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View Full Version : First time mead maker -- little yeast activity



joec
01-14-2013, 12:31 PM
Hello all,

I started brewing beer and making wine in the past year, and decided to give mead a try. I followed this recipe (http://byo.com/stories/recipeindex/article/recipes/107-mead/2325-basic-sweet-mead-), but with two changes -- One, to get a sweeter mead (as per the local brew store's resident expert), I changed the recommended yeast to a Montrachet yeast. And two, I made a five gallon batch instead of a one gallon, so I scaled the recipe as needed for that amount.

My issue is that I'm not seeing much activity going on in my fermenter, and the room temperature has been between 67-72 degrees. I don't have a must temp currently, as it's a new fermenter and I've forgotten to put a thermometer on the fermenter. I've also been pout of town, but the Mrs says there's barely been any activity. There's bubbles trapped in the airlock, but nothing is moving.

I'll update later tonight with more details, but can anyone make any suggestions? Should I add more yeast? Should I try and warm the must? Should I just add the yeast from the recipe?

Help!

Medsen Fey
01-14-2013, 02:09 PM
Hi Joe,
If you scaled up an used 25 tsp of acid blend, the pH is probably too low. Can you check it?

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joec
01-14-2013, 03:07 PM
I just picked up some test strips. I'll check tonight and report back my findings.

joec
01-14-2013, 07:36 PM
I tested via test strip and the ph is around 2.9-3.0, gauging by color.

Medsen Fey
01-14-2013, 08:54 PM
Yep, your pH is low, and this yeast doesn't tolerate that. Unfortunately the recipe you used is outdated and is almost guaranteed to cause problems. To fix it you will need to buy some potassium bicarbonate (calcium carbonate can be used but the potassium form is better) I'd start by adding 5 tsp, then I'd wait an hour or so and check pH. If it is less than 3.4 I'd keep adding 1 tsp at a time with a little wait in between until the pH gets to 3.4 then your yeast will have a shot. You don't have to be in a hurry, and you don't want to overshoot; patience is key.

Don't be surprised if you have to pitch a different yeast before all is said and done.

Endeavor to persevere!

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joec
01-14-2013, 09:12 PM
Thanks, Mesden Fey. I'll do so tonight. I appreciate the assistance.

joec
01-14-2013, 09:35 PM
I added the potassium bicarbonate (5tsp) and I've got bubbles. Waiting an hour to check ph again. Thanks for the advice. I've got yeast waiting in the wings if ph is happy.

joec
01-15-2013, 07:12 PM
What is/was my perceived max ph? It seemed to stabilize just over 3.4, but now (roughly 20 hours later) is just over 4.0.

Medsen Fey
01-15-2013, 08:11 PM
You'll be OK at that level, but ideally you wouldn't go above 3.6.

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joec
01-15-2013, 08:21 PM
You'll be OK at that level, but ideally you wouldn't go above 3.6.

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What's the best way to drop it? I added two more packs of yeast, but no activity

wayneb
01-15-2013, 10:54 PM
At this point, if it is just over 4.0, you really don't need to take any further action. 4.0 is the point at which some spoilage organisms can take hold, so be extra careful about sanitizing anything that touches the mead from this point out, but yeast are generally very happy at 4.0 as well.

They do best at around 3.6 as Medsen noted, both because they aren't stressed by that pH and also they don't have to compete with much in the way of wild organisms at that pH point. Yeast in nature have adapted to living off of the juices of over-ripe fruit, which for most fruits (and especially for grapes) falls at about a 3.4-3.75 pH point.

wayneb
01-15-2013, 10:59 PM
Finally, if you are at a pH point that absolutely must be lowered, you can add any of the common winemakers' acid additions: malic, tartaric, or citric. Choice of the acid to use can come down to availability (whatever you find first), or you can try to match the acid addition to the predominant organic acid in whatever fruit you use in your recipe. BTW - there is no readily available commercial supply for gluconic acid (the stuff that is generated in honey/water solutions), but for pH lowering purposes in traditional mead recipes (which almost never is needed), I find that a little citric acid works without changing the flavor profile of the mead as much as the other two can do.

wayneb
01-15-2013, 11:04 PM
Well, post-finally, I guess that if you have no yeast activity at a pH of 4.0, then you have problems not related to pH in the must. When you say that you added two more packets of yeast, did you rehydrate the yeast first, before pitching, or did you add the dry yeast directly to your must? Red Star/LeSaffre, the makers of Montrachet yeast, aren't as careful about rehydration recommendations as Lallemand/Lalvin, but I have found that in general, Red Star yeasts benefit from careful rehydration before pitching as much as the Lallemand yeasts do.

Also, if you scaled up that recipe you referenced and you actually added one campden tablet per gallon of must, it might be that you haven't waited long enough for the SO2 to drop to a level that is safe for this yeast to take hold. If all else fails, wait another 48 hrs and then re-pitch more yeast.

joec
01-16-2013, 12:01 AM
Ah. Actually, no tablets were added, as per suggestion from the local brew guru (who never keeps a standard schedule, so is hard to reach).

I added the dry yeast, and didn't rehydrate. I haven't had to do that when brewing beer yet, so I haven't given it a shot yet.

Any pointers on that would be appreciated.

Thanks for all the assistance so far. With the cost invested so far, I'm trying to avoid tossing this batch for a re-attempt.

Chevette Girl
01-24-2013, 10:10 PM
Have you checked the SG? It's a much better gauge of whether there's fermentation going on than airlock bubbles.

Rehydrating yeast as per the manufacturer's instructions is usually a good idea, they're the ones who've done all the testing on the stuff, one would think they have some idea what they're doing! I didn't rehydrate my yeasties for years, and most stuff worked out just fine... but 3.5 lb honey per gallon gives a fairly high initial gravity that's not the easiest thing for yeast to get started in, rehydrating it might have been a good idea and I would definitely suggest doing so if you have to add more yeast.

Oh, and don't toss it, we're not done with it yet! :)

joec
01-24-2013, 10:54 PM
I'll check the SG soon, but I've still had no movement. I've aerated, added yeast energizer, nutrients, and I picked up another two packs of Montrachet, (I think this totals seven now), and some malt extract to start some yeast moving, because I'm at my wits end.

pokerfacepablo
01-27-2013, 02:22 AM
Not that it's gonna help with this current batch but maybe future projects... I don't know if you've read anything about using a starter. It helps the larger batches to increase yeast activity quickly. I usually make my starter batch in a medium sized mason jar or half gallon jug with air lock. Mix 2 cups of your honey and water with your rehydrated yeast. Let the starter grow for about 3 days to help the yeast reach their full potential. Then pour it into your batch when it's ready.

Chevette Girl
01-27-2013, 04:59 PM
Really, I'd check the SG before doing anything else, but Pokerface has a point, if/when you do repitch, a great big acclimated starter would be how I'd do it. Rehydrate your yeast in the recommended amount of warm water, then once the recommended time has elapsed, double its volume by adding an equal amount of must... once it's bubbling (maybe 20 minutes to half an hour), do it again to double the volume... keep repeating that every few hours till you have a nice big frothy starter, but I don't know if 3 days is the magic number, you don't want to have a large SG drop in your starter because when you dump it into the main batch you don't want your yeast to suddenly have sugar-shock.

For a 5 gallon batch, I'd make at least a gallon of starter, a sanitized plastic gallon juice jug will do for this, and if you don't have another airlock, plastic wrap and an elastic band will do for a short-term airlock.

joec
01-28-2013, 08:36 PM
My SG hasn't moved at all -- 1.120.

Would making a malt extract starter be okay? I come from kit beer brewing, so I'm new to mead in a big way.

Medsen Fey
01-28-2013, 09:05 PM
Don't be surprised if you have to pitch a different yeast before all is said and done.



It is time. D47 would probably be a good choice.

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joec
01-28-2013, 09:17 PM
D47? By which company? Is it a smack pack? I've only added dry yeast to my wort, so now with must, I'm not sure if creating a starter with DME would be good for mead yeast.

Medsen Fey
01-28-2013, 10:21 PM
ICV-D47 is produced by Lalvin (Lallemande) and is a dry yeast and is available at most LHBS. Montrachet is a good yeast, but doesn't really like starting at a gravity as high as 1.120, and the low pH probably impaired them. D47 can tolerate the higher gravity start and will go to 14% ABV which will leave it semi-sweet to sweet.

You can use malt for a starter, but it is not necessary. If you rehydrate the yeast properly, and then after 20 minutes add an equal portion of your must, then wait until it starts bubbling. Then you pitch it in and aerate well. That should get it going.

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joec
01-30-2013, 11:13 PM
Instructions followed. We'll see what happens. I appreciate all the advice. This is been quite the roller coaster so far!

joec
02-02-2013, 08:53 AM
Sigh. Still no activity. I'm at a loss. Truly.

Medsen Fey
02-02-2013, 11:02 AM
What's the temperature?
Also, can you verify the pH and the gravity again?

To get it done you may have to build it up from a starter, but in this case. You'll need a heavy-duty yeast like EC-1118 (premier cuvee), DV-10, or Uvaferm 43. To do this you rehydrate a couple of packets of yeast, and make a small starter (you can use a little malt extract if you like) and put this in another fermentation bucket or carboy. Then start doubling the volume by adding amounts of your must, waiting for the bubbling to pick up before each new addition. You keep doubling the volume until you have all the must in the new fermenter. It is a bit of work, but it rarely fails.

If, for some reason, it still isn't moving, there are still some other steps you can take including pasteurizing the whole batch. You can also start an entirely new large batch and when it is going strong, you can mix in your old batch a portion at a time until it is all finished. So though this may be a bit frustrating, Endeavor to Persevere.

Medsen

joec
02-02-2013, 06:41 PM
I'm running out the door momentarily, but the temp is 70. I'll recheck everything tomorrow. You guys are heaven-sent. Seriously.

joec
02-03-2013, 01:38 PM
Okay, I am extremely perplexed. My pH is at 4.2 to 4.3 according to the color strips that I'm using for testing. My gravity reading however, is 1.010. Before I added the new yeast with the starter, it was 1.120. I never saw any bubbling in the airlock in the primary fermenter though. I really don't think that that reading would have changed that quickly. Could I really be going insane?

Chevette Girl
02-03-2013, 02:23 PM
Probably not insane. Probably. :)

There are a few reasons why you might not see airlock activity though the gravity is starting to drop... Sometimes the stopper/airlock has a slow leak that won't hold a lot of pressure, and if the yeast is going slow enough it escapes through the seal instead of bubbling through the airlock ... stealth yeasties!

But the good news is you've got a drop in SG!! It's going!! Can you see bubbles coming up the side of the carboy/hear fizzing through the wall of your bucket?

joec
02-03-2013, 02:31 PM
I've seen some krausen (I may have the wrong term -- large foam -- but light amounts.) but not anything else. I'm not hearing anything, but since I just disturbed it to take readings I'll report back later.

Chevette Girl
02-03-2013, 02:35 PM
Definitely sounds like something's finally going on though! :)

Marshmallow Blue
02-03-2013, 02:49 PM
Yeah, any bubbles usually means the yeast are doing something, unless you just shook the beans out of it.

Medsen Fey
02-03-2013, 02:59 PM
Congratulations, your mead is almost done!

Meads often don't show a lot of surface activity and airlocks and buckets are notoriously leaky which is why we always recommend judging activity based on the gravity.

joec
05-15-2013, 08:26 PM
Hello crew!

I'm nearing my bottling date and I'm wondering -- do I use priming sugar like bottling beer or do I just transfer into bottles and cork them ala wine?

Thanks again for all your help!

Medsen Fey
05-15-2013, 08:43 PM
What was the final gravity?

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joec
05-15-2013, 11:53 PM
When I last checked after moving from the primary to the secondary -- 1.001.

I can't wait to see where it stopped after the secondary.

Medsen Fey
05-16-2013, 11:34 AM
I'm not sure if your yeast have enough strength left to carbonate (though you could test it with one PET plastic soda bottle).

I'd just plan on bottling it still, but make certain the gravity is stable.

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joec
05-16-2013, 01:12 PM
I'll post back next week with my gravity.

So at this point, I should be looking at the mead more like a beer than a wine?

Medsen Fey
05-16-2013, 01:25 PM
No, it is much more like a wine but wines can be carbonated.

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