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View Full Version : Planning first batch, seeking input



Hive Head
07-11-2012, 09:22 PM
Hello there everyone, I must say it's a real pleasure to join what looks to be a very diverse and interesting community. I'm a local liquor merchant and amateur connoisseur of finer beers, wines and ciders. The prospect of meadmaking has fascinated me for some time and I've been reading the NewBee's guide rather thoroughly... I've never undertaken homebrewing, but I've read up much on meadmaking and I fancy myself a quick learner :)

I have a prospective recipe (for a one-gallon batch to start) that I made some adjustments to using the calculator on this site. Can anyone give any input as to any special procedures I should mind while executing this one?

Prospective Cyser Recipe
650 mL pure clover honey
~.5 lbs macerated apple (about one fuji apple)
.5oz raisins, crushed or split
1 cinnamon stick

Yeast (this is one of the areas i haven't pinpointed yet due to my inexperience. I was likely going to look for a cider yeast but am willing to use beer yeasts or bread yeasts as well, and in this area any suggestions and help would be super appreciated)

So my general planned process is to dissolve the honey to begin in about 2L (half gallon) of warm water, before adding the macerated apple (juice, skin, meat and all) and the raisins (for nutrition) and the cinnamon. Balance water to 1 US gal. Transfer to first ferment and pitch yeast after making a starter. Aerate briefly and leave in cool, dark place for around two weeks (until raisins start to float, perhaps)?

Strain or siphon to second fermenter. Keep the preserved fruit for later :) Allow to ferment up until the desired final gravity. Bottle and let age for about three months.

OG goal: 1.077
FG goal: 1.018
Abv goal: 8.08%


Now bear in mind i haven't made this, and all of this is essentially my planning stage of how i think it may go. If you guys have anything to say about it at all, please do, and don't pull no punches. One thing I have no idea of is how to ensure that fermentation does not continue on too long after you've reached your desired FG and ABV. Is it simply a matter of making sure you don't put in too much yeast?

Thanks again - it's great to be a part of this community and i can't wait to be bottling some good stuff.

Chevette Girl
07-12-2012, 12:03 AM
Hey Hive Head, welcome to the forum! (and yay, another Canuck!)

The good news is apples are pretty easy to ferment, the last batch of cyser I did barely needed yeast, it got started all on its own.

Ok, so a 650 ml jar is about a kilogram of honey if I recall correctly. That's enough to make a gallon of ~10% wine out of something. I would up your apple content or you're never going to taste it, the easiest would be if you can get some cider that doesn't contain potassium sorbate but failing that, I suggest at least 3-4 lbs of apples, and I suggest using a brew bucket and putting them in a brew bag (new cotton pillowcase will do the trick, or twisted in a clean tea towel, I usually boil them just to make sure all the laundry detergent's out of them then tie it shut with sanitized or boiled cotton butcher's string) or freezing, thawing, macerating and squeezing the juice out if you want to put this all in a carboy from the start.

As a recommendation, K1V-1116 is often used for cysers, it's what I usually use myself, good strong performer without ridiculous nutritional needs, happy at a wide range of temperatures...

It almost * doesn't matter how much yeast you put in. For the first hours, all it's going to do is breed until it's happy with its population, and only then will it turn to full time alcohol production.

(*) Yeast takes about 90 minutes to double its population and it will keep doing this until it reaches a population limit, so as long as you start with enough to get a strong colony going relatively quickly, it's going to make as many yeast cells as the environment will handle no matter how much you start with.

Now, about your proposed final SG... yeah, no. Not with apples and a sensible amount of honey, it's going to go completely dry, especially with a yeast like K1V. If you want it sweet, you will want let it go dry, then chemically stabilize it and then add some more honey until you get it to the sweetness level you like. You'll want to get some potassium metabisulphite and potassium sorbate to stabilize this batch.

Yeast don't punch a time clock and stop when you want them to, they continue on until they can't go anymore, either because they've run out of sugar, run into their alcohol tolerance (12-18%, depending on the yeast), or the must hits a pH or temperature or some other condition that they don't like. And you're not really going to want the fermented fruit for much, the yeast will really take it out of the apple mush and fruit's really kind of gross once the yeast have eaten all the sugar out of it. Some of us put it in baking or toss it into smoothies (it needs sugar!), but unless you have plans for it, compost your spent mush...

If you want to do any serious homebrewing you want a hydrometer if you don't already have one. The calculator on this site is a guideline only, the water content of your honey and apple may well be different from the values in the calculator.

The way you tell your fermentation's done is the specific gravity stops changing. Wehn fermentation starts, the raisins are going to get filled with CO2 and float, it's only when fermentation's all done and the CO2 is coming out of the must (we call it degassing) that the raisins will sink again, which is why if you take a look at the Joe's Ancient Orange Mead recipe (JAO) you'll see we usually leave it until the fruit sinks.

So, no punches pulled, but hopefully no bruises left either? :)

THawk
07-12-2012, 12:27 AM
I've never undertaken homebrewing, but I've read up much on meadmaking and I fancy myself a quick learner :)

Hello Hive Head! Welcome to GotMead!

If you've never done this before, I recommend you try a quick, easy, "foolproof" recipe to get your feet wet. You can always experiment with something more exotic once you've got your first batch down.

Try doing Joe's Ancient Orange Mead (http://www.gotmead.com/index.php?option=com_rapidrecipe&page=viewrecipe&recipe_id=118&Itemid=6) for starters. It's a quick (2-3 months, maybe even sooner) recipe that's quite good (and also quite open to variation) and very easy to make.

Hmmm... 3 Canadian posts in a row... is that a first? (I lived in Toronto for 3-5 years)...

Hive Head
07-12-2012, 12:48 AM
Thanks for the speedy reply :) you actually gave me a couple more questions to think about, just pardon my ignorance here :D

I plan to invest in a hydrometer along with some other gear before making my batch, but how do I measure the SG without exposing the fermentation to outside air? Does the hydrometer remain inside for the whole process?

Also, you said with just honey and apples the product will naturally come out dry... Having tasted a few hard ciders, it seems even those labeled as 'dry' ciders have a noticeable sweetness from the apples. Perhaps it's a misconception on my part?

and when you say "cider" I assume you mean pure apple juice yes? If I were to add more to the recipe, should I cut some of the honey out to compensate, or should I replace the water instead?

Last question for now, once the mead is at an FG and ABV I want, could I stop the fermentation simply by adding an acid to drop the pH? (And, while on the subject, will I need to compensate for the acidity of the apples?)

I know, lots of questions, thanks so much :)

Hive Head
07-12-2012, 01:01 AM
Hello Hive Head! Welcome to GotMead!

If you've never done this before, I recommend you try a quick, easy, "foolproof" recipe to get your feet wet. You can always experiment with something more exotic once you've got your first batch down.

Try doing Joe's Ancient Orange Mead (http://www.gotmead.com/index.php?option=com_rapidrecipe&page=viewrecipe&recipe_id=118&Itemid=6) for starters. It's a quick (2-3 months, maybe even sooner) recipe that's quite good (and also quite open to variation) and very easy to make.

Hmmm... 3 Canadian posts in a row... is that a first? (I lived in Toronto for 3-5 years)...


Ah yes the JAO. To be honest I really wanted to do three different 1-gal batches simultaneously, so it may be my cyser attempt plus the jao, plus another variety I've yet to decide on. Would that be too big an undertaking do you think?

And yeah I noticed a decent few canadians on here :) I can't help wondering if there's anyone a little more westward where I might be able to get some hands-on help.

Chevette Girl
07-12-2012, 09:48 AM
Whew, where do we start... how about AB, there are a few folks out your way, for sure at least one of 'em even knows what he's doing but he's been busy of late and not posting much (AToE).

Ok. First, when opening your fermentor to check your gravity, air is not the enemy, merely a factor that should be controlled in the later stages of fermentation. Don't not do something because you're afraid of exposing something to air. Your yeast need air for the first half of fermentation, and you don't really have to worry about it too much during the second half of fermentation since it's creating and releasing enough CO2 to keep oxidation down to a low risk. It's only once you've racked into secondary and there's no more yeast activity that you really need to restrict oxygen exposure, but normal procedures like checking SG, racking, etc, don't usually provide enough oxygen exposure to cause problems. Your biggest enemy at that point will be excessive headspace.

Second, there may be a perception of sweetness even in a dry wine, some fruits do that, I think red currants and strawberries are two examples, honey also has a perception of sweetness that sometimes comes back to the mead after 6-12 months of aging. I haven't caught this yet myself but some folks swear the difference is like night and day. But the reason your proposed recipe will come out dry is that the yeast will run out of sugar long before they hit their tolerance since you're only using a kilogram of honey, which means you're starting at a pretty modest SG (this is not a bad thing, a lot of beginners want to shoot for really high SG's to see how much alcohol they can make, but your way's a lot less expensive as it uses significantly less honey!)

Third, pH should be around 3.5 during your fermentation, lower than that and you risk pissing off the yeast and making them give you bad smells. Honey and apples shouldn't give you too low of a pH to ferment as long as you don't add more acidity at the beginning like some older recipes recommend (when working with honey, do not add acid blend, honey has its own acidity). I've also toyed with the idea of dropping the pH to stall a fermentation but haven't tried it yet. Too much acid makes the must taste acidic and too much acid blend just has a weird, artificial taste to it... Just be aware that no matter what you do, yeast sometimes have a mind of their own and won't be stopped until they run out of food, it's a lot easier to ferment dry and then backsweeten than it is to prepare a batch with a high starting gravity and hope it stops where you want it to, or stop a fermentation that's in full swing. If you don't mind a high alcohol level, you can always step-feed it at the end, every time it drops below your sweetness threshhold, add more honey to boost it up (I did one where every time it went below 1.010 I'd boost it back to 1.020, it eventually finished around 1.015 where I wanted it), but it also finished with at least 18% alcohol and used a LOT of honey.

Fourth, yes, pure apple juice, if you can get fresh pressed stuff that's still cloudy, even better... and no, with only 1 kg of honey you shouldn't need to drop your honey amount unless you use only apple juice and no water, apple juice has a SG of around 1.050 and 1 kg of honey will bring it to (my guess of) around 1.130 if you used straight apple juice and no water, if you used about half a gallon you'd probably end up with something in the 10-12% range.

Fifth, No, it's not too ambitious to start three different batches. A JAO is a good recommendation for starting so you have something to drink early on while you're testing your patience waiting for other more traditional batches to age. But you'll find that any batches that contain a lot of fruit are best started in a bucket with a higher volume, or else you have to figure out what to do about all the headspace after you rack it off the fruit. A JAO, a cyser with proper wine yeast, and something else (maybe a traditional mead? maybe a JAO variation? maybe a wine or a melomel with whatever's in season where you are right now?) could be a really good learning experience for you. Just make sure to always keep one empty carboy so you can rack into it! I use 4-litre plastic juice bottles or wide-mouth pickle jars for my JAO's because it's easier to get the fruit into something with a wider mouth than a 1-gal jug.

And don't sweat your ignorance, we were all there once. I stained my ceiling purple with a mismanaged wild grape wine attempt early on, not realizing that after inital fermentation was done, if you didn't stop it with something, adding more sugar to sweeten it up is NOT how to do it, thankfully the cork popped before the bottle expoloded.

Hive Head
07-12-2012, 11:02 PM
Sounds like you learned to make sparkling wine by accident ;)

Thanks for the info, very educational. I should backsweeten after the mead has been cleared of all the contaminants, yes?

Also I've noticed the norm seems to be to measure honey by weight rather than by volume. Is there a particular reason for this or is it one of those 'just-because" deals?

Edit: also you mentioned head room... If I make a 1 gal (US) batch and use 4-litre milk jug (a gallon plus a bit) would that be too much, too little or just the right amount of head room?

Chevette Girl
07-12-2012, 11:26 PM
Sounds like you learned to make sparkling wine by accident ;)

Thanks for the info, very educational. I should backsweeten after the mead has been cleared of all the contaminants, yes?

Yep, unintentional sparkling wine... About backsweetening, sometimes the honey can cause a bit of a haze so I would let it settle out for a few months and then backsweeten before I bothered with any kind of clearing agent. Some folks like Fatbloke do their backsweetening right away because he knows where he wants it and how it's going to taste, but you may want to give it more time to let the flavours develop unless you know for sure where you want that SG to be... who knows, you might find you like dry meads better than sweet, and the only way to find out is to taste it that way, and the only way to know for sure is to let it age at least a year before passing judgement.


Also I've noticed the norm seems to be to measure honey by weight rather than by volume. Is there a particular reason for this or is it one of those 'just-because" deals?

I guess it's a common convention, but if I had to point out a reason, it's a lot easier to deal with larger amounts if you go by weight, since if you use a 1-cup measure to do 8 cups of honey, you'll end up introducing serious measurement error by the amount that remains stuck in the container (or on the spatula you scrape with) when you pour, etc... whereas if you have a bucket and a scale, you can zero the bucket on the scale and pour directly into the bucket on the scale, weighing as you go... or if you're not sure how much you're going to need but would like to know how much you used, you can figure it out by the difference between before and after measurements of your honey bucket. That's my suspicion on why most recipes go by weights rather than volumes, although really, it's totally up to you how you do it, the specific gravity is the important part anyway.


Edit: also you mentioned head room... If I make a 1 gal (US) batch and use 4-litre milk jug (a gallon plus a bit) would that be too much, too little or just the right amount of head room?

That's probably going to be about right, but the shape is almost as important as the volume, you want the level in the jug to be where it's still wide, not where it's becoming narrow (if you've ever shaken a 3/4 full bottle of pop and then slowly opened it, you can see that the foam rises somewhat slowly up the shoulders but then really really fast up the narrow part of the neck as it's trying to put the same volume of expansion into a much smaller cross-section so it moves faster). You ideally want at least half an inch of space where the jug is still wide.