View Full Version : Question about contamination and spices.

02-27-2006, 05:11 PM
Hey I had a quick question for anyone who can answer me. I have a big batch of hard apple cyser that I plan on racking (1st racking) either like later on tonight or tomarrow, bubbler down to about 50 seconds a bleep........I also plan on adding some nice spices, cinnamin, vanilla, orange zest, ginger, possibly some oak chips, and a clove or two into the carboy when I rack it.

Question> Should I worry about contamination by just throwing in these spices and stuff when I rack the mead?
I mean, It seems like most people are just tossing in other ingredients during the first racking without other preparations.....

Would it be better to throw the spices in about a cup of water and pasturize it separately first before tossing it into the carboy? Do I even need to worry about this at all?

Has anyone had contamination problems after tossing in fresh fruit or spices at the first racking? The cyser is just about done fermenting so mabe it has enough alcohol to fend off any of the beasties anyway.

What do you guys think?

I plan to back sweeten this batch later with straight apple juice just before ageing, so will I have to pasturize the juice also before I add it?

Any help to these questions would be great. Thanks.

02-28-2006, 06:33 AM
Hi Raleigh,

the contaminants that we need to consider in brewing are physical -, chemical- and biological contaminants.
Physical cont. being particles that aren't supposed to be in the mead and that can generally be fished or filtered out with a sanitised instrument. If these particles aren't contaminated themselves they are not that much of a problem.
Chemical cont. can be avoided by checking that your equipment and ingredients don't contain unwanted chemicals. Your yeast could die off, give off flavours if grumpy or the chemical could cause an off taste or might even be harmful for the consumer even if it may not stop fermentation.
Biological cont. that are of any concern to the brewer are generally bacteriological and fungal (incl. yeast-like fungus)
This can be avoided by sanitising and giving your yeast a good head start over all the other microbes/fungi in the must.

What fresh fruit is concerned I have no experience as I am concentrating on basic meads at the moment.
The only thing I am doing at the moment is a metheglyn based on a basic mead. The spices were added into the secondary when the PABV was at about 14% and the fermentation was slowing down well. This should ensure that the beasties don't have fun and thrive.
The decision to put the spices into the secondary was also based on the fact that there will be less change in the flavour or smell of the spices when added to the secondary because a strong fermentation (as in the beginning) could (or will) have an effect on the outcome. Also the alcohol serves as a carrier for the smell and taste.
This is - as so much - to the taste and preferences of the brewer.



Dan McFeeley
02-28-2006, 11:04 AM
Question> Should I worry about contamination by just throwing in these spices and stuff when I rack the mead?
I mean, It seems like most people are just tossing in other ingredients during the first racking without other preparations.....

Sometimes you just have to cross your fingers (sacrifice to the gods, pour out a libation to Smeagol, etc. :D ) and hope for the best. A lot of times, that's what happens.

Bacterial contamination does occur, at all levels and stages of meadmaking but this is only natural. In order to eliminate bacterial contamination entirely, mead must be made at absolute sterile conditions. Totally unreasonable for the home meadmaker, or for anyone else, for that matter.

Ken Schramm tested this question under laboratory standards, and documented the results on the Mead Lovers Digest, and later on in his Zymurgy "Mastering Mead" article titled "Optimizing Honey Fermentation (Zymurgy November/December 2005). In one of his melomels he found surprisingly high levels of bacteria, however, the quality of the mead wasn't noticably affected. Winemakers deal ith this issue also -- keep in mind that grapes are dumped into a fermenter along with all kinds of contaminants, dirt, twigs, insects, etc. Due to the huge volume of grapes being processed, you can't keep everything out. In spite of all kinds of nasties being present in the pomace, the wine is fine. Sure, a microbiologist will find bacteria, but the wine is fine.

This is true of all processed foods produced in volume. I believe there are federal laws dictating the amount of "rat vermin" allowable in peanut butter? In everyday terms, that's rodent feces.

You can find Ken's MLD post here:


If you don't have handy access to the Zymurgy article.

02-28-2006, 11:40 AM
One suggestion would be to "make a tea" with the items you plan to add. Boil the water and then while it is still hot, add the spices you want. If you use a steeping bag or some sort of teabag, you can remove the spices after they have soaked a while.

You do not want to use heat on things like fruit because it can cause pectin haze in the batch. The heat basically causes the fruit to gel. Sometimes, as others have stated, you just pitch the batch and trust the yeast to create enough alcohol quickly enough to kill everything else. Supposedly, the magic number on alcohol for a batch to sterilize itself is somewhere around 15 percent ABV. Since a lot of meads and wines are 12 percent or so, it leaves them a bit at risk. But I think that I will likely be making straight meads from now on an racking them onto the fruit in the secondaries in order to minimize the chances of infection...

Good luck,

Dan McFeeley
02-28-2006, 12:35 PM
Tea is definitely a good idea. Keeps everything nice and safe, plus avoids possible bitterness from steeping the spices too long in the fermenting must.

Something to keep in mind is that yeasties secrete organic acids, lowering the pH and helping to inhibit bacteria. It allows them to dominate the microbiological milieu. You're going to get some levels of bacteria, depending on the individual strain and resistance characteristics, but, with a good healthy fermentation off to a roaring start, they will dominate.

02-28-2006, 01:01 PM
One other Item to consider...
When adding spices to a carboy (even in tea form) make sure that tou completely clean the inside of the bottle neck and the airlock bung before resealing the Fermenter.
This will ensure a good seal and prevent a third ype of cvontamination "oxidation"