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Thread: Fermentation Not Starting

  1. #1

    Default Fermentation Not Starting

    I know this question gets asked a lot so I reviewed a older posts and tried a couple of things but I'm still not having any luck getting my first batch of mead to start fermenting. Here's the story:

    I bought and read the book "Making Your Own Mead" by Bryan Acton and Peter Duncan, and decided to make my first batch of mead from the recipe for sweet mead on page 35. The recipe called for the following:

    1. 4 lbs Clover honey
    2. 1/4 oz tartaric acid
    3. 1/2 oz malic acid
    4. yeast nutrient
    5. Lalvin K1V-1116 wine yeast
    6. 1/15 oz tannin

    The local brew shop had everything except the Lalvin K1V-1116 wine yeast so he recommended Lalvin D47 as a substitute. In addition he recommended an acid blend rather than the individual acid additions. The recipe above is for one gallon but I wanted to make three gallons so I multiplied everything by three to arrive at the total amounts of each ingredient. The recipe states to do the following:

    "Prepare the must exactly as before (which is to dissolve honey in warm water together with yeast nutrients, acid, and grape tannin, make volume up to desired amount with cold water and 1 crushed campden tablet, and after 24 hrs add the yeast and ferment to dryness), using 3 lbs honey (or 9 lbs in my case for a 3 gallon batch). Ferment until gravity drops to 5 (1.005) and then add 1/4 lb honey per gallon, making sure that the increment of honey is thoroughly dissolved. Repeat the procedure whenever the gravity drops to 5 (1.005) until fermentation finally ceases and then rack. Thereafter proceed as recommended in this book."

    Specifically I used 9 lbs of clover honey from Walmart (still have 3 lbs left to add after SG drops to 1.005), 1 2/3 gallon of water, 2 1/4 oz acid blend, 3 oz Fermax yeast nutrient, 1/5 oz tannin, and 3 tsp potassium metabisulfite. I measured the SG on 6/21/15 and it was 1.090. I covered the plastic fermentation bucket and let sit overnight. The next day (6/22) I pitched the D-47 yeast, covered and sealed the lid and installed an airlock. I was very meticulous with cleaning and sanitation. The temperature in my house is a constant 76 degrees F.

    After 72 hrs there wasn't any sign of fermentation. No bubbles, the airlock was quiet, and the SG still measured 1.090. I found the Lalvin 1116 that the recipe called for and decided to re-pitch using the correct yeast. I did so on 6/25. I also began stirring the must to introduce oxygen as a fellow on Winepress suggested. I stirred three times per day which resulted in some bubbles immediately after stirring. Also there's a slight odor that I didn't have before but it's not very strong. I can't describe what it smells like since I've never smelled anything like it before but it's not necessarily a bad odor. After three more days of basically nothing happening I decided to add more yeast nutrient on 6/28 (yesterday). As of today, 24 hrs after adding the nutrient and 96 hours after re-pitching the yeast (1116) I still don't see any activity at all in the airlock and the SG still measures 1.09.

    If anyone has any ideas I'm all ears. I usually don't get discouraged easily but this seems pretty simple and I just haven't been able to get it to work. I had visions of making a melomel next but that seems pretty stupid since I can't even get a basic sweet mead off the ground. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks, Gene

  2. #2
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    The fist problem I can see is your acid additions, they are probably dropping you pH so that the yeast cannot survive. The honey right now will cover that, but if it ferments it will be some seriously zoyer stuff with 3/4 of an ounce in acid additions! The recommendations have been updated so that any acid additions are done at the end of fermentation not the start, the yeast produce quite a bit of acids as they go along as a byproduct of fermentation. They can drop the pH so low by themselves that they make it inhospitable to themselves.
    Mazerotic Encephalopathic Affective Disorder (M.E.A.D.) - Gntlknigt1

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by EJM3 View Post
    The fist problem I can see is your acid additions, they are probably dropping you pH so that the yeast cannot survive. The honey right now will cover that, but if it ferments it will be some seriously zoyer stuff with 3/4 of an ounce in acid additions! The recommendations have been updated so that any acid additions are done at the end of fermentation not the start, the yeast produce quite a bit of acids as they go along as a byproduct of fermentation. They can drop the pH so low by themselves that they make it inhospitable to themselves.
    Actually it's 2 1/4 oz since I made 3 gallons so it's worse than you're thinking. Being brand new at this, and not having read very far into the other two books I bought (Complete Guide to Making Mead and The Complete Meadmaker) that never occurred to me. I looked at the recipes in the Complete Guide and the Complete Meadmaker and noticed neither include any acids in their basic mead recipes which supports what you're saying. I can't understand why Making Your Own Mead would include acid in every recipe. I have another small booklet called the Winemaker's Recipe Handbook that also includes acids in the mead recipe. I have pH strips for testing water so I might check to see exactly what the pH is. At this point I'm thinking to dump this batch and start over with one of the recipes from the Complete Meadmaker that doesn't call for adding acid in the recipe. I want to make a reasonable first batch and not something that tastes funny. Would you start over? I don't think it's a good idea to work with this batch since it's had 2 different packets of yeast and 2 doses of nutrient so far.

  4. #4

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    You also haven't talked about how you rehydrated your yeast. Did you just toss it in dry on top of the must?
    7 out of 4 people have a hard time using their hydrometer!

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Squatchy View Post
    You also haven't talked about how you rehydrated your yeast. Did you just toss it in dry on top of the must?
    Nope - I followed the directions on the packet which said to empty packet into I believe it was 2 oz water @ 104-109 degrees F, let sit for 15 minutes and then stir in. I also waited about 1/2 hour for the yeast and water mixture to get to room temp (same as must) before pouring into the fermenter.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by ejcrist View Post
    Actually it's 2 1/4 oz since I made 3 gallons so it's worse than you're thinking. Being brand new at this, and not having read very far into the other two books I bought (Complete Guide to Making Mead and The Complete Meadmaker) that never occurred to me. I looked at the recipes in the Complete Guide and the Complete Meadmaker and noticed neither include any acids in their basic mead recipes which supports what you're saying. I can't understand why Making Your Own Mead would include acid in every recipe. I have another small booklet called the Winemaker's Recipe Handbook that also includes acids in the mead recipe. I have pH strips for testing water so I might check to see exactly what the pH is. At this point I'm thinking to dump this batch and start over with one of the recipes from the Complete Meadmaker that doesn't call for adding acid in the recipe. I want to make a reasonable first batch and not something that tastes funny. Would you start over? I don't think it's a good idea to work with this batch since it's had 2 different packets of yeast and 2 doses of nutrient so far.
    I don't think you need to start over. Just get some buffering solution in there because I bet your pH is going to be under 4 and that's what's stopping your ferment. On the other hand all that dead yeast is going to be food for the next batch you throw in there. I would keep it cold until you get the potassium carbonate you need and then put a teaspoon in there (or whatever gets you to near 4.0 pH ) and re-pitch. BUT.... just in case, get yourself a batch of JAOM going as well.

  7. #7
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    OK, I'm gonna try some number games here...

    2 1/4 ounces of acid blend = 64 grams of acid blend roughly.
    That brings the TA from 0 to 5.9 (pretty acidic), that's on top of existing acids in the solution & without allowing for creation of additional acids from the yeast during fermentation.

    That's quite a zoyer bite there! I have not come across something like this yet, and search as I might I can't find a definitive answer, so maybe another one here like Medsenfey or LoveOfRose can help you out of the pickle you're in (sorry but bad puns come natural to me). I have all the acids & acid blend (malic, citric, tartaric, lactic), but have never used any as mine all finish at a low enough pH I don't need them. In fact I usually need to add carbonates (K2CO3 or KHCO3) to keep it from going too low or risk my fermentation stopping before it's finished from too low of a pH!

    You could add enough carbonates to offset the acid blend additions, but that may leave a bitter after taste if the yeast are not able to metabolize all of the available free potassium ions (that's the K in K2CO3). I think it came out that neutralizing that amount of acids would require an almost equal amount of K2CO3 (66 grams). But again that can leave an extremely bitter taste due to the potassium left in solution. Using CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate) will make it taste like chalk (actually that's what it is).

    Let us know the pH and we can help more on a possible solution, possibly making a larger batch, or making two batches instead of one. There are many ways that this can be saved, so please don't toss it yet!! The acids are probably acting as a preservative to keep other organisms from going at it besides just your yeast, so you should have a few more days at least.


    -EDIT-

    Here's a link to the NewBee Guide, some of the information is out of date, but it's still a great basic information source. Pretty much any acid additions pre-fermentation should be ignored in most recipes as they found that the pH lowered by itself without additions, just fine as you can always adjust afterwards...
    Last edited by EJM3; 06-30-2015 at 04:19 PM.
    Mazerotic Encephalopathic Affective Disorder (M.E.A.D.) - Gntlknigt1

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by EJM3 View Post
    OK, I'm gonna try some number games here...

    2 1/4 ounces of acid blend = 64 grams of acid blend roughly.
    That brings the TA from 0 to 5.9 (pretty acidic), that's on top of existing acids in the solution & without allowing for creation of additional acids from the yeast during fermentation.

    That's quite a zoyer bite there! I have not come across something like this yet, and search as I might I can't find a definitive answer, so maybe another one here like Medsenfey or LoveOfRose can help you out of the pickle you're in (sorry but bad puns come natural to me). I have all the acids & acid blend (malic, citric, tartaric, lactic), but have never used any as mine all finish at a low enough pH I don't need them. In fact I usually need to add carbonates (K2CO3 or KHCO3) to keep it from going too low or risk my fermentation stopping before it's finished from too low of a pH!

    You could add enough carbonates to offset the acid blend additions, but that may leave a bitter after taste if the yeast are not able to metabolize all of the available free potassium ions (that's the K in K2CO3). I think it came out that neutralizing that amount of acids would require an almost equal amount of K2CO3 (66 grams). But again that can leave an extremely bitter taste due to the potassium left in solution. Using CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate) will make it taste like chalk (actually that's what it is).

    Let us know the pH and we can help more on a possible solution, possibly making a larger batch, or making two batches instead of one. There are many ways that this can be saved, so please don't toss it yet!! The acids are probably acting as a preservative to keep other organisms from going at it besides just your yeast, so you should have a few more days at least.


    -EDIT-

    Here's a link to the NewBee Guide, some of the information is out of date, but it's still a great basic information source. Pretty much any acid additions pre-fermentation should be ignored in most recipes as they found that the pH lowered by itself without additions, just fine as you can always adjust afterwards...
    It turns out you were right on the money about the must being too acidic. I got a Hannah pH meter today and tested the must and it was 3.27 which is way below the minimum limit of 3.5 the books say yeast needs to work their magic. So you sir are an ingenious. Unfortunately I already dumped the must and plan to start over this weekend with a recipe in the book "The Complete Guide to Making Mead." None of those recipes call for adding acid except as needed for taste at the end for the same exact reasons you stated. I wish I read the book before jumping in but I was dying to make something while waiting for my grapes to ripen to make wine. Well, you live and learn.

    Question: How did you come up with the TA of 5.9 from the acid measurement I gave you? Again, I haven't read near as much material as I should've yet so I know I'm jumping ahead but I'm curious on any and all quantitative calculations.

    Also I really appreciate the information from this thread so thanks much. I don't mind mistakes at all as long as I know where I went wrong so I don't repeat it, and in this case I know with 100% certainty what happened, so again thanks a bunch. I'll be sure to take a look at the NewBee section.

    Gene

  9. #9

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    I tested the must last night with a Hannah pH meter and it tested at 3.27 so your assessment was right on the money. I believe the lowest pH for yeast to function is 3.5 or thereabouts, but even if it started it wouldn't have been long before it would've stalled. I read some more in the Complete Guide to Mead Making and the book says the same thing you were saying about the dangers of adding acids prior to fermentation. So I dumped the batch and plan to start over this weekend and follow a recipe from the book that doesn't call for adding acid, and only to do so at the end if necessary for taste purposes. So anyway, thanks very much for the excellent diagnosis. I learned a great deal from this thread and I really appreciate it.

    Oh BTW, one quick question. How did you arrive at the TA figure of 5.9 based on the 2 1/4 oz acid blend I told you about? Is that a formula that I haven't read about yet?

    Thanks again,

    Gene
    Last edited by ejcrist; 07-02-2015 at 12:24 AM. Reason: Forgot to add question

  10. #10
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    I don't want to make you feel silly or anything but rule 1 is just do it, rule 2 is never dump a batch unless you KNOW it's no good, and even then, keep some...

    Just because you added acid at the beginning doesn't mean it was garbage, adjusting the pH with potassium bicarbonate or precipitated chalk probably would have gotten it to take off and complete just fine.
    "The main ingredient needed is 'time' followed closely by 'patience'." - The Bishop 2013
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  11. #11
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    Tried to tell ya.


    Sent from my TARDIS at the restaurant at the end of the universe while eating Phil.

  12. #12
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    Tried to tell ya.


    Sent from my TARDIS at the restaurant at the end of the universe while eating Phil.

  13. #13

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    Gotcha - you guys and gals are right. I figured I deviated too far from the recipe with two packets of different yeast, two servings of nutrients, and all the acid. I don't understand the process well enough yet but I'm gettin' better every day from the book and the forums. Thanks again for your help and I'll post the results of the second batch.

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    Apparently I tried twice LOL. Double post.


    Sent from my TARDIS at the restaurant at the end of the universe while eating Phil.

  15. #15
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    Take heart, ejcrist. I did something similar in my first batch. Wrote about it in my blog.

    http://www.gotmead.com/forum/entry.p...first-mead-log
    Don't Panic!

    From Portugal to Poland, on a perpetual pursuit for more honey.....

    Issues unique to the Netherlands at
    http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthr...880#post222880

  16. #16

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    Acton & Duncan's book on meadmaking is an old one -- first published in 1968. A lot of the ideas in the book are also pretty old, such as the acid additions. At the time it was felt by many meadmakers that honey was deficient in comparison to the wine grape, and needed acids and tannin to make up for the lack. It was a way of making a wine similar in character to that from wine grape.

    Sure, those recipes worked, and at the time they were innovative. I made a Tupelo mead using Acton & Duncan's recommendations and it came out well, even placed third in the Mazer Cup competition. The judges did note that it would have placed higher with more aging, and you'll see that Acton & Duncan recommend something like 3 years or more for aging.

    It's basically a different style of meadmaking, an older style that takes a lot of the character from the acids and tannin added to the fermentation. These days meadmakers are looking at honey as more of a unique medium in itself, with the idea that a good traditional mead will stand by itself, without flavor additives, and characterized by the varietal honey/s used in the mead.
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  17. #17
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    Welcome back Dan. Great to "see" you
    Don't Panic!

    From Portugal to Poland, on a perpetual pursuit for more honey.....

    Issues unique to the Netherlands at
    http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthr...880#post222880

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