads SG 1.105 FG 1.00 (which is an expected drop of approximately .1)

SG 1.104 FG 1.004 (also fine)

SG 1.112 FG 1.014 when racked to secondary (right where we wanted it). FG 1.000 when we added oak, now we will have to backsweeten.

SG 1.075 FG 1.012 (right where we want it, hoping it doesn't drop the rest of the way while it is clearing)

So I guess I'll just wait and see how the others turn out.

So if all of my meads need to be backsweetened, should I still wait for them to clear the first time around before stirring in the honey and getting them all cloudy again? I understand that the fermentation needs to be over with by the time I add in the sweetening honey, but it seems like a long wait, especially when I want my carboys back to start a different kind. I guess I'll go do some searching for those specific questions.

12-01-2010, 03:24 PM
Well for backsweetening you can do it after the mead is relatively clear, but since you'll be stabilizing with chemicals, the clearer the better (less yeast to kill off) before you do. One thing to consider is that young mead tastes bad, so you might over-sweeten trying to compensate, wheras if you sweeten after some aging (and have racked off the sediment a couple times) you'll have a more exact idea of how sweet it really needs to be. I don't backsweeten myself so I'm not the best giver of advice in this feild!

As to why you're getting dry meads - starting SGs of 1.112 (the highest you listed) equates to between 14.5% ABV and 15% ABV (depending on exactly how dry it goes). Most common wine yeasts have a tolerance of 14%, but this number is not an exact science, predicting where a yeast will stop for good is tough. They might go past their rated ABV tolerance by a % or two (or more...), or they might fall short. This is why many people choose to backsweeten instead - it allows you to precisely control the ABV level, as well as the exact amount of sweetness wanted.

I love me some dry mead personally, but hopefully that's some helpful advice in your quest for sweeter mead!

Medsen Fey
12-01-2010, 03:27 PM
What you have experienced is pretty much what is expected. Racking doesn't necessarily have any impact on fermentation. When you rack there are still plenty of active yeast in solution to continue the fermentation. What stops a fermentation is when it either runs out of sugar, or the alcohol level reaches the tolerance level of the yeast.

Which yeast are you using by the way? That can tell you what ABV to expect for a tolerance level.

When you want to stabilize, it helps if you let it clear a good bit to reduce the cell count of the yeast. After stabilizing, adding honey will give some haze, but that will also settle out with time (or fining).