View Full Version : A few newbie questions
05-27-2005, 08:46 PM
Hey everyone. I've been wanting to make mead for a long time, and when I saw a pretty straightforward recipie posted on another board I decided to go ahead and jump into it. Well, since then I've done some reading on a few forums and gotten Ken Schramm's book on the subject. Now I'm a week into fermentation and I have a few questions since I'd like to do this right. First off here is my recipe:
Honey: Clover Honey, 10 lbs
2 vanilla beans, boiled with the honey
Yeast: Lalvin EC-1118 Saccharomyces Bayanus
Total volume: ~4 gallons
I realize now that boiling the honey may not have been the best approach, and I didn't add any additional nutrients/take an additional hydrometer reading or any of the other things I know in retrospect I ought to have done. My primary fermenter is a 5 gallon glass carboy, which is about 2/3 full with the must. Here are my questions:
1. A week into fermentation, I have no foam but can see a few bubbles rising from the sides. The airlock bubbles about once every 8 seconds, and has been bubbling at this rate since about the second day of fermentation. I know it's hard to tell without hydrometer readings, but does this seem normal or slower than it should be? Is it too late to add nutrients? I should be getting my hydrometer in the mail tuesday so hopefully I'll have a better idea then.
2. The original recipie said to let the must ferment about a month and then bottle it. Now everything I've read says that once fermentaiton is done I should rack to a secondary fermenter and let it sit for six months or so. the problem is that in two months I'll be moving and don't know how easy it will be to transport a 5 gallon carboy 800 miles or so. I only started now because I thought after a month I'd be able to let it age bottled. Is that in any way possible, or will the bottles explode if I don't let it sit in secondary for a few months? Can I at least split up the mead into a couple smaller carboys and maybe leave them sealed for the day or two it will take me to move them?
3. I understand that the yeast I'm using ferments a very dry mead. Is the recipie I've used OK for that yeast, and if not is there anything I can do now to fix it up a bit?
Thanks for any help. Sorry this is so long but I'm trying to atone for a lot of early mistakes. I don't want to lose my first batch if I don't have to!
05-27-2005, 09:21 PM
Ok, if you have a 4 gallon batch and you were using 10# of honey, you should be at about 2.5 pounds of honey per gallon. The EC1118 will easily run that bone dry.
You can add nutrients at almost any time during early fermentation. Good news is that the 1118 is a very fast fermenter, and because it will ferment dry you shouldn't have too much to worry about bottle bombs.
Dry mead will take longer to age and mellow. If you are able to transport it in carboy, I think you'll want to do that. You can stabilize and backsweeten later.
One neat way to add nutrients without adding a lot of chemicals is to add raisins. I prefer to run them through a blender with a bit of molasses and some warm water. The slurry it produces looks funky, but the yeast seem to like it! A good handful ought to be enough.
Good luck. I hope this has helped.
05-27-2005, 09:36 PM
Yeah, that's great. I'll try out the raisins and see what happens. One question about your response. When you say that dry mead takes longer to age and mellow, do you mean that it would not be a good idea to put it straight into the bottle after it's done in primary? From what you've said it sounds like they wouldn't explode, but would it adversly affect the mead?
05-28-2005, 12:30 AM
Just throwing in my two cents worth.
1. First off, I usually ignore foam UNLESS its shooting out of the bottle and embedding raisins in the ceiling.(trust me, it can happen.. :( ) If your mead has no foam, I wouldn't worry too much, especially if you used a well filtered honey which seems to have less foam. Now the glug every 8 seconds sounds a tad slow for day two for ec-1118, but you also have to consider the decent amount of headspace in the carboy. But if its a consistant rate, it sounds like the yeasts are plugging away like they should be. I have only added nutrients at start and at racking, but the consensous is that you can add nutrients as needed until almost bottling time.
2. That is a tough one. The hydrometer will be your best friend in that one decision. Since its EC-1118 and its light on the honey, the yeasts should be able to tear through that pretty quickly. So get a reading a week or so before the move and if the SG is low enough you might be able to bottle. If nothing else, the mead should be ready to rack into small more manageable bottles for the move.
3. That question is mostly personal preferance, but people like me would suggest some kind of nutrient, be it natural like raisins or a sciency mix. I really like David's secret nutrient suggestion, which I definately will be trying in my next batch. EC-1118 supposedly can go to 18% alcohol, so if you wanted to you could feed it probably another 5-6lbs or so before you startd having residual sugars/sweetness. You can do a lot with your batch, so mostly listen to some of the suggestions on here and come up with what you would like to do with this batch, and do it. No biggie, your batch isn't lost.
I am probably rambling and stealing some of David's thunder, but thought you might want a quick answer to your question about dry meads need more time to age and mellow. "a dry mead takes longer to age and mellow" usually means that once a mead has fermented dry, ie no sugars left to ferment, the mead will usually be quite harsh tasting with a serious alcohol bite. The aging and mellowing usually refers to sublte changes that affect flavors and mouth-feel nuances rather than drastic changes. Assuming no sanitary issues come up, bottling a dry mead directly from the primary shouldn't adversely affect the taste but it will slow down the natural ageing and mellowing process.(ie. if its harsh and burns out of the primary, it won't get worse but the natural mellowing will be slower than if left in secondary and bulk aged.) But once a mead has gone dry(SG<1.007), the yeast should be done and there is a very low chance of bottle bombs.(assuming you don't add any more sugars).
ok, hopefully there was something usefull in that ramble,
05-28-2005, 12:36 AM
Welcome to the forum,
I am very new at this myself, but my understanding is that the aging/mellowing time only helps a mead get better. If your yeastied are done doing their work, you can rack the clear mead to a second vessel for bulk aging. I chose dry cherries for my *nutrient*, but I added 2 tbs DAP for good measure. It sounds to me like your yeasties were sort of starving but if you added raisins, you should get some happy bubbles. For better and much more knowleageble answers I would encourage you to stay on this forum, Oskaar, Joe,DB, and many others will no doubt help you along.
Good luck and let us know how it goes
P.S. I see Hedgehog is all over this one ;D His 2 cents are worth about $2 in experience :-[
05-28-2005, 01:45 AM
Some things to consider.
EC-1118 is one of the more aggressive yeasts around and will ferment to 18% ABV, your must with 10 lbs of honey at a total volume of 4 gallons has a PABV of 12% - 14%. Your yeast will not die off right away because they will not have reached their alcohol tolerance. They will however probably become sullen and unhappy because there is no more food left for them. :(
With that in mind, I would not recommend bottling directly after the primary. Consider racking and letting your stuff clear in secondary. Most of my reading leads me to believe that EC-1118 is not a good candidate for lees aging, so as soon as the fermentation is complete, I would rack quickly into your secondary and wait for it to clear. Then you can cold stabilize and bottle.
Hedgehog suggested that you could feed your must to sweeten it if you want to. I'd recommend against that because you can generally feed EC-1118 (and K1V-1118) up to over 20% ABV (I've had K1V up to 21+% ersonally) The problem is as Hedgehog mentioned that it will be harsh. For that same reason I'd take a look at using DAP or Femaid-K nutrient rather than raisins and molasses in this specific case. Again, that's because EC-1118 yeast has a nasty habit of taking new sugar added in the primary and producing those nasty fusel alcohols (rocket fuel flavor) that take a while to age out. It sounds to me like you wanted something that would be quicker to bottle and drink rather than slower and needful of aging.
Dry meads definately take longer to really mellow and gain complexity more so than sweet, but, if you design your must correctly you won't have problems with excessive harshness. Always make sure to note the alcohol tolerance of your yeast, and then design your must to match. EC-1118 is an 18% ABV Tolerance yeast, so if you make your must into the 29-30 brix range, you'll have fed it well with all the sugar it wants, and it will ferment to dryness without being overly harsh, and without off-flavors due to yeast-stress from lack of food.
Since you only have a couple of months, before you move, racking to a carboy is not optimal, so I would suggest finding a used corny keg at your LHBS and racking into that. It seals well, no danger of leaking, they're tough, durable and easy to transport. There are adapters for airlocks you can use with them as well.
If not, you can rack to a good food grade plastic carboy for the transport, and then rack again into glass once you're moved. I would not bottle this stuff in a month though, because I think you're asking for trouble unless you stabilize with K-meta-bisufite and K-sorbate.
The slow popping of the airlocks is troublesome, and owing to headspace would make sense. Just one question. What temperature was the must when you pitched your yeast? If it was too hot/cold your yeasties may have gotten shocked, and decided to take a rest before they got to work.
Hope that helps,
05-28-2005, 05:47 AM
Thanks for all the suggestions. The corney keg idea seems worth looking into. I've already added the raisin nutrient, and probably would have ended up doing so anyway since my LHBS does not keep reliable hours. So far it hasn't affected it much but it's only been a couple hours. I don't mind letting the mead age though as long as I can get it moved, so hopefully those nasty alcohols will mellow out eventually.
Again owing to my inexperience I'm not sure what temperature the must was when I pitched the yeast. It was still fairly warm, I would say somewhere around 80-85 degrees farenheit. My impression at the time was that it needed to be pitched before it got too cool (ie room temperature) so that the yeast wouldn't remain dormant. Perhaps that was too warm. Also, the must probably wasn't oxidized as well as it should have been, since it was boiled and I didn't know that it was important. Oh well, at least I'll have a lot more of the proper gear/knowledge for when I start brewing beer as well. And maybe this stuff will turn out OK in the end.
I'll certainly be looking around the forums and reading through Shramm's book for some ideas for what to do with this batch. Since I'll probably be splitting it into smaller bits anyway maybe I'll try a couple different things and see how they pan out, since this is sort of a learning the ropes batch anyway. Thanks again for all the suggestions, this has been a great help!
06-01-2005, 07:37 PM
OK, I just got a hydrometer reading, and it looks like the sg is about 1.050. This is 11 days after I initially pitched the yeast. The bubbling rate in the airlock hasn't changed much, though it seems to be a little faster now. As I said before I'm not sure what the original sg of the must was, is there a way to calculate that now? If so, how do I know if the fermentation is going too slowly or not?
As far as the transportation goes, I've decided just to rack the mead into two 3-gallon carboys and keep it here at my parents house. I'll probably come back some time in november/december and I'll just bottle it then. Does that seem reasonable or does secondary fermentation require a lot of babysitting? Thanks again for any help!
Oh, and almost forgot. After you take hydrometer readings is it OK to throw the test must back into the fermenter, or does it become strictly a sneak preview?
06-01-2005, 09:26 PM
Sorry that I never got back around to answering your questions about aging and mellowing. Sounds like it was most thoroughly covered.
As far as your hydrometer sample, I have a personal policy. Once out of the carboy it STAYS out of the carboy. I think Oskaar refers to this as "spillage". It is a good time to get a taste sample.
It sounds like fermentation is pretty well complete, although it is likely to finish at 1.00 or a bit less. Racking carefully to avoid the lees, and leaving it until November should be OK. Oskaar might have a better take on that. You probably don't want to leave it sitting on a bunch of lees for a long time.
Good luck and keep us posted.
06-07-2005, 09:19 PM
OK, I'm on week three now and the gravity is about 1.030. The mead is still a bit sweet but it has developed kind of a sharp, unpleasant aftertaste. Seems like fermentation is still going strong, but I'm wondering if I should rack now to get it off the lees or just wait for the fermentation finish up. If the unpleasant taste is just due to the youth/strength of the mead, then I guess there's no nead to worry. But if it's due to yeast stress or infection, is there anything that can be done about it?
06-08-2005, 01:27 AM
No, no, you're almost certainly fine. Mead can go through a lot of flavor and odor changes throughout fermentation, and afterward too. If you get an infection, trust me, there won't be any doubt when it comes to the taste. Your yeasts won't be stressed at this point either -- your recipe provides the food and nutrients they need, so don't be concerned. You're at the point now, though, where every meadmaker must deal with the most difficult and persistent problem of all: finding patience. :)
06-08-2005, 04:06 AM
Hehe yeah, it's becoming clear that patience is the hardest part of this process. Thanks for all your help, hopefully I'll be a bit less fretfull over the next batch!
Three weeks is still very very young. Sometimes that harshness can last many many months before it mellows out, but trust me that with patients you will be rewarded. I age most of my meads between 12 and 18 months before I consider serving them to other people, I find that before this time they just havenít reached their full potential.
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