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Thread: Struggling mead

  1. #1

    Default Struggling mead

    Hello,
    I started my first batch of mead in Nov. '11, racked it far too early, and then allowed it to sit. I've tried several things--the last of which being Champagne yeast--and now the cloudy must is limping along again. I would like any advice that you can give me. Here is what I have done,

    I followed the recipe for 5 gallons of "Medium-Sweet Orange Blossom Mead" from Ken Schramm's "The Complete Meadmaker" (pg. 30). It called for,
    15lbs o honey (I used unrefined honey from a local beekeeper)
    4 gallons of water (I used distilled water [later learned that was a bad call])
    2 tsp nutrient
    1 tsp energizer
    2 packets Lalvin 71b-1122

    I mixed the honey and 1 gallon of water to 160 F for 10 minutes. I then added the must to the other 3-4 gallons of chilled water, waited till the temp dropped, and pitched the re-hydrated yeast. My fermentation went very well and I developed a thick yeast cake at the bottom of the carboy. The initial gravity was 1.141

    Sadly, I did not have a mentor and got the idea that I needed to rack the mead after only 2 weeks, and so, 2 weeks later, with a healthy fermentation and a steadily bubbling lock, I racked the must.After 1st racking the gravity was 1.090. The must recovered and developed a new yeast cake and continued to ferment. Then, 2 weeks after that, I racked it again. It had a gravity of 1.075. I'm kicking myself now, but I guess I just hadn't done the necessary reading.

    The second racking killed the fermentation and the mead became stuck. I left it alone for about a month. I then attempted a 71b reboot, but it failed and the mead sat for two additional months. With each additional racking I lost mead and the surface is now some 4-5 inches from the top of the carboy.

    On the 19th (March) of last month I attemped another reboot, this time with Red Star "Pasteur Champagne" yeast. I added the yeast first to 1 quart of must, and then to a gallon. The yeast acclimatized for a day in the gallon jug, then I added it to the carboy.

    The mead fermented at a good pace for several weeks then tapered off to one bubble through the lock every 10-15 seconds. On April 7 siphoned off a small quantity of must and tested it. It had a gravity of 1.034, a strong alcoholic smell, and tasted very yeasty. I purchased a vinometre which gave the must an alcohol volume of 9%. I tested the ph and the strip came out ph 4.0 (orange).

    That is where I stand. Forgive me for writing such a long post, but I think that the info is pertinent if I am to save the batch. What do you think I need to do? Does the yeast need nutrients? It is still very cloudy, like lemon juice. I would really like to save this batch, and even if it tastes terrible at the end, I want to see it through. Also, later, should I use a clarifying agent like isinglass? Thanks a lot,

    SR

  2. #2
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    OOOH, at this point in the process, with ABV at or above 9%, restarting will be problematic. We've actually covered this in many older threads and I don't have time to search for one that explains the process in detail, but you can try out our forum search tool (the "Search" in the command line bar near the top of this page) and search for the terms 'restart stuck fermentation' and 'acclimated starter' and you'll get some clues. (search without the quote marks.)
    Na zdrowie!

    Wayne B.

  3. #3

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    I think you've got two options.

    1. Take heroic measures to restart the fermentation
    2. Leave it sweet but brew up another batch and let it ferment bone dry. Then mix the sweet and dry together and make a semi-sweet.


    For option 1 I would do the following...
    • In a 5 gallon bucket or 6 gallon carboy - Make a 1 gallon starter using honey and water at an initial gravity of ~1.050
    • Rehydrate 5g of EC-1118 yeast in Go-Ferm and pitch into the starter
    • Add 5g of Fermaid-K to the starter after you pitch the yeast. This will give that starter ~170ppm YAN.
    • Aerate it twice a day for a couple of days.
    • Check the pH of your stuck mead. If its below 3.2 adjust it upwards using Potassium Carbonate or Potassium Bicarbonate. I like to use Asian "lye water" which is a mix of potassium carbonate and some sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). I use very little since it is a very strong base, and because of that I can not detect the baking soda in the finished product's flavor.
    • Start Adding your stuck mead at a rate of about 50% of the starter volume per day. So, since you started with 1 Gallon you would add 1/2 Gallon of the stuck Mead. The next day you have 1.5 gallons of "starter" so add 3/4 of a gallon of stuck mead. The next day add a gallon, then 1.5 Gallons, etc... Repeat until all the stuck mead has been mixed into the starter.
    • Add 5-Grams of Fermaid-K then leave it alone until its finished fermenting.


    For option 2 I would create a traditional mead:
    • S.G = 1.090 (About 13lbs of Honey for a 5 gallon batch)
    • Water to balance @ 5 gallons total
    • 2 Tablespoons of Bentonite that has been boiled in 2 cups of water added before the yeast pitch.
    • 5g of DAP and 8g Fermaid-K at pitch
    • 3g DAP and 8g Fermaid-K at 1/3 Break
    • No need to heat the water or honey.
    • Yeast is your preference. At ~12% ABV anything will do the job. Just be sure to rehydrate it properly. (Use Go-Ferm if you've got it.)


    Aerate the must daily until you hit the 1/3 Sugar Break (SG = 1.060) then add the final nutrients and leave it alone until it goes dry. (SG < 1.000)

    Watch the pH in the first few days. If it drops below 3.2 I usually adjust it upwards with the Asian "Lye Water". Typically I'll add it 1/2 teaspoon at a time.

    Once it is bone dry rack it off the lees and stabilize it with K-Meta and sorbate. I suggest stabilizing it because you are going to be mixing it with a sweet mead. The yeast could take off again and dry it out unless you kill'em'all.

    Once it has dropped clear go ahead and blend the two together until you find the taste you want.

    *Note* I add the bentonite to for turbidity in the must, to give the yeast places to attach to, and to add some nucleation points so the CO2 comes out of solution faster. Plus I find adding it at the beginning helps it to drop clear MUCH faster than without. But this is just *my* way of doing it.

    The above nutrient schedule will add ~200ppm of YAN to the 5 gallon batch. Generally ~150ppm is the minimum amount required for a healthy fermentation but I tend to bump it up a touch just to be sure.



    Good luck.

    -Demolitron

  4. #4
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    Are you apposed to having a sweet mead? If so you wanna double check Demolitron's post. Otherwise top this off with some water, let it age for a while, and see where the yeast halt at.
    Bees stole my signature file!

  5. #5

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    I just want to double check if I read the post right.

    Starting Gravity 1.141
    Current Gravity 1.034

    so you got a gravity drop of 1.107 and you used Lalvin 71B which has a tolerance of 14% which is equal to about a 1.105 drop. So by my calculations you have a 14% alcohol mead which may drop a little more still, but should be pretty much complete. I say rack it off the lees, top off if need be and let it clear and age. The aging will mellow out the strong alcohol taste.
    " ...no sense hauling empty carboys around when full ones take up just as much space. " -TheFlyingBeer (on HomeBrewTalk)

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by TAKeyser View Post
    so you got a gravity drop of 1.107 and you used Lalvin 71B which has a tolerance of 14% which is equal to about a 1.105 drop. So by my calculations you have a 14% alcohol mead which may drop a little more still, but should be pretty much complete. I say rack it off the lees, top off if need be and let it clear and age. The aging will mellow out the strong alcohol taste.
    He did say later in the post that he tried a repitch with both 71B and also with Red Star champagne yeast, which if it's anything like Lalvin's champagne yeast EC-1118, might be a little more robust.

    But overall, I agree, I don't think you're going to get much further with this unless you dilute it a little, a starting gravity of 1.141 would have been pretty harsh for any yeast, and I suspect it might also have needed more nutrients early on, we've come a long way since the Compleat Meadmaker was published. I just checked and it does say on page 32 that you're aiming for a SG between 1.112 and 1.128, so either your honey was on the sweeter side of normal, your scale weighs a little heavy or your water measurements were a little off. Did you ferment in a bucket or a carboy?

    Oh, and if you started at 1.141 and it's now down at 1.034 or so, your vinometre is incorrect. As TAKeyser says, it's around 14%, not 9%. I've never used one so I don't know how yours works but it's possible that the amount of residual sugars might be skewing your results, some wine products are calibrated based on assuming the wine goes dry.
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "When you consider that laziness and procrastination are the fundamentals of great mead, it is a miracle that the mazer cup happens." Medsen Fey, 2014
    "Sure it can be done. I've never heard of it, but I do things I've never heard if all the time. That is the beauty of being a brewer!" - Loveofrose, 2014
    "I tend to....um, er, experiment, and go outside the box. Sometimes outside the whole department store." - Ebonhawk, 2014

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chevette Girl View Post
    He did say later in the post that he tried a repitch with both 71B and also with Red Star champagne yeast, which if it's anything like Lalvin's champagne yeast EC-1118, might be a little more robust.
    OK Red Star Pasteur Champagne is 16% so you're still close and fermentations do sometimes end early, especially with a high gravity must, which you had. You'll probably still get a slooooowwwww drop while it ages and will probably end in Schramm's target range.


    Quote Originally Posted by Chevette Girl View Post
    Oh, and if you started at 1.141 and it's now down at 1.034 or so, your vinometre is incorrect. As TAKeyser says, it's around 14%, not 9%. I've never used one so I don't know how yours works but it's possible that the amount of residual sugars might be skewing your results, some wine products are calibrated based on assuming the wine goes dry.
    Vinometer's are for traditional wine musts (yes I know Mead is classified as a wine) and are not accurate with non-grape products so that would explain why you got an inaccurate reading. You can punch your Starting and final Gravities into the GotMead Calculator to get you true ABV (currently 14.02%)
    " ...no sense hauling empty carboys around when full ones take up just as much space. " -TheFlyingBeer (on HomeBrewTalk)

  8. #8

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    Phew! I thought I was dead in the water, where really I was just done! Thanks.

    Would you mind answering a few questions about clarification? I had thought that clarity was a sign of finality, that's why I figured that my mead wasn't finished (because it is still cloudy). If my ABV is between 12-16, and the must is still cloudy, what would be the reason? I have not been using campden tablets, will they make a difference in clarity? Would you suggest I use something like isinglass?

    Also, when I rack the mead would you suggest that I top off the carboy with sanitized water (the surface of the must is 5" from the bottom of the thick glass of the carboy's mouth)? If I really do have ABV 14-16, that's pretty dry. If I'm going for drinkability, would dilution be a boon or a bane? Would you suggest I add additional honey to sweeten the final product?

    Thank you all so much for your advice, you guys are awesome!

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastian Haff View Post
    Phew! I thought I was dead in the water, where really I was just done! Thanks.

    Would you mind answering a few questions about clarification? I had thought that clarity was a sign of finality, that's why I figured that my mead wasn't finished (because it is still cloudy). If my ABV is between 12-16, and the must is still cloudy, what would be the reason? I have not been using campden tablets, will they make a difference in clarity? Would you suggest I use something like isinglass?

    Also, when I rack the mead would you suggest that I top off the carboy with sanitized water (the surface of the must is 5" from the bottom of the thick glass of the carboy's mouth)? If I really do have ABV 14-16, that's pretty dry. If I'm going for drinkability, would dilution be a boon or a bane? Would you suggest I add additional honey to sweeten the final product?

    Thank you all so much for your advice, you guys are awesome!
    Maybe I can clarify (pardon the pun) some things for you.
    Any must will usually be cloudy after primary fermentation because even though most of the yeast has dropped to the bottom there is still tiny yeast cells and particulates that will take a while to drop out of suspension. The length of time it takes to clear depends on a lot of different things like the honey used, the yeast strain, any fruits or spices added, etc. So, when the primary ferment is done we rack the must to a secondary container not only to get it off of the gross lees, but also because a small amount of fermentation can still take place slowly and drop more sediment - thus further clearing the must.
    Then, after several months of aging, you can either rack it again or bottle. The time to use a clarifying agent would be just before bottling.

    Campden tablets (potassium sulfate) is used along with potassium sorbate to stabilize your mead so that the yeast don't kick up again after your mead is bottled.
    And yes, you should probably top up to the neck of the carboy to help keep it from oxidizing. Your gravity and ABV are high enough that it shouldn't make to much difference in the finished product.

    And incidentally, a high ABV is not what makes for a dry mead. It's the amount of residual sugars left after fermentation, and if your final gravity is at 1.034 that would be a very sweet desert mead. 1.012 - 1.020, is considered sweet. A dry mead would be in the 0.990 - 1.006 range.

    Hope that helps.
    All the world's a nail to a child with a hammer.

  10. #10

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    Thanks again, you guys just answered all of my questions! I feel very confident in moving on with my mead, now. I have several books that I am working out of, but none of them have really told me what to expect when fermentation ceased. Thanks a lot for all of your help and advice!

    SR

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastian Haff View Post
    Thanks again, you guys just answered all of my questions! I feel very confident in moving on with my mead, now. I have several books that I am working out of, but none of them have really told me what to expect when fermentation ceased. Thanks a lot for all of your help and advice!
    In general, airlock activity and visible bubbling within the must will cease, the SG will stop changing, large particles will settle out of the must (gross lees), then smaller particles will settle out of the must (fine lees), eventually leaving it nice and clear.

    The problem with generalizing is, it's not something you can put on a schedule, sometimes they don't even happen in order... I've had perfectly clear wines that are still making occasional bubbles on the surface despite a stable SG, I've had some where they're crystal clear and no bubbling activity but the SG continued to drop for a year, and I've had some where fermentation's long complete, no activity, no SG change, and it hasn't cleared up yet despite at least four years aging in the carboy and finally adding fining agents ...
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "When you consider that laziness and procrastination are the fundamentals of great mead, it is a miracle that the mazer cup happens." Medsen Fey, 2014
    "Sure it can be done. I've never heard of it, but I do things I've never heard if all the time. That is the beauty of being a brewer!" - Loveofrose, 2014
    "I tend to....um, er, experiment, and go outside the box. Sometimes outside the whole department store." - Ebonhawk, 2014

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chevette Girl View Post
    In general, airlock activity and visible bubbling within the must will cease, the SG will stop changing...
    The airlock to my orange mead has finally stopped bubbling. I'm planning to start take SG readings tonight to see if fermentation has really stopped. (I suspect it has.) What's the general consensus on how many days of post-visible fermentation and steady SG before racking to a secondary?
    "I said it was good eats, not fast eats."
    -- Alton Brown

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by fivecats View Post
    The airlock to my orange mead has finally stopped bubbling. I'm planning to start take SG readings tonight to see if fermentation has really stopped. (I suspect it has.) What's the general consensus on how many days of post-visible fermentation and steady SG before racking to a secondary?
    Most of the books I've read and wine kits I've done have suggested racking when the SG is within .015 of where you expect it to stop. Later than that is fine too if you want to be sure that racking it won't cause it to stick (I've generally found that if I've racked too early, it doesn't stick but it DOES slow down significantly). If I'm fermenting on fruit, I usually don't let it go longer than two weeks no matter what the SG says (JAO's and variants notwithstanding, of course) before I either rack it off the fruit or pull out the fruit bag.
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "When you consider that laziness and procrastination are the fundamentals of great mead, it is a miracle that the mazer cup happens." Medsen Fey, 2014
    "Sure it can be done. I've never heard of it, but I do things I've never heard if all the time. That is the beauty of being a brewer!" - Loveofrose, 2014
    "I tend to....um, er, experiment, and go outside the box. Sometimes outside the whole department store." - Ebonhawk, 2014

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chevette Girl View Post
    Most of the books I've read and wine kits I've done have suggested racking when the SG is within .015 of where you expect it to stop. Later than that is fine too if you want to be sure that racking it won't cause it to stick (I've generally found that if I've racked too early, it doesn't stick but it DOES slow down significantly). If I'm fermenting on fruit, I usually don't let it go longer than two weeks no matter what the SG says (JAO's and variants notwithstanding, of course) before I either rack it off the fruit or pull out the fruit bag.
    Just curious - Why not just let the ferment finish in primary (provided it doesn't take too long) before racking? I would guess that either way would be OK, but are there advantages/disadvantages one way or the other?
    All the world's a nail to a child with a hammer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HunnyBunz View Post
    Just curious - Why not just let the ferment finish in primary (provided it doesn't take too long) before racking? I would guess that either way would be OK, but are there advantages/disadvantages one way or the other?
    As stated earlier, if you rack too early you risk a stuck fermentation. That's your main disadvantage, but if you stir your must regularly to keep the yeast suspended and only let the gross lees settle out before you rack it, you should be fine as enough yeast will come in suspension.

    An advantage of course is that it'll start to clear in the fermenter if the fermentation's all done, and that way you won't have to rack again in a couple weeks when the lees have built up.

    I've found that leaving wines (moreso then meads) on the fruit too long can impart weird flavours, most often I describe it as "woody", presumably as things other than the fruit's juice and sugars start to break down.

    And I'm a cheap lazy git, I like to make second runs if I put a lot of work into a bag of fruit (red currants take FOR EVER to process) so I like to get it out while there's still a little life left in it for the next batch.
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "When you consider that laziness and procrastination are the fundamentals of great mead, it is a miracle that the mazer cup happens." Medsen Fey, 2014
    "Sure it can be done. I've never heard of it, but I do things I've never heard if all the time. That is the beauty of being a brewer!" - Loveofrose, 2014
    "I tend to....um, er, experiment, and go outside the box. Sometimes outside the whole department store." - Ebonhawk, 2014

  16. #16

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    Hey guys,

    I nuked my mead with campden tablets and then let it stand for several months. It cleared beautifully, and tastes great! I'm about ready to bottle it. Thanks a lot for all of your advice, and for helping me bumble my way through my first mead batch! This website is a great resource.

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