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View Full Version : First mead questions, berry melomel



khildahl
02-29-2012, 10:20 AM
Hi folks,

I've made beer and cider in the past, and have always wanted to try my hand at mead. I finally made my first effort two weeks ago, and have run into some potential issues.

My recipe:
6.5 kg honey (unidentified varietal, but I assume clover)
3.6 kg previously-frozen mixed blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
1.5 kg brown sugar
0.5 kg demerara sugar
350 g raisins (I made sure there were no preservatives)
Water to 20 litres

I added the sugar because I had screwed up on my math while buying honey, and didn't realize it until I was already making the must. I used what was available in the house to make things work.

I mixed everything together and pitched 2 packages of Lalvin EC-1118 (rehydrated in a few ounces of water per the directions on the package). The measured OG before pitching was 1.131; I plugged everything into a calculator and this should have been about 14 points higher. I didn't worry too much as a little of the honey hadn't mixed in at the bottom and I know the fruit sugar wasn't captured in the reading.

I had planned on racking to secondary after two weeks, took a reading last night (day 12), and it was only down to 1.056. I had expected this to be down to right around 1 by now (if not lower) with the high attenuation of the EC-1118. I tasted the sample, and it was quite good (young, obviously, and the alcohol was pretty hot, but the honey and berries both had a lot of character present), so I don't think I'll be too disappointed if my fermentation is done.

The temperature of the must when I pitched the yeast might have been low and could have delayed the start of fermentation a little, but it was going within 24 hours of pitching. I stirred the cap in every day for the first three days, then just left it alone. It sat at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time.

I have 1.75 kg of strawberries in my freezer that I had planned on putting in the secondary because I was expected this to ferment out very dry and wanted them to counter the dryness and some of the tartness and bitterness from the berries in the primary; now I don't know if I should do this or not.

My questions are:
Is my yeast done? Should I pitch more of it and leave it in primary longer, or just rack it over to secondary? Could it cause problems later (like bottle bombs) since it isn't near its alcohol tolerance yet?

Should I add the strawberries? Based on the hydrometer sample I tasted, I don't know if I need them, but I don't want to skip adding them if they'll still improve the mead.

Thanks!

Soyala_Amaya
02-29-2012, 11:01 AM
The first two issues I see off hand is even though your stirred your cap down, that doesn't really count as aeration. Wine yeasts need to get good doses of oxygen for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of their life, or they can stall out just like you saw.

Second, raisins can be all the nutrients some yeasts need, but not EC-1118. It probably didn't get enough nutrients from the must which also stressed your yeast.

Repitching won't do much, if anything, for you because you do have a a bit of alcohol in there. Yeast won't start easily in the presence of alcohol. You could try making an acclimated starter, but it still may not take.

My personal advice, boil a few tsps of bread yeast till almost all the water is gone, then stir that into your must. Stir up from the bottom to get what yeast are still active in suspension, and try to wake them up.

I wouldn't bottle this as is because A) even if you stabilize, with that much residual sugar, you'd never really be sure the yeast was done without letting it sit in the carboy with no gravity changes for at least a year. You picked a strong strain that doesn't die off easily. B) it tastes pretty good right now because the sweetness is countering the acidity of the CO2 still in suspension and the higher alcohols that will age out. After aging, it will tastes syrupy and not near as nice. (Been there, done that)

The highest range I take my meads is 1.030, and that's mostly because the group that I drink with most often likes sweet and aren't afraid to admit it. I have a few drier things I hide for my brew buddies, but even my friends would find something over that range a little syrupy.

Try to get your yeast active and happy again, and in the future DON"T BE AFRAID TO SHAKE AND STIR YOUR MEAD! ;) Mead is stronger stuff than beer when it comes to contaminates, and just leaving it alone stresses it. It needs it oxygen for the first 1/3 of fermentation to get good and strong.

Anyway, Welcome to Gotmead Keep us up to date on what you do and what happens

khildahl
02-29-2012, 01:55 PM
Thank you for the quick response.

I should have specified that I did aerate the must before pitching, but my beer mindset told me to just leave it alone afterward. Lesson learned, I guess. I also just noticed that my post says 1.75 kg of strawberries; this should have said 750 grams.

Is the bread yeast to provide nutrients? How much water should I boil it in, and should I let it hydrate first or just go straight to heat?

Do you have any recommendations regarding the recipe for next time?

Thanks again for your help.

Midnight Sun
02-29-2012, 08:01 PM
Couple of things to add to Soyala Amaya's good advice:

While it is too late in the game for aeration, you can (and should) gently stir the yeast into suspension. This will expose any bad bugs within the yeast cake to the higher level of alcohol and hopefully expose more yeast to the must. Be careful of foaming when you do this.

Higher gravity musts (>1.120 in my opinion) just take time. While beer may be finished in a week or two, this could take 2-3 months. Proper aeration and nutrients will ferment faster and cleaner, but you should anticipate longer in this particular case.

I would not consider this "stuck" until it has stayed at the same gravity for 3-4 days. Stuck fermentations can be restarted but, it is a pain and is not always effective.

Biggest advice for this and future meads: patience. Like wine, mead takes time. Perhaps even more time. I have recently started making beer and after having only made mead, having drinkable alcohol in less than 2 months is a bit of a shock. Your experience will be the opposite than mine ;)

Welcome to Got Mead!

Old_Skool
02-29-2012, 11:37 PM
What Soyala_Amaya is saying is basically get some bread yeast - put it in say 1/2 cup of water and boil it for about 10min. This will kill the yeast - then cool this mixture to the temperature of your must and pitch it in (you could drain off some of the water first). Basically the dead yeast are food for the remaining yeast still alive in your must. Then slowly stir the must from the bottom up to resuspend the yeast that have fallen to the bottom of the bucket.

You may also want to check the ph of your must if you have some wine ph strips -- should be over 3.2 -- upper 3 range is better. And you might gently stir your must daily for a few days.

Of course I don't know chit cause I'm new here -- my 2cents

Chevette Girl
03-01-2012, 12:13 AM
Back in my "Aerate? Why bother? The yeast will be fine... Rehydrate? Nah, sounds too much like work, they'll figure it out eventually" phase I actually got a wine started at 1.085 stuck around 1.060. I could still see the odd bubble coming up from the lees layer for YEARS. This was with EC-1118.

I restarted it about 4 years later when I wanted to use the carboy for something else ("It's gotta be done now, right? 1.060!? Should have stuck a hydrometer in there years ago!"), and a well-aerated acclimated starter did the trick and took it dry in 4 days. If you want to repitch, I highly suggest an acclimated starter - rehydrate as per instructions, then add as much of your must as you'd added water (1/4 cup?). Aerate it with a whisk or something. Wait until you see activity (30 min) then double its volume by adding more must. Keep doubling the volume with more must every few hours until you've got a gallon or so, give it one final aeration, and in it goes... this way you're only aerating the new yeast who need the oxygen. Thereafter, stir it daily till it's done. You don't want to rack it away from the yeast cells or it may never finish, and keeping them suspended in the must keep them happy.

As for adding bread yeast as nutrients, I like to microwave it until it starts popping when most of the water's gone, add a little more water to cool it off and thin it so it's pourable, then in it goes (the smell will eventually come out of the microwave ;D, the idea is that you want to lyse (pop) the yeast cells so they spill their guts, this is what the wine yeast wants to eat). I recently restarted another ignored year old stuck batch just by adding nuked bread yeast to try to resolve a smell issue... didn't resolve the smell but at least it'll finish!

I always use an acclimated starter for any must over 1.125, if yours was 1.131 and still had some honey on the bottom, that's pretty ambitious for a first mead, if you hadn't reydrated your yeasties, they may never have started at all, or they may have stuck even earlier.

And welcome to the forum, always good to see another Canuck around here!

khildahl
03-01-2012, 02:11 AM
I took another gravity reading tonight before adding the boiled yeast and it had dropped down to 1.051. I did stir it up a bit after taking the reading last night, so I guess some good yeast got back into suspension.

Boiled a package of bread yeast in 1/2 cup of water, cooled it, then poured it in and gave the whole thing a few gentle stirs. I'll check the gravity again in a day or two and see how it's doing.

Looking at my original post, I see I forgot to include the orange peel I threw in. I used the whole peel from a medium orange, with all the pith removed.

My lessons learned so far:

Include more nutrients for the yeast. Is this something people usually include with the must, or should it be added during fermentation?
Forget about beer-making rules and aerate (lots) during early fermentation.
Double-check my math so I don't have to raid the pantry and potentially introduce odd flavours by using relatively large amounts of whatever sugar I can find. I know the amount of brown sugar I used could potentially do unwanted things to beer.


Thanks again everyone for your help, and for all the friendly greetings.

Chevette Girl
03-01-2012, 03:13 AM
My lessons learned so far:

Include more nutrients for the yeast. Is this something people usually include with the must, or should it be added during fermentation?
Forget about beer-making rules and aerate (lots) during early fermentation.
Double-check my math so I don't have to raid the pantry and potentially introduce odd flavours by using relatively large amounts of whatever sugar I can find. I know the amount of brown sugar I used could potentially do unwanted things to beer.




There are several approaches to yeast nutrients and energizer... a lot of us now follow a staggered nutrient addition schedule where we don't add anything that includes large amounts of DAP (usually sold as "yeast nutrients" until after the lag phase, then we add DAP and energizer (vitamins and micronutrients for happy healthy yeasties, most commonly Fermaid K with this group but I just use the stuff my brew stores carry) for a couple of days until the yeast has eaten 1/3 of its sugar. Do some searching around on the forum for staggered nutrient addition (also known as SNA but the search engine doesn't like three-letter words). You'll find many different theories, choose one you can live with and see if it works for you. A lot of us drop the recommended DAP dosage from what the instructions say, and increase the energizer. Remember, those are formulated assuming you're using a grape must and you can safely exceed the recommended dosages since honey has very little to offer yeast other than sugar.

When you're double-checking your math for the next batch, you might want to go a little easier on your yeast. Just because its listed tolerance is 18% doesn't mean it's happy about going all the way there. The higher a gravity you start with, the tougher the fermentation's going to be and the more alcohol in your mead, the more nutrients you're going to need and the higher chance something's going to stick and even if it doesn't, the longer it's going to take to mellow out to taste better than honey-flavoured rubbing alcohol. I try to keep my starting gravities under 1.120 if I'm doing normal wines and meads. If you want it to finish sweet, starting really high isn't always the best way. If you start reasonable, have a nice clean fast ferment and then decide you need to backsweeten, you can stabilize it and control exactly how sweet it finishes, rather than hoping the yeast poops out while there's still some honey left but not too much.

And not all your beermaking rules go out the window. Sanitation is still a good habit to be in but you don't need to boil everything, and for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the fermentation, oxygen is your friend.

And as payback, you can lecture me when I start making beer ;D

Soyala_Amaya
03-01-2012, 11:56 AM
I'll take the beer lectures too please! I've been reading up on beer and some of it makes my brain hurt.

The easiest way I've been able to figure it out is beer takes a lot more pre-fermentation work. Mashing, boiling, recipe calculations, so on and so forth are all very exact and time consuming...then you leave it alone. Mead is a fermentation heavy workload. You clean everything pretty good, but you'll have people yell at you if you boil anything, and you kind of throw it all in a bucket...then work like crazy for about a week to make sure the yeast is happy.

Once you get those two mindsets settled out for the two different brews, the details become more important. :) Hope the nuked yeast and gentle stir helps get everything bubbling actively again.

khildahl
03-02-2012, 11:14 PM
I took a reading of 1.041 tonight then stirred the lees up a bit again.

My plan once it's stable for three or four days is to rack to secondary with strawberries and leave it for around three weeks, then rack it again and let it bulk age for six months to a year (to be determined by the very scientific test of "when it tastes good") before bottling. Thoughts on this?

And yeah, most of the heavy workload with beer is all prior to pitching yeast. After that, it pretty much just wants to be left alone for a few weeks, then bottled and left alone for another few weeks. And be paranoid about oxidation and sanitation the whole time after pitching. :)

Soyala_Amaya
03-03-2012, 12:01 PM
You'll probably have one more, maybe two more racking somewhere in that 6 months to a year of aging, especially with the fruit. Fruit drops seidment like crazy, even if you do put it in a bag. I like to let everything age for 3-4 months, use a fining agent, then rack everything off of that to reduse rackings. After that I should only have an extremely fine lees I can avoid when going to bottle because I've left 90-95% of the gross lees in the fining agent.

However, I usually leave 1-2 inches of mead in that gross lees. It's everything, and it's a lot...and I don't have access to a cold crashing fridge for a 5 gallon batch yet. HOWEVER (again), I do put that 1-2 inches of gross lees in a big mason jar, cold crash that, then put the clear mead back into my carboy. It leaves me with fairly minimal losses.

khildahl
03-03-2012, 12:31 PM
You'll probably have one more, maybe two more racking somewhere in that 6 months to a year of aging, especially with the fruit. Fruit drops seidment like crazy, even if you do put it in a bag. I like to let everything age for 3-4 months, use a fining agent, then rack everything off of that to reduse rackings. After that I should only have an extremely fine lees I can avoid when going to bottle because I've left 90-95% of the gross lees in the fining agent.
I've used gelatin for fining in beer. Are there any issues with using the same for mead?


However, I usually leave 1-2 inches of mead in that gross lees. It's everything, and it's a lot...and I don't have access to a cold crashing fridge for a 5 gallon batch yet. HOWEVER (again), I do put that 1-2 inches of gross lees in a big mason jar, cold crash that, then put the clear mead back into my carboy. It leaves me with fairly minimal losses.
Is it worthwhile to do this at every racking (primary to secondary, etc.)?

Chevette Girl
03-04-2012, 08:53 PM
I've used gelatin for fining in beer. Are there any issues with using the same for mead?

It's one of the commonly-used ones, shouldn't be any problems.


Is it worthwhile to do this at every racking (primary to secondary, etc.)?

What, cold-crash the lees? No, that should really only need to be done the once. If it's done right the first time you shouldn't get much sediment going into the racked mead, and it's likely that after doing it the first time, subsequent rackings will only have very minor lees deposits settling out and there won't be enough lees to bother with.

khildahl
03-04-2012, 11:48 PM
I took a hydrometer reading of 1.035 tonight and scraped the lees up a bit again. Fermentation is starting to slow down... What's a realistic gravity for this to finish at now? I was hoping for 1.015 or lower, but I have no idea if I'll make it.

TAKeyser
03-05-2012, 12:47 AM
How far the gravity is going to drop is a tough question to answer due to the fruit you added. I assume that you took your original reading once you had everything in your bucket or carboy and that was at 1.131. You mentioned that you expected it to be higher and the fact is your OG was higher than your reading the hydrometer just can not recognize that since the sugars in the fruit are not immediately in your must. I would guess that you were above 1.150. Let it ferment a couple more days and you should be in the mid .20's and I doubt you'll get much lower than that since 18% abv equals about a 1.135 drop in gravity.

khildahl
03-05-2012, 01:12 AM
I assume that you took your original reading once you had everything in your bucket or carboy and that was at 1.131.
Yes.

You mentioned that you expected it to be higher and the fact is your OG was higher than your reading the hydrometer just can not recognize that since the sugars in the fruit are not immediately in your must.
That was my assumption, and there was a bit of honey sitting at the bottom of the fermenter, so I wasn't concerned that it read low.

I would guess that you were above 1.150. Let it ferment a couple more days and you should be in the mid .20's and I doubt you'll get much lower than that since 18% abv equals about a 1.135 drop in gravity.
I used the calculator and came up with 1.145. I know the honey and the fruit can vary from the defaults so this may be off.

I've been reading through quite a few threads around here and am concerned about the head space I'll have in my 23 litre carboy when this is aging after secondary. I don't have anything to top it off with and I know I'll lose some volume while racking. Could I add some more honey and water (either now or when I rack it to secondary) in order to bring the volume up and get the final gravity a bit lower?

TAKeyser
03-05-2012, 01:20 AM
I've been reading through quite a few threads around here and am concerned about the head space I'll have in my 23 litre carboy when this is aging after secondary. I don't have anything to top it off with and I know I'll lose some volume while racking. Could I add some more honey and water (either now or when I rack it to secondary) in order to bring the volume up and get the final gravity a bit lower?

Personally If I was going to do some topping off I'd probably do it now while you still are fermenting. Feeding the yeasts to get a higher alcohol. That being said you're getting close to making out your yeast as it is so getting that gravity lower is going to be hit or miss.

Chevette Girl
03-05-2012, 02:57 AM
That was my assumption, and there was a bit of honey sitting at the bottom of the fermenter, so I wasn't concerned that it read low. I used the calculator and came up with 1.145. I know the honey and the fruit can vary from the defaults so this may be off.

If your honey had been all mixed in and then you added fruit, your SG would actually have dropped a bit once the water and sugar from the fruit came out into the must, only grapes have enough sugar in them to be wine strength without adding more sugars.


I've been reading through quite a few threads around here and am concerned about the head space I'll have in my 23 litre carboy when this is aging after secondary. I don't have anything to top it off with and I know I'll lose some volume while racking. Could I add some more honey and water (either now or when I rack it to secondary) in order to bring the volume up and get the final gravity a bit lower?

I agree with TAKeyser, you want to do it while the yeast is still active or it will just end up sweetening your must. I usually try to make my make-up must to the same strength of the original must, then your yeast SHOULD be able to get it down to the same SG it's at now.

If you want the final gravity a bit lower, use less honey, more water and essentially dilute what you've got. Doing this might let your yeast finish the job, but if they DO take off again and take it drier than you wanted, well, you can always backsweeten it. It's really hard to tell where yeast will stop, especially at the end of a hard ferment like this. Sometimes they poop out early, sometimes they chew threw everything you give them even when they should be well past their alcohol tolerance, I've had some batches blow past where the yeast should have stopped, some that took a year to finally get down to where I figured they'd quit, and some just stop early, but are at the risk of starting up again if the conditions are altered to be a little more favourable for the yeast...

khildahl
03-05-2012, 10:11 AM
I agree with TAKeyser, you want to do it while the yeast is still active or it will just end up sweetening your must. I usually try to make my make-up must to the same strength of the original must, then your yeast SHOULD be able to get it down to the same SG it's at now.

If you want the final gravity a bit lower, use less honey, more water and essentially dilute what you've got. Doing this might let your yeast finish the job, but if they DO take off again and take it drier than you wanted, well, you can always backsweeten it. It's really hard to tell where yeast will stop, especially at the end of a hard ferment like this. Sometimes they poop out early, sometimes they chew threw everything you give them even when they should be well past their alcohol tolerance, I've had some batches blow past where the yeast should have stopped, some that took a year to finally get down to where I figured they'd quit, and some just stop early, but are at the risk of starting up again if the conditions are altered to be a little more favourable for the yeast...

Okay, that's what I was thinking. Now I have a new problem: I can't get the amount of honey I need for this today without paying an exorbitant amount for it at the grocery store. I'll get what I can, but will need to use some other fermentables to get the gravity I want. I'm thinking some frozen juice concentrate (preservative free, of course). Berry, if I can find some, or orange juice.

Chevette Girl
03-05-2012, 05:03 PM
I've used apple juice before, it's got a decent sugar content (SG 1.050 or so) and is pretty neutral as a flavour when added in small quantities.

khildahl
03-06-2012, 10:08 AM
I made 5 litres of top-up must last night with 4 litres of water, 1 kg of honey, a can of frozen orange juice concentrate, and a 1 litre carton of mixed berry juice (which had a small amount of grape and apple in it). This had a gravity of 1.092.

My existing must read at 1.030, after adding the top-up this should be 1.042, though I didn't take an "after" reading.

Re-estimating the starting gravity of the whole batch with the top-up taken into account, it should be about 1.134.

khildahl
03-06-2012, 11:07 PM
Read at 1.037 tonight. It smells wonderful, like raspberries and port, and tastes like it's going to be dangerously drinkable at some point down the road.

I'm already pondering a few next projects to occupy the fermenter when this moves on. I fear making mead may be more addictive than beer.

Chevette Girl
03-06-2012, 11:40 PM
What are you using for your original OG, the calculated or the measured?

khildahl
03-07-2012, 01:21 AM
What are you using for your original OG, the calculated or the measured?

If you mean the 1.134 I posted after topping up the must, that's the calculated gravity (I checked it both by using the blending calculator for 5 litres of 1.092 must with 20 litres of 1.145, and by putting all of my fermentables and the increased volume into the gravity calculator). If I go by what I first measured before pitching yeast instead, I calculate a revised OG 1.123 (the original measured at 1.131 with some honey still on the bottom).

Just now, to satisfy my curiosity, I estimated the undissolved honey at pitching was around 300 grams, and took that amount plus the fruit out my OG calculation, and got exactly the 1.131 my hydrometer read.

Chevette Girl
03-07-2012, 11:24 PM
Awesome, you're on it. I was just checking that you weren't using the 1.131 you'd initially measured, because adding fruit juice should make it go down and not everyone understands the math ;D.

khildahl
03-09-2012, 09:24 AM
Read 1.028 last night.

khildahl
03-11-2012, 11:52 AM
This read at 1.023 last night. It has definitely slowed down again.

Chevette Girl
03-11-2012, 12:23 PM
Still a good sign that it's still going, my fermentations often slow down near the end.

khildahl
03-13-2012, 11:00 PM
Down to 1.017. I tasted the sample and the fruit is really coming through now that the sweetness is down, but my mouth is numb from the heat. :p

I'll probably rack it to secondary with the strawberries on the weekend, it'll have been in primary for a month by then and I won't be terribly upset if it ferments a bit more with them.

I started my first-ever gallon of JAOM tonight so I'll have something to look forward to a little sooner than the year or more the melomel is going to need.

TAKeyser
03-13-2012, 11:42 PM
Down to 1.017. I tasted the sample and the fruit is really coming through now that the sweetness is down, but my mouth is numb from the heat. :p

That heat will diminish with age, so don't worry to much about it.

khildahl
03-17-2012, 04:04 PM
Read at 1.011 before I racked it onto the strawberries today.

khildahl
04-10-2012, 09:09 AM
Stabilized, racked to a clean carboy, and topped-up yesterday. SG is still at 1.011.

Now the hard part: Leaving it alone.

khildahl
09-26-2012, 08:19 PM
So this has been aging untouched in a cool dark corner of my basement for nearly six months. I took a small sample today and it's coming along nicely. It's a crystal-clear slightly tawny pinkish red colour, and smells like fresh strawberries. It's got a medium-dry (leaning more toward dry) level of sweetness, which I'm quite happy with.

As far as taste, very little of the berries are coming through. If I had to compare it to something, I'd say it's similar to a dry sherry (the drinking kind, not the cooking kind). There's a touch of heat on the finish, but nothing unmanageable. I'll try it again in a month or two, then decide if I'm ready to bottle it.

Overall, I'm impressed with how much it mellowed over such a short time. I was expecting it to take a lot longer.

khildahl
12-21-2013, 04:19 PM
I finally hauled this carboy out of the basement and bottled it last night. SG was still 1.011 (which is what is was last time I checked it a year and a half ago), so I'm estimating it finished just shy of 16% ABV (calculates at 15.9%).

Colour is a light tawny red, nice and clear. The nose is really dominated by strawberries, very little else comes through on it.

It tastes dangerously like juice (and has the thin consistency/mouthfeel to go with it), with very little heat from the alcohol. The level of sweetness in it ended up just right for the fruit-flavour, to my taste. A perfect medium.

Overall, I'm happy with it. I do have a gallon left in a small carboy (I ran out of bottles); I'm thinking about experimenting on it by adding tannins or oaking it to give it some more body and a little complexity.