View Full Version : Sour aroma on the 3rd day of fermentation - probably lactic

09-03-2011, 01:53 AM
Recipe (5 gallons):

12.5 lbs mesquite honey
2.5 tsp acid blend
2 tsp dried yeast nutrient (unknown brand)
1/4 tsp Irish moss

Red Star "Pasteur Champagne" and "Montrachet" yeasts

beginning SG 1115

Fermentation temperatures have been in the upper 70s/low 80s (I live in Tucson, Arizona and have terrible a/c).

The story on this one is: I had a batch of weak ginger wine in a plastic 5-gallon carboy. Racked that one to secondary, immediately sprayed out the carboy with a hose, rinsed it several times, and disinfected with StarSan (didn't bother scrubbing because I saw no deposits). And then used it as a primary for the above mead recipe.

Alas, I tasted the ginger wine in secondary and it is quite sour. Talked to a few people and realized that some transparent mats I had seen on the surface of the wine, which had trapped bubbles, were almost certainly colonies of lactic bacteria.

And when I smell my mead (now occupying the likely still-infected carboy) through the airlock, the smell is like lemon juice. Not pungent like vinegar, just sour.

There are no comparable colonies *on* the mead's surface, but there are opaque white sediment-ish-looking deposits on the inside of the carboy *above* the surface. These crawled up during the last day or so; on the first day, they were in a ring just *below* the mead's surface. (They are no longer under the surface.)

My question is: is all lost? Or do lactic flavors become more bearable with time? Or (hoping against hope) is it possible that the lemon-juice smell is among the normal range of fermentation smells, and I should stop worrying?

P.S. clearly this is my first mead.

09-03-2011, 02:59 AM
Welcome! I live in tucson too. The heat can be a killer.

Sounds like a plethora of possible things going on...
-2 types of yeast? This could cause stresses of the yeast and maybe off aromas and or flavors.
- Temperature. This defiantly can cause the yeast to make funky stuff too.
- If you got funk in there of some kind, that is a possible contaminant cause of off odors.

At this point there isn't much you can do except ride it out and hope things mellow with time.

From what I understand also you want to add the acid blend after fermentation and aging because you may not need it with all things finishing.

Defiantly read the NewBee Guide for lots of great info and I would be happy to get together being in tucson too

09-03-2011, 10:21 AM
Irish moss?

Medsen Fey
09-03-2011, 11:21 AM
Irish moss?

A staple in beer brewing that is used as a clarifying agent. It must be boiled to be useful, and you'll see it in old brewer's recipes for mead that invariably included boiling the must. Such old recipes often included acid additions at the beginning because they didn't realize that will sometimes cause a mead to stall.

5th, sour smells are part of mead and wine making. The yeast produce acids that contribute to it and you can get a lot of other strange smells when brewing as well. However, Montrachet is a yeast that is well known for producing medicinal phenolic (and plastic-like) odors when fermenting at temps in the 80s. I hope your batch turns out, but if you are going to craft mead at those temps, you probably need to change yeast.

Welcome to GotMead!


09-03-2011, 02:47 PM
Oh, I know what it is, just surprised to still see it in a mead recipe. I don't even use it in beer. :)

All my meads have smelled and tasted plenty acidic, I can't even imagine how they'd be with that much acid blend!

09-03-2011, 04:49 PM
Medsen et al., thanks for the welcome, and for the information! Finally some straight talk. I think my problem is that I've gotten (until now) all my information from beer-oriented sources! The recipe is a hybrid of one that came in a kit from a store called Brew Your Own Brew, which is very much beer-focused, and one from Papazian's "Joy of Homebrewing."

The Montrachet and the acid blend were from the kit (odd that a Tucson-made kit would contain yeast known to do badly at high temperatures!). The kit also contained Campden tablets, pectic enzyme and 2-3 tsp of tannins.

I didn't use the enzyme because I used no fruit (so no need for it, right?); didn't use the tannins because that seemed odd and artificial; didn't use the tablets because I boiled the must (a feature from Papazian). He also included acid blend in his recipe -- more than I used, even.

So, I'm pretty relieved that sour smells are normal for wine and meadmaking. It's actually improved since I last posted, too -- more like fruit juice left out in a sippy cup too long (yeah, I have a 2-year-old) than actual lemon juice. And the fact that there are still no bacterial rafts, like the wine had by its 3rd or 4th day, makes me a little more optimistic about my sanitation.

So this leaves me with a question still: if the acid blend is indeed way too much in the end, is there a way I can lower the acidity? Stick in something that neutralizes it, but also precipitates out of the liquid? Or would blending be the only remedy?

09-03-2011, 05:27 PM
There is, yes...I haven't ever had to use it, but I keep some calcium carbonate on hand for any eventuality.

And tannin powder isn't artificial, so no worries there. You're right about the pectic enzyme, no fruit, no need.

There is a lot to learn, but fortunately for you this is the place to learn it. My son brews beer and a lot of what I do to make mead totally freaks him out--he's certain that I'm doing it all wrong. Thanks to the experts here, so far, so good. And remember that there is actually very little that can't be salvaged one way or another. My daughter and I just found a bottle half full of a traditional that I'd closed up with a zork from a sparkling wine we had for Easter. We had the traditional left and figured what the heck, let's try the zork and see what happens. Then we forgot about it until we happened across it today. Tastes just fine. :)

Medsen Fey
09-03-2011, 05:41 PM
If you do wind up with too much acidity, you can also sweeten to balance it, and in many cases you'll end up with something quite good.

09-03-2011, 09:04 PM
wildoates, thanks for the tip. I might lay in a store of calcium carbonate just in case. It's reassuring to know that there's not much I can do to mess it up permanently :)

Also, I read through the NewBees guide -- lots of good information and answers to some other questions I'd had! But the link that says it points to Angus and Oskaar's discussion on fermentation timing (a "must read") is broken -- points to a general-interest news article instead.

Also, I decided I'd try starting a gallon of Ancient Orange tonight, just to see what happens. I have everything lying around, so why not?

09-11-2011, 03:57 PM
Update: I replaced the gasket and fermentation lock, swabbed (and filled the lock) with cheap whiskey, and in doing so I took my first gravity reading and taste since fermentation started.

Aroma: incredibly phenolic and cidery. Really, really unpleasant. I did not want to take a taste.

Taste: rather sweet, a little hot from the volatile alcohols, and barely at all phenolic! Just a little in the aftertaste. That makes me feel loads better about this mead's chances. Also, it doesn't taste overly acidic, which I had been concerned about (due to the acid blend and the early smells).

SG: 1018. Clearly this yeast is not having health problems! It seems to have been going at nearly 10 points a day.

I plan on racking in 2-3 days, adding nutrient at that time.

Medsen Fey
09-11-2011, 08:03 PM
You don't need to add nutrients at this point. You need to add your nutrients near the beginning of fermentation for them to be useful. Any nutrients you add now will likely just be there to feed spoilage organisms.

Plan on aging this for a long time (2 years) and perhaps that will allow the aroma to come around.

09-12-2011, 11:27 PM
How about letting it sit on some rosemary, or another fairly strong-smelling herb, after racking? I have no illusions that this batch will succeed as a show mead, and maybe a covering smell will help the phenols seem to disappear a little faster than 2 years...

Chevette Girl
09-12-2011, 11:42 PM
Give it a sniff after racking, if it's a smell and not a taste, it may "air out" a little.

09-16-2011, 12:55 AM
ChevetteGirl, you were spot on! The smell hasn't gone away, but the cidery and phenolic notes are very, very much reduced after racking. (Leaving behind, in their turn, a somewhat solventy smell. sigh...) -- still, though, it tastes decent, and overall the smell is better, if not actually good yet.

SG now 1013 too.

And I racked it into another plastic carboy, with a wacky airlock (because the mouth doesn't fit any of my LHBS's gaskets) that is as follows: non-airtight plastic screw cap with a balloon stretched over it.

The CO2 isn't going into the balloon proper, it's squeaking out from under the 5mm or so of rubber that covers the joint between the carboy neck and the cap.

So I have another question! Two actually. One: is that "airlock" actually airtight enough for sanitary purposes?

Two: Is it normal to have little white patches of fairly persistent *very fine* bubbles, and/or bubbles of any size that don't pop when you tap the carboy? I may be hypersensitive because I got bona-fide bacterial bubble-trapping mats on a wine previous to this. These don't look like that, but still.

09-16-2011, 10:33 AM
So I have another question! Two actually. One: is that "airlock" actually airtight enough for sanitary purposes?

Two: Is it normal to have little white patches of fairly persistent *very fine* bubbles, and/or bubbles of any size that don't pop when you tap the carboy? I may be hypersensitive because I got bona-fide bacterial bubble-trapping mats on a wine previous to this. These don't look like that, but still.

Let me add to the chorus of voices providing you with advice and suggestions! ;D

First, with respect to your "engineered airlock," as long as the assembly restricts the flow of gases from the carboy out to the outside air enough, then there will always be a slight bit of positive pressure between the carboy and the outside. That positive pressure, along with any labyrinthine arrangement that keeps a direct path from the carboy to the outside blocked, is usually good enough to prevent spoilage organisms from getting into the must. You don't need a perfect hermetic seal for an airlock to do its job during primary fermentation. In fact, during my primary fermentations I will often just have a sanitized cloth stretched over my fermenter, or alternately when I'm fermenting in a bucket, I'll have a plastic lid simply setting loosely on the top rim of the bucket - completely covering it to prevent airborne stuff from falling in, but nowhere near "sealed."

That said, during the end of primary when CO2 production falls to the point where mixing of gases from the outside is possible within the headspace of your carboy, you should try to keep as good a seal as possible at the lock, in order to prevent as much O2 penetration into the headspace as possible.

Regarding the little bit of bubble entrapment that you describe, that is usually just a little residual yeast and yeast protein floating on the surface, forming a very thin film that can trap some CO2 bubbles. Some yeast strains are more prone to generate that film than others. It is only a problem if you start to see the film appear to grow in thickness, or to form either tendrils or small spherical structures - both of those can be caused by spoilage organisms. If in doubt, perform a sniff test. Most spoilage organisms will throw off foul or vinegary aromas. If you are still worried, you can rack the clear mead out from under that film layer and then treat with metabisulphite.

Good luck with this batch the rest of the way!