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Thread: Shockingly low attenuation with "weak" mead

  1. #1

    Question Shockingly low attenuation with "weak" mead

    Hi everyone, first post here, great forum!

    So here's the situation, I have obtained after two weeks of fermentation a shockingly low apparent attenuation of... 56%!! Two weeks is short for mead, but I'm doing a "weak" mead to do a beer-like drink.
    My recipe for this Sparkling Black Tea Mead is:

    -Volume 8.5L (Mr. Beer fermentor that I have on hand)
    - OG/FG/ABV: 1.047/1.005/5.4% (assuming an apparent attenuation of 90%, which seems reasonable considering the sugars in honey are about 95% fermentable, I believe.

    Ingredients:
    - 1.2 kgs all-flower honey + 65g of lavender honey for priming (CO2 level of 2.5 desired)
    - 1 orange, juiced and also using the zest.
    - 90g dried grapes (raisins)
    - 10 Ceylan (black tea) bags.
    - Safale S-04 yeast, dried, 11g. Alcohol tolerance of about 8%, apparent attenuation (for beer) around 75%, I assume 90% for honey-based fermentables. I have obtained 90% AA with bread yeast in the past. This could be wrong for S-04.
    - Spring water to account for the remaining volume.
    Note: regarding nutrients, I choose to avoid the commercial yeast nutrients and opt for a "natural" approach, with the raisins, orange and tea providing, I assume, enough nutrients for a healthy fermentation. Also, tea and raisins provide tannins which should avoid obtaining too thin of a drink (carbonation will also help in that matter).

    Preparation:
    - After steeping the tea and orange zest in about 1L water, I remove the tea bags and pour the honey in to dissolve it completely, the water being still hot but probably not hot enough to destroy the yummy flavors .
    - Then I add the raisins and orange juice to the must.
    - Pour into 8.5L fermentor, splashing as much as possible to aerate.
    - Shake well.
    - Complete with spring water. Shake well again. Wait for the must to cool down to pitching temperature.
    - Sprinkle S-04 yeast on top of the must, avoiding clumps. (This is not uncommon to sprinkle without rehydrating for this yeast and I've read of people doing so with no downside apparently).
    - Fermented at around 18-20C (ideal temp. of 15-20C for this yeast). I did not control the fermentation temperature, but for a rather small volume of 8.5L I have never had any significant heating.

    Results:
    - I measured an OG of 1.046, aiming for 1.047 (which includes the estimated sugars from fruit). Close enough! The sample before fermentation is very sweet (Duuuh!), and the tea flavors are just as noticeable as I wanted and complement the honey well. No taste of orange or raisins yet.
    - Regular tastings show that fermentation is taking place after a day. Given the design of the Mr. Beer fermentor, I have no bubbling airlock, so to speak, so I can't really "observe" fermentation.
    - Regular tasting shows that (particularly after a week), the drink is extremely refreshing, and has a good level of bitterness that I find delighting.
    - Regular tastings results in the volume of fermentation to decrease from 8.5 to 7L... I know, I know, I have zero discipline... But it's sooo good.
    - Anyways, after two weeks, I have an SG of 1.020, (AA 56%, ABV 3.4%), which is much higher than I would have thought after two weeks. I understand that honey can be slow to ferment, but the beers I made with a similar OG usually ferment in under a week, towards an FG between 1.000 and 1.010 ideally.
    - Also, from tasting regularly, I have noticed little to no change of taste (regarding sweetness, mostly) in the last week, except that the taste of raisins is getting more noticeable. This points to a stuck fermentation. Also, the natural carbonation in the mead has decreased, which shows, at least, that fermentation is slowing down, but probably stuck.

    Any thoughts on this? What could explain the very low attenuation? I have never heard of an AA as low as 56% in mead...
    I will be checking SG in three days to make sure it's over, but my guts (and tastebuds) tell me it is.

    I believe the potential culprits are:
    - unsufficient aeration (the mr. beer thingy is not the best to shake, since it leaks from the cap... I may have not shaken enough, I haven't had any issue with beers aerated to the same level.
    - the yeast was not stored properly? (the exp. date is 07/2017, so it's not old, at least)
    - the yeast may have flocculated early. safale s-04 is famous for that, but I don't think that's what happened, since I tried stirring the fermentor to restart fermentation with NO effect). Also, I believe there was yeast in the last sample I took.
    - not rehydrating the s-04 yeast: it seems people get good fermentations without doing it for beer, but perhaps this is problematic for mead?
    - nutrients: probably not, though, since my JAOM fermented really well with a similar approach to nutrients.
    - you tell me!

    Thanks in advance, and being new to GotMead, I apologize if I forgot to mention something of importance!
    This recipe shows great promise, but I can't bear such a low attenuation! I'm aiming for something a little dryer for the summer.
    Last edited by cayrs; 03-21-2016 at 04:41 PM. Reason: Edited for clarity.

  2. Default

    Any idea about current pH?

  3. #3

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    Thanks for your input Farmboyc.
    I must admit I have no idea about pH, I have never felt the need to measure it... Perhaps this is about to change!
    Are you suggesting the pH may be too low for the yeast to be happy?

    Other than the juice from the one orange, there is no significant acidity (presumably). That is a topic with which I am not very familiar so I appreciate your input.
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  4. #4

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    And in the eventuality that the pH is indeed too low, am I correct in saying that I could fix it by putting some sodium bicarbonate (or the like) to restart fermentation? Or is it too late? Thanks
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by cayrs View Post
    And in the eventuality that the pH is indeed too low, am I correct in saying that I could fix it by putting some sodium bicarbonate (or the like) to restart fermentation? Or is it too late? Thanks
    Use potassium bicarbonate or potassium carbonate. The sodium in sodium bicarbonate can give salty flavors.

    If low pH is the cause of your fermentation troubles, raising it could wake up the yeast. I'd check the pH before making any additions.

    If you do have to add k-bicarb, go slowly. It's a fine line between a propper correction and over-correction. I start with just 1g/gallon, check the pH several hours later when things have had a chance to equilibrate.

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    Honey has poor pH buffering capacity and often the pH will drop significantly during fermentation. It is much more pronounced than with beer or wine.

    Generally people suggest to use either Potassium Carbonate or Potassium Bicarbonate as it dissolves readily with no flavour addition. I have also used Percipitated chalk but would not recommend it as it is a PITA to clarify.
    I would avoid sodium bicarbonate as it leaves a nasty metallic flavour.

    I think you should be able to re-start fermentation. Check pH and adjust if required warm up you mead a bit if possible and stir a couple times a day. Also wouldn't hurt to add a bit of nutrient to get thing rolling again.

    Whatever you decide you better get on it pretty quick as a 3.5%ABV won't stave of infection very well.

  7. #7

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    OK thanks to both of you it's a lot clearer now!

    Potassium carbonate/bicarbonate it will be, then! That is, if I can get my hands on pH strips quickly to check that it's what I need
    Another reason to hurry is to get rid of raisins which are giving a progressively overpowering flavor, and... I don't have a suitable container for racking
    I may have to sacrifice (a.k.a. drink before completion) part of my batch and save 5L in a demijohn until I can check pH and correct it. I agree with you Farmboyc that 3.5% doesn't make me feel safe for long...

    On a more subjective/approximative note, I did not taste any strong sourness in my mead, but perhaps the bitterness and sweetness of it hides it somehow... My question is whether you can taste if the pH is too low or not? For example, orange juice has a pH of approx. 3.5 and I can taste the acidic character very easily, but this is not the case for this mead... Kind of a long shot, I know...

    I will keep you updated when I can get a pH. If you have another possible explanation in the meantime, I'm all ears!
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  8. #8

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    On a side note: Would it be safe if I bottled some? (assuming I get the same SG in three days, of course). I certainly don't want to get bottle bombs... Could the pH evolve after bottling? That seems unlikely but I would like to make sure.
    This would allow me to save what I can't rack and see how it evolves.
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

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    I personally think it would be kinda risky to bottle. With that much avaliable sugar and no stabilization.

  10. #10

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    OK, I guess the excess mead will have be drunk then! Thanks for the advice!
    Regarding the mead that I can rack, I did some searching and it seems that if it is indeed a low pH issue, bacteria should also have trouble with these conditions. So even though the ABV is low, it should be safe until I can get pH strips and potassium carbonate. I guess time will tell if I'm lucky. I'll be away for a week starting from friday, so it may be *sigh* that I can't fix it before then.
    Well, I guess tomorrow will be as good a day as any to drink 2L of weak, delicious mead

    Good evening, then!
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  11. #11

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    Hello again!

    So, I went ahead a bought a pH-meter (figured it's nice to have around, anyways) and calibrated/tested it.
    I get a pH reading of 3.4 for my mead. That doesn't seem so low to me, is it?
    What are your thoughts on this?
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

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    Nor particularly familiar with S-04 other than it is a beer yeast.
    3.4 is right on the money for a wine yeast. I would suggest you add nutrients and re-pitch yeast or at least add nutrients.

    The Agave wine I'm currently brewing stopped dead after 2 days. Added some nutrients and stirred it up and took off again.

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    Side note. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, some of which dissolves into the must, and becomes carbonic acid. This lowers the pH. So long story short, degassing thoroughly may help you avoid resorting to chemical corrections.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    "Then glory in battle to Hrothgar was given, waxing of war-fame, that willingly kinsmen obeyed his bidding, till the boys grew to manhood, a numerous band. It burned in his spirit to urge his folk to found a great building, a mead-hall grander than men of the era ever had heard of, and in it to share with young and old all of the blessings the Lord had allowed him, save life and retainers." - Beowulf

  14. #14

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    I would presume that the pH isn't the issue, in this case.

    As planned, I tried racking the mead into a 5L glass jug. Never have I seen such a fiasco... Everything that could go wrong basically went wrong... Siphon broke, so I used a tube on the tap which then got plugged by raisins (wouldn't have happened with the nice siphon I got *oh wait*...) so I ended up somehow siphoning (you don't want the details, trust me) and if it doesn't later show to be infected, I will officially be the luckiest man there is.

    I am now enjoying a glass of the leftovers and well... the raisins have taken over. They gave more taste in a day than they did before. Still very drinkable, but so disappointing compared to was it once was!
    I am starting to think I will just let the 5L go on for a while and check without doing anything else. I will probably give me vinegar, but who knows? Yeasts often surprise.

    I WILL start over with this recipe, but god oh god will I remember to put raisins in a bag this time. As to how to avoid this next iteration from getting stuck, I will check pH before fermenting (although it should be fine) and perhaps add more raisins and orange zest (IN A BAG!) for nutrients (I still believe I can do it without DAP and the like).

    I will experiment with another yeast, perhaps s-04 isn't the most adapted to this... The main issue is that, believe it or not, I have a hard time getting my hands on wine yeast, and I'm in France!!! In particular, wine yeasts that everybody seems to love for meadmaking (Lalvin for example) are impossible to find, except perhaps in 500g bags... So... that leaves me with yet another beer yeast: Fermentis US-05, or baker's yeast (that works really well but is very annoying and slow).
    I will keep you updated regarding the evolution of the current batch, and when I make a new one! Any suggestion regarding a yeast to use for this particular kind of weak, sparkling mead?

    Thanks again for the support! And even though pH wasn't (apparently) the issue here, I'm happy to have learned on this topic. I'm certain I will use that knowledge in the future.
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mazer828 View Post
    Side note. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, some of which dissolves into the must, and becomes carbonic acid. This lowers the pH. So long story short, degassing thoroughly may help you avoid resorting to chemical corrections.
    Yes indeed, but like I mentioned, it hasn't had a significant carbonation level in the past few days, so perhaps it is slowly restarting, in which case I would have simply worried over nothing. However, I doubt it and if fermentation does restart it would create CO2 again and lower the pH once more, and so on... If fermentation restarts, and I certainly hope it does, your theory could very well be correct.

    Also I read somewhere that CO2 does indeed lower the pH, but that it is marginal. Organic acids produced by the yeast would be the main source of acidity during fermentation. I have NO idea whether this is correct, just thought you would be interested to know that somebody, somewhere, said that. This would be interesting to look up in detail.

    Long story short, I know nothing, but I sure think a lot
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farmboyc View Post
    The Agave wine I'm currently brewing stopped dead after 2 days. Added some nutrients and stirred it up and took off again.
    If I don't see any evolution after another week, I will try to get my hands on nutrients and see if it works. I'm glad your agave wine was saved!
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  17. #17

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    Hey Mazer828, I found something on these organic acids I mentioned. If that interests you (it's focused on bread dough but even without dissolved CO2 we observe a similar decrease in pH during fermentation).
    http://www.theartisan.net/factors_ef...rmentation.htm
    The "Acidification" paragraph is about just that. Perhaps in mead the situation is different, but I find this interesting nonetheless.
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  18. #18

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    Hi cayrs

    Welcome to the forum. I'm really lost here wondering why you oppose using nutrients? Making beer with out them is one thing. Hoping to make mead , which is a harder task, and then, wanting to do that on an empty stomach? If it gives you a much better flavor profile. If you get to the end result, rather than stalling out. Why wouldn't you want to use them?

    Lastly. And you might not like this idea, or might have a hard time getting ahold of some. There is a rehydration product called Go-ferm, or better yet, Go-ferm protect. If you use it's protocol along with the product (it only works with dry yeast) you will start your yeast off to the best start they can have. And yea, granted, chewing up 50 points is hardly a work out. It will still give you your best shot. Especially once you start making more than hydromels.
    7 out of 4 people have a hard time using their hydrometer!

  19. #19

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    Hi Squatchy! Thanks.

    Well the first reason is I don't have any LHBS to speak of, so I have to order everything. So if I can avoid using nutrients in concentrated form by replacing with fruits that's something I wanna do. I understand that nutrients are key to a healthy fermentation, which is why I use raisins and orange which are supposed to provide a significant amount of it. Perhaps I should have used more, this would explain the stalling. I never planned on making my yeasts do their job on an empty stomach, let me reassure you .

    The same goes for Go-ferm, sadly. If I wanna try a show mead, then I certainly will have to use nutrients and go-ferm, staggered additions, etc. But so far I'm focusing on melomels, methgelins or combinations of those, so adding nutrients using "natural" adjuncts is a possibility. I know it's harder, and could result in stalled fermentation, but like you mentioned, I had about 50 points to chew up (in fact, even less) so I never would have thought it would be an issue. Plus, I made three meads with bread yeast that all fermented really well using only "natural" nutrient sources, and I had a LOT more than 50 points to go down.

    Note that I use quotes on "natural", I'm not saying commercial nutrients are nasty chemicals or anything, I just prefer having a more traditional and intuitive approach. I want my recipe to be doable with regular household items mostly.

    I appreciate your comment, Squatchy, I'm just a little stubborn and have no easy access to brewing material.
    Fermenting: Sparkling Black Tea Mead V2, Capsicumel
    Bulk aging:
    Bottle aging: JAOM variant with grapefruit, Chouchen, Dried apricot-raisin melomel, Sparkling Black Tea Mead

  20. #20

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    You might find some useful info here on the form in a thread called all natural BOMM or something very similar. Loveofrose gives info on how to use natural ingredients for your food
    7 out of 4 people have a hard time using their hydrometer!

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