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Thread: Best Yeast for Sweet Mead?

  1. #1

    Default Best Yeast for Sweet Mead?

    Hi everyone!

    Alright, I've looked through forum posts and all it really did was confuse me more. I like sweet to dessert meads, and semi-sweet is about as dry as I can tolerate. Really don't like dry meads.

    I asked at my LHBS which yeasts would be best for sweet mead, and I think the man there didn't know what he was talking about, because he's sent me to Lavlin D-47 and Red Star Premier Cuvee, which I've seen on this forum people say create dry meads, and told me that I didn't want Lavlin 1113 (?). He carries quite a number of different dry yeasts and a few liquid ones. Most of them seem to be Lavlin but I don't recognize all the packaging and I didn't really do an extensive survey of his yeast fridge.

    Which ones would be my best bet to create a moderately alcoholic, semi-sweet to sweet mead without having to backsweeten? I'm not looking for alcohol off the charts; quick mead styles are good, but I also don't mind aging my meads. (I did find that D-47 does not like high SG but I've learned my lesson there.)
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  2. #2

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    The problem here is you’re asking the wrong question. There is no yeast that will consistently produce a sweet product no matter what you do to it. Every yeast can produce a mead at any level of residual sweetness…depending on how much sugar you put into it.

    So with d-47, if you put 15 pounds of honey into the mead, you will have a potential ABV conversion of just over 14%. D-47 tolerance is 14%. This will be a very dry mead. However, you put in 17 pounds of honey, that a potential of just under 16%. So a 14% tolerant yeast will die out before it eats all the sugar. A yeast like KIV-1116 has an 18% tolerance. That will completely devour 17 pounds of honey.

    Does that make better sense? So yes, if you want a yeast that makes it easier to make a sweet mead, a yeast with a lower tolerance would be better since you don’t have to add as much honey, it won’t take as long to age, and it usually is an easier ferment to handle. Play around with the mead calculator some, figure out what amounts of honey and fruit give you what potentials, then pick a yeast from the yeast chart that has a good profile for what you want and an appropriate tolerance.

    As for not back sweetening, I don’t recommend it. There is a thread that was just posted today about a mead that someone bottled 2 YEARS AGO suddenly blowing it’s corks. It wasn’t carbonated, had been bottled for a long time, was perfectly clear…and the yeast restarted and he lost several bottles of mead. Brew dry, stabilize, then back sweeten. It’s safer, and besides that makes for an easier ferment for you.
    Angry Viking Hedgehog say "Give me mead or I poke ya!"

  3. #3

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    Any yeast can give you a sweet mead you just have to start with enough sugar. I know 71b would end at 14% abv so u would need less sugar. And you can always backsweeten.

    Edit: should have refreshed. That's a better answer.
    Last edited by cjtabares; 06-04-2012 at 08:00 PM.

  4. #4

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    That makes a lot of sense. I just need to figure out, I suppose, how to balance it out. I shocked the heck out of the D-47 (which, by looking at the chart and then reading about the different yeasts and their qualities, is the best one for what I seem to want to do) by giving it 4 pounds of honey per gallon. Would it be better to start with less honey then add more at secondary? Or is that overkill?

    Another, unrelated question (well, semi-related, since you talked about stabilization.) At a brewing guild competition a couple of months ago, I told the judge (during the discussion about the mead) that I used potassium sorbate before bottling. He pretty much told me that I should be using hot water baths to kill off the yeast before bottling, and not exposing people to sorbates since people can be sensitive to that. (Only he wasn't so nice about it, came near to biting my head off. But then he looked down his nose at my JAOM too because of the bread yeast.) What, in your opinion, is the better way?
    Last edited by Lyric; 06-04-2012 at 08:57 PM.
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  5. #5
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    Yep, I'd say make mead with whatever ABV you want and then stabilize/backsweeten. Proper stabilization is a good idea for any sweet mead (whether you get there by backsweetening or not). So if you're going to stabilize anyway, you might as well dial in exactly the sweetness level you want by backsweetening.

    Whoops, I need to refresh more too.

    To expand, I would suggest picking your OG based on your desired alcohol level. If you want a 12% mead, start with a must that will get to about 12%--that's it. When it's done, stabilize and sweeten. Your results will be much more consistent that way than if you tried to hit 12% and sweet all at once.

    While it's probably a good idea to put "contains sulfites and potassium sorbate" on labels if you're feeding mead to other people, it's not a crime. Sorbates are in all sorts of processed foods, and sulfites are a common preservative as well. Yes, some people are sensitive. So you label it. It's not like you're putting arsenic in there.

    Any judge who bites your head off to feel self-important is not worth fretting over. No one has illusions that JAO is the best mead in the world, but it is definitely mead and it can definitely be very good. It's popular for a reason.
    Last edited by akueck; 06-04-2012 at 08:58 PM.
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  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by akueck View Post
    Any judge who bites your head off to feel self-important is not worth fretting over. No one has illusions that JAO is the best mead in the world, but it is definitely mead and it can definitely be very good. It's popular for a reason.
    Didn't a JOA take a Medal at the Mazer Cup this year (maybe it was last year)? So it makes a pretty damn good mead! Forget the haters, make and drink what you like.
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  7. #7
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    Looking at all the melomels I've ever made and which ones have been consistenly drunk till they're gone, it's been the JAO variations. 3.5 lb honey per gallon, and bread yeast. I KNOW I have an unsophisticated palate, but I like what I like. I make my meads for me, and I don't need a judge to tell me something tastes good to me. Figure out what you like yourself first, then figure out how to consistently make stuff you like to drink, THEN worry about other people's opinions and judges's ideas on what the possible faults of your meads may be so you can improve upon them. But using bread yeast isn't a fault, and bottle bombs are more dangerous than adding sulphites and sorbates to a wine.

    (and yeah, I do mention on my labels if my wine contains sulphites because I have a few friends who get migraines from sulphites, but I've never heard of anyone being sensitive to sorbate)
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  8. #8
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    Sweet meads -- bread yeast, hands down.

    JAOM (and all the wild variants you'll find in the forum) is probably the easiest recipe around. Foolproof if you follow the recipe...
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  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lyric View Post
    Would it be better to start with less honey then add more at secondary? Or is that overkill?
    Well, 4 pounds is a little strong for just about any yeast, but there are methods to give your yeast a better start and smoother ride. To begin with, in a high gravity must like that, a good acclimated starter would help. You rehydrate your yeast with your preffered method, then add about a cup of your must. When it shows sign of fermentation (30 min to an hour usually) add 2 cups. Keep doubling your starter amounts until you have about a gallon, then pitch the whole thing into your fermentation container.

    Also, making sure you have a good SNA schedule, and aerating the whole thing 2-3 times a day while it works it's way down to the 1/3 break will help.

    If you're ferment doesn't take off very well, try repitching with a good starter.

    Also, the adding more honey later is a method called step-feeding. Basically, you wait till the SG hits a certain point, then you add in a certain amount of honey. Then you do it again and again till you've added your total honey. EG-the sg hits 1.020, you add honey to 1.030. When the sg hits 1.020, raise it to 1.030 again. Say you wanted a total of 20 pounds of honey, but you only added 15 for the initial pitch, you'd do this 4-5 times. That's the quick explanation at least.
    Angry Viking Hedgehog say "Give me mead or I poke ya!"

  10. #10

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    Reading the advice on this thread has led me to this: what's the point of all the different types of yeast then?

    From what I know, there are three things that separate yeast strains: their max abv, the temperatures they can best ferment at, and how well they clear. I had assumed that they would also differ in whether they made a sweet or dry mead/wine, but after reading this, I guess that's not the case. If those are the only three separating factors, then why are there so many different strains?

  11. #11

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    A sweet mead is determined by how much sugars are left after fermentation is complete. Your sweetness will be determined by how much honey you use and what the yeasts max abv is. Different yeast can also give different flavors to means.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by cjtabares View Post
    A sweet mead is determined by how much sugars are left after fermentation is complete. Your sweetness will be determined by how much honey you use and what the yeasts max abv is. Different yeast can also give different flavors to means.
    Not quite right there, a sweet mead depends on how much sugars are in it when its ready to drink.
    I routinely ferment dry, then stabilise, back sweeten and clear. It seems to be the safest method to attain the medium meads I like. And I can then produce them as strong as I want, but they always come out with a similar level of sweetness.
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  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by dingurth View Post
    Reading the advice on this thread has led me to this: what's the point of all the different types of yeast then?

    From what I know, there are three things that separate yeast strains: their max abv, the temperatures they can best ferment at, and how well they clear. I had assumed that they would also differ in whether they made a sweet or dry mead/wine, but after reading this, I guess that's not the case. If those are the only three separating factors, then why are there so many different strains?
    The various strains bring out many flavors and aromas that compliment the meads that you are making. For example Lalvin Clos can add flavors and/or aromas of Cherry, Chocolate and pepper. It has has the best heat tolerance that I know of and has an increased mouthfeel. Lalvin D254 produces nice fruit character most noticeable are prune and blackberry. D254 also promotes color stability. Lalvin BA11 has aromas of Orange Blossom, pineapple and appricot but likes to ferment in the 60's.

    No yeast can make the mead for you. You still have to come up with a recipe and yeast that will produce the results you want. To add difficulty to that is the fact that yeast are living creatures and can fall short of their tolerances or exceed those tolerances depending on how you treat the fermentation. It's been said many times on these forums but yeast do not have an on/off switch.
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  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by fatbloke View Post
    Not quite right there, a sweet mead depends on how much sugars are in it when its ready to drink.
    I routinely ferment dry, then stabilise, back sweeten and clear. It seems to be the safest method to attain the medium meads I like. And I can then produce them as strong as I want, but they always come out with a similar level of sweetness.
    Good point. Guess I was just thinking along the lines of yeast. I too think I prefer to backsweeten and stabilize. (I have only made a fee batches and none are ready to drink) I am no pro yet.

  15. #15

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    Double post

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjtabares View Post
    I too think I prefer to backsweeten and stabilize. (I have only made a fee batches and none are ready to drink) I am no pro yet.
    Personally I think you get a better flavor when you go dry and back-sweeten. When I did a side by side comparison of 2 traditional and halted one at 1.015 and let the other go dry and back-sweetened to 1.015 the general consensus was the back-sweetened on tasted better.
    " ...no sense hauling empty carboys around when full ones take up just as much space. " -TheFlyingBeer (on HomeBrewTalk)

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    Quote Originally Posted by TAKeyser View Post
    Personally I think you get a better flavor when you go dry and back-sweeten. When I did a side by side comparison of 2 traditional and halted one at 1.015 and let the other go dry and back-sweetened to 1.015 the general consensus was the back-sweetened on tasted better.
    Interesting... I suppose it make sense as with the latter the yeast is "done" whereas with the former you've just interrupted it (so kinda like bits of yeast will still be present in the mead to "contaminate" it)...
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  18. Default

    I dunno...if it's properly cleared, should there still be any more or less yeast in a dry-backsweetened mead vs. an interrupted mead? I mean, what's the difference between yeast going inactive due to alcohol tolerance, and yeast going inactive because there's no more food?

  19. #19
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    There can definitely a difference. When all the sugar is gone, all the yeast are done eating. But not all yeast cells have identical alcohol tolerance. Some will start dropping out sooner than others, so you will probably have more yeast floating around in there in the late stages of "reaching alcohol tolerance" than in the otherwise-identical "ran out of sugar" stage.
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