View Full Version : The smell of fermenting mead?

08-29-2005, 05:40 PM
Last weekend I started my first batch of mead using a commercial yeast. Before I've only used homegrown yeast. The recipe is:

1.909 kg honey (0.132 buckwheat, rest wildflower)
water to 5 litres
Kitzinger Champagne yeast

I heated the must to 260 Celsius before pitching the yeast. Fermentation started in two hours. It seems to be fermenting just fine. However, I'm kind of bothered by the smell :o I can't really describe what it smells like, since it doesn't smell familiar. I think I smell a hint of rubber, a hint of smoke, and something acidic. It doesn't smell like honey. Is this normal? My previous batches (using my own yeast) have always smelled (and tasted) like honey at every stage of fermentation. It doesn't seem as if the must/mead has gone of, or something.

08-29-2005, 07:01 PM
Actually, for what it's worth, I've rarely had a batch that actually smelled like honey during fermentation. Trying to pinpont an "accurate" fermentation smell is pretty-much impossible, at least for me, since each new set of ingredients and each new set of circumstances (fermetation temps, the exact type of honey, etc.) brings new scents into the process. What you're describing doesn't sound dangerous or dreadfully unusual, in my experience.


08-29-2005, 08:03 PM
burnt rubber...?

i know i've heard of that, before. isn't that what brett is supposed to smell like?

(Modified to add: Nope... I found where I'd seen it earlier. From Lallemand's "Fortnight of Yeast", at Lallemand's site (http://consumer.lallemand.com/danstar-lalvin/fortnightyeast.html), I found the following:

Over the past few years, I have practiced a crude form of yeast ranching. After stepping up a smack-pack (1/3 cup DME in one pint of water, boiled 10-15 minutes) in preparation for brewing, I would innoculate a second flask and allow it to grow to krausen and then place it in the refrigerator for the next brewing session. Sometimes, this brewing session would occur months later. Essentially, the yeast was stored under refrigerated beer. Prior to brewing, I decant the supernatant and ptich the slurry into a starter. Sometimes it takes 2 steps before a good karusen. I would repeat the process several times with the same culture, storing successuve cultures and growing them up as needed with no detectable adverse effects.

Recently after reading about the benefits of oxygenation/airation, I bought a stir plate, an aquarium pump, and an in line HEPA filter (used for IV infusions). Additionally, I began adding 1 TSP of a "yeast nutrient" which I interpret to be yeast hulls (yellow granular appearnce) to my cup of starter solution during the boil. I then fed the sanitized air line from the aquarium pump through the HEPA filter and into the hole in the rubber stoppered flask and stirred the culture at a moderate rate using filtered room air for airation.

On two occasions, once after pitching yeast sediment from one of my refrigerator cultures and once after pitching one of the new pitchable yeast tubes, I noted a very foul smell, much like burning plastic wire insulation or burnt rubber. The culture from the refrigerator made acceptable beer, no adverse tastes but a tremendous amount of yeast sediment (I believe it was a California ale yeast I used for a wheat beer so it was difficult to evaluate whether the haze was due to poor floculation from a wild yeast infection). The culture from the pitchable tube (kolsch) made two horrible batches, one alt and and one kolsch. In all fairness, I have never attempted these styles before and now understand that this yeast needs to be cold conditioned despite being called an ale yeast. Both batches just wouldn't clear and never developed a clean taste.

This weekend, I stepped up another pitchable yeast tube, a Bavarian Wheat for a hefeweizen. I used only 1/4 TSP of the yellow yeast nutrient and added 1/4 TSP of "yeast energizer". I stirred for 48 hours without using the aquarium pump. Instead, I inserted the HEPPA filter directly into the stopper to filter incoming ambient room air. I detected the same foul smell, but it was very faint.

Is this smell due to autolized yeast? Is it due to one of the yeast nutrients? How about an infection from the aquarium pump? Am I stirring too long and exhausting the media and nutrients causing yeast autolosys? Thanks in advance for your time.

Response from David Logsdon:
A couple of things you indicate follow a pattern to some extent. One key to the questions, is the aroma that was noted to varying degrees from three different sources. The burnt rubber aroma which appears to be a common thread from 3 different yeast strains may be an indication. This aroma is often associated with what some describe as 'phenolic'. This is somewhat a catch all for a number of compounds usually associated with wheat beer yeast, many Belgian yeast strains and wild yeast. The compounds can vary in strength and character depending on the strain itself or how it is handled. This would include temperatures and, aeration levels. Some of these yeast have relatively high levels of phenylethylene, a plastic resinous like odor, like the synthesized compound known as styrene.

Since ale yeast and kolsch yeast typically do not have measurable amounts of phenylethylene, or 4-vinyl guaiacol, which is another common wheat beer associated compound, it may be likely that it was introduced by another yeast strain or wild yeast. Even in the Bavarian Wheat beer strain you noted "the same foul smell", which typical will have detectable levels of the above compounds. This could be from the wheat beer strain itself, another organism, or a combination.

Whether from a known wheat beer yeast strain or a wild yeast, the relative levels of these compounds vary and can be perceived quite differently. I find phenolic compounds from wild yeast and bacteria to have a much different (undesirable profile) as compared to German style wheat beer strains and many Belgian yeast strains.

Regarding other possible sources you inquired about, autolysis typically can be better described as sulphery, and dirty diaper. I have not seen where yeast nutrients contribute the type of odor you describe either.

If you place the yeast directly from the package into fully boilded cooled wort do you get the same foul smell?

serves me right for opening my mouth before i've fully thought through the question at hand!)

08-30-2005, 02:23 AM
burnt rubber...?

No. It's not a foul smell. It just smells unusual to me. I think I detect a hint of rubber, but I could easily be wrong. I was expecting a honey smell.

08-30-2005, 06:20 AM
The rubber smell could be a hint that you're generating H2S.

Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) has been known to plague winemakers for centuries, but it needn't. Its causes are as simple as is its cure, if dealt with soon enough after detection.

There are three primary causes:

Residual sulfur on the grapes as the result of a late spray for powdery mildew;

Some yeasts, such as Montrachet (UCD 522) and some strains of Steinberg, are known to produce higher levels of H2S; and more commonly,

Low nitrogen levels in the grapes which results in higher levels of H2S being produced by yeast cells (all yeasts produce some H2S that is dissipated during fermentation).

Early detection of the rotten egg odour and subsequent racking with deliberate splashing will usually cure the problem, as H2S is highly volatile. However, in order to reduce the risk of H2S formation, it is wise to add yeast nutrient containing diammonium phosphate (DAP) at the rate of 100-200 ppm during the early stages of fermentation. Do not add DAP at the beginning of fermentation, as it will overpower the yeast which has not yet had enough time to multiply to full activity.

Failure to treat H2S in its early stages will only add to your problems later, as H2S, when it interacts with alcohol, produces mono-mercaptans (sulfides) which have a range of odours - garlic, cabbage, onion, rubber, skunky - and are more difficult to remove because, unlike H2S, they are much less volatile having become bound through interaction with alcohol. Even at this stage it is possible to treat the wine and remove the offensive odour, but it is more difficult to do so. One can successfully remove mercaptans in their early stages by a combination of aeration and passing the wine through a Molly MaidŽ copper pot scrubber stuffed into a one-inch piece of plastic (PVC) pipe. It is absolutely essential that the wine be exposed to as much of the copper surface as possible and that the copper be free from contamination resulting from handling.



08-30-2005, 09:09 AM
I just smelled the stuff again: I didn't notice the rubber anymore. Now it just smells like some cheap sparkling white wine. Still not extremely pleasant ;)

Is it normal that you don't smell the honey during fermentation?