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Thread: First time mead maker - ferm is slowing down fast?

  1. #1
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    Default First time mead maker - ferm is slowing down fast?

    Hi guys, first time mead maker here from South Africa. I got the idea to make mead from a colleague, and decided to try it since I had a small amount of honey at home and my wife can't consume it fast enough due to low blood pressure. So I read up a bit, made some plans and decided to get to it. I didn't want to spend money on a "test" like this, so it was as cheap as I could get it. I used:
    Old 750ml whisky bottles woth screw caps as the fermenting vessles.
    Honey I had at home.
    Just expired cider yeast from a local home brew store (SafCider, R25 for two packs, best I could get this time of the year).
    Two bubblers (air locks), also from a local home brew store (R30 each).
    Some potassium metabisulfate for later, R30 for a bag.
    Total cost: R115 (around $9)

    So I went home and got started. Drilled holes in the caps of the whisky bottles, and fitted the bubblers.

    - Sterilized EVERYTHING with boiling water and bleach.

    - Boiled bottled drinking water, let it cool down and poured a bit in each of the two fermenting bottles.
    Added 250ml of honey to each bottle (one third by volume).

    - Mixed my cider yeast with the same clean water, shook it up and added it to the bottles. I used a full pack for the two bottles (because it was 'expired').

    - Sealed with the bubblers, added water to the bubblers and marked the date. 22nd December 2017.

    Now, here is where things get interesting. Fermenting started off VERY fast. So fast that one of the bubblers filled up with must. I had to clean it out and reinsert it into the cap. I read up that fermeting should take around 4-5 weeks, but at this pace it'll be long done before then. Today (29th) I mixed up the must again (as I do daily) by just flipping the bottle and making sure it's mixed up, but the sudden CO2 release was very low. Now I wonder if the ferm won't be stopping sooner? How can I tell? How would I know it is time to siphon off for 2nd ferm? When do I add the potassium metabisulfate? When do I rack it to age and clear? If I want to make one bottle a melomel (berries sound awesome), when should I add the fruit?

    Sorry for all the questions. I started out with this thing not having any idea what to expect and I tested the waters with both feet - and now I am lost. It is my own stupidity, I know, but I hope to make a success of this tiny, tiny batch of mine and then to proceed to bigger batches (wife seems to love the idea of this new hobby of mine). Any ideas for someone who's just gone and possibly tossed it up (in other words, me)?

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    Oh, and the bug had bitten. I will pursue this new world of fermenting and brewing...

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    Hiya Toxxyc - and welcome. The active fermentation can take a week or two (can take longer if you don't provide the yeast with the minerals and nutrients it needs) but the aging process can take many weeks or even months. If you don't have an hydrometer then you really do need to buy one. They are not expensive but you use an hydrometer to measure the density of the mead and changes in density give you information about how much sugar is remaining and knowing how much sugar remains tells you when to rack (siphon). You can add the fruit with the honey , or after a week or two of active fermentation or you can add the fruit when you have racked the mead into a carboy for aging...

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    Hi and thanks for the info, bernard! I was unable to find a hydrometer at this time of year, and since I did not know much I proceeded without it. I have now found a new store that sells them for cheap, but they are obviously closed for the festive season. I have taken a look at my fermentation and it seems to have halted. Can it be done already? I am worried that since I did not add yeast nutrients (could not find any), the yeast might have died/halted. Can it be restarted and when should I add nutrients (if any)? When adding fruit, it will probably add some nutrients to the yeast, so would it be a good idea to do so with the 2nd ferm to ensure the fermentation it actually complete?

    I didn't know how little I knew until I started reading up on all of this, to be honest. I'm not scared of the challenge, but man am I sorry I didn't start asking questions sooner...

    EDIT: Oh, and I'm not sure if it's too relevant, but the smells that are coming from the air lock smells really good to me. Like really sweet, typical fermentation smell, but sweet and inviting, like honey. No sulphur or other funny smells. Good sign?
    Last edited by Toxxyc; 12-31-2017 at 02:45 AM.

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    Instead of using whiskey bottles as primary vessels, see if you can find a jug to ferment in. In the States, fruit juice is often sold in glass gallon jugs (Not sure what the metric equivalent is), and those are easier to work with if you can find a drilled stopper.

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    I find that I'll have a week of very vigorous fermentation, then several weeks of slow and steady fermentation. By "slow and steady" I mean that it looks like there's nothing going on -- no bubbles, no pop to the airlock. The hydrometer tells the real story; sugars are still going to alcohol, which means there's still carbon dioxide being given off. (I know you don't have one at the moment, but don't let a lack of bubbles fool you.)

    I would say stick with the straight mead at the moment (no fruit) and see how it tastes in about two months. Work on fruit additives after you've been able to research more and acquire a slightly bigger set of fermentation tools, and do more research -- some fruits really want pectinase to keep them from going hazy, for example.

    Even a one gallon jug to rack into will be much easier to work with.
    Mead Magic
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    OK so here's where I'm at. I didn't take the SG when I started, so even if I buy a hydrometer today (which I'm going to do, by the way), there's no way of me telling how much alcohol is in this mead. I can't pour over into a gallon jug, because I have only 1.5l worth of must in total (less than half a gallon). I need to "save" this, and I think I know what's wrong:

    I mixed the must in a ratio of 1 part honey to 2 parts water by volume. That means my must is 33% honey. According to what I'm reading, that's a lot. I'm not 100% sure what the potential ABV is I can get from that, but I'm guessing that my yeast reached it's 10%~11% ABV limit and is slowly dying. I'll skip the fruits for now and just stick to a plain mead (and I suspect it's going to be quite sweet, which I'm completely okay with). So for now I need to know if there's a way I can measure the alcohol level in a crude way, or perhaps calculate what the SG was when I started by using the above volumes. Would such a thing be possible?

    Honestly I just don't want to lose this batch. If I have to water it down for the yeast to start up again, I'll be happy to do so, since I did come across some larger glass jars since I started and I think they'll work well (if I can find stoppers for them). I'll then just let the ferm continue again, but I don't want to do it if it's a really crap idea. Otherwise (since I really don't mind a sweet mead), I can put it through it's first racking and wait to see what comes of it? I just hope the ABV isn't too low that I'll run the risk of contamination...

    PS: If I'm overthinking this, just tell me to shut up and I'll do that as well...

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    Thanks for the replies everyone, I really do appreciate it! So today I checked on the batches and the airlocks are quiet. Bubbles are so slow, I can't notice movement. Now I know this isn't a measure to see if the fermentation is complete, but hear me out:

    I started with this not knowing about specific gravity and alcohol tolerance and all those sort of things. So I mixed together honey and water without doing my homework. I did some calculations based off of here and other parts of the internet, since honey is sold by weight and not volume, and came to the conclusion that I used WAY too much honey. Like, WAY too much. So much, in fact, that I suspect I might have killed the yeast very soon due to the vast amount of sugars in the must. Let me run the maths here for you.

    I used 250ml honey and 500ml water per bottle. In terms of weight, that's 360g honey and 500g water (this here is where I stuffed up). That means that my must was 36% honey. Convert that to US, and I get very high numbers. If I am to extrapolate this, it means I used 4lb of honey per gallon of must. If these numbers are correct (and I think they are), it means my original SG must have been (pun intended) around the 1.750 mark.

    This is too high, judging by all the recipes I have seen, meaning this batch of mine is going be seriously sweet when I'm done with it. It also means that I probably stuffed up this batch and that the yeast has reached it's alcohol tolerance, since the yeast (SafCider) has an alcohol tolerance of 11%.

    Now, step next. What would that be for me in this situation? I'm not too keen to spend too much time on this batch right now, but I'm thinking of racking it for second ferm and then letting it sit until clear. Since this mead is way sweet, it should clear relatively quickly, and be ready to drink a bit sooner, no?

    Sorry for all the stupidness here, I honestly did not know how little I knew about this before I started and I only now see I really made a mess of it. I wanted to say that the shaker in which I aerated the must was VERY sticky when I was done with it...

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    OK so this posting is working now, think Vicky saved me here (thanks, Vicky!).

    Anyway. I'll summarize my last two posts I tried to posts here. I'm not ungrateful, just in a hurry, so it might seem a bit "harsh". Apologies if it comes across as that.

    I calculated (loosely) the original SG of my must by using online averages and determined that my must was probably at an SG of around 1.262 when I started. That's VERY high. I missed the difference between honey's weight and volume and that's why I'm where I am right now. I suspect the yeast has reached it's alcohol tolerance (11%), and since I didn't feed the yeast when I pitched (nor did I know anything about the 1/3 cut and all those things), I'm going to stop the mead here. The fermentation has stopped completely as of today (I checked this morning), and yesterday I purchased some potassium sorbate, potassium metabisulfate and a siphoning tube. This afternoon I will rack the mead to new containers and let it sit for another few weeks, waiting for it to clear. If it doesn't, I'll cold crash it to clear, and then add the chems to stabilize before bottling.

    In short - I'm done with this batch. I'm not going to try and save it. I stuffed it up and will have to deal with a seriously sweet mead. It smells really good and looks nice too (no growths or funny things in the bottle), so I just want the carbonation to drop, let it clear and then I can bottle and cool it for aging/drinking.

    To clarify why I say I stuffed up - my mead contains WAY too much honey. So much, in fact, that the must was 36% honey, which works out to 4lb of honey per gallon of must. I'm going to deal with it as it is right now, but I must add that I'm not too worried since I've been meaning to get a sweeter mead in the end anyway.

    PS: I didn't get a hydrometer, so I can't calculate SG now. I'll rack it for now and test final SG later, just before I stabilize and bottle.
    Last edited by Toxxyc; 01-03-2018 at 04:37 AM.

  10. #10

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    An SG of 1.262 is not about 4lbs per gallon. 1.262 would be more than half (~60%) your must being honey or 30% potential alcohol.
    Don't know how your decision making process worked out the way it did but I guess it's too late now.
    You should read the newbee guide in a tab at the top of this page if you want to do better on your next batch.
    "Shouldn’t we say wine is a mead-like beverage made with grapes substituted for the honey?" - Steve Piatz

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    I calculated the potential original SG as:

    360g honey @ SG of 1.450
    500g water @ SG of 1.000

    ((1.450 x 360) + (1.000 x 500)) / 860 = 1.188

    So I stuffed up my maths, again. Colour me stupid and whack me over the head with a teflon pan.

    Point remains - it's high. Too high for the (incorrect) yeast I used. It'll be a sweet mead, which I'm fine with, so I'm going to work with what I have (perhaps push the batch into smaller bottles and flavour on the second ferm to get a taste I like, or something).

    Since I started I have worked my way through the entire NewBee Guide as per the link in the top rows. It's excellent - I learned A LOT. Biggest thing I learned is how little I know, so I'm here to learn. That being said, I'm not 100% sure if mead is the drink for me (without stepping on toes here, I hope). I'm a patient man when it comes to certain things, but I hope I can be patient in waiting for it to age, specially since it's such a small batch. I suspect my next run will be something quicker - like beer or rum (distilling is allowed here in South Africa for personal consumption). I know the rules though - for beer I'll ask around here but for the rest I'll not mention it.

    Regarding all of the above (or below, depending on how your forum settings sorts posts), I would like to thank EVERYONE who contributed, no matter how little. Every single response helped, and I'm seriously appreciative of it. My next run/batch will be precise, planned and calculated - I promise. I'll probably end up running a tried and tested recipe so I can get the idea of what it's supposed to work like :P

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stasis View Post
    Don't know how your decision making process worked out the way it did but I guess it's too late now.
    To be honest, there was no process. When I say I knew nothing, I mean it. Literally nothing. All I knew was that I needed honey, water and yeast. I decided to pick it up in a spur of the moment as an alternative to starting with beer, and that's it. I got home, threw everything together (literally) and let it sit, and that's where I'm at now. The only rule I followed was to sanitize everything before use - using a double-strength bleach solution, and that's it. I aerated the must by accident (preparing the yeast in a shaker was incidentally the easiest solution for me), I didn't use yeast nutrient (but pitched 5g of yeast in 1/3rd of a gallon of mead, so I used a lot), I didn't check the temps (but because of the wide temp range of the yeast I was lucky), etc. etc.

    I literally tested the water using both feet, jumping straight in, hence my frustration to myself. Also, obviously, hence my questions on rescuing the mix, and not doing it perfectly from the start.

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    hmm.. try the mead batch calculator next time. no math involved
    "Shouldn’t we say wine is a mead-like beverage made with grapes substituted for the honey?" - Steve Piatz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stasis View Post
    hmm.. try the mead batch calculator next time. no math involved
    I like the jab - funny :P Anyway, I'll definitely use a calculator next time.

    In the meantime, I racked the two bottles I started. I racked one off into a small bottle, added some very coarse coffee grounds to make what I guess to be a legumel. I racked the mead and immediately cold crashed it (placed it in the fridge) with the grounds in it. I'm going to have to filter this one - but that's fine, doesn't bother me at all. Might as well experiment with what I have, no? The rest I just racked into a 1l glass bottle (old milk bottle).

    Airlocks are dead quiet and there was minimal CO2 escape in both bottles when racking, so I suspect the yeast might be completely dead (and have been dead for a while now). In the midst of this I decided to test my concoction, and while smell is still good, the taste is very yeasty. A tiny bit sour, but not really sour. I can definitely pick up the alcohol in the mead. Overall though it's still sweet, but the tasting notes doesn't bode well. Neither of the bottles are clear now, but the one in the 1l has slightly "lightened" in colour since the racking about 12 hours ago. It also still smells like the fermentation process (not like vinegar though). I guess the aging might help, but I'm not too sure. Right now it kind of tastes like a really strong, bitter, sweetened beer, which is not what I was aiming for to be honest.

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    It can take a while for the yeast to settle out.

    I don't think Stasis was saying that you should use a calculator. I think he was saying to use the "Gotmead Batch Calculator."

    http://gotmead.com/blog/the-mead-calculator/

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    Quote Originally Posted by darigoni View Post
    It can take a while for the yeast to settle out.

    I don't think Stasis was saying that you should use a calculator. I think he was saying to use the "Gotmead Batch Calculator."

    http://gotmead.com/blog/the-mead-calculator/
    Yep. Keyboard wasn't working properly and I had to write the shortest sentence
    "Shouldn’t we say wine is a mead-like beverage made with grapes substituted for the honey?" - Steve Piatz

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    Quote Originally Posted by darigoni View Post
    It can take a while for the yeast to settle out.

    I don't think Stasis was saying that you should use a calculator. I think he was saying to use the "Gotmead Batch Calculator."

    http://gotmead.com/blog/the-mead-calculator/
    Oh yeah I got that from his post - I've used the calculator to play around a bit since, but thanks for clarifiying anyway - I appreciate it!

    OK so since yesterday the coffee mead turned a dark golden colour and all the grounds dropped to the bottom. I smelled it and the coffee smell was overwhelming (too coffee-like), so I strained it with a very fine filter (leaving a tiny amount of coffee sediment behind, similar to a good cup of coffee) and stabilized (with sorbate and metabisulfate). When I checked this morning it seems to have calmed down a bit.

    The mead in the other bottle (the plain mead) was also stabilized because I found something that looked like tiny pieces of something in the mixture when degassing. No idea what it was, but I was worried about infection, so I added my sorbate and metabisulfate and placed the bottle in the fridge (set to 4°C). I checked this morning and those little "pieces" seem to be gone (dropped to the bottom), the mead's smell (and taste) is improving and it's slowly starting to clear from the top down. There's a definite "line" in the mead, about 1/4" from the surface, with the top part more clear than the bottom. All fermentation is obviously stopped, and the yeasty smell is dissipating FAST. It seems like I might actually have saved this batch, and it's not completely lost, which would be awesome!

    I'll update more once it progresses. Slightly more optimistic about this right now, to be honest...

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    Congrats Toxxyc. While it might be too sweet you'd be surprised how many people assume a honey wine has to be very sweet because honey is very sweet. So if you shared it with friends they might actually like it more than a mead which was carefully taken care of and finished more dry. Just don't share it with judges at a competition perhaps
    "Shouldn’t we say wine is a mead-like beverage made with grapes substituted for the honey?" - Steve Piatz

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    OK it's me again. The mead has been doing well and started clearing last week. I even took a picture because it looked really cool to me. I placed it in the pantry since it has a very stable temperature, and things seems to have gone well:



    There were three definite lines - the top of the mead being clear, looking like whisky, and the middle being quite murky and the lowest part being very much like the original mix. The clear part was increasing in size over the course of 2~3 days, but then Saturday we hit one hell of a heat wave. Felt temperatures hit ~105°F and has been stuck like that ever since (should be over today). So this morning I took another look - and the mead's back to completely cloudy again. The pantry isn't hot at all inside, and still very cool (but I have no thermometer to test, unfortunately), so I'm wondering if mead can cloud up again after going clearer? I'm a bit confused here... O.o

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    Me again. The mead was racked for the 2nd time after heavy sediment littered the bottom of the previous bottle. I take it that's the sorbate and metabisulphate doing it's thing? Anyway, I racked and moved the mead to the fridge in the midst of recent wild temperature fluctuations in Pretoria (South Africa). In the past week and a half we've had felt temperatures vary between 17°C and 41°C, so it's been a bit crazy. The mead seems to be clearing, but VERY slowly, and no longer in that 3-layer manner as before. As to the smell - the yeast smell is slowly dying off. The smell now reminds me of dry white wine, and the smell of alcohol (not bad alcohol) is strong in the bottle. I did a tiny taste test the other day and while I don't appreciate the flavour all that much (it tastes like a sweetened, dry white wine, which I'm not a big fan of), it doesn't taste like something actually went wrong with the batch. Here's to hoping it'll improve with age (all indicators are pointing to the fact that it will, because it smells/tastes better with every week I'm testing it).

    Regarding the other batch, the one with the coffee grounds - it definitely got infected. I suspect the coffee grounds might have had something in it, because the mead got funky. I never tasted it, but the smell alone smelled like fermented coffee grounds, like the smell you get when you forget to clean the coffee grounds out of a drip filter machine. It was...gross, so I tossed it. Not going to risk some funky stuff growing in a bottle in my fridge - thank you.

    On another topic, I also found the reason I'll probably never make a truly good mead - apparently I'm impatient as they get. I starter beer brewing over the weekend to try and curb the wait, but man, I now wake up in the middle of the night wondering how it's going with the air lock on my new beer kit...

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