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Oddball
11-07-2013, 11:16 PM
Hello,

I have been brewing beer for about 2 years now and am starting to try my hand at mead making. I prefer sweat mead and have a question about the process.

Is there a consensus or "best practice" for producing sweet mead? Do you think that it is better to stop fermentation at a desired final gravity or to back sweeten?

Also as far as stopping the fermentation, what fg's produce different levels of sweetness?

Thanks for you help!

Jim H
11-07-2013, 11:42 PM
Hi oddball, welcome. I also came at this via beer brewing.

One of the folks on this forum, fatbloke, mentioned this general method to me, and so far, so good:
Ferment bone dry, to the limit of the yeast's tolerance, then backsweeten by adding honey (in small steps, until you know how much you like). You can adjust the tannins and acid in the same way. This lessens the chance of bottle bombs, and gives you the most control over the flavor. This is a very practical method.

danr
11-08-2013, 01:36 AM
Also as far as stopping the fermentation, what fg's produce different levels of sweetness?

Welcome to GotMead. Be careful, it is addicting.

From the NewBee Guide (link in menu on left side of page):
Dry: 0.990 – 1.006
Medium: 1.006 – 1.015
Sweet: 1.012 – 1.020
Dessert: 1.020+
(The NewBee Guide and the Search command are your friends.)

There is no wrong way to make a sweet mead. I typically ferment dry, stabilize with sorbate and sulphite, and backsweeten to taste. Others cold crash and stabilize at the desired sweetness or step feed until the yeast reaches its ABV tolerance. From what I have read, the least predictable strategy is to try to use the ABV tolerance of your yeast to anticipate an exact final gravity. Yeast can be unpredictable and the data provided for wine yeast may not directly translate to mead.

A ratio of 15 lbs of honey for a 5 gallon batch is a common way to start, which gives a starting gravity around 1.11. You do not want to start too much higher or it might stress out your yeast. There is a Mead Calculator and a Yeast Table linked from the left sidebar menu that can also help you plan your mead.

fatbloke
11-08-2013, 03:17 AM
The "start lower, ferment dry" method just seems to be less fraught with problems that you read about when trying the "all fermentables up front" technique.

The later works fine for beer but that is a much lower start gravity and not all sugars fermentable.

Honey numbers tend to be considerably higher and its close to 100% fermentable.....

Oddball
11-08-2013, 08:03 AM
Welcome to GotMead. Be careful, it is addicting.

From the NewBee Guide (link in menu on left side of page):
Dry: 0.990 – 1.006
Medium: 1.006 – 1.015
Sweet: 1.012 – 1.020
Dessert: 1.020+
(The NewBee Guide and the Search command are your friends.)

There is no wrong way to make a sweet mead. I typically ferment dry, stabilize with sorbate and sulphite, and backsweeten to taste. Others cold crash and stabilize at the desired sweetness or step feed until the yeast reaches its ABV tolerance. From what I have read, the least predictable strategy is to try to use the ABV tolerance of your yeast to anticipate an exact final gravity. Yeast can be unpredictable and the data provided for wine yeast may not directly translate to mead.

A ratio of 15 lbs of honey for a 5 gallon batch is a common way to start, which gives a starting gravity around 1.11. You do not want to start too much higher or it might stress out your yeast. There is a Mead Calculator and a Yeast Table linked from the left sidebar menu that can also help you plan your mead.

Thanks, I did read through the guide, but I must have overlooked that.


The "start lower, ferment dry" method just seems to be less fraught with problems that you read about when trying the "all fermentables up front" technique.

The later works fine for beer but that is a much lower start gravity and not all sugars fermentable.

Honey numbers tend to be considerably higher and its close to 100% fermentable.....

Thanks for all of the responses. You helped me out over at HBT as well if I am not mistaken. I figured I could probably find more detailed and thorough information over here.

So, if I understand this correctly....once fermentation is complete, I would rack onto my sorbate, sulphite, and backsweetening honey to taste? I am doing 1 gallon batches and want a semi sweet mead so I would start small , perhaps 1/4 of a pound to hit around 1.010 (according to this chart: http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/attachments/0000/4795/Mead_Maker_of_the_Year_Panel.pdf ), then taste and add more if needed. I hope I don't end up drinking it all during the back sweetening. It is only a gallon after all....

Noe Palacios
11-08-2013, 11:53 AM
Hi oddball, welcome. I also came at this via beer brewing.

One of the folks on this forum, fatbloke, mentioned this general method to me, and so far, so good:
Ferment bone dry, to the limit of the yeast's tolerance, then backsweeten by adding honey (in small steps, until you know how much you like). You can adjust the tannins and acid in the same way. This lessens the chance of bottle bombs, and gives you the most control over the flavor. This is a very practical method.

Here's how I backsweeten my semi-sweet meads:


Ferment bone dry
Stabilize = Metabisulfit + Sorbate
I don't use honey on backsweeten, neither sugar. I use endiginous sweet fruits, just enought to extract mostly sugars. To calculate how many fruit use I usually google it in order to know their sugar concentration. I estimate about 100% because I leave them in the barrel no more than months without any issue.



Saludes,

McJeff
11-08-2013, 06:46 PM
so do you use the calculator and put in just enough honey to reach the alcohol tolerance of your yeast?

Oddball
11-09-2013, 06:49 PM
so do you use the calculator and put in just enough honey to reach the alcohol tolerance of your yeast?

I am not 100% but I don't think the alcohol tolerance of the yeast is relevant when backsweetening. You could use the guidelines from the newb guide posted by danr above along with this http://www.gotmead.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=423&Itemid=14 in order to achieve the gravity for the desired style. What I plan to do is shoot for the bottom end of the range (i.e. 2.25 oz of honey to hit 1.006 for medium) and add more to taste if needed. Hopefully that will work. I suppose you could use the calculator to do the same thing.

Medsen Fey
11-10-2013, 09:08 AM
I am not 100% but I don't think the alcohol tolerance of the yeast is relevant when backsweetening...

It is relevant only insomuch as the closer the ABV is to the tolerance of the yeast, the more reliable the chemicals will be in making sure the yeast don't start fermenting again.

Oddball
11-10-2013, 09:24 AM
It is relevant only insomuch as the closer the ABV is to the tolerance of the yeast, the more reliable the chemicals will be in making sure the yeast don't start fermenting again.

Thanks for the clarification.

So, for example, sorbate and bisulphite are less likely to do what they were intended to do if the fermentation stopped very high leaving the abv much lower than the potential/tolerance of the yeast? So it is relevant for the chemicals typically used before backsweetening but not necessarily the act of backsweetening itself or in determining how much to backsweeten. Is that accurate?

kudapucat
11-10-2013, 10:03 AM
The chemicals are used to 'stabilise' a mead.
This is often done as a matter of course, even when not back sweetening, just to ensure the yeast don't wake up hungry one day.
Meta bisulphate kills yeast, sorbate stops them reproducing, alcohol kills yeast.
Use all three an you have a higher chance, than using one alone.
It's also easier to kill yeast in their sleep, so make sure they're not up and eating when you do it.
No sugar, cold temperatures, high alcohol, all make for good times to stabilise.

MikeTheElder
11-10-2013, 10:57 PM
The only nearly 100% safe way to make sweet mead that I've used is to ferment dry then stabilize with k-meta and K sorbate before back-sweetening.

K-meta releases SO2 which is toxic to yeast, although some strains are more tolerant of SO2 than others.

K-sorbate prevents yeast cell reproduction

It is my understanding that yeast cells have a lifespan of only a couple weeks when hydrated, so k-meta in conjunction with k sorbate is pretty much guaranteed to kill off already stressed yeast from either high %ABV or fermenting dry and the survivors are neutered, then allowing to clarify a few weeks before back-sweetening makes sure they all died off from old age.

To regulate the %ABV of your Mead, just limit how much sugar you feed them, use the Mead calculator or use the potential %ABV scale on a hydrometer, they aren't perfect but they are pretty close

Chevette Girl
11-17-2013, 06:52 PM
It is my understanding that yeast cells have a lifespan of only a couple weeks when hydrated, so k-meta in conjunction with k sorbate is pretty much guaranteed to kill off already stressed yeast from either high %ABV or fermenting dry and the survivors are neutered, then allowing to clarify a few weeks before back-sweetening makes sure they all died off from old age.

I'm not sure about that, considering yeast have woken up years after appearing to be stable.

Medsen Fey
11-17-2013, 09:27 PM
Yeah - don't underestimate the tenacity of yeast.

Sent from my THINGAMAJIG with WHATCHAMACALLIT

Chevette Girl
11-18-2013, 12:12 AM
Yeah - don't underestimate the tenacity of yeast.


Unless, of course, you WANT them to keep going. Then, of course, the'll stall out no matter what you do. Them yeasties, sometimes I think they just want to drive us 'round the bend.

bernardsmith
11-18-2013, 10:11 AM
Hello,

I have been brewing beer for about 2 years now and am starting to try my hand at mead making. I prefer sweat mead and have a question about the process.

Is there a consensus or "best practice" for producing sweet mead? Do you think that it is better to stop fermentation at a desired final gravity or to back sweeten?

Also as far as stopping the fermentation, what fg's produce different levels of sweetness?

Thanks for you help!

There is a third option. You have the quantity of honey in the must that the yeast can easily convert to the level of alcohol you want. The yeast stop creating alcohol because there is no more sugar for them to convert. You stabilize the mead after all the yeast have been racked off or have died and then you back sweeten. In other words, there is less chance and luck involved and far more control by you..

Shelley
11-18-2013, 11:06 AM
Just for comparison, my personal tried-and-true method of making sweet meads (our favorite variety in my home) is to load everything up front to an SG of my desire, ferment with cotes-de-blanc and bottle when it's done. I've never backsweetened any of my sweet meads, and that lets me keep the beverage pretty chemical-free (save for the campden tablets on the outset, since I don't heat my must).

This isn't my preferred method for a semi-dry, but with the sweets it's worked fine every time.

Medsen Fey
11-18-2013, 02:54 PM
And it will work fine every time until the time when the yeast decide wake up again. While Cote des Blancs is less prone to do this than a Champagne strain, I have seen it happen when things warmed up and would suggest long bulk aging before bottling.


Sent from my THINGAMAJIG with WHATCHAMACALLIT

Shelley
11-18-2013, 03:38 PM
And it will work fine every time until the time when the yeast decide wake up again. While Cote des Blancs is less prone to do this than a Champagne strain, I have seen it happen when things warmed up and would suggest long bulk aging before bottling.


Sent from my THINGAMAJIG with WHATCHAMACALLIT

Right - your mileage may vary, especially with the yeasts involved. Three years and counting for some of my sweet meads. (Which, in retrospect, means I really need to drink more mead!)

kudapucat
11-18-2013, 05:38 PM
I've never back sweetened.
I've only ever stopped a cyser, as the recipe called for it.
I do bulk age for at least 12 months, except for the quick drinking meads.
YMMV. be careful.

anir dendroica
11-18-2013, 06:15 PM
For all of the bad press the "start high, finish sweet" approach gets, I've actually found it to be pretty reliable.

In general, my recipe for a sweet mead is to start right around 1.130 and use either D47 or 71B (though I suspect other 14% tolerance yeasts would work). With good nutrient and pH management this will almost always finish between 1.015 and 1.020.

This year I am doing a yeast trial with my traditional. Next up (or nearly next up) on my experiment list is to start two identical meads at 1.110 and 1.125 with D47. I will let them both finish and clear, then backsweeten the dry one to whatever FG the other one ends up at (I would predict about 1.013). Age and compare. From what I read the backsweetened one will be better, but so far I haven't seen results from such a side-by-side comparison.

kuri
11-18-2013, 08:53 PM
Next up (or nearly next up) on my experiment list is to start two identical meads at 1.110 and 1.125 with D47. I will let them both finish and clear, then backsweeten the dry one to whatever FG the other one ends up at (I would predict about 1.013). Age and compare. From what I read the backsweetened one will be better, but so far I haven't seen results from such a side-by-side comparison.

I'll be very interested in seeing the results of this experiment. I'm sure they will be different meads. The load-everything-up-front-and-let-the-yeast-go approach will deplete some of the sugars (the easy to eat ones) and leave others behind (the unfermentable ones). Backsweetening adds all of the sugars and leaves them unfermented, meaning you end up with some of the sugars in the mead that would typically have been consumed under the first approach, and a different balance overall.

Oddball
11-18-2013, 09:56 PM
I'll be very interested in seeing the results of this experiment. I'm sure they will be different meads. The load-everything-up-front-and-let-the-yeast-go approach will deplete some of the sugars (the easy to eat ones) and leave others behind (the unfermentable ones). Backsweetening adds all of the sugars and leaves them unfermented, meaning you end up with some of the sugars in the mead that would typically have been consumed under the first approach, and a different balance overall.

I would too. Either way, I will just have to do some experimenting of my own to see what works best for me. For the first three batches I have going, I went the finish dry/backsweeten route. Thanks again for all of your help...