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View Full Version : A question of timing - stablization & backsweetening



Lost Tyger
05-16-2012, 04:31 PM
This is meant to be a general question, not specific to the batches I just bottled. I want to discuss what happened and a proposed remedy, without going into the gory details of the batch.

So, on bottling day, I took my crystal clear meads, which had been previously stabalized, and added some honey to them. I siphoned a bit of product out, sweetened to taste, added enough honey for the whole batch, then siphoned it back in. What I quickly discovered was the motion of the siphon back into the carboy kicked up a bunch of sediment that I thought wasn't there at all. So, lesson learned. But, I got a bit nervous about catching a wild infection, especially since I just added sugar to the carboy, so I added a dose of potassium sorbate (1/4 tsp), and then I waited a couple weeks to allow it to clarify.

But, I had another batch ready to bottle, so I first racked it, then added honey to the clean product, and it also got cloudy! I waited a couple weeks and then bottled it.

To top it all off, the extra dose of potassium sorbate threw off the taste of the first batch significantly. I'm hoping it will bottle age out.

The question, then, is how to best stablize and sweeten without sacrificing clarity.

Here's my proposal.
9 months into a planned 12 month bulk age in the carboy, I will rack (probably a second rack, which will move it off of any spices and lees remaining) and then add the potassium sorbate and potassium sulfite recommended for good stabilization. A short time later, call it a week, I'll add the honey needed for sweetening. I will then leave the product alone for an additional 3 months of ageing.

Would that work? I'm somewhat worried about leaving sugar sitting around in the carboys that long, but I can't think of another way to get good clarity and sweetening. I've considered filtering, but have heard that filtering can cause some aeration, and I'm working pretty hard to avoid all oxidation that I can (one of my current quality control focuses).

Thoughts? As always, thanks in advance for the benefit of your wisdom.

Deacon Aegis
05-16-2012, 05:25 PM
This is meant to be a general question, not specific to the batches I just bottled. I want to discuss what happened and a proposed remedy, without going into the gory details of the batch.

So, on bottling day, I took my crystal clear meads, which had been previously stabalized, and added some honey to them. I siphoned a bit of product out, sweetened to taste, added enough honey for the whole batch, then siphoned it back in. What I quickly discovered was the motion of the siphon back into the carboy kicked up a bunch of sediment that I thought wasn't there at all. So, lesson learned. But, I got a bit nervous about catching a wild infection, especially since I just added sugar to the carboy, so I added a dose of potassium sorbate (1/4 tsp), and then I waited a couple weeks to allow it to clarify.

But, I had another batch ready to bottle, so I first racked it, then added honey to the clean product, and it also got cloudy! I waited a couple weeks and then bottled it.

To top it all off, the extra dose of potassium sorbate threw off the taste of the first batch significantly. I'm hoping it will bottle age out.

The question, then, is how to best stablize and sweeten without sacrificing clarity.

Here's my proposal.
9 months into a planned 12 month bulk age in the carboy, I will rack (probably a second rack, which will move it off of any spices and lees remaining) and then add the potassium sorbate and potassium sulfite recommended for good stabilization. A short time later, call it a week, I'll add the honey needed for sweetening. I will then leave the product alone for an additional 3 months of ageing.

Would that work? I'm somewhat worried about leaving sugar sitting around in the carboys that long, but I can't think of another way to get good clarity and sweetening. I've considered filtering, but have heard that filtering can cause some aeration, and I'm working pretty hard to avoid all oxidation that I can (one of my current quality control focuses).

Thoughts? As always, thanks in advance for the benefit of your wisdom.

Personally, I would follow your own advice here in that after a mead has stopped fermentation, I would stabilize the mead for about a full week before back-sweetening it. After back sweetening, I would then really consider the aging process as beginning. So basically, let the mead run its fermentation course, then rack off the gross lees onto sorbate and sulfate, let rest for a few days, then backsweeten to taste or to targeted gravity, then let age to settle out the material in suspension. Rack every few months to get the mead off of the secondary lees and you should be fine getting it to clear that way. Aging with residual sugars shouldn't be an issue for contamination as long as you are racking over to sterile carboys and use a fresh, sterilized stopper and airlock each time you rack over.

Soyala_Amaya
05-16-2012, 05:26 PM
First of all, you didn't kick sediment back up into suspension, you literally added it in the form of the honey you sweetened with. Honey has all sorts of pollens and proteins and things in it, which is why even a show mead will have to clarify. So no worries on that one, you didn't have 'hidden' sediment somewhere.

Second, as long as you have a high enough ABV and keep your carboy well sealed with a properly sized bung, and the airlock filled to the proper level, don't worry about leaving the sugar in there. The alcohol will protect your mead at the point of backsweetening, I think the lowest I've seen safely recommended is 10%. As long as you are there or higher, backsweeten and stabilize to your desire, and let it sit in the carboy for as long as you want.

Finally, yes, sweetening then waiting a few months to clarify again is fine. If you want to sweeten closer to bottling, you have clarifying agents as options. Wait 9-10 months, sweeten, clarify, then bottle as you will.

So long answer short, your mead's reaction was absolutely normal and typical, you're fine, and your plan will work just fine if that's the way you want to go.

Medsen Fey
05-16-2012, 11:42 PM
After backsweetening, unless you boil & skim the honey, you're going to have cloudy mead. You can be patient, or you can try to speed things along using cold storage, fining or filtration.

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Matrix4b
05-22-2012, 11:05 AM
I have found that I agree with the above myself.

As far as aging when I backsweeten:
1. I mostly backsweeten my meads.
2. I don't actually consider aging to have started until it is clear enough to read through.
3. What this means is that I backsweeten and oak at the same time.

What I do is wait until the fermentation has appeared to have stopped out of the primary, rack to the secondary on to fruit, then rack off of the fruit and wait for it to clear a bit, not fully clear. Then I mix in my potasium sorbate and wait for it to settle a little, perhapse a week maybe 2 weeks. Then I rack onto some more sorbate and the honey mixture. Then if it hasn't started clearing in a month I mix in some clarifying agent, I use Sparkloid. I oak it sometime in here too. Then wait til it's clear enough to read to with no cloudyness. At that point is when I consider the aging process to have started, after backsweetening and after it has cleared again.

Now this may take longer but I end up with a better product and the I age it a minimum of 6-8 months. Full aging at a year. For my new Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Meads I am waiting a full 1 1/2 years for aging.