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View Full Version : Worrying myself to death over secondary...first batch...advice please!!!



Cristos
06-10-2017, 10:57 AM
Hello, all! Stumbled upon this site by accident when I was getting ready to put together my first batch of mead, and have been lurking about reading various posts and whatnot, but this is my first official posting here. Following a simple show mead recipe in Ken Schramm's book, my first recipe went as follows:

15lbs locally produced honey
Distilled water to 5 gallons
Lalvin 71b yeast
yeast nutrient and energizer

My O.G. for this was somewhere in the 1.095-1.100 range. It was hard to tell since this was my first time, and I did not have a tube in which to get an exact reading; I was just sanitizing the hydrometer every time I wanted a reading and putting it directly into the must. I'm not super anal about getting an exact number. I figure as long as I have a good idea of how the fermentation is going, I'm doing ok.

Anyway, on to my question. After reading several posts on this forum, and reading a bit more in Ken's book, I discovered that 1.) There is no specific time in which I should rack off lees into secondary, and 2.) it is generally a good idea to wait until the primary fermentation is either complete, or showing signs of slowing down before racking. So that's what I did. My final gravity reading was taken 2 days ago, and was right at or a little less than 1.000. That, to me, was pretty close to complete. So I decided that yesterday would be my racking day. I had also decided that I wanted to add a little fruit and spices to the secondary. Not much, mind. My goal was to have the honey be the main star of the show, with the fruit and spices playing backup. I have several bags of locally grown and picked blueberries laying about in my meat freezer, so I decided to use just one bag, approx. 1 lb thawed. My spices came from another recipe I picked up using a google search with tweaks and additions. It went as follows:

2 whole cinnamon sticks
approx 6-8 cloves (this amount had me worried afterwards, but they are well past their prime, so I'm hoping they have mellowed)
approx 6 allspice
1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice (I know this is not nearly enough for a 5 gallon batch..I was distracted at the time..I can always add more)

So I woke up this morning to find that it looks like the fermentation has picked up quite a bit. My airlock is releasing one bubble every 6-8 seconds. All the fruit has floated to the top and there is a nice little bit of foam in the neck of the carboy. It also looks like I may have had some blowout during the night, as there are a couple of pieces of spice clinging to the inside of my airlock.
My question, finally, is have I ruined this mead with my additions? Sure seems like the fermentation has picked up again, which is ok, but I'm worried about a possible contamination issue since the ferment has not yet completed. Hopefully I am just being paranoid and it won't be an issue. I'm sure all of you know that good raw local honey doesn't come cheap, and this thing has quickly become like my little bubbly baby, and I don't want to see my efforts go down the drain because I jumped the gun and got too hasty.

Sorry for the long post. I'll be waiting anxiously for the advice. Thanks in advance!

caduseus
06-20-2017, 07:44 AM
What does it taste like?
You can always kill the ferment with sorbate and k metabisulfite.
Next time talk to us BEFORE you pitch. I don't EVER recommend "yeast nutrient" but rather one of the fermaid products

Squatchy
06-20-2017, 09:28 AM
WHat is your concern exactly? You don't have to worry about the ride along things on your adjuncts. The active yeast and alcohol in your mead will take care of that. And you have no need to worry about opening your vessel. Adding fruit added more sugar and the yeast are eating it. Bubble don't mean a thing. It will bubble for weeks and months after ferment is over. Your hydrometer is what counts. Learn to read it

dingurth
06-20-2017, 01:42 PM
First, welcome to gotmead! Sorry that your first post only appeared to us now. There is a bit of a delay for new members.

But, your mead should be fine. At around 9-10% alcohol, the must is basically self sanitizing. And with your OG and the SG when racking, you'd be well over 12%.
As squatchy said, adding the blueberries added sugar and probably diluted your must as well, allowing fermentation to start again. If you don't want this to happen, do as caduseus says and add potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate when racking.
Trust your nose and taste buds. Most infections will smell or taste bad.

You might have added too many spices if you wanted them to be subtle/in the background. But this should still be a fine mead.
Having learned this lesson myself, you'll want to rack again in about a month to get off the spices and blueberries. It can be bad to leave them on too long, but again, go by taste.

bernardsmith
06-20-2017, 04:26 PM
Cristos - Welcome, and as the others have said, don't worry. Mead is far more forgiving than beer when it comes to spoilage. The pH is lower, the amount of alcohol in the mead is higher, honey is in and of itself a bactericide. But I do have one thought. Looks like you chose distilled water as the solvent to dilute your honey. Honey has almost none of the nutrients and minerals that the yeast need (that's why you need to add Fermaid O or K or something similar) but distilled water has all possible minerals removed through distillation. You really want to use mineral rich spring water especially if you are making a relatively high alcohol by volume (ABV) mead. The yeast really need to be as viable as they can be and distilled water kinda hamstrings the yeast cells even before they begin to transform sugars into alcohol. within reason, even good quality tap water is a better choice than distilled water (if it contains chlorine you can allow the water to stand and the chlorine will evaporate off and if the water contains chloramine you simply add K-meta (camden tablets) and that will neutralize the chloramine. Of course if your tap water is too poor to drink then bottled water is the way to go but avoid distilled water except for cheese making.

Squatchy
06-20-2017, 08:19 PM
Go catch Bernard!! One other thing. NEVER EVER rehydrate yeast in distilled water as it will cause the yeast to implode as the water seeks to neutralize the components Guts) inside the yeast and will will wound every single cell guaranteed.

mannye
06-21-2017, 11:36 AM
What they said. And don't worry. It sounds like your batch is off to a good start. You can read the forum for years but you'll only get better by actually making mead. Yes you will make mistakes and yes, you might make some undrinkable meads but as time goes on you'll get way better.

I suggest you also make some one gallon batches so as to not make your noob mistakes too costly. And even mistakes can later turn out to be great after a couple of years so never pour mead down the drain!

Cristos
06-22-2017, 07:08 PM
Thanks for the help, all. Unfortunately, I was not aware that there would be such a long waiting period for posting my first question, but luckily a member was kind enough to ease my troubled mind that same day. So since I posted this question, I've discovered a few things. First, that my yeast basically ate up all the sugar that was in my blueberries, and that's what caused the fermentation to pick back up, which was what everyone else has said. Secondly, I'm less concerned with having over spiced my mead since pulling a couple of samples and done taste tests as well as nose tests. If anything I would say that it isn't really showing much spice flavor at all.

So now I have a couple of new questions. If all the sugar was eaten by my yeast, then is there any point to leaving the blueberries on the mead now? Secondly, I'm also concerned with oxidation now. I've done some searching through the forums and discovered that not too many people are concerned with oxidation unless you are doing a melomel, which I guess is what I'm doing, though I wouldn't really call it a fruit mead. Looking at my carboy, the mead is a very dark orange, borderline on brownish color. That being said, when I pull samples to do tastings, what I get is a nice light honey color that seems to be clearing nicely. Also, it doesn't smell sour or off to me. Smells like a young, sweet wine to my nose so maybe I'm being paranoid?

So at what point am I doing myself a disservice by leaving the fruit on the mead? I don't want to freak myself out like last time and rack when there's no need to, but I also don't want to leave it like it is if all it's doing at this point is slowing down my clearing time.

Also, I'm giving considerable thought to adding more pumpkin pie spice. What would be a good quantity to use for 5 gallons? and what is the best way to go about adding it?

Thanks again for all the helpful advice!

mannye
06-24-2017, 10:12 AM
How much headspace do you have in the carboy? If it's up to or near the neck (less than 4 inch diameter of exposed mead) you're fine. Just don't get cocky and let the airlock go dry. Yes mead is more resistant to oxidation than wine and especially beer, but its not oxidation-proof! I have 5 gallons of sweet "sherry" I look at every day to remind me not to let an airlock dry out.

Don't get crazy with the spices right now. You're barely done with primary. Over time, mead has a tendency to radically change the way it smells and tastes as the magic gremlins do what they do. That causes flavors you though were muted, like the spices, to emerge as the star of the show!

I have a few questions for you:

How do you know the sugar in the blueberries has been eaten up?

What is the current hydrometer reading?

Do you have a large amount of trub/lees on the bottom of the carboy? 71B is not a yeast you want to leave your precious mead on for any length of time as it can give off flavors as i decomposes. So if your batch has stopped and is near 1.000 (I would say anywhere from 1.010 and lower) then rack it out of primary into a secondary asap.

Cristos
06-24-2017, 10:46 AM
There's maybe a couple inches of airspace from the bottom of the bung to the must, so I think I'm ok with the headspace. I assumed that when the fermentation that started because of the addition of blueberries was complete, then the yeast must have consumed most of the sugars, since that was what started the fermentation to begin with? I haven't pulled a gravity reading in a couple weeks, but the last one I took had me sitting at around 0.994-0.996. Putting my OG and FG into the mead calculator gave me an abv of right at 14% which is supposed to be the alcohol tolerance of 71b, so I'm assuming it is basically finished with fermentation, and any additional sugar left from the blueberries would help sweeten the final product? I just don't know how much is left.

I haven't looked in the bottom of the carboy. My primary vessel was a 6.5 gal plastic wine bucket. I racked it off into the carboy when gravity reached the 1.000 mark.

Cristos
06-24-2017, 10:52 AM
Edit to my last post:

I just checked the bottom of the carboy and there's clearly a thick layer of lees there, maybe about a half inch thick. I guess I need to go ahead and re-rack into another carboy then, and just take it off the blueberries and all?

mannye
06-24-2017, 11:04 AM
Indeed. Get it off the lees and take it off everything. Make sure you keep as little headspace as you can and give it a taste. You don't have to add the sorbate and k-meta yet if you're not going to bottle, but it does give some protection against oxidation. My own preference is to avoid adding the chems until it's absolutely necessary, but, full disclosure, I try not to add them at all. I'm sure others have a different take on that and I'll let them respond.

But even I will admit that the addition of a Camden tablet is good insurance against oxidation. :)

Cristos
06-24-2017, 11:16 AM
Looks like I know what I'm doing today, then. Thank you, mannye, for the advice. And to everyone else as well. I'm glad I stumbled upon this resource.

mannye
06-24-2017, 11:54 AM
Don't panic! You're doing everything right so far. The more you make the more you learn. I always recommend tasting the mead as often as possible (even though it's a pain) because after a while you start learning what it's supposed to taste like at every stage and your sense of smell and taste will quickly let you know if something is going sideways.

Don't worry! As long as you keep everything under control, chances are you will have a successful ferment. But keep in mind that yeast is alive and it doesn't care what they write on the papers that come with the yeast. It will act however it wants to and take as long as it wants. You can't control that.

You CAN control:

1. The kind of water you use. I use spring water whenever I can, filtered tap water in a pinch.

2. The way you re-hydrate the yeast. There are a bunch of online guides. When I started out I searched "how to correctly prepare yeast for fermenting" on google and got an entire afternoon's worth of reading. I suggest that to everyone starting out not just in mead, but beer and wine as well. You can also ask the company that make the yeast. They know the product better than anyone else and I've often called or emailed to ask a question on a specific yeast.

3. Temperature. Each yeast has a temperature that keeps it the happiest. The more you can stay in the "happy window" the better off your ferment will be. There are again, many ways of accomplishing this from crazy DIY setups to using freezers and even air conditioning a small room. Some people are lucky enough that the basement stays the right temp year-'round! I hate them! :) There are many threads on here about it and a google search will turn up another entire day of reading on the subject.

4. Procedure. There is a pretty clear protocol now that's been established over the last few years that is what we call "modern rules for mead making" and even though it's still evolving, the aim has always been to help people make good mead and simplify the procedure as much as possible. We have tried to debunk the outdated methods applied to mead making and establish new ones such as:

There is not need to boil anything. All you are doing is blowing flavor out of the pot.
No need to add acid up front. If anything a mead must is TOO acidic and needs buffering. The use of Fermaid O and it's natural buffering ability has somewhat eliminated the
need to buffer. This is one of those "still evolving" things I mentioned.

We know that you rehydrate/aerate the must/pitch/degass for the first few days/feed at pitch, 1/3, 2/3, then leave it alone/transfer to secondary at the end. That's the basic formula for making mead. with zero details of course...but that's the backbone. From that formula, there are an infinite number of variations which our great mead making community is constantly exploring and experimenting with.

But I've always thought that one first has to master the basics before branching out.

Dadux
06-24-2017, 12:35 PM
Don't panic! You're doing everything right so far. The more you make the more you learn. I always recommend tasting the mead as often as possible (even though it's a pain) because after a while you start learning what it's supposed to taste like at every stage and your sense of smell and taste will quickly let you know if something is going sideways.

Don't worry! As long as you keep everything under control, chances are you will have a successful ferment. But keep in mind that yeast is alive and it doesn't care what they write on the papers that come with the yeast. It will act however it wants to and take as long as it wants. You can't control that.

You CAN control:

1. The kind of water you use. I use spring water whenever I can, filtered tap water in a pinch.

2. The way you re-hydrate the yeast. There are a bunch of online guides. When I started out I searched "how to correctly prepare yeast for fermenting" on google and got an entire afternoon's worth of reading. I suggest that to everyone starting out not just in mead, but beer and wine as well. You can also ask the company that make the yeast. They know the product better than anyone else and I've often called or emailed to ask a question on a specific yeast.

3. Temperature. Each yeast has a temperature that keeps it the happiest. The more you can stay in the "happy window" the better off your ferment will be. There are again, many ways of accomplishing this from crazy DIY setups to using freezers and even air conditioning a small room. Some people are lucky enough that the basement stays the right temp year-'round! I hate them! :) There are many threads on here about it and a google search will turn up another entire day of reading on the subject.

4. Procedure. There is a pretty clear protocol now that's been established over the last few years that is what we call "modern rules for mead making" and even though it's still evolving, the aim has always been to help people make good mead and simplify the procedure as much as possible. We have tried to debunk the outdated methods applied to mead making and establish new ones such as:

There is not need to boil anything. All you are doing is blowing flavor out of the pot.
No need to add acid up front. If anything a mead must is TOO acidic and needs buffering. The use of Fermaid O and it's natural buffering ability has somewhat eliminated the
need to buffer. This is one of those "still evolving" things I mentioned.

We know that you rehydrate/aerate the must/pitch/degass for the first few days/feed at pitch, 1/3, 2/3, then leave it alone/transfer to secondary at the end. That's the basic formula for making mead. with zero details of course...but that's the backbone. From that formula, there are an infinite number of variations which our great mead making community is constantly exploring and experimenting with.

But I've always thought that one first has to master the basics before branching out.

The only thing i cant agree with in this post is that tasting mead is a pain ;D
About the chems you mentioned, i dont use them unless backsweetening. And that way you can somehow control the yeast.

But this post has great advice. Try learning the basics first, and as importantly, learning the why's behind what you do, so you can them modify the protocols to fill the needs of each different mead.
As caduseus said in his post a while back, next time post a full recipe and plan BEFORE doing it, so we can advice you and save you potential mistakes/suggest improvements. Even before buying the stuff.

Cristos
06-24-2017, 03:30 PM
So I went to my LHBS and grabbed another carboy. Just finished racking off the lees/spices/blueberries. I must have had more than 5 gallons originally because I grabbed a 5 gallon carboy and filled it halfway up the neck with extra left over. So to compensate I thought I would siphon myself a nice glass full and enjoy the fruits of my labor thus far. I want to give my thoughts on the taste, aroma and whatnot to get everyone's opinion on how it seems to be coming along. Currently, the mead is very dry in the mouth and finish. It tastes a lot like vodka. Light in body. Smells a lot like listerine (not sure how it's spelled). On the positive side, it has nice legs in the glass, nice color, and it seems to be clearing well. What do you guys think?

mannye
06-24-2017, 03:52 PM
Sounds good! I didn't get a notion for if you thought it tasted good or bad? The vodka taste is what we often call "hot" as many high alcohol meads can be. That will simmer down after a few months. For now, put it in a cool, dark place and forget about it for a while. Get another batch going!

All I can think about is getting back into the TARDIS to start a new batch!

Cristos
06-24-2017, 05:41 PM
I honestly don't have an opinion one way or another at the moment. I've read enough to know that I'm basically on the right track taste-wise, and that it will improve with time. That being said, I find my first few tastes of a sample to be, um, not very pleasant. That being said, the more I drink, the better it becomes. It's the craziest thing :drunken_smilie:

Dadux
06-24-2017, 07:48 PM
I honestly don't have an opinion one way or another at the moment. I've read enough to know that I'm basically on the right track taste-wise, and that it will improve with time. That being said, I find my first few tastes of a sample to be, um, not very pleasant. That being said, the more I drink, the better it becomes. It's the craziest thing :drunken_smilie:

So on the cons side, your mead is probably not great as standards go, and you'll need to age it so it becomes better.

On the plus side, this is completely normal in new meadmakers. Dont be very worried about it. Once you learn more your mead will be better and better.

Also what you probably feel is a lot of alcohol and fusels. After drinking once you get accustomed to that feeling and will feel it less. Vodka taste usually means some fusels. High abv mead has a alcohol hot early on but diminishes. If its very strong it will take more time.

You can do a few things now (apart from making another batch). You either
-let it sit and rack again in a couple.months maybe bottle after some months
-do some additions. Stabilizing ans backsweetenig can help covering faults and "improving" your mead (only taste wise, the faults will be there just less noticeables). It also adds body
Or/and you can try adding some oak or even vanilla. This helps with the dryness (adds some body) and diminishes hotness and alcohol bite. Oak anf mead go great together. You need to add just a bit, so it wont impart much flavour but still add to body mouthfeel and correct the hotness.

Cristos
06-24-2017, 08:09 PM
Noted. This was my first attempt at brewing anything, so I was not expecting perfection. Backsweetening and adding oak were two things I had in the back of my mind as options anyway. If I were to do those two things, at what point should I add the oak and backsweeten? I've heard you don't want to leave mead on oak for too long. Can I do these two things at any time between now and when I decide to bottle?

Dadux
06-24-2017, 08:36 PM
You can do both at anytime, yes. If you are adding oak you have different varieties and forms. If you can, get cubes/staves instead of chips. Squatchy wrote a post called wood management thread about oaking. Is heavy reading but good info anout the different types and what they do. You dont need to get to it right away. But oaking with cubes is usually done for 1+ months so some planning is adviced.

Backsweetening is done after stabilizing. Ideally stabilize then wait a day or two before adding more honey. Dont add too much. You can do small additions and tasting to see if the sweetness level is at the desired point. You cant take the honey out. So as you dont know what sg you are gonna want take a careful approach. That way you'll learn more. Honey added this way takes a couple months to integrate fully and i recommend you wait some after adding and consuming. Also as your first time stabilizing dont bottle too soon after backsweetening, to make sure fermentation does not restart.

winter_hunt
06-24-2017, 08:45 PM
I put oak on what's supposed to be a "dry Mead"... But at only 10% it's tasted pretty bland. The oak was almost magical. I put a full packet in...30 grams? It's been on that for 2 months easily, doesn't taste bad at all. Still trying to figure out if I can up the honey for higher ABV or add flavors/herbs, or what.

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk

Cristos
06-24-2017, 10:42 PM
So if I understand right Dadux, I could in theory let this batch sit for a month or so, then stabilize and backsweeten, let sit for a couple weeks, then add oak and let sit for another month, correct? How's all that going to affect my bottling time?

edit: nevermind, I see you answered those questions pretty much in your last post. Sounds like backsweetening should probably be last on my agenda before bottling.

Dadux
06-25-2017, 05:23 AM
So if I understand right Dadux, I could in theory let this batch sit for a month or so, then stabilize and backsweeten, let sit for a couple weeks, then add oak and let sit for another month, correct? How's all that going to affect my bottling time?

edit: nevermind, I see you answered those questions pretty much in your last post. Sounds like backsweetening should probably be last on my agenda before bottling.

No, not last necesarily. I was just warning not to backsweeten and bottle too son after.
You can do it however you want. But, since backsweetening adds a lot of flavour if doing both i think its better to backsweeten, and when you like the sweetness level, then oak. If you do it the other way around, after backsweetening you might not taste the oak.

About bottling time, you bottle when you want. Some people here bulk age. Some others bottle age...
The idea is usually to bottle mead that is good and you like and usually, clear mead. But some people will keep them in the bucket for a year and bottle when they want to drink. Others bottle when all the additions have been done and then wait some more to drink it. That is your choice.