View Full Version : Backsweetening My First Mead Batch

07-25-2014, 01:05 PM
I own several vbulletin sites, so I know that I need to 'search' for my answers...and I have, but I have yet to find a comprehensive detailed set of instructions on backsweetening, so I'm asking for help :)

I have my first batch of semi-sweet mead (a northern brewer kit) that has been sitting at room temp for nearly a year. I plan to rack it into pint widemouth Ball mason jars. I am also a new beekeeper and am harvesting honey tomorrow. I want to use some of my honey to backsweeten.

So, here are my questions (and thanks in advance for any feedback/guidance!):

1. I know I need to add something to ensure fermentation will not re-start when I add the honey. I have Potassium Sorbate on hand - is that the only thing I need to add? Do I add it prior to backsweetening (I assume so) and if so, how long do I need to wait after adding the K+sorbate before adding honey and bottling? Do I add the powder 'as is' or do I need to dilute it with water?

2. Should I cold crash in addition to whatever 'additives' I use (and do I cold crash and then add additives)?

3. I am thinking about adding the honey to the individual pint jars (after a little taste testing to ensure I get it the right sweetness). Any issues with doing it that way (I am paranoid about adding honey to the carboy as if I get it wrong, I've screwed up a 5 gallon batch I've waited a year for)?

4. How easily is the honey 'incorporated' into the mead? Do I stir (my beer-making experience says stirring is bad) or do I just put a teaspoon of honey into a pint of mead and let it dissolve over time?

Thanks for anyone who can steer me in the right direction!

07-25-2014, 07:53 PM
What I would do (and you can take this for what it's worth) is
1) add K-meta AND k-sorbate. You need both to inhibit the reproduction of any viable yeast in your mead. I would then
2) bench test the quantity of honey you want to use to back sweeten to the level of sweetness that you prefer.
3) Determine the specific gravity of the sweetened mead. Once I know how much honey I need to add I would
4) blend this amount of honey in a small quantity of water and
5) pour this into a bottling bucket into which
6) I then rack (from the bottom) the mead I intend to bottle. The action of the mead being added to the bottom of bottling bucket will help disperse the added honey. I would then
7) sample the mead in the bottling bucket to make sure that if I take a sample from the top the gravity will reflect the honey I added, as will the sample from the middle of the bucket as will a sample from the bottom of the bucket.
8) If the samples are not similar I would gently stir. Then
9) I would bottle. But other far more experienced mazers in this forum may have very different thoughts.

Chevette Girl
07-26-2014, 01:16 AM
A few little clarifications, if I may...

Sorbate is only half the equation, as there are organisms that could be present that can eat it and form geraniol compounds, and yes they do smell as bad as it sounds, you need the potassium metabisulphite to knock out the yeast and any other organisms that might still be kicking around in there.

For your bench test, take a glass of your mead and gradually add honey until it tastes like what you want. Then check the specific gravity of this sample. Then you can use the mead calculator (if it's up and running? anyone know?) to figure out how much honey you'd need to add to the rest of the batch to achieve this amount of sweetness, or gradually add honey to your main batch until it matches. If you're worried about overdoing it, only add 3/4 of what you think you'll need, then you can dial in that last bit of sweetness in a more controlled manner.

Bernardsmith's got it right, honey's a pain in the tuchus to dissolve in large amounts, or at least that's what I've found when using it to prime. If you want everything to be consistent I'd definitely do it in the carboy or bucket, but once I knew how much honey I needed, I would take that honey and slowly mix some must into it the honey first to make it more liquid, then it will dissolve more easily as you pour it into the batch.

Beermaking experience is good, but do recognize that you don't have to be quite so hyper-vigilant with meads and wines, they're more resistant to oxidation damage and also with the higher alcohol content, less likely to become infected by spoilage organisms.

And welcome to the forum!

07-26-2014, 11:03 AM
Thanks to you both so much - that is exactly what I needed! I actually felt a little guilty as soon as I posted my questions, I did a little more digging here and was able to answer quite a few of them. Chevette Girl, do you also recommend the cold crashing method when adding the sorbate and potassium metabisulfite? How long should I wait until racking once I've added them? And if I do cold crash, seems like i might want to bring the mead up to room temp again before racking (I'm just guessing it's even harder to dissolve honey in mead when it's 35 or 40 degrees vs. room temp)...

'Mazer' - haven't heard that (but I am a newb!)...

Thanks to you both for the guidance as well as the welcome!

Chevette Girl
07-26-2014, 12:12 PM
Cold crashing can really help a must clear up, but I've never had the facility to do it, I can barely fit the milk in the fridge nevermind a 3- or 5-gal carboy. So it's definitely not a necessary procedure, I've been making meads and wines for ten years now without ever having done it. Although I'm seriously tempted to chuck that carboy of cloudy banana wine out on the balcony when it gets cold again, it's resisting all attempts to get it to clear.

The problem I find with changing temperatures is that your must can hold onto a lot more dissolved CO2 when it's cold, every time I've had stuff in the cool basement and then brought it upstairs to do something with it, I've ended up with airlock activity again. So if you do cold crash it, I'd recommend you hit it with the stabilizers and then give it a gentle stir a few times a day to knock the CO2 out of it before you chill it.

I'm not sure about whether to let things warm up or not. I'm guessing with a stabilized must you'd be OK to warm it back up, but I suspect with a "live" wine you'd want to rack it off the lees while things are still settled out, if it became active again (or started to degas vogorously) I could see things getting cloudy again which would defeat the whole purpose of having cold crashed it. But hopefully someone who cold crashes regularly can chime in...

07-27-2014, 11:06 AM
My first batch has been sitting for almost a year and it is crystal clear - I used isinglass about 6 months in and it really cleared it up. So I would only be cold crashing to help drop the yeast out of solution as a further effort to keep fermentation from kicking off again. I think I will forego the cold crash unless someone here convinces me it's a must (pun intended!).

On another note, I harvested about 70 lbs of honey from my strong hive yesterday. I am a first year beekeeper and was shocked to get that much honey in year 1. I had planned on using my own honey to backsweeten, but it is SO dark I'm not sure it would be the best choice as a mead sweetening addition. I am in NC where the primary nectar source for bees is tulip poplar, which produces a very dark amber honey.

Anyone have any thoughts on the best honey variety of honey to use for backsweetening? Anyone ever used a dark honey for that purpose?


07-27-2014, 12:14 PM
As long as you like the taste of the honey, it would be fine for back-sweetening. Just remember adding more honey can cause the mead to cloud up again. So you might want to let it sit and clear again (or cold crash once it is all dissolved).

08-02-2014, 01:11 AM
Kakalakee, interested in selling any of your homegrown honey? I live in AL and I've been relentlessly looking for the best honey solutions. Should you find yourself wanting to sell any, I'd be happy to hear about it.

08-04-2014, 10:59 AM
Not this year but I'm doubling my hives next spring and may be able to help you out then.

I back sweetened my mead with about 1.3 pints of honey and put half the carboy on the fridge to clear before bottling.to the other half I added 4 split vanilla beans and about 4 lbs of crushed homegrown blueberries. Am going to let that sit for a couple weeks and then cold crash/bottle.

08-04-2014, 10:01 PM
Lots of us wish we had the ability to keep bees. I had an acquaintance years ago who kept bees, and I always got a couple of pounds when he had extra. Always good stuff.

I just dont have the land to keep bees, and I doubt my neighbors would be understanding. Reminds me of an episode of Rockford Files. "Tryin' ta belly-up my bees!"


08-04-2014, 10:17 PM
I live in a neighborhood (a neighborhood in a very rural area, but a neighborhood nevertheless). I did talk to my closest neighbors before hand but I'm not sure they'd even know I had bees if I hadn't approached them. It's possible to put up a hedge or fence to keep them out of sight, but I do understand you may feel you don't have space. I've even heard of people putting their hives in an open shed to keep them out of view. I made sure to give my neighbors honey - that never hurts either.

08-04-2014, 10:20 PM
Well I've got just under half an acre. And there aren't a lot of flowers around. Mostly pine trees

08-05-2014, 09:15 AM
If people in NYC can keep hives on the roofs of apt. buildings, I'm sure they would do fine in your area.

Yay mead!

08-05-2014, 10:43 AM
If people in NYC can keep hives on the roofs of apt. buildings, I'm sure they would do fine in your area.

Yay mead!

Sometimes I think that metropolitan areas like NYC can have a larger diversity of flora than some unmolested natural areas. Imagine how much fun a bee can have in Central Park compared to a pine forest. Of course, that's just me remembering how many flowers there are in Manhattan and just to the east in Queens. I could be completely off base here because I have no idea about the diversity that would exist in a pine forest however.

LOVE your new sig! Yay mead!

Chevette Girl
08-06-2014, 12:16 AM
Bees would love it around here, I'm next to a park where they've outlawed pesticide use, and on one side of my jogging path for 700m or so, the grass isn't mowed so there's all kinds of diversity out there, we always have a nice crop of dandelions and clover, the thistles just finished, the burdock and goldenrod are just starting to bloom, there's gotta be like ten different kinds of grasses (half of them are taller than I am), and half a dozen apple trees and some ornamental crabs... but I'm pretty sure my condo corp would pitch a fit if I tried to keep a beehive on my balcony. Condo living isn't for everyone. But some of us can't afford real houses.

08-06-2014, 10:12 AM
Condo???? You make all that mead/wine in a condo? I am in awe.

08-07-2014, 05:48 PM
Man - I suck at backsweetening! I took my carboy of 8 month old semi-sweet mead, treated it with the recommended sorbate and K-meta, waited a bit and then split it into 2 carboys (wanted to use half for a blueberry melomel, the other half traditional mead). The blueberry melomel did not start fermenting again - and I think it must have gotten all of the additives for some reason because I almost immediately saw an inch of trub form in the bottom (I assume dead or inactivated yeast). The other 1/2, the straight mead seemed fine, and I cold-chilled that as I wanted to bottle it this weekend. But 2 days post treatment I open the fridge and it's fermenting like crazy. I added a bit more sorbate and K-meta and that seemed to stop it dead in it's tracks. Until 2 days later (aka TODAY) when I peeked and see it once again bubbling away in my airlock.

I think the mistake I made was not mixing the sorbate and K-meta in hot water first. It must've just sunk down to the bottom of the carboy and not really gotten into solution. So I've added more, this time dissolving it in water and giving the carboy some turns to mix it in. I hope I haven't ruined the straight mead batch entirely. For all I know, I've got honey grain alcohol at this point. And who knows how much the additives I've had to add will impact it - I don't even know if it'll be drinkable.

It kind of sours me on the idea of attempting backsweetening again - unless not mixing with warm water ahead of adding the yeast zappers is just a dumb, dumb mistake that if corrected will lead to success next time. I guess I could just shoot for a sweet mead recipe from the get-go in the future and not worry about backsweetening?

It's hard being a mazer-newb when I have homebrewing down to a fine art. Ouch! I guess the good news is, my blueberry melomel has not generated so much as a bubble and looks amazing.

08-07-2014, 08:19 PM
No, the problem is it wasn't done fermenting yet. K-meta and sorbate will not stop an active fermentation but will stop a finished fermentation from restarting after backsweetening. What is the specific gravity of the must?

08-07-2014, 09:52 PM
It could also have been outgassing.

Yay mead!

08-07-2014, 09:54 PM
Spec grab was 1.00 before back sweetening after 8 months. I think it was done fermenting. What is 'out gassing' as opposed to active fermentation?

08-07-2014, 09:59 PM
CO2 left dissolved in the liquid coming out of solution.

Yay mead!

08-07-2014, 10:04 PM
Spec grab was 1.00 before back sweetening after 8 months. I think it was done fermenting. What is 'out gassing' as opposed to active fermentation? Out gassing is when Co2 in solution escapes the mead causing your airlock to bubble as if it were still fermenting. It happens most often when you take the finished batch (usually by now in secondary) from a cold place to a warmer place. That's the theory anyway. I've never experienced anything so vigorous that I would mistake it for an active ferment. But maybe others have.

Also, if you diluted the honey with water, you just added more yeast food and if the chems weren't dissolved in the solution, then you may have just started a new ferment. However, don't worry about drastically increasing the alcohol content..it can't raise it that high and chances are your mead is still fine.

08-17-2014, 02:36 PM
Update guys...
So, I moved my split mead batch (half sweet mead, half blueberry-vanilla melomel) into two 3 gallon carboys with airlock. I also moved them into the fridge. After a couple weeks of no/minimal airlock activity, I went ahead yesterday and bottled in new widemouth Ball canning jars. 24 hours later, there was a little pressure on the lids (one of the benefits of putting it in canning jars is I can tell just with a press on a lid whether any gas is being produced). I released each lid and put them back in the fridge. I figure I can just keep doing this for a bit until there's no perceptible gas being produced. I'm hoping that the transfer to the canning jars just got things going slightly and that they'll calm down in a couple of days.

I'm also wondering if I'll have to do this again after I end the cold crash in a month or two as any remaining yeast warm and wake up. Just as a reminder, I did treat with both K-meta and sorbate (but had fermentation restart again after backsweetening - probably because I did not mix the chems with water and likely didn't get the treatment well dispersed in solution. I retreated and that seemed to end fermentation.

Anyone ever done the 'gas release' thing - and if so, was it just a matter of monitoring and uncapping for a couple of days?

On a positive - both of these are delicious (especially the blueberry-vanilla melomel)!

08-17-2014, 03:57 PM
Anyone ever done the 'gas release' thing - and if so, was it just a matter of monitoring and uncapping for a couple of days?

If I deliberately degas I pull the CO2 with a small vacuum (about 22 inches). This may take a few hours but all the CO2 absorbed in the wine is pulled out. It helps to degas in higher ambient temperatures (in the 70s) Typically, though, if you age your meads or wines long enough in a carboy the CO2 will dissipate over time.

08-17-2014, 04:13 PM
I may try degassing in the carboy next time...I'm just wondering if anyone has tried to manage it by opening up bottles after bottling and if that was an effective way of managing without returning to the carboy (which I'm not interested in doing)?

08-17-2014, 04:29 PM
Be careful lest you end up with a bomb on your hands.

Sent from my galafreyan transdimensional communicator 100 years from now. G

08-17-2014, 04:36 PM
Yeah - that's what I'm trying to avoid :) I am going to open every jar for the next 3-4 days and see how it goes...

08-19-2014, 10:37 PM
3 days of uncapping to release pressure. Anyone tried this? I'm a little concerned about exposing the mead to more air every day, but short of putting it all back in carboys don't know of any other option. Hoping before too much longer it stabilizes?

08-20-2014, 12:50 AM
You're not in too much danger of exposing the mead to air since the Co2 is sort of blanketing it and providing a barrier. It's heavier than air remember so it will stay in the bottle.

Sent from my galafreyan transdimensional communicator 100 years from now. G

Chevette Girl
08-20-2014, 01:05 AM
I may try degassing in the carboy next time...I'm just wondering if anyone has tried to manage it by opening up bottles after bottling and if that was an effective way of managing without returning to the carboy (which I'm not interested in doing)?

Yes, I've done it, yes it will work eventually, but no, it's not the best method. Every time I've done it, I've wished I'd just chucked it back in a carboy.

And a long as you're getting any kind of pressure release, you're not exposing the mead to oxygen by cracking the seal. It's releasing carbon dioxide which gives it some amount of protection, unless you're opening the jars wide open.

08-20-2014, 01:14 AM
Ha! Ninja strikes again! HeeyaaAAA!

Sent from my galafreyan transdimensional communicator 100 years from now. G

08-20-2014, 09:22 AM
Thanks to you both - makes sense. This is one time pain for a newbie mazer. I consider it my penance for mistakes made while back sweetening !

Chevette Girl
08-20-2014, 11:26 AM
Heh, hopefully you learn faster than I did!

08-30-2014, 05:31 PM
Just wanted to follow-up and say 'Thanks!' for the input. My first batch of sweet mead and the blueberry/vanilla bean melomel are terrific. I already have another 5 gallon batch going with 12 lbs of my own honey. The homemade blueberry melomel is really something special. Excited to spread my mazer wings down the road and get a little adventurous.