View Full Version : Attempted Sack Strength

02-09-2013, 03:12 PM

This is my first post and as is typical I have a few questions. I brewed my first recipe (Joe's Ancient Orange) with great success. Here is a little background to rationalize my way of thinking. I typically drink strong dark ales, stouts and porters, and also have a pension for good whiskeys. So for my second batch of mead, I wanted to make a "Sack strength" to get the highest alcohol content in a mead but still keep it at least "semi-sweet".
My original plan was to make a 3 gallon batch using 5lbs of honey per gallon of water. Being the rookie I am, I forgot to figure that 15lbs of honey is roughly a gallon on its own :eek:.

What I was going for here was more about alcohol content and not the total yield. I wanted 5lbs honey per gallon to attain that full 18% ABV. So I want to add an additional gallon of water. However, some conventional wisdom through research online suggests that if I add too much water I can shock the yeast and potentially create some bad mojo in the final product. I know that I have a few months/ and rackings left on this batch. How can I/should I, proceed??

Here is what I have so far:

12 August 2012
2 Gal Alpine Spring water
15 lbs Raw Honey (From a local bee farm here in WA)
WYEAST 4632 Dry Mead (Because the yeast can survive up to 18% ABV)
Original Gravity of Must: 1.154
Brix: 35 (maxed out)
Pitched yeast at 90 degrees, successful fermentation.

First rack 7 Sep 2012
Brix 19
Sp. Gravity: 1.074

Second Rack 19 December 2012
Brix 14
Sp. Gravity: 1.058
Current Volume: approx. 3 Gal

Thanks in advance for the responses everybody. Looking forward to learning more and sharing with you all.

Chevette Girl
02-09-2013, 07:34 PM
However, some conventional wisdom through research online suggests that if I add too much water I can shock the yeast and potentially create some bad mojo in the final product.

Welcome to the forum!

I do hope you meant, "honey" ? I'm frankly surprised your batch started at all with that starting gravity. When you have that much sugar in a solution the osmotic pressure starts drawing the moisture out of the yeast cells where they're designed to have to keep moisture out, so it's very hard on yeast and the way they express this can be either by making sulphur smells, stopping early, or by very slow fermentation.

Most of us have found the best approach is exactly the opposite of what you've done, we start with a sensible SG (no more than about 1.125 or so, which is about where a JAO starts), then ferment it out using nutrients and aeration as per usual for the first 1/3 of the fermentation, and then every time it drops below a certain threshhold, add more honey to bring it up to our maximum desired sweetness. This process is called step-feeding and it makes it a lot easier on the yeast, and can sometimes push them past their listed tolerances. Also it makes sure that it won't finish too sweet.

Also the fact that you've used no nutrients or energizers or anything means you're in for a very long slow finish, if it ever does finish, it could linger on for years with the SG slowly dropping a few points a month. I'd suspect you're looking at a couple more years, and I wouldn't rack this batch again until the SG stops changing, every time you rack it off the lees, you leave behind part of the yeast you want to be fermenting.

If you were to add water to this batch now, I'd probably recommend you also get another package of the same yeast and make an acclimated starter for it to try to bulk up your yeast colony, aerate the heck out of it for a few days or a week, and adding some yeast hulls or some other form of organic nitrogen would probably help too.

02-09-2013, 09:18 PM
Thanks for the response.

I actually did mean adding additional water to the mead because I originally intended the ratio to be 5lbs of honey per gallon of water but what I basically have is 7.5 lbs of honey per gallon.

I actually did use a Yeast nutrient in the beginning...My mistake on leaving that out.

This wasn't a recipe that I had found anywhere online, but more of a theory from all of the research I had done online. I will be researching more of the info that you gave me now so thanks! :)

It appears I have bit off more than I should have for a second batch and incorrectly on top of that. However I learn best the hard way, and I will persevere through it and research some additional ways to balance this sucker out.

I have a few books on the way and will stick with something a little easier for the next round.

Again thanks for the advice.

Chevette Girl
02-12-2013, 01:00 AM
Diluting with water or juice would be the easiest way... if you split the batch you could do both, compare and contrast... embrace your inner mad scientist!! ;D

02-12-2013, 01:51 PM
Okay, so you were correct that fermentation would stop. The gravity had not changed in two months and the water in the S style airlock had been level for some time. My attempted fix:

I made a must of 1.5 gal water and 2lbs of honey and added yeast nutrient.
I then proceeded the shake all life out of it (my son found it quite humorous) then pitched the same kind of yeast.

I let it do its thing for the day. Then I combined the two batches into my 7 gal bucket (temporary until I get a 5 gal carboy this weekend or decide to split into my two 3 gal carboys). This was two days ago and it is bubbling and doing nicely thus far.

I will continue to monitor and considering diluting with additional water and oxygenation in the next month or so depending on how it does.

My only two questions now:
1. How will I know when it is legitimately done?

2. Is there a way to figure out what my new final gravity should be approx? (I did record SG for the original batch, the new batch, and the final mix)

Chevette Girl
02-14-2013, 12:33 AM
1) when the SG stops changing, it's done. Whether it is complete will depend on your alcohol content when you diluted it, typically you'd be looking for something under 1.000 if the yeast was within its alcohol tolerance, but if your yeast has hit its alcohol tolerance it will be more than that.

2) The SG's are important but you also need exact volumes to calculate things after a dilution or addition... although it'll still be only an approximate because you will never really know when your yeast actually poop out.

I'm too lazy to do the math on my own step-fed batches so I just wait till it's done and do a spirit indication test (fill hydrometer tube to specific volume with must, check SG, boil sample until it's almost gone, reconstitute to the same specific volume with water, check SG, go here (http://www.musther.net/vinocalc.html#spiritindication) and enter the data to find out my alcohol level)...

Really, I'd just let it go till it stops wherever it stops... and if it's too sweet, dilute it again and see if it'll ferment a little more, if it's too dry you can add more honey.

03-08-2013, 02:10 AM
Okay, so I got my hands on a few books and I am now a know it all about making mead!! Har! Not really, however it was filled with tons of information and I will use it on my future batches (I already made a modified JAOM).

I travel very frequently (200+ days a year) so mead making and its long fermentation naturally work for me. Just before my last trip I added an additional gallon of water. This brings my total volume to roughly 6 gallons.

I figured it a dud and after reading my book on my last trip for work I decided when I would get home I would split this batch and create two melomels (one cherry and vanilla, the other blackberry). However upon my return home, this thing is bubbling away (12-15 seconds my airlock gurgles). This totally changes my plan and poses a few questions that hopefully you all could advise with. This batch has definitely turn into a "mad scientist" experiment so despite my new found knowledge (not to be confused with experience which is why I come to you all) I am trying to be creative yet practical.

1) Should I consider this a secondary fermentation now or still a primary? I suppose that is more a debate on the semantics possibly?

2) I am still planning on splitting the batch and adding the aforementioned fruits. However when should I do that? Should I wait the typical advised time of 1 bubble every 30 seconds or more? Could I do it now with out hurting the yeasties? (I just returned and leave again in a few days and want to do it now)

3) Should I make sure no sediment is sucked up my my racking cane if I do rack it?

4) Lastly if I do rack now could I or should I oxygenate it again?

Chevette Girl
03-08-2013, 12:41 PM
So diluting it made it kick up again, they'd obviously hit their tolerance before! If you haven't racked it out of your bucket yet, consider it primary... but yeah, it is generally a matter of semantics even when you're not messing with things... usually something considered to be "in secondary" has been racked off the gross lees from the primary fermentation, and although there may still be a little bit of activity going on, it should be mostly calm. It may start up again if you add fruit as it eats any sugar in the fruit, so keeping it in a bucket is not a bad idea if you're adding fruit in secondary, the advantage is you can bag the fruit and not worry about chunks later.

The risk you run by adding fruit to a vigorous ferment (especially if you're going away and won't be keeping an eye on it) is all the foaming pushing fruit bits out your airlock... in severe cases it'll clog the airlock and build up pressure until either the airlock blows off or the chunk of fruit blocking things up passes, which will result in a sudden pressure release which will be in the form of a geyser of mead and fruit chunks going all over the place.

You didn't list your SG so I don't know how close to being done these might be, I can't tell you if you should be racking it or not. Stirring it up gently so that the yeast which have fallen to the bottom are encouraged to wake up and get back to work though, is probably a good idea, it'll get them to do whatever they're going to do as quickly as they're going to do it...

If it's still fermenting pretty actively, you don't want to rack it right now or you'll leave most of the yeast behind and it may stop the fermentation (but only if you don't want it to stop, it seems ;D).

When you do rack it, you do not want to introduce oxygen at this point. The yeast are done breeding, they don't need it anymore. Generally, yes you do want to avoid as much sediment as you can when racking, if you want to be miserly and try to wring every drop out of it, you can pour the lees into a sanitized tall container and refrigerate it, in a day or two it'll settle out and you can pour the clear stuff back into your secondary.

If this were my batch I'd probably leave it till it's done what it's going to do since you diluted it, THEN do the fruit thing.

03-09-2013, 02:30 AM
Sorry when I posted earlier I hadn't tested SG yet. I just did tonight along with the ph (finally bought some strips).

The new SG of this monster is 1.034 with a pH of 3.7

I also aerated the hell out of it too. stirring and sloshing for about 45 minutes. Resealed and its still bubbling.

It tastes lightly tart but still somewhat sweet. Also lightly carbonated which I expected because of the vigorous fermentation. The flavor resembled my first JAO after immediately bottling so I am not too worried.

The grand totals of all ingredients are as follows by my notes:

17lbs of Honey (15 lbs raw/2lbs processed added later with a second packet of yeast)
4.5 gal of water
4 Tsp Yeast Nutrient (diammonium phosphate) (2tsp added initially and 2 more added with the later honey and yeast.

I leave next week for approx 2 weeks. If it has slowed down by then I will ad fruit.

As to the racking and sediment. I was under the impression that the sediment were a build up of the husks shed by the yeasties as they replicate. Is it also active yeast as well? Or is it all just bad juju?

04-14-2013, 02:51 AM
So the batch finally settled down. On the 27th of March the SG measured in @ 1.006. I racked it all onto about 7 lbs of thawed blackberries.

Jump to 9 Apr, the SG remained @ 1.006 and has taken on a really good purple color, and smells wonderful. The flavor from the blackberry is noticeable but not over powering. Still lightly fizzy though.

This stuff is strong for sure...I have to be at least close if not at 18% It warms the throat and belly mildly however not even remotely uncomfortable. However I typically drink whiskey neat, so a friend tasted some and she loved it so that put my mind at ease.

At the end of the month I am going to rack it off of the fruit and split the batch in half. 1 Half will have Medium French Oak chips added, the other nothing. Then its clear them up and bottle by May.

Appreciate all your input CG :).