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Thread: Before airlocks and hydrometers

  1. #1

    Default Before airlocks and hydrometers

    Minimalist brewing. Without a hydrometer. I brewed a lot of beer in the past. I had a hydrometer then but never used it. I always made very drinkable light ales and stouts.

    I've got two 5gal batches of mead started.
    Both musts were heavy on the fresh ginger and fresh holy basil. Boiled the ginger twice to bring out max flavor.
    One batch has 6 kilo wildflower, and the other 6 kilo of longon honey.
    I made up some nutrient out of bread yeast and pitched a pack of lalvin ec1118 yeast in each.
    I'm using 8 gallon pails as primary fermentors.
    I added the honey first into the pail, and poured in warm must. I didn't mix it too well at first allowing an amount of honey to remain on the bottom.
    The fermentation started imediately with gusto. Stirred and aereated for the first three.four days. Threw in a fistfull of fresh rosemary to each.
    Tasted each and they are very pleasant to the taste and smell.

    My questions:
    1. Can I just let the fermentation run out sitting on the ec1118 lees?
    2. Can I tell just by taste and visually when the fermentation is more or less complete.
    3. I'm thinking on letting the fermentation go for two months on the lees, then racking, blending the two batches and bottling in 22oz beer bottles. Does this sound logical?

    4.The two different honeys are fermenting very differently, the longon honey is darker and getting an ale like krausen. The wildflower is lighter colored and is sparkling like a club soda. They are coming along so nice I have a hunch blending the two will work nicely.( not really a question)


    5.I was going to use fruit but I think I'll keep these first batches simple.
    Can I bottle after two months if the fermentation seem complete?
    What sort of natural carbonation might I expect doing it this way?

    6. It been about two weeks now. Should I continue to aereate?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    My question:

    5.Can I bottle after two months if the fermentation seem complete?
    What sort of natural carbonation might I expect doing it this way?
    Lord have mercy
    No
    Natural carbonation=fireworks!
    Do a search for Mead Eruption Accident
    Making Mead With TLC since 2010

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    My questions:
    1. Can I just let the fermentation run out sitting on the ec1118 lees?
    You should be fine letting it sit on EC1118. I usually don't recommend racking until fermentation is complete with any yeast. Even after fermentation is complete the mead can sit on most yeasts for a while (71B being the exception)

    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    2. Can I tell just by taste and visually when the fermentation is more or less complete.
    Not really, you'll usually start tasting alcohol well before fermentation has completed and if you are using airlocks they can continue to bubble after the fermentation has completed.

    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    3. I'm thinking on letting the fermentation go for two months on the lees, then racking, blending the two batches and bottling in 22oz beer bottles. Does this sound logical?
    Sounds reasonable.

    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    4.The two different honeys are fermenting very differently, the longon honey is darker and getting an ale like krausen. The wildflower is lighter colored and is sparkling like a club soda. They are coming along so nice I have a hunch blending the two will work nicely.( not really a question)
    Not a question so I have nothing to answer

    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    5.I was going to use fruit but I think I'll keep these first batches simple.
    Can I bottle after two months if the fermentation seem complete?
    What sort of natural carbonation might I expect doing it this way?
    I would say that you can expect a big BOOM especially with a yeast like EC1118 that is rated to 18% abv (and which I've been able to get almost 20% out of). It will go after every bit of sugar in your mead so bottling that soon is asking for trouble.
    My opinion is 2 months is far too soon for a mead to be bottled using normal homebrew processes. You'll notice that a vast majority of us on the forum will bulk age for a minimum of 6 months to allow the flavors to meld, the meads to clear and to insure that fermentation won't kick back up. Many of us bulk age for much longer than that.

    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    6. It been about two weeks now. Should I continue to aereate?
    Impossible to tell without a hydrometer. The 1/3 sugar break is the point that most of us stop aerating (some will continue to the 1/2 sugar break). You can't find these points unless you take a hydrometer reading.
    " ...no sense hauling empty carboys around when full ones take up just as much space. " -TheFlyingBeer (on HomeBrewTalk)

  4. #4

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    Most of the wine brewers here in Romania are 'minimalist' but just because that's how they do it in the countryside, not as some kind of choice.

    I even had a long argument with one guy about the use of yeast. He had been making wine 'without any yeast' for years and couldn't see why you'd add it (he was completely unaware that he was using yeast, albeit wild yeast!) They never use hydrometers either. They obviously start fermentation off after the grape harvest, then store it in some shed or semi-basement, where it gets a natural 'cold crash' in the new year, and they then syphon it off into bottles. In place of airlocks, they just stick a cork with a hole in it in the carboy, stick some plastic hosing into it, then put the other end of the hose into a saucepan or bowl full of water.

    Admittedly, most of the countryside wine tastes pretty mank, although there are a few good ones. I had a bottle gifted to me at the weekend and it wasn't bad, but the guy makes it on a slightly larger scale. Some of the large 'home' brewers sell their wines in the local markets and you can get a decent 2 litre bottle for about 2.50 Euro (3$?), and it actually tastes nicer than some of the mid-ranged local wines in the shops.

  5. #5

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    Mead is a different creature that both wine and beer so while there are some similarities it is hard to compare them.

    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    Most of the wine brewers here in Romania are 'minimalist' but just because that's how they do it in the countryside, not as some kind of choice.
    The minimalist approach can work, but when you have the option of using modern techniques and equipment that will produce consistent results why not take advantage of them? As you state later most of the products made the minimalist way taste mank (which I'm guessing is Romanian for bad lol)

    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    They obviously start fermentation off after the grape harvest, then store it in some shed or semi-basement, where it gets a natural 'cold crash' in the new year, and they then syphon it off into bottles.
    Doing a quick online search it seems like the Grape Harvest in Romania is in late September early October and you mentioned that it is stored through the winter so we are talking much longer than the 2 months the original poster mentioned that he was going to bottle at. Plus the Cold Crashing and the longer aging is going to cause more of yeast to drop reducing the risk of bottle bombs.

    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    In place of airlocks, they just stick a cork with a hole in it in the carboy, stick some plastic hosing into it, then put the other end of the hose into a saucepan or bowl full of water.
    I've used this method many times when I've had an especially vigorous ferment. It is the same principle as modern airlocks where gasses can escape but the water is going to catch the nasty stuff.

    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    Admittedly, most of the countryside wine tastes pretty mank, although there are a few good ones.
    As I said earlier could better techniques and equipment produce better results?
    " ...no sense hauling empty carboys around when full ones take up just as much space. " -TheFlyingBeer (on HomeBrewTalk)

  6. #6

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    Hi TAKeyser,

    As I said earlier could better techniques and equipment produce better results?
    I sure think so, especially when it comes to choosing the yeast you use. This was the essence of the discussion I was having with the 'no yeast' guy who claimed adding this 'new-fangled yeast stuff' to any kind of brew was bordering on the blasphemous.

    Not sure how they avoid the bottle bombs. They do seem to mostly store it in plastic bottles or for longer periods in wooden barrels (which are made locally and relatively cheap to buy) which might help. Even the rip-your-throat-out plum brandy is stored in plastic bottles most of the time, although how it doesn't melt through them I don't know!

  7. #7

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    alexdog - I have to say that I admire your approach. Even though I probably have thousands of dollars of equipment I tend not to use any of the fancy stuff. I brew beer like I cook food - add a little of this, a little of that. I don't remember when I last took a specific gravity reading on beer, or used a recipe (or measured the ingredients!)

    With mead, I do a little extra work and usually use the hydrometer mainly to determine how far I am from the finish point. The finish point itself is usually very clear as all of the yeast flocs and falls to the bottom. After that I rack to secondary and leave it there for some time. If you want to continue without a hydrometer you might want to consider racking into a sealed container where it will be really obvious if any further gas develops (you would hear it escaping if you opened the lid). When no further gas develops then you are probably done assuming you don't have a stuck fermentation. Here's another idea - taste it! EC1118 should leave you with a dry mead. If you can't taste the residual sugar than the level is probably low to none. I certainly wouldn't recommend a haphazard approach like this to a new mead maker although I applaud you if you are successful.

    You would do well to exercise caution with bottling. There is no harm in letting it bulk age for a number of months. With few exceptions, mead generally isn't drinkable for a number of months anyway so it doesn't hurt to age it off in a corner in a carboy. After several months I would think it would be fine to bottle assuming that you can't taste much in the way of residual sugar.
    BJCP Certified Beer Judge since 2003. Owner of Mt. Si Mead Supply.

  8. #8
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    I think everyone already covered everything I wanted to say: yes you can let it sit on EC-1118, no you can't tell if your fermentation's done by taste and visual observation, you can blend it but you might not want to blend all of both batches, you might actually want to see the varietal differences between the honeys, no I wouldn't risk bottling something two months old without hydrometer readings to confirm that fermentation is done, and impossible to tell whether the time for aeration is done without tracking it with a hydrometer.



    Quote Originally Posted by TheAlchemist View Post
    Lord have mercy
    No
    Natural carbonation=fireworks!
    Do a search for Mead Eruption Accident
    And also search for "bottle bomb". Dangerous.

    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    I even had a long argument with one guy about the use of yeast. He had been making wine 'without any yeast' for years and couldn't see why you'd add it (he was completely unaware that he was using yeast, albeit wild yeast!) They never use hydrometers either. They obviously start fermentation off after the grape harvest, then store it in some shed or semi-basement, where it gets a natural 'cold crash' in the new year, and they then syphon it off into bottles.
    You CAN make decent wine without all the fancy equipment and additives (see Joe's Ancient Orange Mead). And grapes really are uniquely suited for fermentation. But if you use a cultured wine yeast, it's going to give you more consistent results from one batch to the next. Now, if you're turning grape juice into wine, it's a better bet that it's got enough nutrients in it for the yeast to finish the job within a reasonable amount of time, and it's also not going to be a really high level of sugar that the yeast might have problems with the way they might when we add too much honey, even the wild yeasts should be able to handle it. So I could see doing it that way, although if you HAVE a hydrometer, there really is no good reason not to use it, even if it's just to figure out how potent your stuff is and whether it's safe to bottle. But once you get to other fruits and honey, all bets are off on whether it's got enough naturally to let the yeast finish the job and it becomes more important to be able to track the progress of your fermentation, especially if you want to know when to add nutrients or when you should quit aerating.


    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    Not sure how they avoid the bottle bombs. They do seem to mostly store it in plastic bottles or for longer periods in wooden barrels (which are made locally and relatively cheap to buy) which might help. Even the rip-your-throat-out plum brandy is stored in plastic bottles most of the time, although how it doesn't melt through them I don't know!
    The brandy will have been distilled or fortified with something distilled, so it's not at risk for bottle bombs because the alcohol level will be too high for continued fermentation. But as said before, grape wine's pretty easy to ferment, and like TAKeyser said, wiht the grape harvest, they probably have enough time for it to finish the job, and the natural cold-crash won't hurt either.

    If you want to go minimalist, you will need more time for aging in secondary, as you will never be sure about the state of your fermentation and for safety's sake, you'll want to let anything stronger than beers age a year before you bottle.
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "Good grief! If someone wanted to murder you, all they would have to do is ship you a 55 gallon barrel of honey and watch you document working yourself to death!" - Vance G
    "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

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    I even had a long argument with one guy about the use of yeast. He had been making wine 'without any yeast' for years and couldn't see why you'd add it (he was completely unaware that he was using yeast, albeit wild yeast!)
    Okay, so does anyone know what the actual odds are of getting a good wine or cider out of wild yeast vs. a bad wine or cider vs. a vinegar? I am going to guess that the odds of producing a palatable wine or cider are better than we would expect. I say that because throughout history people have risked their precious fruit crops expecting something good as a final product. Now if they were burned most years with bad wines and ciders, I would think they would have stopped making these long ago.
    - They say hard work never hurts anybody, but why take the chance.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whatshisface View Post
    Okay, so does anyone know what the actual odds are of getting a good wine or cider out of wild yeast vs. a bad wine or cider vs. a vinegar? I am going to guess that the odds of producing a palatable wine or cider are better than we would expect. I say that because throughout history people have risked their precious fruit crops expecting something good as a final product. Now if they were burned most years with bad wines and ciders, I would think they would have stopped making these long ago.
    They drank most of them too early for a lot of bad things to happen to the finished product. Romans would mix sour wine with honey and herbs to mask the off flavors. They also sweetened with lead which I don't recommend.

    But I will say that we make a cyser with wild yeast and it generally turns out pretty fantastic. The rest of the process we use is modern but we allow the fresh squeezed cider to use its own beasties to ferment.

  11. #11

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    I can't remember exactly how it works, but I think I read somewhere that in an area (room or barn or whatever) where a lot of brewing was regularly done, that over the years the yeast in the air would come to be dominated by one type which would eventually become prevalent in the locale, thereby leading to a more consistent result on a yearly basis (assuming it was a good yeast for brewing). Can't vouch for the veracity of that though. Maybe someone else knows more.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by maykal View Post
    I can't remember exactly how it works, but I think I read somewhere that in an area (room or barn or whatever) where a lot of brewing was regularly done, that over the years the yeast in the air would come to be dominated by one type which would eventually become prevalent in the locale, thereby leading to a more consistent result on a yearly basis (assuming it was a good yeast for brewing). Can't vouch for the veracity of that though. Maybe someone else knows more.
    This is exactly why the Belgian Lambic brewers only paint one interior wall a year. They rely exclusively on the yeast that permeates all of the surfaces inside their breweries (as well as some outside air for good measure) to inoculate their beer with Brettanomyces and other goodies.
    BJCP Certified Beer Judge since 2003. Owner of Mt. Si Mead Supply.

  13. #13

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    Excellent responses, thanks a bunch, this is giving me much more insight to what I'm doing.
    Honey is certainly quite a different animal from malted barley, fascinating!
    Perhaps I will invest in hydrometer next time I venture down to my nearest brew supply shop in Singapore.
    But before that I want to give the Ethiopian style mead a try. The locals here make some medicinal brew with some kind of bark and wood with a distilled rice liquor, I suspect its similar to the Gesho the Ethiopians use for their Tej. Also there is a local wild honey from these tiny little native bees, I'd like to try to use down the road.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guinlilly View Post
    But I will say that we make a cyser with wild yeast and it generally turns out pretty fantastic. The rest of the process we use is modern but we allow the fresh squeezed cider to use its own beasties to ferment.

    I made cider and cyser last year and the cider got the jump on me and started before I pitched yeast, so when I did pitch it, I used K1V just in case... although I just might try letting the wild stuff have its way with one batch from this year's crop...
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "Good grief! If someone wanted to murder you, all they would have to do is ship you a 55 gallon barrel of honey and watch you document working yourself to death!" - Vance G
    "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

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guinlilly View Post
    They drank most of them too early for a lot of bad things to happen to the finished product. Romans would mix sour wine with honey and herbs to mask the off flavors. They also sweetened with lead which I don't recommend.

    But I will say that we make a cyser with wild yeast and it generally turns out pretty fantastic. The rest of the process we use is modern but we allow the fresh squeezed cider to use its own beasties to ferment.
    Wow so cool you fermented with wild yeast.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chevette Girl View Post

    I made cider and cyser last year and the cider got the jump on me and started before I pitched yeast, so when I did pitch it, I used K1V just in case... although I just might try letting the wild stuff have its way with one batch from this year's crop...
    I wish I would have thought of that. A few years ago I was collecting Maple sap because I was going to make some maple syrup with the kids. Since we only collected a small pail full each day, we decide dumped what we had collected into a 5 gallon bucket until we accumulated enough to make the syrup. Well needless to say long around the third day our sap was fermenting hard. I didnít know enough back then to kill off the wild yeast or add good yeast to the brew. So I dump the whole thing. I wonder what that would have tasted like when it finished.
    - They say hard work never hurts anybody, but why take the chance.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whatshisface View Post
    I wish I would have thought of that. A few years ago I was collecting Maple sap because I was going to make some maple syrup with the kids. Since we only collected a small pail full each day, we decide dumped what we had collected into a 5 gallon bucket until we accumulated enough to make the syrup. Well needless to say long around the third day our sap was fermenting hard. I didn’t know enough back then to kill off the wild yeast or add good yeast to the brew. So I dump the whole thing. I wonder what that would have tasted like when it finished.
    Do people actually brew straight maple sap? i kinda doubt it. It has a very low sugar content straight from the tree, about 2% compared to about 20% for grape juice.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexdog View Post
    Do people actually brew straight maple sap? i kinda doubt it. It has a very low sugar content straight from the tree, about 2% compared to about 20% for grape juice.
    There's at least one thread around here where that's what he did, although he did boil it down so it would have enough sugar to be worth fermenting. Do a forum search on "acerglyn" or "maple", I think it's "not quite acerglyn" for a title. Maple or birch sap is also an ingredient in some other old recipes.
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
    "Good grief! If someone wanted to murder you, all they would have to do is ship you a 55 gallon barrel of honey and watch you document working yourself to death!" - Vance G
    "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

  19. #19

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    well it's been nearly a year since I started these two batches. I bottled after about three months of fermenting.

    Started sampling after three months in bottle, was kinda harsh and smelled kinda like cat pee. Waited another three months and the flavours had mellowed and the off aroma gone, and is rather tasty. Strong alcohol, one 22 oz bottle is a good clean buzz, two bottles and I'm loopy.

    I just fired up another batch of hopped wildflower mead, still using the basic old fashioned open fermentor technique. I used 4 ozs of northern brewer pellets and the must has nice strong hoppy character. I also used a bunch of fresh basil.in the must.
    I gotta thank everyone for all the valuable tips.
    And I learned how ya gotta be patient to let mead age for the flavors and alcohol.to mellow, I guess that's what's happening. The longer it's bottled the drinkable it gets.

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