PDA

View Full Version : Experienced beer brewer new to mead-making, looking for tips



hendenburg2
08-22-2016, 05:14 PM
Hello all!

So I'm new to mead-making, gearing up to make my first few test batches (doing several 1-gallon batches at the same time, I'll post recipes towards the end), and I'm looking for some tips from old pros. I've been brewing beer for 6 years now, so I'm looking more for the mead-centric side of the scale. Since most of what I've seen recommends letting meads sit for at least several months before bottling/drinking, I'd like to get everything done right the first time.

A few questions I did have -
Bentonite - I've seen a lot of conflicting info on how to use it and how much to use. The only thing I've reliably seen is that you make a slurry with it. What's the proper bentonite/water and bentonite/must ratio? How long do you let it hydrate before adding it? When do you add it (pre-/post-pitch, before mixing the honey with the water, pre-/post- cooling the must to room temp)?
(Asking about this because for beer making, different fining agents are used very differently, for example you have to add Irish Moss to the boiling mash, but boiling Isinglass will neutralize it)

When to add honey - So I've seen some people say to add the honey right after the water finishes boiling and cools down a bit, but before it gets to the bacterial growth range (<135F). I've also seen some people say to add it to room-temp water. The beer brewer side of me says to add the honey before cooling to room temp to aid in mixing and for sanitary reasons (in beer, nothing that isn't sanitized should touch the wort from when it stops boiling until the yeast is pitched and the fermenter is capped, but that's because wort is a more hospitable environment for wild yeast and bacteria).

Cooling - Every recipe I've seen so far has you cool mead either with air or a water/ice bath. Again, with beer, the conventional wisdom is to make that thermal trip as short as possible either by using a cooling coil line in an ice/saltwater bath or mixing with enough ice to get your desired volume. Would mixing the warm/hot honey & water mixture with ice work, or is there a practical reason to let the pot or fermenter sit in a bath?

Any other advice would be appreciated as well!

Recipes
Basic Mead:
2.5 pounds honey (using an unfiltered Colorado honey from Sprouts)
1 lemon worth of zest
Purified water to bring to 1 gallon
1 package dry ale yeast (can't remember which strain)
yeast nutrients

Wolf Moon Mead (credit to Storm the Castle for this one)
Only difference - not using cloves

Black Tea & Lemon Mead
2.5 pounds honey (unfiltered, but no specific flower)
1 cup brewed black tea
2 lemons, fruit cut into wedges and zest, pith removed
Purified water to bring to 1 gallon
1/2 package White Labs liquid California Ale yeast (other half going to the Wolf Moon batch)
yeast nutrients

jflanigan244
08-22-2016, 06:19 PM
Hello, welcome to the forums!

I'm no seasoned veteran but I've picked up a thing or two from the great people here.

As far as bentonite, I have no experience with it but if it's a fining agent, I have used Sparkleoid. I just boil the dose it says on the bottle in like, a cup of water, let it cool to about 150F, I believe? I think it says on the bottle. Stir it in and wait a week.

OK, as far as a hot boil, it's really only necessary in the following situations:
You're making a braggot (mead beer) using malt, grains, hops etc

You have impure, low grade honey (boiling will purify it) however, most people will reccomend you buy high quality, raw honey. In which case boiling is not needed.

You're trying to extract fruit juice. I boiled some blueberries for a melomel (fruit mead) and it came out great, although I had later blueberry additions as well. But freezing blueberries and putting them in the must would likely have the same effect.

You're making a bochet (mead with caramelized honey) I have no Idea how to do this but obviously the honey must be cooked.

Cooling - yes, it's usually good to cool a hot must asap but unless you're doing one of the things I mentioned above it's not necessary.

Your recipes look good but people have warned me about adding citrus, like lemon zest up front. It can mess with your pH. I did it and didn't have any problems but you never know.

You will likely want to use wyeast beer nutrient, some fermaid K or a dash of Dap. Beer yeast doesn't typically need the same staggered nutrient additions as wine yeast but I'd use some at least.

Please let me know how that California ale yeast works out, I remember seeing it got high scores for a beer yeast mead test.

jflanigan244
08-22-2016, 06:28 PM
And just to clarify, I mean if you're not doing one of the aforementioned hot boil situations, you can just mix in honey to water at room temp and use a paddle or what have you to mix to dissolve then pitch yeast.

It's also important to degass mead every day during primary fermentation. Pop the top, stir it up to get the bubbles out. Since you're using beer yeast, I'd leave ample head space in your fermenter because they're usually real foamy fiends.

jflanigan244
08-22-2016, 06:44 PM
And just to clarify, I mean if you're not doing one of the aforementioned hot boil situations, you can just mix in honey to water at room temp and use a paddle or what have you to mix to dissolve then pitch yeast.

It's also important to degass mead every day during primary fermentation. Pop the top, stir it up to get the bubbles out. Since you're using beer yeast, I'd leave ample head space in your fermenter because they're usually real foamy fiends.

hendenburg2
08-22-2016, 06:59 PM
It's also important to degass mead every day during primary fermentation. Pop the top, stir it up to get the bubbles out. Since you're using beer yeast, I'd leave ample head space in your fermenter because they're usually real foamy fiends.

See, the whole degas/aerate thing throws me for a big loop. In beer brewing, the only time you have to aerate is if you have a heavy all-grain mash that requires a long boiling time (several hours) to reduce the volume since gas solubility is inverse to temperature. There's no such thing as degassing either. Best I can guess is that mead is a harsher environment for yeast? More acidic, less nutrients et cetera...

As to the hot boil, both the Black Tea and the Wolf Moon are technically melomels. I'll update later with the process for these (I'm starting them in a few hours). My guess is I'll boil the water first, cool partway with ice, stir in the honey, transfer to the fermenter, and cool the rest of the way with cold water.

As for the bochet, that sounds good and I've never heard of it before. My initial reaction would be to say use two different honeys, a relatively inexpensive one that you caramelize over low heat, stirring frequently and monitoring with a candy thermometer, and a high-quality (perhaps single-flower) honey to add raw. No sense wasting money on good honey that you caramelize, the heat will both break down and evaporate the aromatic compounds you're paying a premium for.

jflanigan244
08-22-2016, 07:21 PM
I've only added tea post fermentation to my meads, so I cannot say what's best there.

But degassing is very important. I'm not an expert on the science around it, but I can tell you from experience that meads I made in the past and didn't degass or use any nutrient on are immediately distinguishable from ones were that protocol is followed.

I believe it has something to do with CO2 buildup? Failure to degass can also lead to fussel alcohol production, I believe.

Also, about the nutrients, if you plan to go higher than like, 10% Abv, I would definitely use a nutrient schedule, which calls for an amount of fermaid K and Dap up front upon must creation, and then at the 1/3 and 2/3 sugar breaks. Somewhere around this site there are guides for determining this. I would also check out Denard Brewing website.

Since you're an experienced beer brewer, think you can tell me what hop, grain, malt combination you'd use for a fruity Belgian type beer? I'm planning a braggot and have no idea about beer stuff

hendenburg2
08-23-2016, 11:29 AM
But degassing is very important. I'm not an expert on the science around it, but I can tell you from experience that meads I made in the past and didn't degass or use any nutrient on are immediately distinguishable from ones were that protocol is followed.

I believe it has something to do with CO2 buildup? Failure to degass can also lead to fussel alcohol production, I believe.

So what happens is when CO2 dissolves in water, it becomes carbonic acid, H2CO3. Part of what contributes to dissolved CO2 is how much you fill your air lock. The more you fill it, the more pressure it takes to displace the water (for the double-bubble type) or plastic piece (for the two-part design). Since gas solubility increases with pressure, the more water in your bubbler, the more H2CO3 buildup in the fermenting must. This is augmented by the fact that yeast don't really have "lungs" - they can produce a ton of CO2, but they can't generate pressure with it. As to fussels, they are generally a product of stresses on the yeast, so I can see how they're related.


Since you're an experienced beer brewer, think you can tell me what hop, grain, malt combination you'd use for a fruity Belgian type beer? I'm planning a braggot and have no idea about beer stuff

What really makes Belgian beers distinct is the yeast. All of the notes of bananas and cloves that typify Belgian ales are purely a result of the yeast, so make sure you get a Belgian Ale strain. You'll never go wrong with White Labs, so here's a link to their 2016 catalog: http://www.whitelabs.com/sites/default/files/YeastGuide-poster.pdf . For hops, I'd probably go with German or French hops (French hops are harder to find). Biscuit malt is a fun grain to play around with, and its maltiness will complement the honey nicely, but I'd take a peek at Charlie Papazian's "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" and pick out a Belgian Ale recipe to start with. Do you already have a braggot recipe/recipe structure in mind, and do you know how to make wort (unfermented beer)?

Also, an update on the three batches -

Everything went smoothly, only modifications to the recipes as follows:
-> To each, I added 1 tablespoon prepared bentonite as per package's instructions
-> Amount of lemon in the Black Tea & Lemon was cut in half

Yeast was pitched at 6:00 PM, and each carboy was shaken for 3 minutes.

As of 7:30 AM, all three batches were showing definite signs of fermentation - bubbler activity (spacing ~15 seconds apart) and krausen (the yeast head, not sure if the term is different in the mead world) formation. I shook each carboy gently to release CO2, and the krausen in each carboy collapsed, at least partially.

jflanigan244
08-23-2016, 12:31 PM
Yup, it is still called a Krausen. What was your Sg for each at start? Did you use any nutrient? I remember reading that California ale yeast needed a pretty low temp, do you have any temp control?

Yeah, I plan to use this recipe and modify it a bit.
https://denardbrewing.com/blog/post/Craff/

I'm told that the wyeast Belgian ale strain is much better with mead than the white labs. I just finished a ferment with 1388 on an orange blossom traditional mead and it worked quote wonderfully. It's this guy, Bray's, patented method; the Bray's one month mead or BOMM. You'll see a good mention of it across the forums.

curgoth
08-23-2016, 01:27 PM
I've had bentonite strip the flavour from my mead, so I advise caution with it. I've had much more luck with SuperKleer as a fining agent, and even then, I only use it if a batch is being really stubborn about clearing in secondary. Pretty much all the fining done on meads is done after fermentation has stopped.

You don't need to boil anything - I make my mead with tap water. I only heat the water for re-hydrating my dry yeast.

Mead is a lot more resistant to infection, because honey is naturally anti-bacterial, because it is often made at a higher ABV than beer, and because a honey must is a lot lower in the nutrients that infections want to chow down on. By the time the ferment breaks down the glycolic acid etc. in the honey, alcohol has arrived to discourage nasties.

Since you don't need to heat it, you don't need to cool it either, unless you want to cold crash. Cold crashing is where you take your mead in secondary and plop it in the fridge (or similar) and cool it down for a few days. This help it clarify, and puts any rambunctious yeast to sleep.

hendenburg2
08-23-2016, 01:29 PM
Damn. Knew I forgot something (taking SG readings). I'll start that today, though I'll have to improvise a thief. I used 1 tsp of yeast nutrient in each, though I can't say which, since the packet was just labeled "yeast nutrient". I'm in San Diego, near the coast, so we don't get a big daily temp swing (total difference between high and low is about 10-15 F, while the high is about 80F), but as a precaution, they're in a box, in a cabinet, in my garage. Since the garage door stays closed, there is very little temp swing. I'd guess the temp stays in the low 70's.

As for the recipe, far be it for me to criticize, but I did notice a few things...
1) That steeping temperature is WAYYYYYY too high. Alpha and Beta amylases both get permanently denatured above 160-170F. The point of steeping specialty grain in what's called a "partial mash extract" recipe (a recipe that uses a combination of specialty grains and malt extract) is twofold: complex flavors and body. Alpha and Beta amylases cut long starch chains into shorter ones (alpha by cutting chains in half, beta by snipping ends), but each has about a 10F temperature range where they work best. If you steep at 170, you'll get the flavor from the grain, but it will feel watery and thin. Shoot for 155F (Alpha's preferred temp) instead, and make sure you don't cross that 160F threshold. Keeping it at 155 will result in lots of short-ish starch chains that are still too big to be digested by yeast, which will lend viscosity to your finished braggot. Bear in mind that in all of this, I say to shoot for the low end because the liquid near the sides of your pot will invariably be hotter than the "bulk" liquid in middle, so stir often and mind your thermometer heat control.
2) Also, go for 30 minutes instead of 20. If you go longer though, you risk pulling stuff like tannins out of the grain. I'd do carapils or biscuit malt instead of rye here. I've never once seen a Belgian recipe that uses rye.
3) For step 4, there's not a really a reason to boil for 15 minutes without hops. The reason beers have a long boil time is because the alpha acids in hops (which become the bitter compounds) are not water-soluble and have to be isomerized by exposure to heat and moving water in order to become water soluble. This process (obviously) takes time. This doesn't matter for step 5, since 2 ounces of hops is what one might add to a slightly hop-forward 5 gallon batch of beer. You're exchanging a lower boiling time for more starting hops. This is actually a good idea, because boiling hops for more than 5 minutes kills all hop aroma in the final beer/braggot and boiling for more than 15 minutes kills any hop flavor other than bitterness. Also, this recipe is using US/UK hop varieties, which is an odd choice for a Belgian. I'd encourage changing, perhaps to one of the German Nobles (Hallertau, Saaz, Tettnanger, Spalt, or Herbrucker) or a Belgian/French such as Strisselspalt, Aramis or Aalst (those might be hard to find). I'd recommend a hop that has a spice flavor, instead of woody, floral or citrus.
4) A bit of a warning - hops pellets are made by shredding hop flowers very finely and pressing into a pellet. When you strain in step 8, use a cheesecloth. Leaving hops, especially pellet hops, in the fermenter for too long can result in a grassy taste.

Could very well be that Wyeast is better for this application. I used to use Wyeast for years, but since San Diego is White Labs' home turf, you don't find many other brands here, except for dry yeasts.

bmwr75
08-23-2016, 03:52 PM
A good start on mead making can be had by reading the last two articles at this link: https://denardbrewing.com/blog/category/articles/

jflanigan244
08-23-2016, 04:02 PM
Whoa, you really went full science guy on me there hah. Thank you for the tips! Much appreciated. I thought rye sounded a bit strange. I plan to switch the Apple juice in the recipe to Blueberry, as well.

Now about yours - if the ale yeasts have a desired temp close to the beer yeasts I've used for mead, you'll want it as close to 68F as possible. Best way on a budget, buy a big storage tub from target Walmart, whatever, and just fill it a few inches deep with water and add ice or ice packs.

If it's just "yeast nutrient" it's almost certainly DAP, diammonioum phosphate. Which is fine. Take the SG today, and assuming they ate maybe 10 points? Add that to the SG and that's a rough guess for your OG.

Divide the number to the right of the 1 in your OG by thirds, and then you can find out when your sugar breaks will be.

For example, OG 1.099 your sugar breaks are 1.066 and 1.033. When the mead hits these breaks, add about a teaspoon of DAP, and either buy some fermaid k, or use bread yeast or any dry brewing yeast you have laying around to feed them. Use 1-2 teaspoons per break of the yeast, you just have to kill it first. Which can be achieved by boiling it. This will help push your fermentation on and make it ferment more cleanly.

Even just one feeding with the boiled yeast hulls can make a world of difference imho

hendenburg2
08-23-2016, 04:49 PM
So I used Safale US05 for my straight dry mead, and its optimum range is 60-72F, although it can go to 77F. For the Wolf Moon and Black Tea & Lemon, I split a WLP001 (it's a "liquid" yeast, I called it that because its consistency is more like a paste), which has an optimum range of 68-73F, and ABV tolerance of 15%.

Here's a question I do have: if I use a sterilized (I autoclave my equipment in a pressure cooker if it's for a mid-fermentation task like taking SG's since it saves me from whipping up a gallon of sanitizer for one quick test) hydrometer and tube, could I return the measured must to the fermenter? It's not a huge deal to throw away the sample with a 5-gallon batch, but daily measuring a 1-gallon batch can add up quickly.

jflanigan244
08-23-2016, 05:25 PM
Oh, yeah, for sure.

When I do tests, I just get a 2 cup measuring cup, and put quarter tea spoon of star San in it and swish my hydrometer around in it.

I use a thief sometimes too. Yeah, that's totally fine.
Once the mead gets over like 9% Abv, it would be pretty hard for anything to infect it, anyways

I've never had any problems from it

hendenburg2
08-23-2016, 05:28 PM
Oh, yeah, for sure.

When I do tests, I just get a 2 cup measuring cup, and put quarter tea spoon of star San in it and swish my hydrometer around in it.

I use a thief sometimes too. Yeah, that's totally fine.
Once the mead gets over like 9% Abv, it would be pretty hard for anything to infect it, anyways

I've never had any problems from it

Do you normally just drop your hydrometer straight in to the fermenter? That probably wouldn't work for me, carboy necks are too narrow to fit tongs

Squatchy
08-23-2016, 05:34 PM
You can throw back your must even if all you do is wash you tools with water. I use start san in a spray bottle. The bad guys die after 3-4% ABV so they won't stand a chance. Sanitation is an awesome thing to practice but in higher alcohol situations like mead you don't need to be as cautious as in brewing beer. :)

jflanigan244
08-23-2016, 05:59 PM
If I'm fermenting in an ale pail, I drop it right in. If I'm using a carboy, I use a thief and/or turkey baster to get the sample

hendenburg2
08-23-2016, 08:11 PM
Okay, so SG's are as follows (23 hours after pitching):

Straight: 1.11
Wolf Moon: 1.095
Black Tea & Lemon: 1.09

The straight mead is a bit lower in total volume, which might explain the higher SG, but it has the best yeast activity. It probably also had a better pitch rate.

How long do you degas for, or what is the best cue that you've shook it enough?

Yenren
08-23-2016, 08:26 PM
Bomm.........

Squatchy
08-23-2016, 08:31 PM
Okay, so SG's are as follows (23 hours after pitching):

Straight: 1.11
Wolf Moon: 1.095
Black Tea & Lemon: 1.09

The straight mead is a bit lower in total volume, which might explain the higher SG, but it has the best yeast activity. It probably also had a better pitch rate.

How long do you degas for, or what is the best cue that you've shook it enough?

Don't shake it unless you want to blow it all over the place.

hendenburg2
08-23-2016, 08:59 PM
Don't shake it unless you want to blow it all over the place.

Is there a better degassing method then?

jflanigan244
08-23-2016, 10:58 PM
Yeah, do NOT shake.

Pop your airlock off and either using a degassing whip, degassing drill bit or some sort of spoon or paddle to stir it up a bit. In the first few days I'd be careful not to stir too hard though, you might get a foam over

hendenburg2
08-24-2016, 11:55 AM
Yeah, do NOT shake.

Pop your airlock off and either using a degassing whip, degassing drill bit or some sort of spoon or paddle to stir it up a bit. In the first few days I'd be careful not to stir too hard though, you might get a foam over

Whoops, a bit late for that one! Didn't shake up or down, just moved the carboy in a tight circle on a level surface, and I didn't get a foam-over. I'll go pick up a degassing whip today. Going back to my other question, though, how can do you tell when you've degassed enough?

Squatchy
08-24-2016, 12:16 PM
The amount of action will decrees significantly.

jflanigan244
08-24-2016, 12:23 PM
Basically, you're done when you're stirring and it's not really bubbling or foaming any more

hendenburg2
08-24-2016, 02:00 PM
The amount of action will decrees significantly.

Okay, definitely didn't do it enough. Did see some marked action decrease, but definitely didn't subside. Also: I went ahead and read your thread on using aeration stones. I already have one from from my experiments trying to quickly force-carb beer so I'll just need to pick up a pump. In theory, the bubbles coming from the stone should provide agitation for degassing as well...

As a tip, though, don't try force carbing with an aeration stone. Bubbles can stack up and force through the lid of a corny keg.