View Full Version : Overflow and Misunderstood Yeast

04-25-2014, 05:53 PM
I wanted to do a 2-gallon mead, and was sticking to a traditional mead recipe with the plan to add spices at secondary as the urge struck me. I wanted this mead to be a still, sweet mead. Having left choice/advice of ingredients (read: yeast) up to one of the fellows at the local brew supply shop, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to wind up with a still mead - they advised me to use Windsor.

...Before I go any further, here are all the technicals so far:

8.5 gallons Orange Blossom Honey
Filled to 2 gallons with purified water
1 package Winsor Ale Yeast
2tsp Yeast Nutrient

Pitched 1600hrs, 12April2014.
OG: 1.170

Now for the parts that have me confused.
I haven't encountered overflow before, much less like this:
That amount was even higher a few days ago. You can see some deposits where it used to reach:
Regarding this, here are my questions:
1) Is overflow into the tube normal?
1a) Is that much overflow normal?
2) How am I going to deal with that when it comes time to transfer to a carboy for secondary?

Beyond the overflow, I'm curious about the implications of using Windsor yeast.
1) Will I still be able to get a still mead from this?
1a) If not, would that explain why this is still (lightly) bubbling?
2) Will I have to back-sweeten the mead, or will there be residual sugar leftover from primary?
2b) I f I have to back-sweeten, vaguely how much is recommended for attaining something between semi-sweet and sweet? (I'm not too terribly picky in this case)

I'm operating with respect for the fact that the only dumb questions are the ones left unasked.

--As an extra bit of detail, I've pretty much decided that I want to spice it in secondary with the following:
.5oz Star Anise
3-5 Saffron Threads
1 Madagascar Vanilla Bean
1oz Juniper Berries
.5oz Mace
.5oz Cloves
3oz Dried Turkish Figs (yes, I will be adding potassium sorbate with this).

Am I missing anything critical in that plan?

04-25-2014, 08:56 PM
1. Overflow happens when your primary vessel is too small. It happens all the time, mostly on your first couple batches before you get a larger vessel or downsize your batches.
1a. I've seen worse. I've had worse. Much, much worse.
2. As you please, really. Mead is much less sensitive than beer (I assume from your setup that you've made beer in the past) so you can likely get away with moving everything to secondary, including the contents of the overflow hose there.

1. A still mead is one that has no carbonation in it once bottled. No reason you can't have a still mead, in fact, it's the easiest type to make most the time. When it's all said and done, unless you do something with the intent of carbonating it, your mead will finish still, perhaps slightly petillant. If petillant, stir gently until still.
1a. This is probably still bubbling for a different reason. See below.
2. I doubt you'll need to backsweeten this. See below.
2b. See below.

Your starting gravity is a little high. Ok, a lot high. Most mazers do not attempt to make a mead with a starting gravity higher than 1.13, because 9 times out of 10, the yeast will die of osmotic shock before even getting a foothold in a solution of that gravity. In the odd case where the yeast don't just die, the ferment is a very hard thing on them, and as a result the yeast will be doing things you don't want them to do, like generating fusels, off-flavors, and just generally not cleanly converting a sugar source to alcohol.

The must in your blow-off hose tells me you most likely have gotten some amount of fermentation to occur. Having started this mead 1.5 weeks ago, at a more normal gravity I'd expect your primary fermentation to finish in the next week or so. As your gravity is far above normal, I suspect your ferment is nowhere near completion. The way to find out is to open up that bucket, draw a sample, and measure the gravity. If you so desire, you could probably try to get the contents of your hose to flow into a suitable testing container. How you might accomplish that, I leave to you. A sample is needed, get it however you like.

After testing the gravity, try it. Is it sweet? I would expect very much so. Does it possess any noticeable off-flavors? Mid-ferment, meads don't typically taste all that good, but they shouldn't taste like sulfur or anything along that line either.

I suspect you're going to need to feed your yeast a bit to keep them healthy in light of the task you've set before them. Not knowing where you are in your ferment, the safest way to accomplish that is with more yeast. Boil some yeast to kill it all, then add it to your mead. The living yeast will munch on that and do a little better at surmounting the challenge you've laid before them.

The chances of your mead going dry are very low, in my mind. I wouldn't worry about that, at least. Finishing too sweet is what you need to worry about for now.

Welcome to GotMead, by the way!

04-26-2014, 09:50 AM
The chances of your mead going dry are very low, in my mind. I wouldn't worry about that, at least. Finishing too sweet is what you need to worry about for now.

I second that.
I cannot find the alcohol tolerance of that yeast for the life of me. It being an ale yeast I would imagine it's average to low. In any case I'd be VERY surprised if you'd achieve a 20% alcohol mead with that yeast, or any yeast given the method used. The easiest solution is to make a larger batch of a lower alcohol content mead.
Sorry for asking something obvious, but did you specifically want such a high alcohol content mead? Meads are generally in the 12-14% range, but higher is also doable

04-26-2014, 04:49 PM
Well, some developments:
I took a gravity reading, and it came out bobbing between 1.122 and 1.126. The effervescence of the mead would cause fluctuations from one reading to the other over the course of about 60-90 seconds.
There were some unusual aromas, a bit yeasty (as expected, I would guess), but the mead itself was absolutely delicious. Of course, with that much honey, something at 5.8-6.3%ABV (did I get my calculations right?) would be, wouldn't it?

@Stasis: To be completely honest, I'd be happy with something below 14%. I'm a bit of a nutrition nut (a recovering obsessive-compulsive calorie-counter, if you will), so the idea of less alcohol and more sugar in its place is, from one standpoint at least, preferable. But, to keep a complex answer simple, I'm quite satisfied staying in the 12-14% range. No need to make like Dansk Mjod (again, delicious stuff that I will leap for at a moment's notice, but when you're hitting 19.5-21.8%, it becomes a little intimidating).
I'm sure that, given my intentions, I should've saved a goodly portion of the honey for back-sweetening -- that about right?

04-27-2014, 02:13 PM
(Not sure what the sentiment is towards double-posting here, but here goes)
Today's developments:
Steady gravity reading at 1.114-1.115, despite effervescence. Somewhat more noticeable alcohol presence in the taste, but pleasantly so. The aroma is the same as yesterday, as best as I can tell. Again, if I ran the calculations right, today's SG puts it at 7.22 - 7.35%ABV. My big question is: Is it pretty normal for that much fermentation to occur over 22 hours?

BTW, the questions/self-criticisms from my last post still stand.

04-27-2014, 07:51 PM
Wish I could help. The problem is I could write an essay on what you can do and what the problems might be. But I have never attempted to salvage a mead because I over pitched honey so my advice would probably not be the best anyway.
All I can do is suggest you do some serious research on:
- Yeast Osmotic shock due to high starting gravity/honey/OG
- Alcohol Tolerance of yeast (If you can find the specific tolerance of your yeast this would be a bonus)
- Practices used to create a high alcohol mead. This includes: yeast selection, nutrients, aeration and a yeast starter

A post which had similar problems to yours, or could soon become as your mead might slow down is this:
One of the suggestions was creating a larger batch as I suggested in my previous post. Seems my gut instinct may have been right.

There is a lot of stuff you can research, depending on what you do from here on. If your mead stops at 14% it will be way too sweet. Even if you somehow drink it, it will be a great waste of honey as you could have made a larger batch and still have a very sweet mead. I hope some more experienced member can assist you from here on.
Having said all this, do not fret. Worst case scenario and you have a 2 gallon batch with which to top off future meads, which I have found to be a good thing ;)

05-05-2014, 11:29 AM
Well, I went away for the weekend, came back, and found the mead to have maintained the same gravity all the way through: 1.111, putting it at 7.74%ABV. My guess is it's as good a time as any to proceed to secondary. The taste is sweet, but beautifully so (I compare it to the base recipe used by Orchid Cellar - as a repeated winner at the Mazer Cup, I would highly recommend you find some and give it a shot!). After talking with a few people on the subject, I decided to be a little more conservative with my spices. My updated recipe is going to be:
-14g Star Anise pods, cracked
-3 Saffron threads
-1 Vanilla bean, whole
-14g Juniper berries, cracked
-14g Mace
-7g Cloves
-84g/3oz Black Mission Figs, dried
-However much K Sorbate is necessary for 2 gallons, to keep the figs' sugars from kicking things up again

Am I still going a little too far with the anise, mace, or juniper? I want to give this a lot of character, but I don't want any ingredients muffling each other in the end product.

BTW, I'm working with a deadline. I have one month until I ship out for basic training, and I'll be damned if I don't have this done and (mostly) drunk before I leave.

05-05-2014, 01:06 PM
Er, no actually, it's more like a stuck ferment. Yes, I know it's an ale yeast, but as a bread yeast will do about the 12% mark, I really suggest you do some digging to find out where it's maximum ABV might be it's tolerance.

Your numbers are excessively high. 18% ABV equates to a gravity drop of 133 points, and if your starting gravity was accurate, it should still have a finished and very sweet FG in the 1.035 sort of area - not that it's likely that the yeast would have got to that level of course. The figs and their inherent fruit sugar are not likely to "kick things up".......

Currently a 59 point drop equates to 8% ABV, which is "strong beer" sort of strength. Nowhere near enough for it to be protected naturally by the alcohol against spoilage organisms.

What you do about it is entirely up to you, but I'm thinking that your starting numbers were a little over optimistic, particularly for a beer yeast (which I'd guess would likely do 12 to 14%, as it seems many beer yeasts do - and don't forget, the FG of beers is often higher because of the presence of unfermented sugars - and ones that don't always "taste sweet" to us........

Your original numbers (8.5 gallons of honey ? made up to 2 gallons of water ? ) need clarifying. I'm suspecting you mean 8.5lb of honey in a 2 gallon batch, which would certainly give a dramatically high start gravity like you quote. Well there's also not anywhere near enough nutrients or energiser mentioned - not added or an oversight on your part when posting ? and there seems little there that might have acted as a pH buffer - it reads as a "traditional" at the moment - and they're famous for having pH issues..........

It's certainly nowhere near ready for secondary additions etc.........

I'm thinking you mis-match of early ingredients might need a bit of help.........

05-05-2014, 02:29 PM
DeimosAnguis, My previous post which suggested many areas you may want to research was a polite way to tell you that your batch will meet many problems and that those areas could provide answers to those problems. This is unless you make a larger batch and re-pitch yeast to effectively create a larger batch with a lower OG. Making a drinkable mead in a month's time is a difficult task which members here have only discovered possible when doing a BOMM. Fortunately you *probably* wouldn't have been as far off as when you had done this with a wine yeast. However, you will be far off because of the high OG. When sending so much time and money on your mead I hope you will be giving it enough time to age and taste good.

05-05-2014, 02:54 PM
You are right, I did mean to say 8.5 lbs, not gallons. I'll also admit that I didn't account for pH or energizer, though I did include 2tsp of nutrient at pitching. Honestly, I had no understanding or knowledge that I had to account for those things. I frequently learn the most with the dive-in-headfirst, throw-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach, which pretty well describes what I've done here. I know that most well-practiced meadmakers would facepalm in reaction to that, but I don't find much shame or waste in it, in the end. I would, however, like to know what you mean by being "far off".
Also, what's the chemistry of a "stuck ferment"? If the yeast doesn't consume the sugars anymore, and doesn't resume that when given more oxygen (when I open it up to draw samples), then what distinguishes it from being dead?

05-05-2014, 03:26 PM
You want this to be drinkable in a month. Fortunately using an ale yeast means that you will (on average, I haven't gone into comparing specific yeasts) need less aging to make it drinkable. Ale yeasts would not be so far off from being drinkable. 'Far off' was therefore in terms of aging time. This does not necessarily make ale yeasts better for mead making. Meads may take up to two years to age, especially if you are aiming to make a high alcohol content mead (20%+ is surely high alcohol content).
Stuck ferments are basically whenever fermentation stops while you still have considerable fermentable sugars in your must. I had a mead end around SG 1.010 and I think that perhaps that is a 'stuck' ferment. However, since I may have ended back-sweetening the mead up to 1.010 anyway, I don't consider this a problem. At 1.111 you are looking at a VERY sweet mead. At this point the yeast have left over sugars more than the amount they have fermented. This is a problem since the yeast could have fermented down to 1.035 (like fatbloke suggested) and you would have still ended up with a very sweet mead.
There probably always will remain some 'live' yeast in your mead, this is why great care is taken to stabilize meads to prevent possibility of bottle bombs (stabilizing prevents yeast from awakening from its dormant state, but does not kill the yeast). It is possible that yeasts have been dormant for so long or that the FG is low enough that the mazer could feel confident to bottle without stabilizing. There could be conditions under which the vast majority of yeast in a mead are 'dead' (or permanently dormant state?), but if there is I have not yet read of it.
Edit: Ok better make this post clearer. It is possible for yeast to die (of course, they are not immortal). However when fermentation stops I don't think that ever means they are officially all dead. By time more and more yeast will die, yet some yeast will inevitably remain alive in your mead in a dormant state. When yeast die autolysis may occur.
I wonder whether it would be possible for you to create a larger batch before heading off for training, something which has a better chance of finishing ferment. Maybe you can rack off the mead from the gross lees and have some 'sur lie' aging while you're away. You may be cutting it close though

05-05-2014, 06:21 PM
Also, what's the chemistry of a "stuck ferment"? If the yeast doesn't consume the sugars anymore, and doesn't resume that when given more oxygen (when I open it up to draw samples), then what distinguishes it from being dead?
There's a number of reasons why a ferment can stick - not just a "chemistry" thing.....

Lack of nutrients - and by nutrients I'm referring to nutrient and energiser products - if you use only one, then "energiser" as it has the DAP of nutrient, but also the other elements needed to keep happy.

pH - yeast like an acid environment, it seems it's about the mid 3 area. If the pH drops too low i.e. below about 3.0 pH, then that is too acidic for the yeast to live, it stops fermenting and eventually dies.

Temperature - there will be an ideal temp range for the strain of yeast you've used. Some can ferment on quite a wide range - K1V-1116 has one of the widest ranges of any, it can ferment as low as 10C right up to about 35C - generally it seems that between about 15 and 20 C works the best and the yeast happily convert sugars without any detrimental effect to the flavour.

Here's a nice link (https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/attachments/0000/1256/NDzym05_MasterMead.pdf) that explains a fair amount about mead nutrition. Yes it is a bit "sciencey", but it does provide a lot of detail on it.

With pH, traditionals suffer, as they have little to buffer pH swings. If you just mixed up your honey and water to the target volume and measured pH you'd be surprised how acidic it is. We don't notice it as the acidic notes are masked by the sweetness of the sugar content. The best material for raising the pH away from the danger zone is Potassium Carbonate - there are other materials but they have more downsides.

Temperature is mainly about where you're conducting your ferment. Those in hot areas have the bigger problem as fermentation is an exothermic reaction, so if ambient temp is already high, it's possible that the temp might get high enough to kill the yeast, or at least to cause flavour issues (D47 makes good meads, but it's known to produce lots of fusels if fermented at over 70F/21C, so if you're in a hot area, then you're gonna need something to keep the temp down). Cold can also be an issue but it's a bit less of an issue as you can always move a ferment inside so it runs at room temp, which is generally fine.

05-05-2014, 07:49 PM
I do think there's a misunderstanding among us -- I don't want a high-alcohol mead. If anything, I'd prefer a low-alcohol mead. Where it sits right now, at 7-8%ABV, is a desirable percentage for me.

05-05-2014, 10:45 PM
Danstar is cagey about the Windsor strain. Their info is here (http://www.danstaryeast.com/products/windsor-ale-beer-yeast), and not forthcoming with alcohol tolerance, though it does say it will leave a relatively high gravity.

05-06-2014, 10:10 AM
...I'd prefer a low-alcohol mead...

Then I think the road ahead could be easier. Unless you're ok with drinking it however it finishes. Who am I to judge anyway. This plays right into one of my first suggestions "The easiest solution is to make a larger batch of a lower alcohol content mead."
We did rather overwhelm this thread with info. Hopefully the updates to the site or at least the newbee guide made as a "sticky" thread could result in more centralized information.

05-06-2014, 01:55 PM
I didn't see this mentioned, but I like to use it when testing SG mid-ferment. DeimosAnguis, you mentioned the hydrometer floating up with the CO2 release. You can (carefully) spin the hydrometer in the must and it will kick a lot of the CO2 bubbles loose so you can get an accurate reading. Do it a few times until the hydrometer seems to settle into a nice lowest reading possible. If you spin it too fast, it will create its own bubbles again, so there's a happy medium. And partially fermented meads/cysers are a very happy medium for me. I like to taste all my batches at all different stages, just to see how it ages and matures. That way, you can get more flavors from one batch!

05-06-2014, 05:02 PM
Well, the ferment got itself un-stuck. Today, it yielded a gravity of 1.104, putting it at 8.66%. I think the oxygen exposure plus a little agitation gave it what it needed to start up again (again, poorly-educated assumptions). And seeing as how there's not a definite figure for its alcohol tolerance out there (based on my attempts at looking), the only other way to get that info is to have y'all pitch in with your experiences with it. I am a bit concerned and confused by there being so little data on it. Still, progress is progress.

I might very well run this whole damn thing empty with daily sampling and tasting before fermentation stops. That flat-out sucks, in my book. I wanted to enjoy this mead, not get teased by it through a microscope.